In the pursuit of justice, prayer is often looked down upon. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” is regularly accused of being a wall people hide behind to justify inaction. However, Christians miss an important step in the pursuit of justice by neglecting prayer.
In Isaiah, prayer is included when God gives the Israelites a framework for how to pursue justice. The steps are, “Wash and make yourselves clean…Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” It is in the phrases “take up the cause” and “plead the case” that include the call for prayer.
These commands are both physical and spiritual in nature. God wanted the Israelites to not only physically care for the fatherless and the widow, but also love them as whole persons. If we would plead their case to earthly judges and kings, then it is important to not neglect the authority of our heavenly judge and king. God promises justice and judgment on the wicked and He is the only one who can ultimately bring about these things. Pleading involves prayer.
There is another reason for Christians to pray before seeking out justice. Mainly—we are finite human beings. We should be motivated to go to our heavenly Father first before we attempt to do anything in our own strength.
It is easy to view the pursuit of justice as resting on one person’s crusade. Likewise, prayer is often stuck in the category of individual activity. However, the call in Isaiah should be lived through community. When communities pray in unity, they are laying their problems at God’s feet in a humble plea for help. For example, when the early church was faced with the unjust imprisonment of Peter, Luke said they should be “earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:6). Their first reaction was to go to God and plead for justice. Prayer was a way for them to bring their requests to God and orient themselves toward His will.
How do we foster a habit of communal prayer? Taking initiative in this area looks like intentionally participating in both sides of communal prayer (the giving and taking of prayer requests).
For myself, this was not easy.
In January of 2022, I started to develop knee problems. During that time I joined a wonderful life group at my church. Each week, as they asked for prayer requests, I kept silent—ashamed of my problems. It wasn’t until this semester I finally shared my struggles and asked for prayer. Though I still struggle with my knees and they are still not back to where they were before. Something has shifted. While I have experienced some level of healing, now I know it is no longer just my burden to bear.
We should not wait to share our burdens until tragedy occurs.
When we are not in community and fail to continually open our hearts up to God, the end result is another barrier in our pursuit for individual, local, and societal justice. The process of identifying and interceding for the hurting is integral to repairing broken relationships and “pleading the case” of those who need justice most.
Communal prayer sets the groundwork of our hearts. Remember that the next time you go to pray.