This column will rub some folks the wrong way but it has been on my mind for several months. My hesitation to write this column should be obvious. Folks can get the “cow by the tail” when it comes to “religious stuff.” Folks can also get overly defensive about “religious stuff,” which is why folks always say that you should avoid talking about religion and politics—that is, if you want to keep your friends. Still I am going to say what I want to say.
Let me ask this question, when is it okay to tell another person, “I’ll pray for you?” What does the Bible say about praying for others? James 5:16 says this: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Prayer is a constant theme throughout the Bible, we even have the “Lord’s Prayer” that some also call the “Disciple’s Prayer.” I Thessalonians 5: 17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing.” But when is it okay to say to another person “I’ll pray for you?” Would you tell Bill Gates to his face, “I’ll pray for you?” Would you ever tell Kim Kardashian “Child, I’m going to pray for you?” Or does it depend on the circumstances? If someone is on their sick bed is an offer of prayer always okay? But what about folks who just run around saying, “I’ll pray for you” as if they have some type of special connection to God? What about folks who say, “I’ll pray for you” as if to suggest that they are some type of “superior,” holier than thou Christian?
Over the past 6 months I have had two physical ailments. Last May I strained my back and suffered a pinched nerve injury that gave me a bad case of sciatica, actually I had piriformis syndrome that made it hard for me to walk until the nerve ending healed. What I needed was for someone to stop by and bring me a hot meal, take out the trash, pick my tomatoes, pull a few weeds in my flower beds and garden. What I got was a bunch of folks on the phone saying, “I’ll pray for you.” They didn’t offer to do another darn thing to really help me. Recently I developed some type of chest congestion bronchitis. What I needed was rest and for someone to run to the store to get me some medicine so I could keep my germs away from other people. What I got were, again, folks on the phone saying, “I’ll pray for you.” And these offers of “I’ll pray for you” ticked me off. Do some folks come out with “I’ll pray for you” because they are too lazy or broke to do anything else worthwhile? Yes, I just said that. Why it that all some folks can do is is “pray” when the situation calls for a little human intervention and a little output of human energy to help alleviate a situation? Would you look at a yard full of trash and say, well, “I’ll just pray that this trash gets cleaned up?” If folks are hungry and need food what good does it do to look at their hungry faces and say, “I’ll pray for you” then walk away?
My real beef with these, I’ll pray for you” folks is that they are using “I’ll pray for you” as a crutch to avoid doing anything else worthwhile. Dr. King prayed, but he also put his body on the line and his life in jeopardy for the cause of civil rights. Too many of the “I’ll pray for you” folks are headed in the other direction, in a hurry” as they yell out, “I’ll pray for you.” What about doing something else worthwhile, and more Christian, such as offering some real help? Years ago folks got together to put up barns for neighbors so they could survive as a group. What if barn raisers just yelled across the fence, “I’ll pray for you” and walked away? The entire civil rights movement would have been an utter failure if folks had just retreated to their homes with words of “I’ll pray for you.”
When I hear some people say “I’ll pray for you” I wonder exactly what type of prayer they intend to offer up on my behalf—a prayer for my salvation—well I’m already saved, I prayed fervently for myself that God would come into my life and save me. When I had the piriformis nerve damage a person offered to pray for me and as she prayed she commanded God to remove the pain from my body immediately. She prayed and prayed and prayed. Nothing happened with all her screaming to the heavens for my immediate healing. In fact I felt worse after she prayed because I had to stay in one position for so long listening to her. She never called back to see how I was feeling one way or the other. And this is my problem with these “I’ll pray for you” folks. What they want is to hurry up and get gone so you don’t ask them for some real help. Some of these “I’ll pray for you folks” are literally running to their cars on the church parking lot as they spew out loud and empty “I’ll pray for you.” These offers of prayers are little more than self-boasting, self serving, empty words at best.
Sometimes human conditions require more than prayer. Ever heard the expression, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition?” Soldiers in battle need prayer for protection but they also need superior weaponry for the victory. Do I believe in the power of prayer? Yes I do. But I also believe in the power of human effort and energy to correct human problems. I know one mother who tells her children to pray for their classmates. If you are in junior high school how are you supposed to tell a fellow student, “I’ll pray for you.” Is that over the line and just plain out of place? Why is it that the folks offering to do the most praying are generally the least well off? Is it that “praying for someone” is all that po folks can do? Rich folks don’t need to pray to send their kids to college, or get the plumbing fixed, or pay a bill—they just write a check. But if you are poor praying for some type of Divine help is often the only way to try to fix a situation. And too often Divine help does not come. When I had piriformis nerve damage I prayed for myself to be healed quickly because I knew that all the stuff inside my house and outside would never get done unless I got well and got up and did it myself. None of those “I’ll pray for you” folks were going to help me do a darn thing.
Copyright 2016 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.