“Pray With Your Legs”
I’ve had a little bit more time to read these days, especially since our evenings have been mostly clear of school and church activities.
I’m currently enjoying David Blight’s excellent biography of Frederick Douglass, appropriately titled: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. I definitely recommend it.
Douglass was a slave in Maryland until he sought freedom at the age of 21, perilously crossing land, one river (the Susquehanna), and two bays (the Chesapeake and Delaware), finally landing in New York City. After marrying Anna Murray, they settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he would become well known as a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman … and the most photographed 19th century American.
There’s much to tell about Douglass’s story, but one quote stands out. In one of his autobiographies, he wrote extensively about prayer and his great desire for freedom. “I prayed for 20 years and received no answer,” he wrote, “until I prayed with my legs.”
These days are loaded down with prayer, no doubt. The uncertainties of job, income, rent, and health have driven a lot of people to their knees, begging for help and advice, comfort and, well, divine intervention. It’s entirely understandable.
But Douglass’s words remind us of the beautiful connection between prayer and action. Through prayer, God helps us to discern next steps and gives us the courage to pursue them. In prayer, God grants us wisdom to respond for the sake of God’s Kingdom. In short, prayer leads us to act.
Sure, prayer provides comfort and gives room for our deep sighs and hearty celebrations; but St. Paul reminds us to “pray without ceasing,” which means that prayers are to accompany us in our daily actions, leading us to act according to God’s will and purpose.
As a teenager, Douglass persistently begged God to free him by literally loosing the bonds of his enslavement. Why was God being silent? he thought.
What Douglass didn’t fully understand was that this “silent God” had been preparing him for that moment of escape, that dark night when he prayed with his legs — legs that led him to freedom, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.
In our staff meetings, we have been praying that God will lead us to a faithful response to this crisis, and that the post-Covid19 church will be a Spirit-filled reflection of all that God is calling and needing us to be.
In Exodus 14:13, Moses tells the recently-escaped Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Those are words of great comfort and truth. But notice what happens next. God immediately says to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on! Raise your staff to divide the water.” In other words, pray for comfort … but pray with your legs.
Might God be inviting you to pray with your legs these days? If so, I’d love for you to tell us about it.
May God bless you and keep you during this time of uncertainty. We miss seeing you in worship and around campus, but we sure feel thankful for our online engagement on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.
Our very best to you.