"And they prayed.... And they cast their lots...." Acts 1:24-26
The custom of casting lots is a heavy part of our vernacular, but not our practice. Any man on the street, when pressed between two choices, may remark, "I'll cast my lot" with so-and-so and such-and-such, but never do they literally roll the proverbial dice. Such actions are usually frowned upon in pious circles. They find the whole thing suspiciously superstitious. What, then, of the disciples, a certainly pious circle in their own right? They were not superstitious. On the contrary, they were believers, and that is why they "cast their lots".
Notice what happens in the passage. The disciples prayed for God to do something, and then they did something in order to see what He would do. The casting of lots was an act of faith: they believed that God would answer. If they didn't believe it, then they wouldn't have cast the lots in the first place.
In contrast, we modern day Christians (with our civilized emergent blather and Osteen-styled self-help books) get the whole "praying" part pretty down-pat, but we fail miserably at the whole "doing" part. For us, prayer is more often than not an abstraction, a mere exchange of words between us and the ceiling. For the disciples, however, prayer was a highly practical matter. It was meant to get results, and we were meant to expect those results. As stated earlier, that is why they cast lots at all: they wholeheartedly believed that God would answer their prayer. Perhaps we would say that we are too educated and nuanced to cast lots nowadays. I say we are too unbelieving. We doubt a God who does things.
"Prove me now..., saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 3:10). There is a difference between "proving" God and "tempting" Him. The former is commanded. The latter is commanded against (Matt. 4:7). The difference lies in this: "tempting" God derives from unbelief, while "proving" God derives from belief. When you tempt God, it is because you doubt that He will do anything, and thus sneer to the heavens, "Oh yeah? Prove it!" When you "prove" God, however, it is because you know that He will do something, and thus cry to the world, "Taste and see that the Lord is good!"
The disciples did not tempt God. They did not cast their lots in order to verify to themselves that God had heard them. Rather, they cast their lots because they knew that God had heard them. Therein lies a major distinction between them and us. We pray without ceasing, but never act on those prayers, never venture forth to see what God will do. Thus, our constant praying turns into a smokescreen for unbelief and doubts about God. We will pray about something until the cows come home, but we will not cast our lots, i.e., actively bank on God giving an answer.
You pray that God will direct you to a new job. Are you filling out applications? You ask God to bring you to your wife/husband. Are you even looking at all? You ask God to guide the direction of your latest novel. Do you then go sit down and start writing? You ask God to give you the words to say to people. Do you then start conversations with others, or even join in on theirs? We ask God again and again (in various circumstances and on various issues) to show us "the way," but are we even moving ourselves at all? There are real times when we must sit still, where there are no clear paths to take or things to do. But when there are clear paths and actions before us, do we sit in sedation and call it "prayer"? Or do we cast our lots with God and go out, not knowing where we are going (Heb. 11:8)?
-Jon Vowell (c) 2011