Lying About Prayer

I wonder how many people lie about praying for other people or about situations they hear about. I’ve known many people over the years, who upon hearing about someone who was sick, dying, or had an accident, or were losing their house or a loved one, or their job, or spouse, or there was some other serious need, responded by saying they will pray for whatever it was that was needed, only to not pray about it, forgetting it completely. What started me on this topic? I went through some pretty serious surgery, and many people said they were praying for me, and for sure I know they were. But I also figure some didn’t, and in that sense they cheated me out of their prayers when I really needed them!

The fact is, many people use the “prayer request” as an opportunity to spread news to other people. When you call it a prayer request, that’s shorthand for saying, this is something you should pay attention to. It’s a verbal high lighter that people should listen to what you are saying. I don’t have a problem with people highlighting their news reports by calling it a prayer request…. unless they don’t actually pray for whatever it is they said they would pray for. If they don’t pray, they’d be more honest calling it a “News Flash!”

I know that sometimes people forget they said they would pray. After all, you can’t blame people for having a bad memory. Some people claim to put it on their prayer list. That’s good, because they didn’t offer to really pray, just to put it on their list. As long as they actually have a list and put it on their list, they aren’t lying. I don’t know how being on a list that no one prays for helps, but at least they didn’t lie.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against people praying for things. People experiencing the traumas of life absolutely need prayers, and I for one am a firm believer in praying for them. I just feel if we say we are going to pray for people, we ought to do it!

We are supposed to be the people of God. That means we are the ones who actually *DO* have a hotline to heaven. If anyone is going to pray effectively, it should be us. That’s what it means to be a nation of priests. We are supposed to be interceding for the people around us. My mother, who is a firm believer in Yeshua’s Father, calls me for prayer for whomever she knows who needs it because she believes God listens to me. If I value the fact that she asks me to pray, it would be downright sinful for me not to pray; and that’s the point of this tirade.

Prayer is actually a powerful thing we do, yet it is trivialized by people reducing it to an expression. If my prayers really make a difference, and I don’t pray, thinking someone else will cover it, and then nothing happens, people might get the wrong idea God didn’t come through, when its possible that I didn’t do my part in the first place. If someone asks me to pray, I feel bound and obligated to do so. Its my calling; not because I’m some prayer warrior, a term I hate, or because I am more of a prayer person than other people of faith. I pray because it’s what I’m supposed to do, especially if someone asks me to do it. If you think I’m cranky when I write these posts, you should hear my prayers. God knows I’m cranky, so he doesn’t mind my cranky prayers. I tell him whats wrong and how I feel about it. I leave what to do about it to Him.

I pray for people who asked me to pray for them. I don’t use holy words like some people. I don’t raise my arms or get on my knees; mainly because it would be too hard for me to get off my knees when I’m done. I don’t usually close my eyes either. I usually pray in English because I’m more comfortable that way. I got tired of trying everyone’s prayer formulas so I stopped using them. I do whats comfortable for me. I lay it all out and tell God I’m putting it in his hands and ask him to do something, because I asked him. I usually don’t think about it much after that, unless I hear back from people, but I trust God to take care of it.

When I pray from the Siddur, that’s different. Those prayers are not about supplication. When I pray from the Siddur, I lose myself in those prayers. I do those prayers for me. They have a different function. I know some people will want to tell me that there are some intercessory prayers in the Siddur, and they use those. To them I say.. Mazel Tov, but really I don’t care. I pray those prayers. This isn’t about what works for you, but what works for me. I try to obey God, or in other words, do what he asks, and in a similar way, God does things when I pray, because I asked him. Its not a question of obedience, but of relationship. Ultimately, It’s not about any of this or how you pray except that if you say you will pray for someone, you damn well better DO IT! How can I say this? Because I’m a rabbi for Christ’s sake!


23 thoughts on “Lying About Prayer

  1. “I will pray” is the biggest little white lie in humanity probably. If someone asks for prayer, or I say I will pray, it works best for me to do it on the spot right then. Still, I can do better. Thank you, Rabbi, for the reminder. (we prayed for you today) 😉

    • Thats the exact issue I’m speaking to Karen. A similar issue is when people want to blow you off, they say, “I’ll pray about it.” I seriously doubt that they ever do pray about it at all. Its a polite way of putting you off without having to directly turn you down. I was once sharing about starving people and invited people to help them. One guy just said to me, that he’d pray about it. I asked what there was to pray about. If people are hungry, you feed them. When someone comes to a stop sign, they don’t need to pray to ask if they should stop. Prayer is actually a powerful thing we do, yet it is trivialized by people reducing it to an expression.

  2. Often, i’d rather pray for the person without telling them that i do. So often i’ve heard or read “i’ll pray for you/about it” sounding so much like the “pious”thing to say, often in a christian context, not being really sure if it is being meant or not.

    on the other hand, i sometimes say it because i want the person to know that i pray for them because i care for them; i’ve been very sick, and also stuck in bed for month for fear of losing my baby when pregnant; i’m sure some people prayed for me, but nobody let me know so i felt quite forgotten because nobody called, visited – trying to convince myself that people do like me: pray without telling the person.

    prayer is not only powerful, but so important; often, it is the only thing i can do for some friends and cared-for people. without it, i’d feel completely helpless and powerless.

