Many evangelicals are flippant and cheap when it comes to prayer. This has been reinforced by my past efforts in contacting churches and asking for prayer as I tried to bounce back during a dark season of my life. Then I saw The Bridge Fresno (my former EFCA Church) bungle a prayer request as my Mom was dying in the nearby hospital. This post looks at issues with evangelical Christians and prayer.
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
“Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal of all peacemaking.“
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
James 5:16 NLT
Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
There is one theme that I keep bumping into in evangelical Christianity that I want to focus on in today’s post. Many evangelical churches solicit prayer. You can go to a number of places and turn in a prayer request. Some churches even have links on their websites that you can submit prayer requests. Prayer is often a core value of evangelical theology. And as I have experienced its one that the movement struggles with deeply. It is something I noticed when I was an agnostic separated from the Christian faith and someone inside of it as well. Let’s look at how this has played out in my life.
In the Darkest Season of My Life Approaching Churches for Prayer
In May of 2013 I experienced a false accusation that thrust me into the darkest season of my life. It was frightening, disturbing and debilitating. It left with with almost like a PTSD effect as a result. Shortly after it happened I recall sitting on the couch in my apartment almost shaking and crying. The false accusation came from someone who boasted of how healthy his faith was, and how he was transformed. He spent a lot of time listening to Mark Dricoll, Matt Chandler, and John Piper. He was a covenant member of what was originally a Sovereign Grace Church plant called Redeemer Arlington.
In time I sought out prayer as I was trying to fix the situation and dig myself out of the hole that I was in. To be honest and fair, I said and clashed with people because I was in the mindset of a militant atheist. As I proceeded forward I decided to ask both people and churches for prayer in this false accusation I was trying to mitigate. What I ended up doing in time was approaching about 250 to 300 churches in Wisconsin, California and Montana. The churches I contacted were non-denominational, Baptist, Assembly of God, and a few Presbyterian. I asked them to pray for my situation.
An Exchange with The Peoples Church in Fresno, California
On Saturday August 10, 2013 I sent a prayer request to a mega church in Fresno, California called The Peoples Church. The Peoples Church is non-denominational. I recall when I grew up in Fresno hearing G.L. Johnson’s messages on the local radio station or his sound bites on KMJ in the 1980’s and 1990’s. So on that Saturday afternoon when I was trying to recover from that false accusation I sent the following email to The People’s Church in their prayer request section.
From: Peoples Church Web Support
Sent: Saturday, August 10, 2013 6:10 PM
To: Sherry White
Subject: Prayer request from David Bonner
Prayer request from David Bonner
People’s Church Hello, I’m actually from the Fresno area but I’m living in Washington, D.C. I’m just reaching back to a number of churches in the Fresno/Clovis area asking for prayer. I went through a spiritual crisis and walked away and burned a number of bridges as I dived into secular humanism. I’m getting back on my feet after being away from Christianity for 6 years. But I’m trying to rebuild bridges with people who I burned. So far I’ve been forgiven by 84. Can your pastors, prayer team, church, and even missionaries pray for two requests.
1. That I can reach my goal of 112 and rebuild as many bridges as possible and be at peace with people.
2. The three hardest to reach are Zach, Andrew White and Archie Griffin. Can you pray that their hearts and minds will change and that we can be reconciled and at peace. I really want to show them love and grace after screwing up so horrifically. They do not want to be contacted so I am praying that the Lord will work in their heart and that they will let go of hate. In all the above I’m praying for a Paul and John Mark situation NOT a Paul and Barnabas situation. I’ve been a Prodigal, and a fool, and I’m just getting back on my feet. This is going to be a long term prayer request. Thanks for your prayers.
The Monday after emailing that I got a response from Sherry White at the prayer ministry at People’s Church at 12:57 in the afternoon. The response is below.
