May 24, 2019

Today’s Special: Words For The “I’m Praying for Spencer” Guy

3mz3jtvu.jpgSeveral years ago, when a major reformed blog decided to make me their feature attraction, I first heard “I’m praying for Michael Spencer” from somebody who 1) didn’t know me at all and 2) didn’t like me based on what they did know. (See first comment.)

Since that time, not a month goes by without some blogger somewhere giving some version of this little speech: “I can’t say what I think about Michael Spencer. It’s just not appropriate for a Christian, so I’ll just pray for him.” This generally follows after I’ve 1) disagreed with a favorite preacher or 2) distanced myself from some theological position they believe is equal to true Christianity, like reading A.W. Pink.

For 16 years, I’ve work with about 150 Christians on the staff of a large ministry. I’ve worked in large churches for years before that. I’ve been listening to Christian-ese- the special dialect of Christians- for half a century. I speak it fluently in several versions: Charismatic, Baptist, Calvinist, Youth Worker. I’m studying Emerging. And I am certified to translate.

Based on extensive research, let me say with all the smarmy spiritual phoniness I can muster, that this kind of pious prayer announcement is bovine manure.

Inspired by my recent pilgrimage to sit at the feet of my curmudgeon hero, I’d like to finally get off my chest what I’ve wanted to say to these prayer posers for a long time. Bail out now if you are the sensitive type.

1) If you really do love me, and you genuinely want to pray for me, then by all means do so. Write me and I’ll give you the prayer need of the day. I never run short. If you don’t want to do the email, just pray I’ll be less of what I am by nature and more what Jesus gave himself for me to be. Pray I love my wife like Christ loves the church. Pray for the fact that I’m a coward. Prayer for my laziness. Pray for my preaching. Pray for my teaching. Pray for my counseling. Pray for my leadership. Pray for my writing. Pray for my besetting sins and struggles. Pray for my daily devotions. Pray I’ll love God, love his word, and follow his Son. Pray I’ll hate sin’s influence and be busy killing it. Pray I’ll be useful, joyful and filled with the Spirit. That should cover the next five minutes.

2) If you have a problem with me where you are the one who is angry, you don’t like me at all, and you want do bad things to me, pray for yourself, not me. Don’t say you’re praying for me when you’re obviously the one with the problem. (I’ve got plenty of problems, but yours is what you should be talking about. Not mine.)

3) Listen carefully: If it really makes you angry that someone in the world actually typed- IN PRINT!!- something critical of a preacher or a denomination or theology you like, then pray for yourself. You’ve got the issue. Everyone doesn’t agree with you and never will. Get out of your hole and wake up. Do you actually believe in a God who wants you to pray that I’ll become a good ________________. (Fill in the blank with your team.)

4) If you don’t think I’m a Christian, then please say so, and invite other Christians to pray for my conversion. If you don’t know if I am a Christian or not, then say you are praying for that. If you believe I need to be evangelized, then evangelize me. It’s your duty, unless you’re a hyper-Calvinist or have some insight into my reprobation. If you think I’m an apostate, then say so and say why. Others deserve to know. Whatever the case, quit hiding behind the generic prayer request. If you think I’m going to hell or I’m an instrument of Satan, it’s serious and you should say so.

At least Ken Silva said I was the spirit of the antichrist. Attaboy. Let’s get some spine here people. I once had a woman pray that God would “remove me” if we didn’t stop singing hymns in chapel and go to all contemporary choruses. There’s someone who should get a “What would Luther do?” bracelet, Patrick.

5) If you believe I am spiritual poison, don’t just pray for me, and quit mumbling. Pray for those who read me. Be specific that refusing to use the word inerrant or whatever your concern happens to be isn’t just a difference among brothers and sisters, but it is a soul-endangering error and heresy. The modest “I’ll pray for Michael Spencer” bit is not the right response if I’m the equivalent of a spiritual contagion.

6) If that prayer request was put forward to make you look ________________ (fill in the blank), then it’s a show, not a prayer. It’s just another version of prayers said for an audience, similar to “I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men….such as Spencer over there.”

7) I’m a big fan of the Psalms. Consider the imprecatory Psalms if you are at a loss for words. Who can object to “Lord, I hate and detest those you hate?”

8) If you are one of those people who say “Well, at least it’s a prayer,” I’m sorry to say I don’t believe in that kind of superstitious idea of accumulating words directed toward the ceiling and calling it prayer. A prayer is sincere. It’s real. Even if it’s one word, or if it’s angry words or grieving words. Prayer is honest and it’s not playing games with God or those we pray for.

As I said, if you care about me, then please pray for me. But if you don’t- if you dislike me and everything I’m doing on here, then find an honest place and pray what you really believe.


