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When “I’m Praying For You” Feels Hollow

Have you ever watched a friend go through something you really can’t help them with?

I have a good friend who struggles with a slew of health problems. The best I can do is hug her and tell her that God is in control—whatever comfort that may be. She also struggles with finances. Her family does not have steady income. I have no idea how they pay the medical bills.

Now that I have moved half a world away, I can’t even hug her when she’s having a bad day. Seemingly the only thing I can do is tell her, “I’m praying for you.”

Does that ever feel hollow to you? Sometimes it does to me. I say “I’m praying for you” when there’s nothing else I can do.

But I am learning to remind myself that, praying for someone is actually the best thing I can do for them. After all, by praying I bring my needs and my friends’ needs before our all-powerful God. Seeking God’s intervention in someone’s life—surely that’s more effective than dinners or hugs!

As I practice praying for others, I increasingly realize that prayer is not the easy way out.

When Jesus prayed before His death, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30, emphasis added).

Prayer can be a struggle. Our first instinct when faced with brokenness in the world is to do something about it, not spend hours in a quiet room tearfully petitioning God. Both are necessary, but it’s so easy to forget which one is more effective.

As I learn more about prayer, I am more and more convinced that praying is really the best thing we can do in any circumstance.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge my helplessness

When a friend is going through a difficult time, I want to help. I might offer to spend time with them. I might run errands or cook dinner or offer some other practical help. At the very least, I might send a short text telling them I’m thinking of them.

Sometimes I try to fix their problems—I give my friends’ the right books to read, spend hours talking about their troubles, offer all the usual platitudes. . . But while it is important to love our friends and walk with them through difficult times, I need to realize that I can’t fix my friends’ problems. On my own, I can’t help them recover from break-ups, heal from a death in the family, or be restored to health.

That’s why I pray—I need to acknowledge my utter inability to help my friends or myself. I might have good intentions, but the fact is, I am not the healer. When I pray, I acknowledge that God will heal my friends in His own time, in His own way. My responsibility is to love them and walk with them. The rest I need to leave up to God, who is much better at these things than I am.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge God’s sovereignty

God is sovereign. Nothing happens without His permission (Matthew 10:29). When bad things happen in our lives or the lives of our friends, we need to recognize that God is working. We pray and trust in God’s promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). When faced with the meaninglessness of tragedy, we pray and profess our belief in the goodness of God even as our hearts are broken to pieces.

When a friend is diagnosed with a fatal illness, or when a young mother experiences a miscarriage, or when a child dies meaninglessly in a car accident. . . Honestly, is there anything we can do to make those circumstances easier to bear? We try our best by offering our presence and our shared grief. But the fact that Christ has given us hope beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) brings purpose to our suffering.

It’s not easy to acknowledge God’s sovereignty when things do not go our way. It’s not easy to believe His goodness when our lives are falling apart. But that’s why we pray. We pray even when we cry out in doubt and pain, and we pray ourselves to a point where we trust that somehow, someway, our God will yet make something good out of our broken lives.

 

In prayer, I learn how best to help those around me

When I pray for someone, I learn to see them through God’s eyes. Prayer is not just me talking to a dark room, it is me talking to God! When I pray sincerely, I am bringing my petitions to an almighty God, and trusting that He will respond.

I often start my prayers by asking God to help me pray. You see, I don’t always know how best to pray for someone. If left to my own devices, my prayers would probably look something like a Christmas wishlist: “Recovery,” “financial provision,” “wise doctors,” etc. There is nothing specifically wrong with that, but it’s not exactly a meaningful or productive conversation with the Almighty. God has promised help for when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26), so I make full use of that promise by asking for help.

Then, knowing God is not only listening, but likely guiding me in my prayers, I start petitioning Him. So often I rely on God’s love—God loves my friends and family so much more and so deeply than I could ever imagine. He knows all their needs, great and small. As I increasingly realize this, I find myself praying less for physical healing or for financial provisions, but praying more for God to give real comfort, for God to remind my friends and I that He is in control, for God to show supernatural provision in their circumstances (whatever that may look like). When I am reminded how much God loves my friends—that He laid His life down for them!—I can pray with confidence that God’s will be done.

As a result, I believe that God works through my prayers. When I open my heart in prayer, I learn how to love a fellow image bearer the way God loves them, and am more likely to respond in a godly manner when the need arises.

While I long to solve the circumstantial difficulties people around me face, I’m reminded through praying that this is the best thing I can do for them.