We are more than glad to pray for you and your situation, David. The Lord knows how to bring back His own and He is doing a wonderful work in your life. You are doing the best you know how to mend the past and the Lord knows that. How others respond is between them and the Lord. The Bible says “as much as lies within you, live at peace with all men.” And you are doing that. May God richly, richly bless you as you continue on your journey with Him. Bless you! Sherry White, secretary to the Prayer Chain
And out of 250 to 300 churches that I contacted Sherry was the only human who had responded. I was deeply touched and grateful to her response. It helped in a difficult time and affirmed in my mind what church should be..a place for the hurting, broken and lost. For me that affirmed People’s Church and I was grateful to get that response. There was one other church that I contacted where I also asked for prayer. It was a non-denominational in Helena, Montana called Mount Helena Community Church. They actually had an automated system that followed up with you and asked how you were doing. Though I was dealing with a computer program I still was touched that Mount Helena operated like that. And I sent updates as the situation dragged on.
Out of contacting those 250 to 300 churches I only had two that reached out in some shape or form. Again let me repeat that, it was only two – The People’s Church and Mount Helena Community Church. Today I would consider that an atrocity. The fact that so many churches did not respond or engage someone in distress and pain. The fact that they would act like that makes me wonder why many of those churches I approached even exist? Many evangelical Christians are flippant when it comes to prayer, and quite honestly many do not care about praying for people at all. But this experience with prayer was tragically reinforced with my home Evangelical Free Church in Fresno, California called The Bridge. And it happened as my Mom was in the dying process of a local hospital.
How The Bridge Fresno Bungled a Prayer Request While My Mom was Dying in a Local Hospital
In the March 2017 time frame I flew back to Fresno, California. My Mom was in a medical crisis in St. Agnes hospital. On March 26, 2017 I went to an EFCA church that i have roots in, The Bridge Fresno (formerly called Fresno Evangelical Free) and left a prayer request. I explained in the card to drop off at the church that my Mom was going through a major medial crisis. And I was scared and my family was worried. After church I threw myself into helping my Mom in the hospital. On April 1, 2017 my Mom died in the ICU. I was horrified as I watched my Mom die. It was one of the hardest things I have gone through in my life. A few days later I was sitting in a funeral home planning my Mom’s funeral. While there is hits me like a ton of bricks. The Bridge Fresno didn’t respond to what I left. At the time I took a break from writing but when I resumed I wrote two posts about it. You can read about in, “The Bridge Fresno vs. Holy Spirit Catholic Church: Who was More Pastoral?” and “An Open Letter to Andrew Smith (Lead Pastor of The Bridge Fresno).” I was disturbed that a church could bungle such a prayer request. I emailed Sam Jessup about the situation at the time and got an awkward email from him. I raised this in time with The Bridge Fresno and had a brief discussion with David Peters who explained that they try and pray for what people leave but that they can’t get back to everyone. I could understand what he was saying, but still I also would have thought that they would respond to a major medical crisis especially when someone is dying. The way The Bridge Fresno responded really bothered me deeply.
Many Evangelicals are Cheap When it Comes to Prayer
Often times many evangelicals will say do you need prayer? That can happen in a church, Bible study or on a website that invites you to contact them for prayer. The context that it can occur in sometimes can be flippant. Sometimes it can be done to turn someone away or change the conversation. In these situations it can be done to deal with someone who can be a “problem.” In other situations the church will forget about you in time. There is no follow up or inquiry as to how things are going. In these situations it can very well be that the size of the church is working against itself especially if people can’t get prayer nor can they follow up with them. Prayer can actually be a form of love for someone and as I often write about love is missing in modern evangelicalism. Another issue is that prayer can sometimes reveal the influence of prosperity theology on someone. God becomes a slot machine almost and people can ask for the most frivolous items. That can become ugly when you consider what some people are dealing with in the United States: mental health issues, opioid addiction, failing marriages and so much more. A prayer request can be a way for a church to really show its grace and love in how they respond. And yet the reality is that many fail to do that over the course of time.
But…The Few Who Do Pray are to be Commended
Having written much of what is a negative post, let me also say this in the final section. There are a few people I have met who have been very prayerful and are the exception to what I wrote about above. They are engaging and responsive. In a few cases they have taken the initiative. I saw someone in a Chic Fil A the other day who prayed for me regularly in my faith crisis for several years. He didn’t quit and his perseverance impressed me. And there have been a couple of other times when I have felt people pray for me. I can’t explain how it works, it just have a sense or feeling. For those who have been like this I am impressed and wish more could be like them. In writing this blog I have met some amazing people into prayer. And I am grateful they are part of the church. That is it for the day guys, please know you are loved.