Playing at Prayer

Question

When people say they will pray for me do they really mean it? What I mean is do some people just play at prayer but don’t really mean it?

Answer

Genuine prayer and love are intimately connected to one another. Prayers of faith are followed up on by acts of love (Jas. 2:18). And of course, the truth of 1 John 4:20, which states, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

There are some people who claim to pray but really don’t and, as you stated, merely “play at prayer.” It may be because they are trying to appear holy, righteous, and religious before others yet are but hypocrites at heart. Their words could be considered lies, even theft as well because they are in a sense robbing the person they are supposedly praying for. It can even call into question whether those that make such empty promises are truly Christians.

Here is an overt example of what can happen if this is systemic in a church:

A lady had a heart attack during a church service. She survived, but was very weak and so was restricted to staying at home for some time. Many people in the church told her that they would pray for her. However, not a single person contacted her over the next three months. There wasn’t a single text message, email, phone call, get-well card, or visit from anyone in the entire church. There was no comfort offered, not even that of a prepared meal or a bouquet of flowers.

The lady recovered and left the church. Her previous pastor contacted her and asked why she left? She told him, "If the church really loved me they would have prayed for me when I was sick. If the church really prayed for me, they would have contacted me to see if their prayers had been answered. But no one at the church contacted me for months, so I know they didn’t genuinely pray for me. To me, this says you don’t love me. I have walked and lived and worshiped among you. If you don't see and know about me, how can you see and love God? I only desire to attend a real Christian church that loves both God and me."

In this example, the people of the church failed on several fronts. Even in churches with systems in place, people fall through the cracks. It's easy to assume others have stepped up. It is also easy to dutifully put a meal together and send it off feeling you've done your part. Or, it's easy to say "I'll pray for you" in someone's presence, throw up a prayer, and then move on. It takes committed effort to remember or take time to follow up about someone's ongoing progress or needs. Seeing and loving others is an outworking of the gospel. Unfortunately, busyness or assumptions that someone else is seeing to it can disorder commitment. At the same time, there must be room for forgiveness. When people fail, it doesn't mean God fails. When this happens, the church should welcome concerns and accountability.

While there are individuals that may not really mean what they say, there are many people who do genuinely pray. What's at the heart of the matter is that people must actually care for others.

For the Christian, love is a constantly growing fruit that encourages consideration of the welfare of others and to even make sacrifices for them. When you find a person like this, you’ve found a pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46 KJV). Covet this person’s prayers. Seek to become like them. Stay on your knees until you become like them. Once you are like them, you won’t be able to get off your knees.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).