Are our prayers just platitudes?


Last week actor Chris Pratt tweeted about film director Kevin Smith and ended up with a thread of caustic tweets on the topic of prayer. I have to be honest. I did not know who Smith was so I did a Google search. He had suffered a massive heart attack, and Pratt suffered massive backlash for his tweet. Why? Because Pratt said he would pray for Smith and asked others to join him in praying.

Comments such as “doctors and nurses save lives not prayer” and “prayer is just a way to feign helping” popped up. I get it. The Parkland, Florida mass shooting prompted angry and sometimes justified responses to “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” But this vitriol has overreached into prayer in general. Certainly, one individual sincerely moved to pray and ask others to pray should not be written off as feigning help.

For the record, Smith tweeted support for Pratt on social media saying he was cool with it all.

But are our prayers ever platitudes? Do we use prayer to feign helping? God did not intend that prayer and platitudes even be in the same conversation or twitter feed. They are at odds with one another. Yet, it happens.

I’ll admit there have been times when I used prayer as a lazy response, and I’m not proud of it. But that doesn’t mean all my prayers are in vain. Sometimes prayer is the only help! Other times we need to come out of our prayer closet and put our faith to work in addition to the prayers. We can find some direction on these actions in the Bible.

The apostle James clearly showed this in chapter two of his letter.

“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus vehemently opposed prayer platitudes. He called those who voiced empty prayers hypocrites. They were more concerned about being seen and heard than caring about the individual herself.

We can offer platitudes easily enough. You know those situations where a friend confides in you at the grocery store and you comment, “I’ll pray for you.” You then walk down the next aisle and scratch off an item on your list. By the time you’re reached the checkout you’ve totally forgotten the person and her request. (I’ve done this!) We can and should guard against this tendency to treat prayer casually.

  1. Record prayer concerns. Repeat the prayer request back to the person as you jot it down on your phone or grocery list. Or keep a prayer notebook. However you choose, carve out time to pray for others then check back with them. You are showing you cared enough to pray for them.
  2. Pray immediately. A friend of mine will be late for appointments and meetings because she prays for people on the way. She prays for the waitress at her table. She’s prayed for me in the foyer of my house. As a flight attendant, she prays for passengers on her flights.
  3. Pray specifically. Target God’s word for the specific situation or person. When you pray scripture with the person’s name inserted, God’s power is released. It’s harder to forget a need when you have a specific scripture in mind.
  4. Pray aloud. Reciting James again, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16). Our prayers are not hampered by the ceiling of our prayer closest, but God hears our prayers. Say your prayers aloud either with the person or during your personal prayer time. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will get at it.
  5. Pray on your knees. Posture yourself in humility. When you humble yourself, you cannot pray platitudes. You are showing God by your posture that you believe He is able to work in the situation.

I’m glad Smith responded to Pratt with thankfulness. But this attack on “thoughts and prayers” is not going away any time soon. When a situation calls for prayers with action, do it. When prayer is all we can do, pray it.

As you go about your week, look for opportunities to pray. Our families need prayer. Our schools need prayer. Our communities need prayer. Our churches need prayer. Our nation needs prayer. Not good intentions but effective, powerful prayer.

I’d love to hear your comments on this topic!

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