Is Prayer Enough?

He calls because he’s in deep pain. He doesn’t know what to do. I hear the desperation in his voice.

I don’t know what to tell him.

She calls because life is about to change. Again. New obstacles, fresh challenges. She wants to be optimistic, but so many things are in the way.

I don’t know what to tell her.

I'll be praying for you

Is Prayer a Cop-Out?

Is “I’ll be praying for you” a cop-out?

Do we say, “I’ll be praying for you,” because we don’t want to feel guilty and say nothing? Because we don’t want to do anything else? Because we don’t know what else to do?

Sometimes yes, yes, and yes.

But when the needs seem so urgent and tangible, “I’ll be praying for you” feels inadequate.

“You come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, ‘Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!’ and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you?
Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
(James 2:15-17, The Message)

People tire of hearing only “I’ll be praying” if they know actions are also needed.

We see it after mass shootings. If politicians tweet only about prayers, they get backlash. Prayers may be good, people say, but they also expect actions, maybe change a law, with the praying.

It’s an old dilemma. James also said faith without works is dead. Faith is completed by works. A person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:20-26).

Who’s the Problem?

Or should we blame the person in need of prayer? Are they responsible for their own dire circumstances?

Doesn’t everyone start Monopoly with free money from the bank? (Since 2008, the rules say you start off with two $500’s, four $100’s, one $50, one $20, two $10’s, one $5, and five $1’s.)

No. Not everyone starts off with money from the bank (or family support or a healthy body or a stable mind). Or maybe as an adult they don’t have enough mental, emotional, or cultural skills, or the right circumstances, to make it last.

According to the World Values Survey, most Americans believe the poor just aren’t trying hard enough. They could dig out if they’d apply themselves. (Interestingly, most Europeans disagree, according to the same survey.)

We’re more comfortable believing success is within our individual control. If someone doesn’t succeed, we say they only have themselves to blame. It’s enough if we only say we’ll be praying. We’ll have done our part.

Or Is It Me?

Or am I to blame for not being able to adequately help others? To do nothing but pray?

I don’t want to doubt prayer, to doubt God, but do I?

Sometimes the problems seem too big.
My resources too limited.
My God too slow?

Pray Anyway

So what can we do?

Pray anyway. It’s always the perfect first step.

And as we pray, maybe God will prompt us to take a second step. Maybe he will supply us with an idea. Or renewed energy. Or proper direction.

When I talked to my friends on the phone this weekend, I encouraged just one step at a time. One day at a time.

Maybe I need to take my own advice in helping them. Take just one step.

  • Just listen to the problem with fresh ears.
  • Just look up a resource to help them.
  • Just ask someone else to pray for me.

Then pray again.

Because prayer is doing something.

Whether or not we see its effects, God is on the move when we pray.

We don’t always have to say “I’m praying for you” if it sounds too trite.  If it would offend.

But we can be praying anyway in our hearts. We can still cover their needs. We can still solicit help for our own means to help.

Throwing ourselves on God’s mercy is always the right action.

  • Maybe God will answer through a change in their circumstances.
  • Maybe God will answer through a change in the person.
  • And maybe God will answer through a change in us.

I’ll Keep Praying

I don’t know what will happen with my two friends. This isn’t the end of their stories. They’re still in the middle.

I did tell them both I’ll continue to pray for them. But hopefully I’ll also do for them, too.

I’m in the middle with them. With all my inadequacies, my fears, my own struggles. For now, that’s where we are.

But I’ll keep praying about it.

* * *

Please share your thoughts about prayer in the comments.

18 thoughts on “Is Prayer Enough?

  1. Julie Lefebure

    Wonderful, thought provoking post, Lisa! I don’t want to say I’m praying for someone if I’m not going to follow through. And, yes, there’s been times I haven’t known what to say and those words come out. Prayer is powerful and God hears each one. It’s a privilege to pray and I’m thankful we get the opportunities to go to God on the behalf of others. I appreciate the truth and hope you shared here. Have a blessed day!

  2. bill (cycleguy)

    Ashamed to admit that I have been one who flippantly said, “I’ll pray about it” but then didn’t. Not on purpose but just forgot or got distracted. Now when I tell people I will pray i stop and do it immediately. That way I know I have. And, as a pastor, I have found sometimes that is all I can do.

