My thoughts and prayers are with you.  This is a very common phrase that we hear from friends, see on social media, and hear spoken by politicians.  What exactly does that mean?  Recently, following the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama said, “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in San Bernardino.”  Exactly what does this mean?

In the wake of the shooting, the New York Daily News critiqued political candidates for tweeting statements about their “thoughts and prayers” suggesting in their opening line, “Prayer isn’t working.”  It’s quite clear that our culture is confused about the subject of prayer.  Some believe prayer is a waste of time.  Others believe prayer is to be treated like a rabbit’s foot for good fortune.  Still others “send” prayers to people rather than to God.

Those who mock God and claim that prayer is a waste of time should remember that God will not be mocked.  Everyone who blasphemes His name and ridicules those who pray to Him will one day be brought to humility.  The Scripture says that every knee will bow to Jesus one day and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).

My concern with this issue is centered upon the professing Christian who is sending prayers to people rather than to God.  Stop sending prayers to people, it’s a waste of time.  Below I’ve included biblical reasons why we should direct our prayers to God rather than to people.

  • Jesus provided us a sufficient model in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:5-14).
  • Prayer is communication to God, not a good luck charm or for good vibes (1 Sam. 2:1).
  • Prayer is dependency upon the sovereignty of God, not on prayer itself (2 Chron. 6:40; Neh. 1:6).
  • Prayer is not a public practice first, it’s designed to be a private practice that occasionally becomes public (Matt. 6:7-9).

Jesus was not against praying in public, but He certainly stood in opposition to shallow and empty prayers that were made in public to the eyes and ears of men rather than to God.  James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, stated:

I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. [1]

In both national and personal tragedies, we will likely read and hear statements such as:

  • Sending prayers now.
  • Sending prayers your way.
  • My thoughts are with you.
  • My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Certainly many people have good intentions in what they mean by such comments in a Facebook post where you are requesting prayer, but in many cases, it reveals that we simply don’t know the purpose of prayer.  If prayer, by it’s very purpose, is to communicate to God and cast our dependency upon His divine sovereignty, shouldn’t our posture and our language reveal that?  Charles Spurgeon once said, “Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God. We know not what prayer can do.”

We must learn to pray, and in order to do so we must read the Bible and develop a proper understanding of prayer.  George Muller, in his autobiography, provided a good warning for us to consider:

In every good work, we must depend on the Lord. If anyone rises so that he may give the time which he takes from sleep to prayer and meditation, let him be sure that Satan will try to put obstacles in the way. [2]

Thinking about people in times of tragedy is a good thing.  Praying for them is better.  Sending thoughts and prayers to them is impossible outside of a written thought or prayer e-mailed or sent in letter form to their mailbox.  We all need to learn to talk to God on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of others.  Prayer is not a means of us getting better luck.  Prayer is ultimately about the glory of God.


  1. James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 185.
  2. George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller, (Whitaker House Publications, 1984), 119.