Hey Christians, stop saying ‘you just need to pray harder’

So this is the third blog I’ve written on things that Christians need to stop saying. The first I wrote was about Christians telling people, ‘you just have to have faith‘, and after that it came to my attention that there are a whole slew of things that Christians say with the best of intentions that actually cause more harm than good. My last blog in this series was about saying, ‘it’s all part of God’s plan‘. If you have other ideas of what you think fits in with this please send them my way, or put them in the comments!


‘Just pray harder’. I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I’ve thought it. I’ve also had times were this was the least helpful thing that I could hear or think during my Christian walk.

Like so many of the other ‘pithy’ sayings that we make as Christians, we say this with the best of intent. We see someone struggling and know that God can help them in their situation, or know that praying would be a bit of psychological unloading that is sometimes necessary in a hard time. So, we just encourage them to step towards God in the time and pray about it.

Here is the problem. They probably already have. If something is weighing on a person hard, chances are, especially if they believe in God, they’ve been praying about it already. Perhaps a lot! And even those who don’t believe in God, in a hard time, are known to throw out the prayer of, ‘God if you are there, which I don’t believe you are, now would be a good time to show yourself’. So telling someone to pray probably isn’t helpful. In fact it might even be a bit offensive.

If the person knows the Lord, they can feel that your questioning if they really are a believer. If the person doesn’t believe in God my guess is telling them to pray about it sounds a lot like this: ‘Hey, I know that you don’t believe in God, and that this is an even harder time to believe in God, since he doesn’t seem to be doing anything, but have you thought about praying to that God who clearly seems to not exist right now?”

For the Christians reading this I am sure you’re a little worried with where I am going here. Don’t be. I just want us to think about how our words may come across to non-believers.

Here are the facts. We live in a fallen world where crappy stuff happens. Some of that isn’t easy to just rub some dirt on and move on. Some of it takes time and pressing into the Lord. Sometimes during those times we press into God it doesn’t even seem like he is there. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you know personally that the times you grow most in your relationship with the Lord is in the hard times. So yes, we need to pray harder. But telling someone they need to pray harder probably isn’t much help.

So here is my thought. Instead of telling them to pray, why don’t you pray? Ask them if you can pray for them. And I am not saying praying later that week or when you think of it in a passing thought. Right there, right then. Pray. Pray with them.

Even Atheists I think can appreciate this. Because although they don’t believe in God it still shows them that you care, and that’s comforting in hard times. If God exists, it could be all the help in the world. If he doesn’t exist. . . well, it still won’t hurt.

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? -James 2:15-16

Christians, ‘pray harder’ are we really helping. I mean, thinking about it extremely critically, how does this help? Essentially, I feel that when we tell someone to pray harder we are telling them to ‘do better’. Not really much help. So lets take a note from this passage in James, and help someone physically how we can, and then also pray with them, rather than just telling them to ‘do better’.


  1. “God’s Plan.” I’ve heard the faithful justify the premature death of children, incurable disease, and other atrocities by dismissing them as “God’s Plan.”

    1. The whims and planning of an omnipotent being would be inconceivable to any of us. Even Stephen Hawking would only faintly understand a tiny fraction of such a plan.
    2. The death of innocence should never be justified or explained away, particularly when our ineptitude as healers, protectors, and scientists have failed them. Their death is our fault, collectively. It is our shame to bear, and our responsibility to fix. Dismissing it as the plan of a deity does nothing to help us fulfill our obligations. Nothing. Nor does it acknowledge our terrible failure.
    3. If such an idiotic statement was true, and a deity specifically planned for children to die of congenital heart disease (http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/122/22/2254), then such a deity should be adamantly opposed and shunned from civilized thought.
    4. To further the fault of such a deity, if they are omnipotent and can rearrange matter and energy to any orientation, the fact they did not intervene demonstrates their inhumanity. Particularly when their intervention could fulfill any grand Utopian ideal instantly, and spare the suffering of families and the death of their children.

    “You just need to have faith…” I would have faith, without investigation, in a tactic that yielded excellent results over many attempts. I have faith, for example, that I will accelerate downwards at -9.8m/s^2 on Earth. Though my understanding of gravity is incomplete (as it is for all of us currently), the repeated demonstrations of people falling on YouTube is evidence enough that this force functions consistently. Unlike the simplistic definitions of god(s).

    1. You say that we can’t comprehend the knowledge of God and then say that death can never be justified. If you don’t know all of the facts there may be something you don’t see.

