Stop Telling Hurting People To Pray Harder

I remember sitting on the floor of our youth building one Sunday morning while one of the dads who attended our church led a small group for me and four other boys. I was bored, I was ready to leave, and I was hoping he didn’t ask me if I memorized the Bible verse from last week; because I didn’t. I was around twelve years old and had just begun a dark and weary descent into what I didn’t know would be a six-year battle with severe depression. All I knew was this; I didn’t want to sit around with people who didn’t know me and act like everything in my life was okay. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I no longer wanted to pretend like my life was just dandy.

Our small-group leader had asked the group to share what God was doing in their lives and how the rest of the group could be praying. After all the other boys had shared with the group what God was up to in their lives, it was now my turn to share. I debated whether or not to give some shallow and cliche’ answer. But while I knew that would have been the easy way out of having a deep conversation, I decided I no longer wanted to act like nothing was wrong. Instead, I told everyone that I was struggling, hurting and having a hard time with my relationship with God. Blank stares began to fixate themselves on me. Confusion filled the group. It was as if everyone was thinking, “Wow! He actually took the question seriously.” 

I felt a little embarrassed for sharing my heart with a group of people I really knew nothing about, but I felt that sharing my pain was probably the best way to find healing for it. To my surprise, it seemed that not even the small-group leader knew how to handle my honest response to his question, and his reaction to my cry for help is something I have never forgotten. He looked at me and said, “Well, Jarrid. I’d encourage you to just pray harder. God will take care of it.” 

Yup… That’s all I got.

When you tell someone who is hurting “You just need to pray harder,” what you’re really saying is, “You’re not praying hard enough”—which in itself is a false depiction towards the way God moves in the lives of everyday people. If God answered prayers by how hard someone is to pray, then God would be a transactional genie and not an almighty and sovereign God. Sure, God responds to our prayers, but he isn’t controlled by them.

I remember going home defeated, thinking that my already shaky faith in God was actually worse than I thought it was. I felt insulted, not good enough, and that my small-group leader had just confirmed everything I had already thought about myself; that I was a broken and sucky Christianity. I’m assuming this was one of the many experiences that attributed for my years of distaste towards God and church.

Looking back, I understand why my small-group leader said what he did. He didn’t mean any harm. He had good intentions. He just wasn’t equipped with the tools necessary to handle the honest conversation. I know he was trying to give me advice that pointed back to Jesus, but his advice fell short on many levels. Regardless if someone is well-equipped to handle every situation they are thrown in life, I believe the statement, “Just pray harder” is something that should be used with extreme caution and understanding. We must be willing to help people in their journey of pain and hurt, not pawn them off to Jesus because it’s easier than spending time with someone who needs you.

Prayer is a powerful weapon, but “Just pray harder” without follow-up is horrible advice.

—Jarrid Wilson


What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Published by Jarrid Wilson

Husband, Father, Pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship & Author of a few books.

46 comments on “Stop Telling Hurting People To Pray Harder”

    1. I suggest that you just tap his shoulder or rub his back or maybe you could hug them. These people usually needs to feel that they’re not alone and they’re not in thw wrong. You could ask him “What do you want to do?” or “What do you have wanted to happen?”. If he says something positive, then encourage and pray for him. If not, especially if he’s thinking about suicide, ask him “Is that what you really want?”

      Just don’t scold him or make him feel that he is in the wrong. He’d realize it on his own soon.

      -just an opinion from a previously depressed person

    2. I recently came out to tell someone i trusted that I was struggling in my life of faith, the only thing they did was tell me how much I annoy them. I was really hurt, deeply hurt. I needed help, not further condemnation. I really think people need to know what to do, how to it and similarly know what to say and how to say it, in such a situation.

    3. If there is anything that we learn from the word, it’s to love.

      Romans 12:9 says “don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them”

      Love can be shown in many ways.

      Telling someone to pray harder can be seen as love, but if Jesus Christ was on earth with us physically and someone opened up to him, do you think he’d respond with a simple “pray harder?” No, he’d love them, speak to them, encourage them, pray with them, guide them.

