“Your prayers are working.”
“He/She needs more prayers.”
“We need as many people as possible praying for this.”
Godly, well-meaning Christians use these phrases all the time. I get them in my e-mail just about every day. But, I want to call us to think about what we’re saying or implying when we use them. People who struggle with belief latch on to those phrases (that they’ve heard from us), and then, when their prayers are not followed by the outcome they desired, what little faith they have in God could easily come crashing down.
“Your prayers are working.” We tend to say this when things are going our way. OK, then when things aren’t going our way does that mean our prayers aren’t working? Don’t you believe that our prayers always work? If so, why do we say this and open the door for the possibility that they don’t? As positive as this statement sounds on the surface, to me it shows more disbelief in prayer than belief! It sounds as if we are suggesting there is only a 50-50 chance it will work, and, fortunately for us, it seems to be working this time.
And if they are “working”, doesn’t this lead to a certain amount of superstition regarding the way we’ve been praying, as if we’ve found some sort of magic formula that we need to keep following so they will keep “working”, because if we deviate they may lose their effectiveness?
“He/She needs more prayers.” This phrase makes it sound like prayer is one of many possible drugs or treatments for a condition. “Well, the antibiotic/chemotherapy/radiation/etc. isn’t working, so we’re going to try another dose of prayer. Maybe it will work this time.”
Or, perhaps we’re implying that people have lapsed in their prayers for our issue, and God, having noticed the drop-off in prayers, has decided that this is no longer something He needs to pay so close attention to. Well, by all means let’s rally the troops for another round of prayers to remind God that He isn’t finished with this one yet!
“We need as many people as possible praying for this.” Do we really believe that the more people we get to pray for something, the more likely we are to get our “way”? Would we dare imply that if only Peter, James, and John had been able to stay awake in the garden praying that the outcome to Jesus’ prayer to avoid the cross would have been different? After all, then four people would have been praying for it, not just one. And, if only Paul would have asked for some others to pray with him about his thorn in the flesh instead of only asking by himself those three times…
More next time. And I promise to stop being so cynical. I know those phrases are well-intentioned. They’re just misleading.