Beating the Prayer Bluff

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Can you and I take a moment to get real honest?

I know this may come across as hypocritical since I am a Christian and a pastor and I am always sharing churchy exhortations online, but I want to be candid. Many times I have told someone that I would pray for them and I failed to do so. I bet you have done the same.

You have no doubt become the victim, or played the perpetrator, of the “prayer bluff.” Someone expresses their struggle with a circumstance or new issue peeks its head over the horizon, and our mind sends a message to our mouth: blurt out something about praying for them!

It all sounds genuine. But I fear, in my own life and in yours, that “I’ll be praying for you” has become nothing more than a religious platitude.

THE PROBLEM WITH FAILING TO PRAY FOR SOMEONE

I have felt a bit pessimistic about “I’ll be praying for you” for some time now, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered its heartlessness. It happened when I was reading Numbers (yes, really).

Throughout the book of Numbers, the Israelites are on their way to Edom under the guidance of God and Moses. They complain. A lot. They take up their complaints with both of these faithful leaders, demanding an answer for why they were escorted to this dreadful wilderness. The food (when they manage to find some) is bland, and there’s no water.

God reacted to their ungratefulness and slander with judgment, sending fiery serpents among them. They came to their senses in repentance, or perhaps they feared the prospect of death. Regardless, here’s what happens next:

And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. — Numbers 21:7

Here’s the question that came to my mind as I read that: What if he hadn’t? What if Moses heard these pleas from the people and said, “Okay, I’ll pray for you,” then didn’t, and just went about his business? Wouldn’t we call Moses unloving? Lazy? Cruel?

Continue reading at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

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