  3. Debbie

    Prayer is the most powerful tool at our disposal as Christians! And yet, so many times when people ask for prayer, I say yes and then forget. So, now I stop what I’m doing and say a prayer for that person immediately. At the same time, I think there are times when we can act in response to help a person. When I was at my neediest with a major life upheaval, there were plenty of people who said they were praying. I appreciate that. But I was so grateful for those who took an additional step and offered a basket of food or a weekend stay at their cabin. Just a thought!

  4. Michele Morin

    Arggh! I wish this post were not so relevant, but truly those words (“I’ll pray for you.”) often stick in my throat because I mistakenly think they are not enough.
    I just got off the phone (minutes ago) with the daughter of one of our church’s missionaries, informing me that her mum had passed away, and the sadness is just so huge for this family. Thanks for taking on a topic that is tender for so many of us.

  5. floyds

    I guess we’ve all struggled with this to one degree or another.

    To be there, checking in, praying and caring, is a good start.

    To pray with conviction is the best advice because I agree with you; God does change things, even if sometimes it’s us…

    Thanks for the reminder, Lisa.

  6. David

    Dear Lisa

    Very nice post! Praying for others, and people (including me) saying they’ll pray, are both areas I’m still uncertain about.

    Telling someone you’ll pray for them can sound trite. Sometimes it is the best thing to do. Actions speak louder than words but sometimes what the action says is “Me! Me! Me!” viz Elon Musk’s recent debacle in Thailand.

    My praying is still intermittent, so if I tell someone I’ll pray for them it reminds me to pray, which is a nice side effect 🙂

  7. Barbara Harper

    I hate to see people brush off prayer on social media when a tragedy happens and people respond by saying that will pray. Telling someone I’ll pray for them is like a maid saying, “I’ll take the matter to the King,” and to have that brushed off is so frustrating. God can handle the situation I can’t. He has wisdom and provision I don’t. But I agree that prayer isn’t the only step, though it’s the first and best. And I like the thought that sometimes part of the answer to the prayer is His guidance in what I should do next, how He might want me to help meet the need. I like your point, too, that we won’t have and often don’t need the answer to the big picture, but we can do the next thing – listen, pray, point them to a resource, give what we have.

  8. Lesley

    I agree, it’s hard to know what to say and how to help at times but, whether we say we will or not, prayer is always a good response. It’s definitely not a substitute for action- we need both- but I think praying can give us wisdom about what our next step should be. And if we say we will pray for someone it’s important to do it. Like some others have said, I try to do it straight away so that I don’t forget.

  9. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, this is such a thought provoking post. I never want those words to seem trite nor something I say and not follow through on. I try to write the need down immediately so I remember not only to pray immediately, but then throughout the day. I am grateful for the reminder this morning that “prayer is doing something”. Even when I may not see or ever know the results, I know God is always responding, always doing. And may He always move my heart to action accordingly. Thank you for these words today!

  10. Betsy de Cruz

    Lisa, I appreciate your thoughts here. “I’ll pray for you” does sound kind of lame to my ears sometimes, yet I do say it. And like Julie above, I try not to say it unless I’ll really do it. Sometimes even praying in that moment.

    But your idea to take one small step to help is priceless.Thank you.

  11. Lois Flowers

    This is a thought-provoking post, Lisa! When I look at what encourages me regarding prayer, it’s to know that people ARE praying for me, not that they say they are going to. So when friend texts or tells me in person that God brought me to her mind and she’s been praying for me, it makes a huge difference to me. Along those lines, when I tell a friend I will pray for her, I try to make it a point to ask her about the situation the next time I see or talk to her. This has led to some beautiful conversations and helped deepen friendships that were much more casual before. 🙂

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  13. Maree Dee

    Great post on prayer. It does sometimes sound so empty as the words fall out of my mouth. Yet, I know how powerful prayer is. However, sometimes I forget to pray and then the guilt arises when they come to mind.

    So what I always try to do is either write it down in my prayer journal or pray right there on the spot.

    Thank you for sharing with Grace & Truth Christian Link-Up.


  14. Christin

    Wow, Lisa–this is such a powerful post! Thanks for sharing from the heart, and I am thankful that even in the midst of us not always knowing what to say, not one uttered word in prayer goes unheard. Let us keep praying indeed! Thanks for linking with #BVN! 🙂

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