When You Say “I’ll Pray for You” and Don’t

by Jon Acuff

Sometimes, saying “I’ll pray for you” is just the Christian equivalent of ending a date by saying “I’ll give you a call.” It shouldn’t be, in a dating situation you usually tell the person you’ll give them a call because you’re all out of words and the night needs some sort of punctuation. You know deep down you will not be giving that person a call, but they are just standing there, and they weren’t a horrible date, just not the right person for you.

So you’re faced with two choices – either you throw your house keys and hope that the moonlight reflecting off the key chain blinds them and the sound distracts them allowing you to escape inside or you tell them, “I’ll give you a call.” And since you need your keys for getting in the house, that option isn’t great, unless you carry a spare set of “bad date keys” but then you have to wonder, how many bad dates are you going on that you had a special set of keys made just to throw?

Instead you say, “‘I’ll give you a call” because it’s easier that way. Or maybe we mean it at the time. Maybe we intend to call that person, but life gets busy and we just forget. I think that’s similar to what happens when we say “I’ll pray for you.”

Right now I have about a 17% success rate when it comes to actually following through on my “I’ll pray for you” statements. I know that’s horrible, but it’s a ten year average and from 1996 – 2004 I was batting about 0%. I’ve done better these last two years to pull up my average but you know what they say about prayer statistics, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” (I think there was an analogy traffic jam in that paragraph, whoa.)

But what if there was a better way? What if instead of saying “I’ll pray for you” and then not, we could all do something else? What if we learned five new ways to end a Christian conversation without saying, “I’ll pray for you?” I think we should.

Five new things to say instead of “I’ll pray for you.”

1. “Here, have some pocket candy.”
Conversations, much like Saturday Night Live skits, are often difficult to end. What started out funny and enjoyable just kind of slowly deteriorates until you’re both standing there saying, “so yeah, that’s what’s going on.” I think it might be nice, when you sense that a conversation has lost its momentum and it’s time to move on, if you offered the person you’re talking with some pocket candy. Instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” you could say, “I need to go now, but I’d like to leave you with these hard candies. Here, have some pocket candy.” Everyone loves candy, and even if they don’t, they’ll be too stunned to really say anything as you fill their hands with delicious treats instead of an empty promise to pray for them.

2. “Razzle Dazzle, Razzle Dazzle.”
This one makes no sense and that’s kind of the point. It’s just really fun to say, and at the bare minimum, it will be awkwardly funny. Just imagine if your friend says, “so anyway, that’s what’s going on, not much else, whatever” and you reply, “Razzle Dazzle man, Razzle Dazzle.” (Bonus points if you combine this one with #1 and actually give your friend a handful of Razzles, the candy that turns into a gum. Remember that stuff? It somehow managed to suck as both a gum and a candy. Phenomenal.)

3. “I’m sorry, I can’t multiply your negativity.”
Occasionally, a friend will ask you to pray for something that you completely disagree with. They’re in a depression right now and if what they’re praying for came true, the negativity would be multiplied. Maybe they’re in a horrible relationship and they’re praying they’ll get married or they’re trying to quit their 47th job that year and when they ask you to pray for a new one you can’t do anything but shot block it. You don’t want to, it won’t feel loving at the time, but you don’t want to multiply the negativity by praying for something you adamantly feel like God is clearly against. So be upfront and work in a little George Clinton/Prince type language to soften the blow.

4. “That’s interesting.”
If you’ve ever worked in a corporation, you’ve heard this phrase. This term is so large and undefined that when someone shows you an idea at work you can say “that’s interesting” and it can mean everything from, “I like that idea, I think we should turn it into a project” to “that is the worst idea I have ever heard in my life.” Try it today, you can use it in almost any situation. Someone spills a coke in your computer keyboard, “that’s interesting, the vowels don’t work anymore.” Someone offers to give you a raise and an office with a door, “that’s interesting, I would like a promotion.” It’s great for work and is a pretty handy “I’ll pray for you” replacement. Not because it’s a dishonest phrase but because it buys you time to gather your thoughts and reflect on the conversation instead of just throwing out an instant “I’ll pray for you.”

5. “Let’s pray right now.”
Rock the PRT, Prayer Right There, if you really want to pray. Don’t let the push and pace of life swallow the request. Even if you write a prayer request down, you might lose that piece of paper or have your wife throw it away because she thought it was trash even though it also had a great book idea on it. Hypothetically speaking of course. So just pray. Or if that feels weird, pray while you walk away or drive away or Ruckus away, if you are so lucky to own a Honda Ruckus scooter. (I love that word, “ruckus.” That’s what I want to do with God, create a ruckus and the idea of creating a ruckus while at the same time riding a scooter named Ruckus makes my head spin.)

If we ever have the chance to hang out and we find that our conversation starts drawing to a close, and neither of us knows what to say, I hope you’ll say, “Razzle Dazzle” and hand me some Razzles. Because even though it’s a sucky candy and then a sucky gum, it’s still free candy, and hey, I like free candy a lot more than fake “I’ll pray for you” shout outs.

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