Jesus taught that praying is committing to act; he expects us to commit to what we pray for.
However, that is not the way most of us consider prayer these days. When we promise to pray for someone it is just a promise but not a commitment to act or even empathize with that concern. This apathy is reflected in responses like “you will be in my prayers” though most of the time it is a vain promise. Most often we forget what we committed to pray for. Such empty phrases have become part of our etiquette, like saying “thank you!” Sometimes it could be so meaningless as saying “good morning” to our neighbor as we step out of the house in pouring rain, on a bleak morning when the forecast is severe thunderstorm in the afternoon.
Those who have realized how hollow such promises to pray are, have smartly tweaked them. It is more fashionable these days to say, “you will be in my thoughts” or “I will keep you in my thoughts” than to say, “you will be in my prayers.” It is a promise to roll something in our heads, if they happen to invade our thoughts, than committing to pray for it.
However, this is not what Jesus taught about prayer. When he commanded to pray, he implied to act. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee highlights this aspect of prayer. While he was preaching the Kingdom of God in the various villages and towns in Galilee, he had profound compassion for the people there (Matt 9:35—38). Because he found the people “were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
He also observed that the people are ready for the Goodnews of the Kingdom—a fantastic opportunity to preach the kingdom is ready. He said, “The harvest is plentiful.” But he also noted the painful reality that the harvest will be wasted, without laborers to harvest.
The reality of fields ready for harvest but the paucity of laborers leads Jesus to ask his disciples to pray for more laborers. He said, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38).
The Gospel narrative continues in the next chapter to tell us that his concern for the poor, harassed, and ignored Galileans did not end with prayer; Jesus followed it with action. He first designates twelve of his followers as apostles with authority over evil spirits, and the power to heal (Matt 10:1—4). Then he sends them out to preach that, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 10:7). The disciples whom Jesus asked to pray for laborers are the first batch of laborers that he had in mind. They may pray for more laborers like them, but they cannot shun their personal responsibility to be harvesters that they prayed for. Praying for a cause is committing to that cause. Without that commitment prayer turns useless.