A friend recently posted on social media, saying, “Thoughts and prayers are patronizing.” Essentially, they are meaningless, according to my friend. I have thought this myself more than once. As I peruse the news feed, I see people requesting thoughts and prayers for a variety of issues. They span everything from the trivial to a truly tragic occasion.
I’ve witnessed people offering to remember another in this manner. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” they write. At the moment, it seems like the only help that can be offered. We want to acknowledge the problems our friend is experiencing. Often, we don’t know what else we can or should do. So, “thoughts and prayers,” are what we send.
Platitude Is Offered Much Too Often
Some people would call this a “platitude.” And, they’re right. According to a dictionary search, a platitude is “a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” In other words, thoughts and prayers are patronizing and meaningless.
When I see this, my typical internal response is, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, prayer is what matters. Your thoughts aren’t going to help at all.”
Facts About Prayer
Is prayer powerful or powerless? If we took a poll of this readership, I’m guessing the response would come back with a resounding, “Yes!” But what if we took a poll of people not reading articles on a spiritually-founded forum?
The Barna Group is an organization with a long history of conducting surveys seeking insights about faith and culture. They are a leading authority, tracking the role of faith in the US, and around the world.
Prayer is a common faith practice for people in America. The Barna Group states, “79% [of American adults] have prayed at least once in the last three months.” But their approach to prayer is complex and might be very different from the way you or I might pray.
According to a Barna Group study on prayer, “Americans do not think about approaching prayer in any kind of homogeneous way – or even pray to the same deity (if they pray to a higher power at all).”
Communal prayer in a corporate setting, such as a church setting, seems to be declining. 94% of Americans most often choose to pray by themselves. This is most often silent, personal prayer. Barna reports, “Only a very small percentage most often pray audibly with another person or group (2%), or collectively with a Church (2%).
Offering Prayer as Encouragement
Encouraging others is a responsibility Christ-followers need to take seriously. The prayer you offer to another person might make a big difference in how they can make it through any given day. Check out my video blog highlighting a few ways to encourage people in your life.
I am personally in the mindset of praying now, and often. Yes, I believe prayer works. Not only has it worked in my life, but I’ve also witnessed it working in others’ lives. I’m fascinated by prayer when it works. And, I’m mystified when it seems to do no good at all.
In my life, I’ve had the privilege to pray for many people. I’ve learned not to be shy about it. I pray, both out loud, and silently. I’ve prayed for supernatural occurrences, and I’ve prayed for simple needs.
I’ve learned to trust God with the outcome, trying not to sweat the details. God is in control of the outcome; I’m just His willing servant at the moment.
With God’s Help, Prayers Can Heal People
Once, I was part of a group that prayed for a four-year-old girl to be healed. She had a complicated brain tumor that she should not have survived. But, through prayer to Jesus Christ, she did survive. She’s had a rough life, with repeated surgeries, and ongoing health concerns. I’ve prayed for her throughout her entire life as she’s grown up. This once terminal four-year-old turned 25 years old this year. In my opinion, that’s a miracle brought about by prayer, and a good God!
Other times, I’ve had the opportunity to pray, and I’ve seen no results. While I was in India, I had an opportunity to pray for a profoundly injured man. I prayed for Jesus to heal the man in a show of faith that would be evidence for the Gospel in that village. As far as I know, no healing occurred.
In spite of this, I’m not giving up on God. He’s still in the miracle business, and He cares about people and their struggles. He is mysterious. He’s working out His plan in peoples’ lives. I still firmly believe that He listens to the prayers of faithful people.
An apostle of Jesus, Peter tells us, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)
A good definition for a miraculous event comes from philosopher, Dr. Richard Purtill. He says, “A miracle is an event brought about by the power of God that is a temporary exception to the ordinary course of nature for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.”
In other words, a miracle is exceptional and beyond ordinary. It points to the activity outside of the natural order God has ordained in His creation.
God Listens To His Faithful People
God listens to prayers. This is still true today, but who are you praying to? The answer to prayer comes from Jesus. Praying to an unknown higher power probably won’t be heard by Jesus. The one true God loves us and wants good things for His children.
Praying to a false god falls on empty, unhearing ears. Be clear about the deity to whom you are praying. Prayer in Jesus’ name, in His will and ways, will be heard and answered. Call on Jesus for action and expect Him to respond.
