The phrase has become a target of derision, largely seen as an empty, go-to soundbite used by people who want to sound like they care but really don’t.
That wasn’t always the case. In fact, the phrase has deep historical roots, with references reportedly as far back as the 17th century. Hints of it appear in the Christian Bible; in the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul tells his readers “how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times.”
The problem today is that the words have become simply that—words. For a person of faith who offers them sincerely, “thoughts and prayers” is a deliberate act in two parts. First, it’s a promise to invest time and emotional energy in another person, usually someone in crisis. Second, it’s a vow to personally seek God’s help to stop the person’s suffering or to change the circumstances causing it.
Unfortunately, that’s where the phrase often runs into trouble. Those who believe in a God who responds to personal prayers sometimes forget that the same God delivers miracles through people at least as often as through direct, divine action. The Bible is filled with examples of people being equipped to serve. Likewise, it’s heavy with challenges for people to make a difference for those who suffer.
The biblical book of James masterfully makes this point: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
In short, offering “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting or a natural disaster or other terrible event should be the beginning of action.
Thoughts, yes. Prayers, absolutely. But we have a personal responsibility to follow through with meaningful relief and change. Don’t just pray for the hungry and homeless; make sure they’re fed and sheltered. Don’t just think about the victims of horrific events; take a deliberate step toward easing their pain and stopping future tragedies.
Sadly, when a call to action becomes mere filler, the thoughts become empty, the prayers feeble.
No wonder “thoughts and prayers” has shifted from pledge to punchline.
There’s a public relations lesson in this. When PR is nothing but words, it’s powerless at best. Ultimately, that failure damages the reputation and credibility—and the performance—of the organization. Words must be the door to meaningful deeds.
Want to stop the vitriol around “thoughts and prayers”? You must be part of the change. The phrase must become more than the words suggest; it must be the start of real action, both individual and collective. Likewise, to build brand and reputation through PR, you must make sure your actions, and that of your organization, reflect what you say—and speak louder than the words themselves.