  1. I want to say that the person referenced in the first paragraph did not, in my view, fit the profile of the rest of this post. He has repeatedly said specifically and in detail what’s wrong with me, invited me to discuss disagreements and taken the opportunity to get to know me. He’s earned my respect by virtually always being honest about what he thought about me and what was wrong with me.

  2. Imprecatory psalms… that made my day.

  3. For what it’s worth, I don’t know Spencer beyojnd this blog either, but I’ve prayed for him anyway, especially after a post that had to be pulled down because the jackals leaped on it. And I think he’s the sort of Christian I need to listen to better, because I usually learn something.

  4. I get that too. It’s like when people say “with all due respect”, or “yes, but”. What they actually mean is “you’re wrong.”

    Irony is, they probably aren’t praying for me every day. I’ll pray for them though. Not for enlightenment or any of that stuff. Just that they’re ok, that God’s moving in their life, and that they’ll have a good day. All the normal, usual, respectful stuff.

    Like the end of Bruce Almighty; pray for what matters to you, not what you think will score you brownie points with the BMU.

  5. Some of my bigger scars are from those who said, “I’m praying for you”, and yet did nothing to help while I was unemployed.

    Even being asked to join them while they were running errands would have been nice. (When single and unemployed, you tend to get very socially isolated.)

  6. I believe that God is Truth. I believe that my church gives me a vision of Truth that lights my pilgrimage. I just don’t believe that my church – or for that matter, any church is the “owner” of Truth. I would rather that we pray for each other as fellow pilgrims seeking to love God and our neighbor better. Otherwise I fear that will figuratively find ourselves in the company of those who blow up cars in marketplaces for the greater glory of God.

    PS, if you are the antichrist I would love to know that. There are a ton of folks who will tell me the signs of the antichrist, but so far no one has stepped up and said, “Yep, that’s me!”

  7. Jon Bartlett says

    What can I say – except that I’m praying for you (jn++)!

  8. Every time I think of the great Thanksgiving blog-scrum of (if memory serves) 2004 I get hives.

    Man, that was nasty.

    Michael – thanks for writing this. Well said!

  9. Count me among those who 1)like what you have to say; and, 2) are not praying for you. But, if you need me, I’m here. Good post. – Chuck

  10. Can I honestly say: You’re AWESOME. Love your blog, even when I disagree with you.

  11. I’m one of those mysterious souls praying for you , and I do so because the person who asked me to is someone I trust implicitly and I sense has a closeness to the Father for which I still strive. If it makes you feel better, though, my rather feeble offerings have been directed specifically on one of the requests in your list. And I certainly have no problem if you want to throw a few prayers my way — just rattle off the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and I could use an infusion of ’em all.

    I never read your posts until today, so these prayers were never directed at you because I liked or disliked you. I think I get what you are driving at in this post though. Prayer should be a gift, not a curse, and perhaps be less like the Pharasee at the front of the synagogue and more like the widow in the back row.

    And you can’t be the AntiChrist….the lastest google search says it is the Pope or Bill Gates or Kevin Bacon.

  12. I’ve always thought ‘I’ll pray for you.’ coming from someone who has just been arguing with me was the ultimate in passive-aggressive Christian-ese.

    One Jewish friend who had heard that conversation ender from unsuccessful would-be evangelists a few too many times, once replied ‘Okay, but don’t you think G-d might be getting a little tired of listening to you by now?’

    otoh, there is a lot of wisdom in the admonition to pray for your enemies. If you do it sincerely and pray for their welfare, rather than just that they come to agree with you, it does change *you*. Of course, the instances where it’s done sincerely tend to be few and far between – and are a lot less likely to happen if you can’t resist dropping the ‘I’ll pray for you’ [you poor deluded wayward fool] bomb.

  13. The most common “I’ll pray for you” I get is that I loose the ability to speak and/or type. Having consigned me to hell already, they don’t want me to be of any influence on those who might hear/read my heresies.

    Your list of prayer needs really struck home with me — they fit me to a tee.

    I do pray frequently that your sphere of readers will grow more each day. God bless you, brother!

  14. “spirit of the antichrist” Wow…really. I thought that was reserved for Hitler, the Pope, Ronald Regan and Marilyn Manson.

  15. If you’re the “antiChrist,” and you need barcodes, let me know. The chips take a while to process and arrive, so I can get you some temporary label barcodes. They come in sheets at the library. Please know that all of your followers will be 23719……… for a little while.

  16. Michael,
    As a frequent reader of your blog, who has been tremendously helped by your posts, and by the comments from other readers, I plan to pray for you after reading this. But my prayer will simply be, “Give the man grace. He’s bearing a lot.”
    Just remember that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
    And I have found, when I pray for my enemies (of which you are most definitely not one), I usually learn a lot about myself. At least when you are praying you are potentially in the Lord’s presence, and He can enlighten you to your own condition. It’s a cliche, but usually I find out that what I’m offended at is something that I myself have a problem with. If I’m offended at some arrogant jerk who behaves abusively, and I pray that the Lord can change him or convict him, lo and behold, guess what I realize about myself?
    Anyway, thank you as always for your insights. And don’t let the jackals get you down.

