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 have battled depression/ discouragement off and on my whole life too. I have attempted suicide several times, once when I was about 12, then later about 16, then a few more times as a young adult in a bad marriage. Though I finally stopped turning to attempted suicide, I still struggled with my thoughts and emotions. I tried counseling, couldn’t stick with it. I was put on meds for a bit, didn’t help much. I tried church and bible study and reaching out to people….honestly, I think its been purely the grace of God. I have found some nice people, some good friends along the way…but nothing really sticks out as anything in particular that helped me. I found FB several years ago, maybe 2010 or 2011….it was primarily when I found a christian artist group that used art to express words of encouragement and/or scriptures that helped me. One artist became my friend, and she encouraged me to start drawing. I am not an artist, but she showed me you can start with basics, and don’t compare with others, being too harsh on yourself. Just do it. So I did. I’m still not great. I can only do basics. But I do feel that God has been using art to minister to my heart. I saw one article that talked about how art somehow seems to bypass the places in our mind/brain that blocks our ability to work through pain/trauma, and is able to bring healing. I started my drawings in 2011…I haven’t done very much in the last year or two…perhaps I’m running from the deeper pain? I’m just focused on trying to be still and hear God. I also struggle to find the quiet time now that my kids are all older and I’m more busy.
    Yeah, “pray harder”, not helpful at all. I am encouraged by knowing about God’s compassion and great love for us, and his promise to never leave us nor forsake us. That he is our warrior who fights on our behalf. That he is our loving Shepherd who longs to gather us in his arms and hold us close to his bosom. He longs to speak healing words upon our hearts. He loves us with an everlasting love, he draws us with his lovingkindness. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 43: 1, 5, “…Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine…since you are precious and honored in my eyes, and I love you, do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Blessings.

  2. I think the first thing we do when praying is first we ask for forgiveness, then we pray, but Jesus left us to be with His Father, and Jesus left saying another would come, the Holy Spirit! God is on the throne with Jesus beside Him.I was taught to pray to the Holy Spirit as He is here now and took Jesus’ place on earth!! I’m sure God hears but I was also taught that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us! We also must understand that somethings we pray for may not be what God wants us to have! So we must wait upon the Lord .He is in control, as if you asked for a new job, but the one you asked for is not the one He wants for you! Sometimes I think Unanswered prayer means there is something better awaiting us.The Bible says we are not to pray over and over for the same thing , He heard you the first time!!! If he knows the number of hairs on our head then I think he knows our thoughts as well. I have a lot of problems now that i am older , back shoulder ,pain, I have been to many grand churches asked for healing. I have not been healed yet, some say i don’t have enough faith, I do, but i will be healed in Gods time not mine. We must wait upon the Lord !! The is a reason for unanswered prayer. The Holy Spirit is here to guide us, like when you have a flat tire on the way to the airport,and you are hurrying around. then miss the flight and it’s the one that crashed!!! Is that His way to keep you from your passing.As a friend of mine once said, if God healed her , He knew she would go back to her partying ways, and as long as she was in that wheel chair, she could not!! Just keep believing in God!! Let go and let Him take control!! God Bless.. keep praying & Believing, trusting in His promises..and Pray for one another!!

  3. Sometimes answers aren’t easy for people to share because they simply don’t have one. What I like to say is that I’m sorry to hear that they are suffering and that I hope they will remember all the promises God made to us in Scripture. Then go from there with offering prayer and a quiet presence.

    1. I’m on the autism spectrum. There are some things about human behavior that I am BIOLOGICALLY wired to not understand, no matter how many times people screamed in my face about how I wasn’t “trying hard enough”. It just never happened and never will happens. When I hear “pray harder”, I hear the same thing. “You’re not doing it right, and I don’t have to tell you what will actually help you, because it’s all your fault and your problem.” I guess some people are simply not good enough to get compassion from others. Instead, we’re supposed to just kick them some more and say “you’re not doing it right, do it harder”.

  4. i feel exactly the way you described. how harder can i pray with the way i’m praying right now… you described it perfectly

  5. I’ve had this experience during my dark times and it lead me away from church. Almost everyone I opened up to either didn’t say a thing or told me to pray harder.
    It made me angry at God because I feel like I am the only one feeling that way or I was being punished. And also another reason why I don’t feel comfortable opening up to church people because I know I’d get the same advice

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