It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Of course, the immediate answer—if you’re a Christian soaked in Christian rhetoric—is to pray. It doesn’t even matter what the issue is. You just better darn well pray over it!

And I certainly agree. Pray is the life-blood of the Christian and the Church. But once we pray, a more tricky question arises: do we act? And if we act, does that nullify our pray? After all, isn’t the very act of prayer an expression of our dependence—our complete dependence(!)—upon God?

Well it certainly was for Ezra. Upon receiving word that he and his Judean exiles were allowed to return back to the land of Israel, these Jews decided to pray for a safe journey (see Ezra 8:21). And then they received word from their Persian overloads that they have the option of taking with them some bodyguards to protect them on their journey back to the land. But they had already prayed. Did they need any human help at this point? Heck no! In fact, Ezra boldly announced to the Persians: “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him” and therefore he was “ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way.” You know; because they already prayed about it.

For Ezra, the very pray precludes the need for human action.

But not so for Nehemiah. Just a few years after Ezra returned back to the land, Nehemiah was faced with a similar situation (see Nehemiah 1-2). He too was allowed to lead a bunch of “Jews” (as they were called at this time) back to their land and they too were offered a group of Persian bodyguards (Neh 2:9). Did he take them? “Heck ya, dude, it’s a dangerous journey out West” (my paraphrase). Nehemiah apparently didn’t see a lot of tension between prayer and human action. Perhaps he would say that prayer ensures God’s accompaniment and empowerment of human action. In any case, it doesn’t nullify it. Later on Nehemiah was working on the walls of Jerusalem and he again prayed for protection. Immediately after the prayer for protection, Nehemiah set out human guards for protection (4:9). Again, Nehemiah believed that prayer supported and empowered human action.

Isn’t it interesting (perhaps encouraging) that there is no cookie-cutter response to prayer? Ezra seems to be an idealist; he believes straight up that God can and will intervene in crazy ways. Nehemiah is a realist; he believes that God certainly does work, but we also need to take action—pick up arms, as it were, and fight, defend, protect, preach, etc.

I find this combination a beautiful affirmation that God also doesn’t only affirm and approve those hyper-spiritual folk who think that prayer nullifies human action. He also affirms folk like me—the realists—who believe that God does indeed give me, say, the right job I’m looking for, and yet I still need to fill out applications!


Preston Sprinkle


  1. I have been posting a bit about the Wisdom Books and how Ecclesiastes brings balance between Job(crap happens)and Proverbs in if you do this..blessing will follow.

    Don’t forget that Nehemiah did all his praying in the beginning of the book… and so in many ways his going was a statement of faith that God was and had answered his prayers…. of course… God could have said no and Nehemiah ended up without his head for approaching the king in the way he did.