What I mean when I say, “I’m praying for you . . .”

So recently I have seen articles and images disparaging or mocking the absurdity of telling someone in crisis “I’m praying for you,” and the concern raised makes sense. The frequency of the memes resulted in my pondering precisely what do I mean when I say, “I’m praying for you” and do I need to stop saying this. (I have no intention of ceasing to pray for people in crisis – just trying to figure out what to do with the communication about it.)

The other night at dinner I brought the topic up. Around the table were people born in five different countries representing three of the major world religions as well as people who remain dubious of God’s existence. Seemed a diverse enough group to get a variety of opinions, so I was actually surprised when the consensus boiled down to “it depends on who says it.” Basically, the table talk decided that people are not bothered, may even appreciate someone who says this, if we are pretty sure they mean it. I can tell they are for me and with me, but when the words are used to placate, then it’s irritating. Words and deeds need to match up.

What to do when friends walk in grief and pain?

Usually I do not know what to do for a bandaid-isn’t-going-to-fix-this, life is hard seasons – mine own or others. Sometimes there are practical things – a meal, childcare, errands, accompany to an appointment, listen, but while these gestural acts say I am with you and I am for you, the grief, the problem still remains front and centre untouched. The actual complexity of the situation and of human emotions boggle the mind and faint the heart for how to enter in any meaningful way. Simply put, when a friend, coworker, or acquaintance encounters life’s challenges and pain, I’m grieved with them. Even when the unfolding mess comes of the person’s own creating, the pain is still real and maybe the bad choices were in the context of brokenness and more pain I don’t know or see. Things can get really awful; being human is hard.

photo (28)

Years ago, during one of the worst seasons of my life, a close friend, one of two who knew the painful event and unfolding results from the event, gave me the book The Pain No One Sees. As I read it, I actually hid the book, so no one saw the title and would know I was pained. The season taught me that all may not be as it seems even with people who are naturally quite open. So I try to extend grace to others, assuming I don’t know or see everything.

In addition to band-aid helps, I pray. Sometimes I say, “I’m praying for you.”

So back to the what I mean when I say, “I’m praying for you.”

When I tell someone I am praying for them, I am offering the best I have –

  • the best source of comfort,
  • the most powerful source of wisdom,
  • the most all seeing, perspective giving  presence of the Creator of Heaven of and Earth.
  • the only, best, and lasting source of hope
  • the largest reservoir of strength
  • the smartest problem solver
  • the always present, never sleeping Comforter and Counsellor

My own experience suggests that when I may most need the Heavenly Father’s presence and guidance is when I’ve been least able to formulate words before Him. Times have come when all I could do was enter the throne room of heaven and forget praise and awe, forget begging and pleading. All I could do was eagerly put my head in the lap of the Heavenly Father trusting He would extend grace and mercy in my time of need. Friends had to pray the specific words.

So when I say, “I’m praying for you.” I hope you are entering the Father’s presence, and that you know the words, the hopes, the details are being carried by your friends who know both of you. Kind of like when a crying child goes to a parent or teacher, and all of the other kids explain what has happened.

When I say I’m praying for you, I’m acknowledging that even though you may have created this situation, got your just comings, or someone else’s brokenness just vomited all over your life, there is also a spiritual battle for your health and wellness. In the midst of walking with you, I’m praying for you means I know that ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood. Not only will I give you contact for a counsellor to help you face the emotional processes of this problem, but on your behalf, I will go to the One who created emotional and spiritual processes and expect the Holy Spirit to show up and to act quietly and powerfully.

When I say I am praying for you, I’m going to the One who can reopen and reidentify the vastness of life and options still open before you. Just as the ocean teems with life and storms and varying topography, when connected to the Lord, the limits before us can open again by the vastness of His character, His understanding, His creation. The ocean near my home looks simple on the surface, but it stretches all around the world, flows deeper than I will ever go, and contains huge mystery; a great analogy for me of God’s great power. So when I say I’m praying for you, I’m going to the One who can always be present with you and will consistently, never miss in guiding you into life.photo (29)

15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and

the Lord will raise him up.

And if he has committed sins,

he will be forgiven. 16 

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and

pray for one another, that you may be healed.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[a] 17 

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and

he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and

for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

James 5:15-17

When I say, “I’m praying for you,” I’m giving you the best I’ve got. But the lovely thing is I can give this gift without telling you, so let me know if you don’t want to hear about it.


2 thoughts on “What I mean when I say, “I’m praying for you . . .”

  1. beautifully said, Ellen. I really do pray when I say this to someone. I just take them into the presence of the Lord and say Lord, please help them know Your presence. And I have found that even those who doubt the existence of God, appreciate prayer. I just can’t say “I’m sending you good thoughts,” which is the phrase now replacing I’m praying for you. My good thoughts just are that. good thoughts. No power. But those who don’t believe will not understand. So I am careful who I say this phrase to. But that doesn’t stop me from praying.

    Becky Nelson Director, Chin Community Ministry 1020 Fox Avenue #504 Lewisville, TX 75067 (972) 221-3249



  2. I love this, Ellen. I’m preaching on this James passage in a few weeks…this really helps me. And besides this beautifully articulate expression, I think what I love most about these words is that you live them. Your prayers for me have mattered, and I’ve been helped and changed because of them.


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