At the church where I am a pastor, Calvary Bible Church, we desperately want our people to be a praying people. In fact, at the end of the worship service each Sunday, our senior pastor encourages the congregation to find someone before they leave and ask that person how they can pray for him/her. We want prayer to be part of the lifeblood of the church because prayer is the act of God’s people looking to him for what they need. In short, we want to be a people who are actively depending on God together.
The longer I’m in ministry, however, the more I see how prayer can be abused if we’re not careful. One way I see this happening is through the use of the words, “Let me pray about that first”. This phrase is most often used in response to one Christian asking another Christian to make a decision that will involve some sacrifice. The situation could look like someone in church leadership asking a young couple in the body to teach a children’s Sunday school class or it could look like one brother exhorting another to ask forgiveness of someone he’s sinned against. Certainly this phrase has often been used legitimately – a person sincerely takes the time to ask God for wisdom and discernment in making a decision and giving an answer. But too frequently it can be used to stall until a sufficient excuse can be conjured up or used as a “holy” deflection tactic (i.e. – If you pray about it and say “no”, I can’t really exhort you further because you’ve already gone to the boss with my request).
Are there times when you use “let me pray about that first” when you have no intention of saying “yes” to what has been asked of you? I know I’ve done this. If this is the case for you, then you need to realize that what you’re doing is simply following in the footsteps of the Pharisees who prayed on street corners and used empty phrases to beef up their prayers so that they would impress others with a guise of holiness (Matthew 6:5, 7). If you tell someone you’ll pray about their request, then you need to actually do it, but not just so that you can say you did, but with the purpose of getting help to make a decision that God is pleased with and not just you.
To take this concern a little further, there will be requests made of you that will not require you to pray about whether or not you should do them. As for the request of taking on a Sunday school class, that will actually need some prayer so that you can make a wise, God-glorifying decision. But what about the brother who encourages another brother to ask forgiveness of someone else in the church who he’s sin against, does the second brother really need to ask God for wisdom as to whether or not he should do this? The Bible is clear on what should be done in this situation: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). In this situation, we already know exactly what God would have us do and so there’s no need to ask God to help you choose an option. You should certainly ask God for courage to follow through, humility in confessing, and the grace to repent, but God has already told you in the Word that you should do exactly what your brother in the church is encouraging you to do. Therefore, in situations like these, “let me pray about that first” is not even needed.
Church, let’s be a praying people, but let’s not abuse prayer by using it to save face and stay comfortable.