When Prayer Is Passive Aggressive Abuse and How to Deal with It

Here is an example of the kind of covert “passive aggressive (prayer) abuse” referenced in the title:

The prayer group convenes. You present a prayer request for the session. “ Q,”  in a soft voice, eyes closed and head down, starts the session with something like, “Oh, Lord, it’s not about OUR prayer requests, about this need or that need, but about what YOU want to do…”

But what are we here for? you might think. Well, okay, let’s start with, “God, what is on YOUR heart today?”  No problem…maybe I am being presumptuous, or perhaps since I’m new to this group, they do things differently…

Next session convenes.

Your turn comes around and you relate an answer to a situation you presented previously and the group prayed over. When it’s her turn, Q prays, eyes closed, voice soft, “Lord, we know it’s not about ANSWERS to prayers, but about focusing on You alone, Lord. Just You.”

Hmmmmm, you might think, as a bit of irritation rises which you fight back…Ah, we don’t share answers?

You begin to wonder why Q responds with what seems like “correction” only when you pray. You fight back a sense that this is really kind of petty. Maybe you’re just too sensitive.

You determine to see if these are just one-off occasions. You decide to pay close attention next time to both dispel a temptation to react in defense, and, if your suspicions that this is passive-aggressive prayer abuse, as it were, aimed at you for reasons unknown, to see if it’s time to leave or to do something about it.

At the next session, during a time of sharing, you tell a quick anecdote where you felt the presence and workings of the Holy Spirit in an event that concerns something the group discussed and prayed over.

So far, so good.

When it’s Q’s turn to pray, she begins, “Oh Lord, keep us humble. It’s not about who has experienced this or that from the Holy Spirit or who might think they’re more spiritual….” and more along those lines.

You have given this new group three sessions to see if you are just imagining Q has some kind of a problem with you. You have no idea what it is, but it feels condemning. And it seems that a pattern has, indeed, emerged.

In days to come you wonder how to resolve this. Maybe you should ask her if she has been offended by something you have done or said, but this also seems defensive. Maybe you should ignore it and just go on because perhaps you really are too sensitive and/or imagining things.

And it just seems so petty and middle school-ish.

Now what to do?


There are more examples, of course, where prayers seem to be deftly turned into opportunities to judge/correct others present or not present, and because the pray-ers seem so pious and humble someone who might suggest they are using prayer to try to judge or control their target is often looked upon as the critical one.

And unless one understands the biblical pattern regarding what to do when there has been  actual offense of some kind, such abuse often goes unaddressed, which leads to frustration and the temptation to be critical in response.

I have seen once-vibrant prayer groups eventually disband because of unchecked passive-aggressive “prayers” similar to what is described above.

And because this kind of prayer, that also includes prayer that leans more toward gossip, seems sadly prevalent in many circles, it puts a real dent in–and distracts from–the kind of power God has embedded in genuine prayers of intercession,  spiritual warfare, healing, and deliverance.

Fortunately, there is a biblical pattern that can be followed to settle genuine offences, even to resolve misunderstandings, but it doesn’t start with the abused, the one on the receiving end of passive-aggressive prayer abuse. It starts with the one who is using a prayer format to criticize, accuse, correct, and/or judge. The pattern is found in Matthew 18:15-17:

  1. If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen,
  2. take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 
  3. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; 
  4. and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Simply, by first going privately to the one the pray-er has been offended by to define, discuss and resolve the offense, the issue can be taken care of.

If that doesn’t work, and there is some issue the target of the passive-aggressive pray-er does need to apologize or make amends for, take someone else along.

And so on, see above.

It is out-of-order to couch accusations in the guise of a prayer, in a group. Furthermore, and more importantly, such behavior, if it is just some kind of misunderstanding or perhaps jealousy or emanating from a critical spirit, is a form of abuse.

As for the target of the passive aggressive pray-er? He or she needs to discern whether or not to confront the abuser or to leave the group because  the passive aggressive pray-er may or may not comprehend any wrong doing or may simply deny it and continue.

At any rate, abuse, whether overt or covert–especially covert abuse couched in prayer–is never of the Holy Spirit.


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