I’ll pray for you — you’ve said it, I’ve said it, we’ve all said it.
There’s nothing wrong with saying you’ll pray for someone, especially if you sincerely will. But far too many times I’ve seen this used as an excuse for apathy rather than a show of empathy. It’s something I’m personally guilty of.
I think we mean well, and I’d say it’s a step above “I’ll be thinking of you,” but in some situations it simply isn’t enough. In some situations people have needs to be met, and in some cases God has actually called us to meet those needs.
Empathy In Action
I’ll never forget a few years ago when my wife and I were testing out the waters at a new church. We didn’t really know anyone yet and my grandmother had a sudden, unexpected heart attack. We sent a prayer request to our small group and received a several sincere “I’ll pray for you” text messages and we were grateful for each one.
Then, later that week I was approached by a man that was in our group who had heard about my grandmother. He asked how she was doing and then went on to say that when he had received word about her condition he happened to be at that exact hospital so he made a special trip to walk by her room and pray for her.
To say I was surprised would be a massive understatement. I was shocked, floored, flabbergasted — and deeply grateful. It wasn’t the kind of compassion I was used to seeing. He barely knew me and had never even met my grandmother. I couldn’t fathom why someone would take time out of their day to help comfort someone they barely knew. It was different, and a good kind of different.
It was that day that I first realized the importance of empathy in action. There have been hundreds of people who have said they would pray for me over the years, and I’m grateful for each one, but it’s the instances that someone acted on it that are forever etched into my memory.
Prayer should always be a part of the equation, but at times, it’s not the final solution. At times, God calls us to do more than pray. He calls us to act.
I’m as guilty as anyone for stopping short at I’ll pray for you — but prayer should never be an excuse for apathy. In fact, it should be just the opposite. It shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card, it should be the catalyst for putting your prayer into action.
Jesus Didn’t Stop at a Prayer
Jesus never stopped at a prayer. When people asked for healing, He healed. When people asked for help, He helped. When He had the opportunity to meet a need, He met it. Obviously, we aren’t Jesus and we can’t meet EVERY need, but we can meet some of them. Jesus was always willing to get His hands dirty and leave His fingerprints on those around Him.
It’s this kind of actionable, selfless love that defines Christianity. God didn’t just say He loved us — He showed us (Romans 5:8). And just as we say we are Christians, sometimes we need to show it — not for recognition, but so the world around us can witness it.
We all live busy lives, but physically meeting needs isn’t an optional part of Christianity — it’s primary. It’s how we prove that we truly believe what we say we believe. It’s how we shine our light in a dark world.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
If we want to spread love of Christ then we must love like Christ.
As the cliche goes, talk is cheap. Our smallest acts of kindness often mean far more than our grandest words. Rather than flippantly saying, “I’ll pray for you,” let’s start genuinely asking, “What can I do for you?”