Praying in a Non-praying World


“The non-praying world is a pushing, shoving, demanding world.”
—Eugene Peterson, Answering God

Be “in the world but not of it” is often expressed to help believers understand their place in the world, how not to be affected by its trials or inspired by its temptations. It addresses the tension of being in one place but living for another, namely heaven. Used to capture the struggle of our new citizenship, as children of the kingdom of God, believers are “pilgrims passing through” this world. And while we cannot live apart from the world, as we are called to affect change in the name of Christ, our lives are to be distinct and our behavior different from that of our society.

This concept is inspired by passages of Scripture like Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, and 1 John 2:15-17, which reads, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

We read these words and may hear, “Warning. Warning. Warning.” They seem to fit on a neon sign or above flashing lights. But, I wonder if the words of John could help in our understanding of the praying life. In the world but not a part of its “pushing, shoving, demanding”.

I wonder if we have been guilty of pushy speech, of shoving our way into the presence of God, of making demands in prayer. I wonder if the world’s nature has ever affected the way that you enter the presence of God and into conversation with the Holy.

If so, then John’s words are a reminder of the temperament and texture of our prayers. Praying under the influence of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are from God. Consequently, our petitions should not repeat carnal desires but repeat after the will of God for our lives and God’s plan for the world. Our speech should be reverent, not insistent. Our posture should reflect God’s grace and not our ego.

Be in the world but not of the world when we pray. In the world, our noses are in the air. However, in prayer, our heads bow to a Sovereign God. In the world, we “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” but in prayer, we acknowledge, “We’ve come this far by faith.” In the world, we point our fingers, push our way to the front of the line and claw our way to the top. While in prayer, we fold our hands with the full assurance that God is in control.

When we pray, we affirm whose hands we are in and that there is room for the world there, too.

smcneillReverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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