I visited a West African nation recently and frankly was frustrated as to how low the disregard for law and order has gone. Without going into the embarrassing details, I will recount an incident I witnessed that encapsulates the malaise. Traffic was very heavy as I approached an intersection. I had the right of way (if there is any such thing in this city) or I thought so. As I merged right, another vehicle (a taxi) came in from my passenger side and swerved right into my front fender. A policeman was standing by who witnessed the whole incident. I rolled down my window and requested of the officer to intervene. At this time the driver of the other vehicle that ran into me was already moving on without even stopping to find out what damage he had done to my vehicle. The policeman's response to me was, "Go man; nothing wrong with your car, 'da' only small scratch." And that was the end of the story. Incidents like this are rife throughout the city.
When Christians come together and rehearse these challenges, the response one continually hears is "let's continue to pray for our nation." Without minimizing the power of prayer, I must say here that prayer, according to the Bible, is not the panacea for every problem in life; especially national problems. We remember Joshua was faced with a national problem at Ai (Joshua 7). After Israel experienced an unexpected defeat and humiliation at Ai, Joshua fell before the Lord in prayer. What did the Lord say to Joshua? "Get up! Why are you lying there face down?" (Joshua 7:10 NET). The solution to the problem in this situation was in Joshua taking action by dealing with Achan's transgression.
A similar incident happened with Joshua's predecessor, Moses, at the Red Sea. As the Egyptian army pursued the children of Israel (Exodus 14:10), they began to cry out unto the Lord and to Moses. Moses in turn began to encourage them with these famous words, "Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today you shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." (Exodus 14:13-14). Again let's hear the Lord's response in verse 15; "And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. And as for you (Moses) lift up your staff and extend your hand toward the sea and divide it....." (Exodus 14:16, NET). Wow! This was not the time to stand and pray, it was a time to act; move forward and stretch the staff.
We have watched multiple nations throughout the continent of Africa plunge into total social disarray and economic squalor while we (the church) hammer constantly on the proverbial square peg in a round hole. How do you pray out a daily frustrating traffic jam with no new feeder roads to accommodate the growing number of cars. How does prayer help disentangle a traffic snarl at an intersection with no traffic lights or where police men lack the authority to control the flow of traffic?
Let's face it folks. There is something inherently lacking in nations where the rule of law is constantly disregarded not only by common citizens but by those who are in political leadership. We can pray for these leaders so "we can dwell in peace" but if the necessary action is not taken by a conscientized populace towards social and economic development, our future will always remain bright without getting there. In the 1950s and 60s, nations like Japan, Korea, China, and other Southeast Asian nations were at par with some African nations vis-a-vis economic development. Half a century later, we are borrowing from an atheist China; while we fast and pray to obtain cars made in Japan; a majority Shintoist nation and an irreligious South Korea.
Prayer should not become a crotch or cop out; It should be an instrument of God to galvanize us into definite and concerted action. The Word says, "prayer makes tremendous power available". What are we doing with the available power?