 

Our world is fallen. We are reminded of this every time we turn on the news. We are reminded of this every time our loved ones suffer for one reason or another. Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world around us, let’s remember this: Only God can offer peace that surpasses understanding. Only He will ultimately wipe away every tear. And when we pray, we call on God’s promises—and take comfort in the knowledge that whatever the circumstance, His purposes will be accomplished in our lives (Isaiah 46:10).

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

It Doesn’t Stop At Our Votes

Written By Rebecca Lim, Malaysia

On May 10, 2018, Malaysians woke up to a new reality. For the first time in the nation’s 61 years of history, a new coalition—Pakatan Harapan—has assumed the role of the government.

This reality has been years in the making, and for many Malaysians, it probably still feels too good to be true. As one of many Malaysians living in Singapore, the lead up to the elections was a whirlwind of an experience. As soon as the date of the General Election was announced, me and my friends scrambled to book flight and bus tickets home, or help each other find carpool arrangements, so we could all go home and vote.

I myself had planned to leave Singapore right after work, vote early the next morning, and then fly back to Singapore in the evening. It was an insane plan, and I had underestimated how exhausted I would be from all the waiting and traveling, but seeing the proliferation of “purple fingers” and pictures of the voting queues on my social media feeds made my heart swell with pride. It was the greatest display of unity that our country had seen in a long time, and I was glad that I got to be a part of it.

My family and friends kept each other updated as we queued to vote and anxiously waited for the election results to stream in. For the first time, it was unclear which way the votes would swing—and while we were all hopeful that our votes would make a difference, our hopes were also tempered with caution.

As soon as I landed in Singapore, I rushed home so I could follow the results. That night, me and my friends were glued to our television, hand-phone or laptop screens, hearts in our throats, afraid to move, bathe or even eat—just in case we might miss an important moment or result. It wasn’t until 3:00 a.m. that I reluctantly forced myself to go to bed so I would not appear as a zombie at work the next day.

A few hours later, I woke up to a torrent of jubilant messages on WhatsApp and social media about the new era that Malaysia had just entered into. There was much excitement in the air as everyone around me began anticipating the changes that they hoped the new government would put into effect.

It has been a few days now since the government has been installed, and the euphoria of the victory is wearing off. As the government begins focusing its efforts on reforming the country, the question on my mind, and probably on many others’, is: Will it be able to fulfill all its promises?

While I believe and hope that the government will set many new laws and policies in place that will improve the well-being of Malaysians, as a Christian, I am also cautious of placing all my hope in the hands of men. As with any transition in power, the government will take time to put its plans into place, and nobody knows how long this process will take or how extensive these changes will be—but we can be encouraged by the fact that our voices have been heard, and our voices matter.

So, what can we do next as citizens of Malaysia?

If there’s one thing that I’ve realized from this election, it’s that we have the power to change things around us. What filled my heart with hope this election was not the speeches of the candidates or the manifestos of the different coalitions, but witnessing ordinary Malaysians rise up to take charge of their nation’s destiny.

I saw hope in witnessing throngs of both the young and the elderly queuing up to vote so that future generations will have a better Malaysia. I saw hope in the decisions of young people who refused to give in to the voices of defeat around them, but who gave up comfortable and promising careers to dedicate themselves to nation-building by actively participating in politics. I saw hope in the way Malaysians—whether overseas or at home—came together, contributed their time and energy, and used the resources that they have to volunteer as Polling or Counting Agents, book flights to help bring postal votes home, and even organize car pools and donate their own funds to ensure everyone had a chance to decide on the future of the nation. These were the actions that made the world stand up and view Malaysians in a different light. These are the actions that make it clear to me that change has already taken place in Malaysia.

While I may not be in Malaysia at this juncture of my life, I hope to carry that same spirit wherever I go. I’ve learned that we should not solely rely on our elected representatives to do the work of reforming our nations, but there are many opportunities for us to bring hope to those around us as well. I hope that as believers and co-heirs of God’s grace, we will open our eyes to the plight of the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized around us (James 1:27). I hope that we will treat our foreign workers with dignity and care, and help them feel welcomed and at home as they help build our nations (Leviticus 19:34). I hope that we will make our hearts and home a refuge for the lonely and brokenhearted (2 Cor 1:4). I hope that we will have compassion on those who are struggling and lend a listening ear or a helping hand to them if needed.