  17. Oh, Michael

    I pray for you all the time. I pray that God maintains the space for you to speak. Because I value your voice. I don’t always agree with you (often I don’t) but I LOVE to hear what you say.

    I wish we worked together, because I would LOVE to argue with you every day. I am sure it would GREAT FUN. And I would learn so much.


  18. The comment, “I’ll pray for you” is actually a lie. What they really mean to say is, “I’ll pray against you.”

    Remember how Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” would occasionally tell one of her guests, “I’m gonna say a little prayer against you”? Which is the real spirit of antichrist: the one that encourages or the one that forgets, “He who isn’t against us is for us”?

    Honestly — and this isn’t necessarily a good thing — I don’t usually pray for people whom I disagree with. I pray for me, so that I can be gracious to them despite their blistering pig-headed ignorance… and so that God can snap me out of my own ignorance, wherever it might be. I should pray for them, but I’m too busy trying not to be mean or sarcastic or obnoxious. I got issues. I’m working on them.

  19. At least you haven’t been hit with the ultimate Baptist church lady put-down. To be referred to as “Michael Spencer, bless his heart…” is really being hit with a loaded bomb. I’ve never figured out how we can ask God to bless somebody while grinding them into the dirt with a spike heel, but I’ve heard it done dozens of times.

  20. Brilliant! I’m still chuckling…

  21. I say this as a sympathetic unbeliever (who has heard this many, many times). I find that the phrase “I’ll pray for you” seems to be a way for the speaker to wash their hands of the issue. Rather than get off their duff and do something about the issue/problem or show friendship/love with the person or problem in question. He/she just washes their hands and leaves it up to the Man Upstairs. I find it one of the least helpful ways to end a conversation and oftimes it almost comes off as a threat (not always of course).

  22. Memphis Aggie says

    I wonder how many of those who announce it actually do it. If I was to pray for you Mike ( and I would – if you asked) it would be for strength and good humor. That said, I believe you’ve already been graced with both. I’ve learned a lot from this site and hope to see it continue.

  23. I would so much prefer to hear “i’m going to journey with you”…but how often do you get that?

  24. We see Jesus pull this all the time. For instance in Jn 8 and the adulterous woman. Jesus hunkers down and begins to write in the dirt, “Dear Pharisees, I’m praying for you. Jesus”

  25. The question that comes to mind is this: Is Steve Camp’s public prayer for Challies more gutsy than even Silva’s “spirit of antichrist” comment or even more spineless than most?

    My only prayer for Tim is that he is young, theologically immature, and untested in handling God’s Word.

    Steve, if that’s your idea of prayer, please don’t EVER pray for me!! 😉

  26. I have dealt with your viewpoints on my blog several times but I never would say I was praying for you because I disagreed with you. To me, that is insulting—to you…..and would make me look like an idiot.

    Frankly, I either always agree with you 100% or tear out my heair disagreeing with you. With you, I don’t think there is a middle ground….which I enjoy immensley. Keep it up Michael.

  27. Michael,

    I’ve payed for you…or more correctly about you, but never in a negative way, always thanking God for you among others in the blogosphere who have been so helpful, given the lemming-like approach to issues and theology I see in my local church most times. I am so thankful for your insight and courage to shine the light in dark corners. Thanks for yet another great post….

  28. Dugg for the use of the Brick Testament. Man, you really need to post more of that guy’s images on here. 🙂

  29. I’ve always thought ‘I’ll pray for you.’ coming from someone who has just been arguing with me was the ultimate in passive-aggressive Christian-ese. — Bookdragon

    Ditto, Book. In my experience, it’s a cheap way out when you’re actually approaching them for help; “I’ll Pray For You” should always be followed by “but don’t expect me to lift a finger to help.” All warm fuzzy God-talk to congratulate yourself for Being So Spiritual while you leave the pastor’s widow eating out of the dumpster.

  30. If you think about it, how often is it every actually appropriate to say “I’m praying for so and so?” It’s one thing to comfort someone by telling them that you’ll pray for them in their time of trouble. And in some situations, certainly, the most charitable thing to do is to say to other people: “Hey, let’s pray for Michael rather than complaining about all the reasons why we think he needs prayer more than we think that we ourselves do.” (I guess you usually have to reword the second half of that sentence, even if it’s what you’re REALLY thinking.)

    But saying “I’m praying for so and so”? Why would you do that? Why is it necessary to let your left hand know what the right hand is doing? Jesus told us to love our enemies, but I don’t remember him telling us to brag about our supposed love.