      Furthermore, you assume that the death of the innocent is what God desired. Just because it happened does not mean it is what an all-powerful all-knowing God desired. If mom tells you to clean your room but doesn’t force you and you don’t clean it, it doesn’t mean she did not have the power or the will to force you to do so. Her will allowed it but it is not what she wished. When man sinned the world fell from perfection and as a result sickness and evil entered the world. God did not desire this but his will allowed it. God could have prevented every act to move into the fall but then we would not have free will and would instead be robots. His desire is not for obedient perfect robots but for people to freely choose him so he must allow for the possibility of evil to enter for this to happen.

      When you say that “their intervention could fulfill any grand Utopian ideal instantly” you assume that happiness is God’s greatest wish for us. It isn’t. A dog is happy being disobedient and ripping apart the couch every night but it’s owners wish is not for him to be happy but for him to be good, and as a bonus the dog will also be happy.

      1. Consider the far reaching knowledge, and understanding of a God. It is all but impossible for me to even grasp…the slightest insight….

        But an omniscient being would have knowledge of all future possible outcomes, all origins, all arrangements of matter and energy (and anti-matter). It’s knowledge would be perfect. Of all dimensions and quantum fluctuations.

        Thus, God would not have created human kind without a complete and flawless knowledge of our poor choices. In essence, he knew Eve would eat the apple, before she was ever created. He created her with that in mind.

        If you assume creation myths are true, he created every single infant with congenital heart defects, knowing full well that they would die early. He also had knowledge of this, power to repair their hearts, and a lack of will to do so.

        If you subscribe to the idea of an omniscient being, our free will would be an illusion. We would think it is free will, but in truth, an all powerful god would have knowledge of all choices we would ever make. We would make them at the whim of that god. It would also have complete knowledge of all choices we didn’t make. All choices that could have been made by those who never existed…

        You must either concede that your god knows all of this, and has power to intervene (and the freedom not to), or you must concede that you worship a limited god.

        I eagerly await your insight and a healthy debate on the subject of omnipotence.

      2. I might recommend also that you investigate the “omnipotence paradox.” there are solutions, but none of the solutions help your position of free will. In fact, the solutions to the paradox (isometry and metrics) only further demonstrate the capability, prowess, and subsequent unwillingness of your god.

  2. ‘You must either concede that your god knows all of this, and has power to intervene (and the freedom not to), or you must concede that you worship a limited god.’

    I quote this because I think this summarizes your argument succinctly.

    Of the two options you present I reject that my God is limited. I still see several problems though with your other option.

    1. The fact that God has not intervened is not recognizing or proof that God will not intervene. Now you could argue that in the case of those who die before they can comprehend God it seems unfair but that assumes that such children are destined to seperation from God. This is not my view. That being said than though, people go through pain in this life, they are shown enough to have eternity with God after a time their time on earth, in which God will establish his full justice.

    To put this into analogy your argument would be like a store patron complaining that the police did not do anything during a robbery while the police are still on their way to establish justice.

    2. The second problem is that you don’t recognize the vastness of eternity. Though these things on earth are horrible we must keep them in perspective. We feel that God must be evil or lacking in power because he doesn’t intervene here and now but when we keep in mind that this present pain is less than minuscule in the context of eternity, the evil and pain of this world is not nearly as big as we make it out to be. Our complaint of the present pain is much like a child calling his parents evil for the pain of a flu shot.

    3. You are still equating Knowledge with predestination. Knowing what someone will do does not mean that I made them to do such and such. If I knew you well enough to know you would do A in Circumstance B that does not mean I made you do A. The fact that God created us unlike I didn’t create you does create a complication, but if God is all powerful he can in some way make us in such a way that his knowledge of what will choose isn’t because of the made settings that he put us in. Unlike mankind making computers in which are simply programed and react in such a way as a result of the input we give it, mankind is much more complicated that God’s ‘settings’ in each of us is not what determine our decisions.

    Finally apart from your false dichotomy you have made a large misstep in your thinking. Your whole argument against such a God is that if he exist he would not be just or all powerful. Your whole argument relies upon the belief that a moral absolute exists. . . a moral absolute that can only be grounded in a belief in a God who would put it there. If it doesn’t come from God it would also be a result of evolution or nature, if that is true it could have been otherwise, but we do not believe that had nature and evolution developed differently rape, incest and murder would be ok.

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