Whether we’re overseas or at home, let’s pray for a smooth and peaceful transition, and submit ourselves to the governing authorities and their decisions, for as Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “there is no authority except that which God has established”.  In view of that, let’s also focus our efforts on praying for our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Let’s pray that as our newly appointed leaders put together their plans in this crucial period, they will do so with the people’s interests at heart. Let’s pray that they will be a government that leads with righteousness and the fear of the Lord. Let’s pray that they will be a government that understands the weight of the mandate that has been given to them, and work faithfully and diligently to carry it out.

Most importantly, even as we pray for our leaders, let us look towards the Hope that “will not lead us to disappointment” (Romans 5:5, NLT) and pray and long for the day when He will return to bring forth justice to all nations and restore all things.

A Quick Summary Of James 4:13-5:20

In James’ concluding words, we are reminded to align our purposes with God’s and be patient in our perseverance and love for others. We’d love to hear what are your key takeaways from this book!

 

What do You Pray About?

Day 29 | Today’s passage: James 5:13-18 | Historical context of James

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

What do you usually pray for or talk to God about?

I guess our prayers could be likened to the conversations we have.
The depth of our conversations reflects the depth of our relationships—what we choose to share and how we do so sheds light on the closeness of each relationship.
For instance, a conversation with a colleague would probably differ greatly from a conversation with a close friend.

Likewise, what and how we pray reflects our inner spiritual condition and how we’re doing in our relationship with God.

James addresses this in this passage as he speaks firstly of how we, as Christians, ought to respond in the different situations of life (vv. 13-15). When we are overwhelmed by the troubles and sorrows of life, we are to pray for wisdom amid the trials (1:2-5)—that we may see trials as an opportunity for great joy and a means to cultivate perseverance as we remember God’s sovereignty through it all. God knows what He is doing, and we can take heart in knowing that He will work out His good purposes even in the most terrible of situations.

When we are happy or in good spirits, we are to sing and praise God as we count our blessings and acknowledge that all good things come from our good Father (v. 13).

When we are sick, we are to call upon the elders of the church to pray over us, trusting that the “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (v. 15). We could also take the opportunity to examine our hearts for any hidden sins and confess them before God.

But what is a “prayer offered in faith”? How does one pray such a prayer of faith?

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. A prayer made in faith is thus one that is made based on God’s promises and with the conviction that God will keep His word and fulfill it in His good timing. When we approach God in this manner, it brings great joy to His heart.

In verses 15-16, James stresses the importance of the confession of sin in prayer. We are to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that healing would take place (v. 16). James goes on to speak of the “righteous man” whose prayer is powerful and effective (v. 17). He is not referring to the self-righteous person who places his confidence in his accomplishments and good deeds; rather, he is referring to the humble person who recognizes God’s saving grace and mercy in his life and places his trust in the work and words of Christ alone.

The prophet Elijah, James says, is one such example to follow (1 Kings 17-18). And before we can protest that Elijah was in a different league, James quickly reminds us that Elijah was “a man just like us” (v. 17). Just like us, he had fears, insecurities, doubts and worries—even till the point where he wearied of life and prayed that God would take his life (1 Kings 19:4).
Yet Elijah knew his God and the Word. He took God’s promises to heart and trusted that God would fulfill His promises in His own perfect timing—which led to his passionate, faith-filled prayers (vv. 17-18)

Where does this leave us?

As we relate with God here on this side of eternity, we can grow in knowing Him and His promises through the reading of His Word. As we get acquainted with God’s promises, this will radically transform the way we pray. We will start praying prayers of faith that are based on the promises He has made to us, and we will be able to do so boldly—asking God to fulfill His promises in His own good and perfect timing.

Let’s start praying prayers of faith!

—Lydia Tan, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. Take a moment to reflect on the prayers you’ve made recently. Were they prayers of faith . . . or were they more like prayers of desperation?

2. What is one thing you can change about the way you pray?

3. Write down a promise of God that you will include in your prayers today.

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Lydia is an eternal optimist. Nothing seems to ever get her down, except maybe the thought of vegetables or needles. She’s happiest when she’s with people, puppies or preschoolers and appreciates the deep life lessons she learns while observing or interacting with them. She has a weakness for dark chocolates and pretty little trinkets (especially if they’re handmade!) and believes that there is beauty in the ‘impractical’.
A dreamer at heart, she is excited to be a part of God’s dream for the nations and loves tagging along with Him on the many adventures across continents. While not in action, she relishes in the simple slow walks with God in nature too.

Read 30-day James Devotional