    • when i said that is “the pious thing to do” it’s ironic… it often felt like that when i heard it. instead of saying, “i’m sorry” or “i care for you” some believers would answer “i’ll pray for you”.

  3. I appreciated your blog, this is simething that I think about alot and I try not to say that I will pray for some one unless I really will. Actually, once I say that I will pray for swome one I almost never get it out of my mind until I do, but I have been on prayer chains that are nothing more than keeping up with what’s going on with everyone

  4. Oh man. This is so true, I had to laugh. A bit embarrassingly, I do forget to pray for some people after saying “I’ll keep you in my prayers”.

    I didn’t forget to pray for your surgery and recovery, however, Dr. Schiffman. I hope you are recovering, and I hope the surgery will prove effective.

  5. Rabbi
    Anyone that says they always follow through on their prayer promises i am skeptical about since i screw up and from time to time forget .
    i agree with you in what you say and i have found that i am now about 90% compliant in following through on prayer and BTW i do pray for you daily. I will try to do better and ask that Yeshua help me pick up my slack
    blessings my brother

    Kol Shalom Fellowship

  6. Rabbi, thanks for putting that in writing. Yes, it is a tirade, but very appropriate. It’s an issue that has always concerned me, both on the coming and the going sides. I figure the phrase, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” is about as good from most people as it is when Mr. Obama says it. On the other hand, when someone says, “I will pray for you,” I take it as a personal promise and I asumne it will be kept.

    My wife and I pray every morning, except for the rare occasion when we do not, for one reason or another. If either of us promises to pray for someone, it gets done every day until the need ends, that is unless we don’t pray that morming for some reason. We don’t keep any “prayer list,” simply because those for whom we pray are very dear to us and when we pray we do not forget them.

    The net result is that occasionally we do fail to pray on a particular day, but that missed prayer will be made the following day. We are human, we slip up now and then, and I admit it. We mean to do well, and sometimes we succeed.

  7. This is a very relevant topic, Dr. Shiffman. Thanks for posting it. This is something we all need to hear.

    I know that I’ve been guilty of saying I’ll pray for someone and then forgetting. My middle-aged memory is such that I need to write just about everything down before it leaks out of my brain.

    In reality, that’s no excuse. I thank God that He never forgets about us but if we love each other, we also need to be better at remembering and then doing. Beyond praying, we can act. Sometimes we are not just the praying person, but we’re the answer to someone’s prayer, if we just listen to what God is saying and don’t “forget”.

    As a side note, I thought there was something wrong with my eyesight when I first visited your blog today. I saw all of these tiny white specks moving on the page. 😀

  8. I am absolutely terrible about praying for people who are sick. This is why I rarely promise to do so.

    My husband, on the other hand, holds this mitzvah in high regard. He keeps a little Post-it note in the back of his siddur with the names of people among his family, friends, colleagues, and congregation who are sick or who are struggling in some other way. Every time he comes to the Mishebeirach, he flips over to that Post-it and recites their names. He loves crossing off a name when he hears that someone has been healed or has recovered.

    I wish I were so organized and thoughtful. Maybe I’ll pray about it. 😉

    • Monique, I think if someone asks us to pray we should, even if we pause a moment and pray right there, just to make sure we did it. I think there is greater integrity in not saying you will pray if you aren’t going to do it; but prayer makes a difference even if we don’t feel like it does.

  9. Pingback: Pray with Sincerity « Congregation Shema Yisrael

  10. It’s about time someone wrote about this. I started feeling like I wasn’t keeping my word (vow) when I would say this. So, I decided to start a prayer journal. I highlight prayers that have been answered, date it, and continue to thank God for them being answered. Sometimes, I call people who I’ve said I would pray for just for an update. I love highlighting!

    • Same thing Dan.. if you say you are going to pray, you need to do it. Its a matter of integrity. If we really believe our prayers actually do something, we should take prayer for people more seriously, and be more dillegent about doing it. no one is forcing us to pray. It’s something we should want to do for people. How many times have you wanted to do something for someone only to be told there is nothing you can do. Prayer is the one thing we really can do that will make a difference.

  11. Dr.Shiffman,a friend of mines’ daughter was diagnosed with a deadly sickness recently.She’s only five and their only child.I promised to remember them in prayer which I did.My request to you also are to pray for Amber so that this sickness can be vannish.I think that it is not accidental that I read about you on the internet.We are in South-Africa (Northern Cape)
    Thank you very much in advance

    • Joseph,

      The child will be in my prayers. What is the child’s name? and please keep me informed of the child’s condition. May the child have a Refuah Shalema, a complete healing.

  12. Dr. Schiffman,

    I am having trouble, for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on, with the whole concept of the PRAYER LIST. It just seems so “unnatural” to me, somehow. I see no example of it in scripture. What say you, sir?

    • if it helps you remember your supplications, I see no problem in it. Life is full of things that can help you that have no mention of it in scripture. There is no mention of penicillin but if it helps you when you are sick, you would be wise to take it. Where does scripture say that only things with examples in scripture are good?

      • I totally agree. I didn’t mean to imply that it is wrong. It just doesn’t seem right for me. I was just wondering if anyone else felt that way or could maybe help me understand why I do.

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