Prayers for. . .

If you pray, help me out here.  Seriously, I’m trying to understand what it really means when someone posts:

“Pray for Haiti,” “Prayers for Afghanistan,” “Pray for our Troops” or “Prayers for [anyone anywhere]”

I’m not asking for a definition of prayer.

I prayed for many years, including Evangelical praise, Pentecostal speaking in tongues and Protestant intercession.  Prayer was second nature for a long time.  I learned to pray among people of many faiths, creating inclusive prayers almost anyone could participate in.

I understand prayer very well.

Yet, I’m not sure I understand what people really mean by the word sometimes.

What I’d like to know is when someone says:

“Pray for [these people]” or “Prayers for [this place]” how are they praying, what are they saying (or thinking) and what do they think it’s doing in the real world?

If they are simply asking others to have some genuine feeling, conscious compassion, for others, I get that.  But then why not say:

“Please show conscious compassion for [those people]”

Now, you might tell me:

“But we’re asking God to ‘be present’ or ‘help’ or ‘take care of’ others.  We’re letting God know we care and want God to ‘be with’ them in their suffering.”

I’m trying not to be disrespectful here, but I have to ask:

What kind of God is that?  You mean God won’t be “present” or “care” or act at all unless you, and believers like you, ask God to?

I was a liberal, progressive believer for a long time, so I know another response might be:

“Of course God is already present and active.  We’re simply trying to focus thoughts and concern in the direction of people in need.  The real ‘prayer’ is to help them physically, materially, if we can.  We are God’s hands and feet.”

I get that.

So, once again, I have to push a bit more:

Then, why call that “prayer”?  Most people think of prayer as words, asking God for something, and often that’s just what “Pray for them” means.  It means “Do something,” “Say something to God for them.”

To be honest, I find the words “Pray for” and “Prayers for” rather hollow, empty of meaning and result.  A platitude, a cliche.  If it makes the person praying feel better somehow, isn’t that somewhat self-centered, even self-righteous?  It comes across as: “See, I’m praying, and you should be too.”  (Jesus had something to say about public praying).

So, help me out here.

If you say these words, or post “Pray for” statements, what do YOU mean by those words, what do YOU expect, what are YOU asking for?  WHO are YOU talking to?

I’d really like to hear.


{Bonus question:  In the gospels, Jesus says:  “Whatever you ask for in my name you will receive.”  Why don’t all those who pray get “whatever they ask for”?  Was Jesus kidding, exaggerating?}

Categories: prayerTags: , , , , , ,


  1. Been seeing this a lot lately being at the heart of the corkscrew fire. Finally rained last night after 15,000 acres burned 9 homes and multiple other buildings and now we’re getting “thank you lord” and “thank you Jesus”, “prayers to all the firefighters”.
    It is imperative to Christianity to first believe, the proving all things is as simple as believing them. Your last question should be the first clue that none of it works.

  2. Hey Chris. If you get some responses from your readers about the prayer topic and the Socratic approach you are taking, write another column about the reactions. I think many of us will be interested.

    My personal experience with prayer after de-converting is mixed but remember when I was still a believer in all of the protestant views on prayer which you make up in your own consciousness as opposed to prayers a church tells you to repeat, Our father, or Hail Marys etc. was a social interchange to say “you care” about something. Just like secular people say, I will be thinking about you an sending positive thoughts your way. I think is primarily a way to say this issue I share with you. It is very much a form of social cognition to say you will “be there” for someone.

    On the other hand, when my very religious friends took issue with my now non-religious way of life which I would slowly reveal in the appropriate time, often when they left me they would say, “I’ll be praying for you, Marty”. I took this as a patronizing remark to show that I needed their prayers regardless of my interest. It is like when people say to someone they are fighting with….I hope you go to therapy. Very passive aggressive. My mom said this to me several times on learning of my change of heart and mind. She also told me she asked family members to pray for me as if I was lost and needed guidance. It was not a positive exchange for me. Later after some therapy my psychologist just told me to translate her and others remarks to my own terminology such as ” I will pray for you” means I am worried about you and don’t know how to help. There are other examples also. I remember my uncle, a believer,, who taught philosophy at a Nazarene University once related in class as a child witnessing a fire in a small town in Iowa. The minister said to thank God for saving your house if he did, and my uncle asked what should those whose houses burnt to the ground say to God. He was about 12 at the time and a very inquiring mind. I could go on and on….but hopefully you will write again on the topic. I actually think it is so ritualized now that few really give much intentional thought to it, and even pray out of sense of guilt and responsibility.

    • We’ll see, Marty. I’d like to think more will respond. I think the questions are legitimate and fairly respectful. One person said prayer is “sending good energy” and my question in reply was, “If that’s even possible?” I think most people who pray don’t really think about it. After all, for many who do it, praying is not focused on critical or reasonable thought, as I see it. But I’d like to hear from others.

      As for friends and family praying for us, I certainly have had similar experiences. When some people run out of words, or feel uncomfortable with deeply engaging non-believers, the only thing to do is speak to their deity. I too find this a bit sad, and disappointing as well, even when it comes from a “caring place.”

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