Thoughts on Prayer #3: What Do I Expect From Prayer?

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on her Facebook page that her husband had been laid off. There were several comments under her post, many of which said something along the lines of “We’ll pray for you.” I wanted to respond, but felt that an offer of prayer was insufficient on my part. I didn’t understand why I felt that way. What’s wrong with praying for someone when something bad happens?

I realized that I often use praying for someone as an excuse to do nothing else for them. I feel that if I pray for them, that is all I have to do. I’ve expressed my concern, and handed the problem over to God so I don’t need to worry anymore. his makes me sad. I use prayer as an excuse to pass the problem off without feeling bad about it. And I feel great shame for doing so, because if God was going to solve every problem we had, why would I need to exist in communities, families, friendships? If God was going to fix everything, why did I need to exist on this earth in the first place? We exist together, so I must be able to take care of others in some ways. So why do I hand problems off to God and expect them to be solved without my doing anything? (This may well be an example of my misunderstanding of prayer, but it’s how I feel about it.)

So now I try to ask myself, “What else can I do? I know I can’t fix the whole problem, but what can I do to help solve part of the problem? What needs will this problem create?” For example, I didn’t know of any job openings for my husband’s friend. But I did know a few ways to make some extra cash doing online surveys. So I sent her the links and advice on how to be successful with them. I couldn’t fix the whole problem, but I could provide information that might help them make ends meet, as it had for me and my husband at one point. It turned out to be a moot point, as her husband was rehired a few days later. But I learned something from the experience. I learned that often I can help solve part of the problem, that I can’t expect God to fix everything. I found that trying to help was empowering, whereas praying had sometimes made me feel useless.

I will readily acknowledge that there are times when all we can do for someone is pray. There are problems we literally can’t help with, there are distances we can’t cross to help,
there are financial, physical, emotional situations we need to consider, and times when prayer is simply what we have to offer. We pray to express our concern, to show God and others we care, to create a sense of community for those who are suffering. And great good comes from the love and support of those praying. For all I know, prayers change the will of God.

There have been instances in my life where I have found comfort in knowing others are praying for me. There have also been times when I’ve heard I’m being prayed for, but what I really needed was someone to call me, or to express their concern to me, not just to God. There have been times I’ve wanted to ask people to stop praying for me and help me.

I believe prayer is a powerful expression of love and concern that can help others feel supported and make difficult times easier. I also believe that there is generally something I can do along with prayer. Of course that depends on the circumstances, my own abilities and situation, etc. But I feel better asking “What else can I do?” as I pray. I don’t wish to sound judgmental or make others feel guilty. Everyone’s experiences are different and lead them to different actions and conclusion. My experience has led me to this, and I thought it would be interesting to share.


I'm a graduate from BYU in theatre education and history teaching, currently living in Utah and working at a library company. I've been married since 2009. I love to read essentially anything. I'm an earring fanatic, Anglophile and Shakespeare lover.

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4 Responses

  1. “I use prayer as an excuse to pass the problem off,” Ouch! I’ve done this too often myself.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  2. Jessica says:

    I have done this too, and had it done to me. I think I have tried to really help people when I can, but too often I need to step up my effort.

  3. spunky says:

    I am with you. I do say the “I will pray for you” thing, but that is often because we have moved so much that I am really not physically close or financially able to help people much. I do feel lame when I say it sometimes, but like you, for close friends, I pray for direction in case there is something I can do to help.

    Which kind of leads into the next most common pass-off catch phrase in church, which is, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I say that one a lot too… but I do mean it. I am not so sure other people mean it when thay say it, so I try to develop the thought more before I say it.

    I think that is the key– there is a difference between truthfully saying, “You’ll be in our prayers” in a heartfelt tone with the intention to seek to serve, rather than dismissing a problem as someone else’s using with the same words.

  4. charlene says:

    Great post. It made me realize part of my prayers also need to focus more on “…and bless me that I will be able to extend help where it is needed.”

    I’ve also started getting a little pushier with dinners (“Please let me bring you dinner!”) knowing that most people try to avoid getting help from others (I’m that way too), but I need to branch out and figure out other things I can do that don’t involve dropping off food…

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