I’m Praying For You

The words haunt me. Ever since my name showed up on the Sundapy announcements as someone “struggling and in need of prayers”, the words are a shower of bitterness to me. I realized this week such feelings are valid because “praying for you to change” is not a healthy prayer and has little if anything to do with Christ. How do you know the way I should act or think or feel or change? After MJ’s articles this week about right being wrong and overcoming the “I’m sorry syndrome”, I stumbled across a rather striking contradiction: When can prayer be wrong?

Red Flag: Praying for others to change

In some online discussions with former ubf members this week, I realized that prayer is taught by ubf teachers as a tool for change. We almost always exclusively prayed for the nation to change, for sheep to change, for some other country to change, for our children to change, etc. We always said “I’m praying for you” with the sentiment of “You need to change somehow”.

So many times the prayers of ubf shepherds are about pointing out sins in their sheep. How many remember sitting through a long prayer session where people prayed about your sins and how much you need to change?

Yet when did Jesus ever call a prayer meeting to change people or the nations? Do we see any evidence that Christian prayer is to be focused on changing something in other people?

I now see this kind of prayer as a red flag of spiritual abuse. If ubfers are┬ápraying for us former members to “repent” or “come back to our senses” then it is wasted effort. In the same way, if we ex-ubfers are praying for missionaries to change or to publicly repent or for ubf to be destroyed, then it is also wasted effort. Such prayers are not of Christ, in my belief.

How should we pray?

Jesus taught about prayer several times. The most famous is of course the Lord’s Prayer. How does the prayer begin?

Prayer, as Jesus taught it, is about the glory of God, not about changing people.

Prayer is about God doing his will and bringing about his kingdom, not about changing a nation to be holy.

Prayer is about raising the awareness of our collective needs, not about reminding Bible students of their sins.

Prayer is about forgiving people, not about changing people.

Prayer is about discerning God’s leading and listening for God’s voice, not about submitting to your shepherd’s ideas and plans for your life.

So the next time you hear someone at ubf “pray for you”, remember this is a red flag of cult control. This form of spiritual abuse is something that must end. Prayer is a wonderful gift, not something to be abused as a tool of manipulation.


  1. Here are some spontaneous thoughts: If Pope Francis met me and said, “Ben, I’m praying for you,” it might be the highlight of my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that for the rest of my life. So, perhaps the prayer per se of “I’m praying for you” is not the primary issue, as you alluded to in your article.

    Yes, it is absolutely true that it is no human’s job to change others, or even to think that they are the ones to change others. This is pride to the utmost to think of oneself in such a way, as though we are the center of God’s will over the lives of others which is as though we are center of the universe: https://tcmdaily.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/worldme.jpg.

    Then the downside is “worm theology,” for if things do not work out, one thinks or says, “Oh, I’m no good. I didn’t do enough. I’m so bad. I’m so lazy. I didn’t work hard. I didn’t pray enough. I didn’t go fishing enough. My children fell into sin because of me. I watched too many movies.” This list is endless. It sounds humble, but it may be the epitome of pride and self-centeredness.

    • I think the Pope would just bless you on the spot. To say “I will pray for you” seems to be a Protestant thing, but maybe that is just my experience. It seems to be a fuzzy feeling type thing said in passing without much real meaning.

      What does it mean to say “I will pray for you?” And if you actually do pray for someone, what are you praying for?

      The only meaning I know is in UBFism… to say such a thing means “I want you to stay in UBF” and “You have something to change because of your sin”.

  2. I completely agree. The context is very important. The issue is not the four words, “I’m praying for you,” whether said by a ubf er or the Pope. The semantic meaning is harmless enough, but the pragmatic meaning is what is harmful. Those same words can be spoken out of genuine love and sincerity of heart or maliciously and condescendingly. “I’m praying for you,” can also be an excuse to not acknowledge the issue a person has, but a way of backhandedly saying “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

    I also agree that “prayer” can be wrong if it becomes a tool to attempt to control God or give him advice. It is also wrong when it is used to control people. Prayer can even be used self-righteously as a way to show off. But ultimately prayer is “not a means to an end, but an end in of itself.” Prayer is a conversation with God, communion with God.

    I had a friend who said, “Don’t tell me you’re praying for me. If you are, I should be able to see God working without you having to tell me you’re praying.” and I agree with Him. We don’t have to tell people we are praying for them. Let’s just pray and those we pray for will find out on their own. Or if they never know that’s fine too. It’s God who works, not us.

    • Precisely one of my points, MJ! The problem in general is not “I’m praying for you”. The problem is the abuse of prayer at groups like UBF.

      Prayer is well and good, and for more, to say “I’ll pray for you” may not be an insult. I would honestly like to understand what meaning people have for this phrase?

      The subtext here is that “I’m praying for you” is a trauma trigger I and many former members have to deal with.

      How was the undue religious influence entering into my life? Well primarily through prayer sessions (Darn, I need to add a chapter to my book!).