      We all go through similar trials, and if we have overcome many things through Christ, we should share those experiences with those who are struggling with similar things that we once went through.

    4. Pray for them. Pray with them. Keep them in your prayers and let them know it. Catch up with each other. Or at least, these are the things I feel would help comfort and strengthen me, knowing that I am not alone in my emotions, knowing that when I feel as if I’m slipping out of religiousity and into doubt, my faith in Him will be strengthened because the people who have faith in Him are looking out for me and have my back. God works through the people in our lives too, and every one of us could jist be that person in someone else’s. :)

  1. One thing that’s always helped me when I’m going through a storm is to just talk about it with someone. Whether they have anything to say or not it just helps to get it out in the open.

    I’m guessing maybe the group leader should have asked a question. Not sure what question, but it could have been as simple as, “Would you like to talk it over with the group or meet with me after to talk?”

    What would you have said if you were the group leader?

  2. Looking back, would stopping to offer to pray with you for a breakthrough been helpful? It seems putting the blame on the prayer or, my personal pet peeve, of I will pray for you, not with you which might be a real testament of how I am standing with you in this situation, are both out of touch and out of line. Your thoughts?

  3. As a wife to a youth pastor, I’m curious to hear what you would have rather heard. In hindsight, what do you believe would have been a more constructive instruction?

      1. You are correct Jarrid about your experience. The leader should have been more encouraging about his approach by, perhaps, suggesting Bible verses that would help you find your way better and suggesting that you say strong heartfelt prayers with “positive vision” for a positive outcomes. That’s a very important piece of Christianity, how to pray, and it’s almost never taught, especially when we need to learn it as young kids. But, somewhat in his defense, I do think that leaders of groups (in general) may be less prepared for what you sincerely said. It may have caught him a little off guard and he may not have had enough time to respond to it with appropriate thought behind his harsh suggestion “just pray harder”. Believe me when I tell you that he may never have discussed it again but he probably went home questioning his own answer to you. But it’s an excellent reference point for you going forward and how to handle similar situations with your own friends and family. Look back on it as a true blessing.

    1. When i was depressed and struggling with self harm and suicidal thoughts and attempts, i shared with my youth pastor’s wife and she said “i’ll pray for you” and then never spoke to me again. If you really want to help someone, you have to help them. God’s not a genie who will grant your every wish. He expects some effort from us too.

    2. I know you didn’t ask me- but from someone who has been struggling with anxiety and depression to the point that it that has affected my walk with the lord- here’s what’s made a world of difference for me.

      I still struggle with it; but i know i could be way worse without my pastor, parents and other members of the church. Being the way I am I have had many questions and fearful rants about the bible and the lord and my salvation. Instead of someone telling me: “just pray harder.” or “Just trust the lord will take care of it.” [Which is sound advice- only I needed more help] They gave me answers to the best of their ability.

      My pastor and his assistant answered my questions with examples from the bible and key versus. And they even went out of their way to find reading material that could help me. They pray with me, check on me, and urge me to call them.

      My issues haven’t gone away- some days are better than others. But when I reach out- someone is there to try and help. And sometimes when they don’t know how to give me a correct answer- we pray and they ask to get back to me while they find a way to assist me better. It takes a lot for someone to admit they have mental issues- and the least you can do is show them you take them seriously and want to help.

      1. Amen! As a person who also struggles with anxiety and is a trained Christian Counselor, I completely agree with how others have helped you with your anxiety!

  4. I agree with everything you wrote. God isn’t looking for the abundance of words, but for the sincerity of the heart. He answers the cry of the broken more than we could possibly understand. Moreover, like my pastor uses to say, every contact with God is a prayer but not every prayer is a contact with God.
    Thank you for your words, they made me think.

    1. Hello..if this is not too much to ask? Can you elaborate further about “every contact with God is a prayer, but not every prayer is contact with God”. Looking forward for your response. Thank you and God bless.

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