Answers can come now, or they can come later. As I understand it, God doesn’t always answer in the way we feel is best. Miracles and earnest requests in prayer can occur immediately, or seemingly not at all. But God knows your request. He knows how He will work in any given request and how it fits in with His plan. Give Him grace as He has given you grace. Allow Him to work as He will. He knows what He is doing.
Jesus’ close friend and apostle John, tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
Our thoughts are not our prayers. We can meditate on a person and think about their plight. But that will do no good unless we turn to God, the Father, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to ask for help. It might mean something to that person to know you were thinking about them. But it won’t affect any change in their situation.
Make Your Request Known To God
You must turn to God and speak to Him to make your request known. Whether you do this out loud, or silently, makes no difference. But, allow me to point out something here.
If you are in a person’s presence that requires your prayer, don’t hesitate to pray out loud with them immediately. There is power in this. It can mean so much to them to hear your words over them, spoken to a God who cares about their situation. It can even be a moment when you feel the Holy Spirit guiding you, making it a blessing for you as well.
Be sensitive to what God is asking of you in moments like this. Listen to His will and respond to direction from the Holy Spirit. It may not be the right time for a public display of faith. But, more often, a display of faith and bold prayer is just what is required.
The more you engage in conversation with God, the more comfortable you become with speaking to Him out loud. Don’t miss out on opportunities to engage with, and for your friends in prayer. You may be the only example that your friends have to experience the power of prayer.
When you are on social media and an opportunity to pray surfaces, I would encourage you to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers.” The right thing to do is to pray immediately. If you can’t pick up the phone and call them, then offer a prayer, in Jesus’ name, right there on social media for everyone to see. Is the forum wrong? Then text them a prayer or send it via private message.
I often practice writing out my prayer. This is kind of like journaling for me. Writing out prayer is like authoring my own psalm. I write out the prayer, and it helps to clarify my thoughts, making sure I offer my complete thoughts to God. Also, I have this prayer to refer to in times of reflection.
Your written prayer, in a letter or text message, can continue to be a source of strength for people as they navigate their difficult situation.
Often, when I reach out to a friend with a prayer or scripture God has revealed, I hear back from them that my words came at “just the right time.” In other words, God is involved. When I listen to Him, He uses me to deliver His encouragement to a friend at their time of need. Don’t miss out on being God’s instrument, and a friend’s blessing.
When You Say You’ll Pray, Then Pray
I have another warning to pass along. When you say, “I’ll pray for you,” don’t forget to pray. We’re all guilty of this. But you must make an intentional effort. Don’t forget!
Life gets busy and impedes your best intentions. I recommend you to be in the habit of saying to a friend, “Would you mind if we pray about that right now?” This is also a powerful habit. It sends a message that you are serious about your promise to pray. Don’t let the moment pass. Engage engines. Shift into prayer mode. And, Pray!
If you promise to pray and wait until another moment to pray, it can be like letting the helium out of the balloon. It just doesn’t float. Don’t miss your moment.
When it comes to your thoughts, you can use these to an extent. While I don’t believe thoughts will do your friend any good, they will help you. The Holy Spirit is working in you if you follow Christ. The Spirit is with you, gently guiding you all the time. When your friend comes to mind and you’re thinking of their plight, it’s likely the Holy Spirit that is prompting you to pray for that person.
Don’t become so consumed with your activities in life that you miss out on these moments. Listen to the Holy Spirit as He prompts you to pray for friends and loved ones. Stay connected to the Spirit and learn to recognize these promptings when they come. They will come. If you remain connected to God, then prayer will become second nature for you.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” (John 15:5,7)
On occasion, I have been deeply affected by circumstances and I have no idea how to pray for someone. This doesn’t stop me from praying. The Holy Spirit is with me, and he knows how to approach the Father with my prayer, even when words escape me.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
The Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf before Almighty God! That’s amazing! God is not trusting us to get the words just right. He knows our hearts. He desires communion with us through prayer, whether we have the words or not.
So, capture your thoughts, and take them to God in prayer. Have a conversation with Him, showing your love to Him, confessing your sins, thanking Him for His grace, and lifting your friends in prayer.
After all, prayer is not patronizing or meaningless, if it comes from the heart, and is directed toward Jesus.
He is the source of answers to prayers. He is the only one who can provide peace for those who need comfort and captives who need freedom.
Seek Jesus and trust him to cover the needs of your friends. Expect God to answer your prayers. He’s big enough to do it if you are bold enough to ask.