Why would anyone get upset because someone looks them in the eye and says, “I’ll pray for you”? The anger and frustration may all be a matter of the tone in which that message is expressed.
There are certain phrases that make non-believers and even some fellow Christians cringe. In his post, “3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On”, Jayson Bradley points out that “I’ll pray for you” is one of them.
Why? What’s the big deal?
Jayson raises a couple of interesting points over at his blog. One of them is that the offer to lift someone up is a sacred commitment:
“If you have no intention of praying, or even if you just lack the wherewithal to follow through, it’s best not to make the commitment.”
That’s a very good point. I’ve been guilty before of doing this very thing. It’s easy in our busy world to make such a promise and then simply forget to do it.
On the other hand, there’s no specific time one must pray. I’ve prayed for people while driving (with eyes open, obviously). I’m certain God still heard my prayer even though I wasn’t on my knees with my eyes closed. God always hears our prayers. If you’re going to offer to pray, make sure you find a way to follow through.
Jayson makes two other good points about the drawback of this phrase at his site. Check them out here.
I’d add one of my own: I’ve heard people use the phrase towards the end of a particularly heated discussion, whether about religion, politics or some other deeply personal, emotionally-charged issue. But in this context, it’s offered more as a final jab, along the lines of, “I’m going to ask God to show you that I’m right and that you’re an idiot.”
Of course, that angry, self-righteous Christian never phrases it quite that way, but from the tone, the intent is more than clear.
Frankly, I’d just as soon someone never pray for me for any reason than pray against me just so they can win an argument.
More importantly, if we’re all completely honest, we must realize that such statements don’t fool God for a moment. Luke 16:15 reminds us that going for brownie points among men isn’t going to cut it with the Almighty:
“And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
Matthew 6:6 gets specific about how we’re supposed to pray:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Why should we worry about praying privately? When we’re using prayer as a pride-motivated weapon just to show someone else we’re right and they’re wrong, we’re putting ourselves first.
But when we’re one-on-one with the Father, it becomes a lot more difficult to hide behind such a pretense. When we’re having that quiet time with God, I think we’re more motivated to be honest, much more honest than we were when we’d have uttered the promise of prayer that wasn’t really genuine.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve had a discussion with a fellow Christian who I thought was absolutely wrong about one issue or another. I’ve never, however, said to that person, “I’ll pray for you” to shut them down. In fact, I make no such “threat” of prayer, but there have been times that after we’ve parted ways, I’ve prayed that God speak to both of us. How we all interpret God’s Word and God’s Will for our lives can, in certain respects, be very subjective. Disagreement doesn’t always mean that both people are wrong. But likewise, it doesn’t guarantee that either is right.
I don’t have all the answers anymore than anyone else.
The best thing to pray for in such situations, then, is that God will speak to both parties — and that both will actually have the opportunity to feel that sound in their hearts.
I think sometimes people use that phrase as a cop out to actually doing anything to help someone. Yes, prayer is the most important way to help, but it doesn't excuse us from an obligation to do all the good we can do.
If you're going to offer it, DO IT. I think this article is right on the money. I'm all for praying FOR people, not against them. In fact, when I pray, I don't pray FOR thing to happen, I pray "Thy Will Be Done" and for the peace and understanding of His will. Great article, Patrick!
@tedcoine Thanks for the share, Ted. I appreciate it! Hope you have a great weekend!
I've been on the receiving end of the "final jab" version of the phrase. It's only slightly better than "You're going to hell!". :-/
@gina valley I completely agree with you, Gina! It's an easy out to say "I'll Pray For You" and then avoid any physical interaction or support.
@Cathryn (aka Strange) Slightly better, but not much. People who use it that way certainly aren't putting Jesus or even their love of their neighbor first!