Have you ever told someone, ‘I’ll be praying for you!’ and then not follow through with actually praying for them?
If we are willing, to be honest, then I think we all would confess that we have failed here, some more than others, but still, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Here’s what my fear in regards to this is, especially living in the Bible Belt: if we are not careful, then prayer will just become a culturally polite thing that we say, and not a thing that we actually do. Indeed, perhaps for some of you reading intercessory prayer has become just that—something you always talk about, but never do.
My desire now is to convince you to actively be on guard against this, or to repent of being politely silent, whichever shoe fits your foot. So, here are three reasons why “praying for you” should not just be something you say out of politeness.
1. Because prayer is more than just a nice thing to say
Especially when you’re chained up awaiting an execution from your Roman captors. Such was the case for the apostle Peter as is recorded in Acts 12. In the context, we learn that Herod had just killed James, and the crowd responded with cheers to this action. Herod, no doubt seizing the opportunity to please his subjects again, proceeded to arrest Peter also (Acts 12:3). Now, Herod must have been worried that Peter might rouse up a breakout, so he had him heavily guarded on the eve before he was about to bring him out. Peter was sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains with sentries (stationed soldiers) outside the door, but what Herod didn’t account for that night was the power of prayer!
In the middle of the night, Peter is awoken by an angel in a rather abrupt manner, and the chains fell off his hands. He got dressed, put on his sandals, and followed the angel out, yet none of the soldiers attempted to stop him. The thing was so amazing that Peter thought he was dreaming (Acts 12:9). They walked past the sentries, as if they were invisible, and then through the gate which opened for them of its own accord—right out into freedom, and then the angel left Peter as quickly as he had arrived.
I have always loved the next verse in this story,
When he realized this he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.Acts 12:12, ESV.
The answer to their prayer knocked on their door. Wow.
I’ll never forget hearing what Thomas Watson said about this story, ‘The angel fetched Peter from prison, but it was prayer that first fetched the angel.’
So, when you tell someone that you’re going to pray for them, make sure to do it. Prayer is not just a polite thing to promise, but a real and powerful thing to do.
2. Because lying about praying for someone does more damage than good—for you.
I say this because that’s always true about lying, it’s never beneficial—even if the lie is just a failure to follow through with good intentions. And I know that is what you have when you make the initial promise to pray for someone, good intentions. You hope to lift their spirits, to encourage them, and to remind them that they are not alone in this. I think those all are very admirable intentions for which I commend you to continue with—but be true to fulfill your intentions. Remember what the wisdom of James speaks to us,
What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed, and filled” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?James 2:14-17, ESV.
Good intentions are not a sufficient shield against hypocrisy. Making promises with good intentions without following through is a dangerous habit to form. It creates a sense of shallowness in our faith that is dangerous—and if left unchecked, possibly condemning. I could say much more here, but for the sake of time and space I’ll close this point with a question,
If someone requires prayer, and one of you promises to pray for them without actually doing it, what good is that?
3. Because it dishonors The Lord when we are all talk and no action.
What do you think God hears by your silence? Oh, an empty prayer closet still speaks but not in a way that honors The Lord!
I have come to think of it this way: to be absent in prayer, is to assume that God can’t help. That’s what The Lord hears when you fail to follow through with your promises to pray. Dear friend, our God is not One who can only offer good intentions—He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:35). He is the Sovereign Lord who takes the bad intentions of human beings and bends them to meet His good and glorious purpose (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28). He is The Lord by whom and for whom all things exist, move, and have their being (Hebrews 2:10, Colossians 1:16-17). Your assumption that God can’t help is a stupid one, and your silence in the prayer closet is a dishonoring thing to Him.
Let us guard against making our blood-stained access into the presence of Almighty God a forgotten place. Let us guard against making this holy right, a mundane and common thing. Let us guard against making prayer just another polite thing to say. If all you have is your word, then keep it—and use them to intercede to The King, for He is listening.