I’ve said it countless times. And I bet you’ve either said it or had it said to you.
The conversation goes something like this:
You kindly ask how someone is doing.
Instead of getting the rote response of “I’m good. you?”, the other person actually thinks you care and feels comfortable enough to open up to you…so they do.
If you aren’t in too much of a hurry or insensitive, you listen as they tell you about something going on in their life. Maybe how they are struggling, that they or someone they care about is sick, that they are in need of a job, etc.
After trying to empathize and show concern, you then say those 5 comforting, seemingly magical words to wrap up the conversation.
“I’ll be praying for you.”
The other person is very appreciative.
They might even reciprocate and ask how they can pray for you.
You tell them.
They assure you they will be praying.
You thank them.
You both nod.
Then walk away from the conversation feeling better.
Have you been there?
Chances are if you know a Christian, or are one, you have.
And it needs to stop.
The next time you feel the “tug” to tell someone you will be praying for them, don’t do it.
Because you likely don’t do it. You won’t pray.
You mean well. You really do. You may even plan on praying for them when you get around to it.
But at the end of the day, “I’ll be praying for you” has become in the Christian subculture a phrase of comfort more than a promise that’s delivered.
And that’s a shame.
Because prayer throughout the pages of Scripture is shown to be an incredible asset in the life of a Christian. It’s literally our access line to communicate to the God of the Universe. It’s how we can connect and grow in our relationship with Him. It should be something we cannot go a day without doing.
And it’s powerful. It’s a game changer. We are promised that things may be different if we pray.
Scripture is replete with examples concerning prayer. Here are just a few:
- 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgivetheir sin and will heal their land.
- James 5:16-17 – The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
- Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
There are obviously many other passages on prayer besides these. What’s interesting is that none of the commands to pray or examples of people praying are future tense. It’s always understood that the time to pray is now, in the present.
We don’t see Jesus interacting with people and telling them “I’ll be praying for you.”
A couple months ago I was confronted with this issue head on. I had a short meeting with a pastor on our staff and towards the end of our conversation he asked specifically how he could pray for me. After telling him, instead of saying “I’ll be praying for you,” he did something remarkable. He prayed!
As I walked out of his office I began to recall many other times I’d seen him praying with someone in the hallway, out in public and even for me. And I realized I’d never heard “I will be” come out of his mouth. He just did it.
When we say “I’ll be praying for you” and don’t follow through, as tough as it is to admit, we lie to the person. And more than that, we reveal a disbelief in the power and importance of prayer. Because if we truly believed prayer worked, we would pray.
We all have good intentions when we utter that phrase. I know that nobody sets out to be a liar. So here are 3 things I’m committing to that I think are better options:
1. Remove the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” from your conversational default. There is no command in Scripture that says you have to say that. So just let it go. And you will immediately stop lying…at least in this area of your life.
2. Pray with someone on the spot. It’s a bit scary if you aren’t used to it. And I’ll admit I rarely do it in public.
3. Keep a prayer list. If I’m ever talking to you and I pull out my phone, I’m not messaging someone. I’m writing your name down and how I can pray for you. I have a lot on my mind, just like you do, and I know I’ll forget if I don’t. Writing it down is a way for me to remember and to hold myself accountable to pray. I’ll look at that prayer list more regularly than I’ll remember who I said I’ll be praying for.
If you do deliver on your promise to pray for others, that’s wonderful. Keep it up!
For the majority of everyone else, just stop saying it. And in the majority, I’m including myself. We can do better. We can actually pray.
What are some other ways you help yourself remember to pray for others?