When your Prayers Are Not Welcome


How Should Christians React to Acts of “Prayer Shaming?”

Have you ever had someone reject your offer for prayer? Say a non-Christian friend is telling you about a problem they’ve been having and you offer to pray for them, only to be met with a response of “no thanks.” How does that make you feel? Usually when something like this happens, we’re taken aback, even offended. When we offer someone prayer, it’s generally because we believe that the act of praying will help the person, so the response of “no thanks” is difficult to accept.

If this is an uncomfortable situation on the personal level, the discomfort rises when it becomes a public issue, as it did recently in the US: In the moments after the two mass shootings in Colorado and California, several politicians (both Republicans and Democrats) took to Twitter to voice their “thoughts and prayers.” The New York Daily News tabloid later printed some of those thoughts and prayers on the cover of their newspaper, attacking Christian politicians with the headline “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The Huffington Post was also quick to criticize the “useless thoughts and prayers,” and noted that many of those who offered prayers also received large donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Many outside of the press expressed similar sentiments. In fact, this trend became so popular that the Atlantic’s Emma Green coined a new phrase, describing the negative reaction as “prayer-shaming.” The message from the media and a large portion of the American public was clear: we don’t want your prayers.

How should Christians, as people who believe in the power of prayer, react to this message? The situation may seem drastic, but before we declare this a “war on Christians,” there are a few things we should keep in mind.


Engaging in “Culture Wars” won’t Solve Things

In her analysis of “prayer-shaming,” Emma Green remarks that:

“There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence.”

Claiming that there is a “war on Christians,” will only serve to further entrench these misguided assumptions, and in doing so, further magnify divisions between right and left, Christian and non-Christian. And as long as America is a democracy, gun control solutions will have to be bi-partisan, so further dividing the cultural and political arena will not do the nation any favors.


Criticism that Adds Good Works to our Faith

A true Christian worldview humbly recognizes that our societal problems need to be addressed at many levels. The gospels present Jesus as someone who offers not only redemption for our spiritual and physical lives, but also redemption through a practical compassion that brings peace to discord. Christian heroes from the prophet Isaiah to Martin Luther King Jr. embraced a holistic approach to dealing with injustice that involves both spiritual and real-world action. If we do not live out our faith in a way that recognizes the importance of both the natural and the supernatural worlds, then maybe our faith needs to be examined. Perhaps if the world sees our prayers as “useless,” then we have not done a good enough job of showing that we truly care about the souls and bodies of those we pray for.


Extremists for Love

Since the days of Moses, God has set His people apart from the rest of the world. Before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). It’s through our love that Christians are set apart, but that doesn’t mean we will be loved by everyone. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that our love will will be rejected by many. The book of Timothy tells us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). This is not, however, a reason to feel sorry for ourselves, but rather to count our blessings, since Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).

The gospels tell us of a Jesus who was both the most loved and the most hated person on earth. Love – especially true, Godly love – has the power to divide people and bring them together.

When we are rejected by the world, it can be comforting to think that we are being rejected because we are acting like Jesus. But Christians can be rejected for the wrong reasons as well. Sometimes we may think that we’re sticking up for our faith when really we’re just sticking up for ourselves. So how do we know if we are being rejected for the right reasons? One way is to ask ourselves the same question that Martin Luther King Jr. asked of his fellow clergymen in a letter written from a Birmingham prison cell, when many people in society rejected him as an extremist:


“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’… So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”



Photo by (flickr CC) Bruno