A father took his little seven-year-old boy fishing with him one day. They put out the trotline and then went up to the cabin.
After an hour they went back down to the river to see if they had caught anything. Sure enough, there were several fish on the line. "I knew there would be, daddy," said the boy. "How did you know?" asked the father. "Because I prayed about it," said the child.
So they baited the hooks again and put out the line and went back to the cabin for supper. Afterward they went back to the river; again, there were fish on the line. "I knew it," said the boy. "And how?" asked his father. "I prayed again."
So they put the line back out into the river and went to the cabin. Before bedtime they went down again. This time there were no fish. "I knew there wouldn't be," said the child. "How did you know?" asked the father. "Because," said the boy, "I didn't pray about it this time." "And why didn't you?" asked his father. "Because," said the boy, "I remembered that we forgot to bait the hooks."
There is a familiar saying which goes like this: "Pray as if everything depends on God, but work as if everything depends on you." I'm not fully comfortable with that quotation because it seems to be saying that we should live our lives as if God isn't going to do anything (when the truth is, if anything happens at all, it will be because He does it).
But I can appreciate the sentiment that we shouldn't pray and then just sit back and wait for God to do something. And yet, we do that all the time. We pray for God to bless those who are needy. But then what do we do to help the needy? Do we suppose that God is going to somehow airlift care packages and drop them from the sky? He will help them through people like us meeting their needs. But, somehow it seems to soothe our consciences to tell God to take care of the sick, the hurting, the lonely, and the sorrowful while we sit back and do nothing. It makes us feel good to pray for all the people who have never heard about Jesus Christ while we live our lives saying nothing to the people we are around. We feel we have "done our duty" by praying for missionaries, but never take a few moments to send a note of encouragement.
In essence, we fail to bait the hook, then pray that God will fill the line with fish. Notice the difference, though, in this example that Nehemiah set for us:
"One of my brothers named Hanani came with some other men from Judah. I asked them about Jerusalem and the Jewish people who lived through the captivity. They answered me, 'Those who are left from the captivity are back in Judah, but they are in much trouble and are full of shame. The wall around Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned.' When I heard these things, I sat down and cried for several days. I was sad and ate nothing. I prayed to the God of heaven ... Then the king said to me, 'What do you want?' First I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I answered the king, 'If you are willing and if I have pleased you, send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so I can rebuild it.'" (Nehemiah 1:2-4; Nehemiah 2:4-5 NCV)
Notice that Nehemiah didn't just pray to God that He would rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He prayed and then he set out to do all that he could to make that project possible. Both elements are essential. May our prayers not merely be that God will bless others, but that God will use us to bless others. Don't pray for fish unless you're willing to bait the hook!