The Abuser’s Claim to be a Christian Examined in Light of Prayer

The following is taken from J.C. Ryle’s great book Practical Religion. Ryle was the Anglican Bishop at Liverpool back in the 1800s. Read his books and you will find yourself quite well-grounded in the faith.

What Ryle says here about the Christian and prayer is very insightful for us when we apply it not only to ourselves, but to the abuser who claims to be a Christian. Those of you who are abuse victims / survivors might be helped by what Ryle says here because I think he pulls back the curtain of the abuser’s façade of false faith. Think about it as you read. Did / Does your abuser have a personal, private, prayer life in which he prays from his heart to God?

We will be very interested in your comments.

II. In the second place, “a habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian.” All the children of God on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality in their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of life in an infant when born into the world, is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again, is “praying.” This is one of the common marks of all the elect of God: “They always pray and do not give up” (Luke 18:1). The Holy Spirit, who makes them new creatures, works in them the feeling of adoption, and makes them cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). The Lord Jesus, when He saves them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, “Be silent no more.” God has no speechless children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do otherwise than they do. They “must” pray.

I have looked carefully over the lives of God’s saints in the Bible. I cannot find one of whose history much is told us, from Genesis to Revelation, who was not a man of prayer. I find it mentioned as a characteristic of the godly, that “they call on the Father,” that “they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that “they do not call upon the Lord.” (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Psalm 14:4). I have read the lives of many great Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were educated, and some uneducated. They came from various denominations and some were Independents. Some loved a very structured worship service, and some liked it rather informal. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. The have all been “men of prayer.”

I study the reports of missionaries in our own times. I see with joy that heathen men and women are receiving the Gospel in various parts of the globe. There are conversions in Africa, in New Zealand, and in America. The people converted are naturally unlike one another in every respect. But one striking thing I observe at all the missionary stations — the converted people “always pray.”

I do not deny that a man may pray without heart, and without sincerity. I do not for a moment pretend to say, that the mere fact of a person praying proves everything about his soul. As in every other part of religion, so also in this, there is plenty of deception and hypocrisy. But this I do say — that not praying, is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian. He cannot really feel for his sins. He cannot love God. He cannot feel himself in debt to God. He cannot long after holiness. He cannot desire heaven. He has yet to be born again. He has yet to be made a new creature. He may boast confidently of election, grace, faith, hope, and knowledge, and deceive ignorant people. But you may rest assured it is all vain talk “if he does not pray.”

And furthermore, I say, that of all the evidences of the real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is serious.

The Lord Himself has set His stamp on prayer as the best proof of true conversion. When He sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, He gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this, “he is praying” (Acts 9:11). I know that much may go on in a man’s mind before he is brought to pray. He may have many convictions, desires, wishes, feelings, intentions, resolutions, hopes, and fears. But all these things are very uncertain proofs. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many cases they are not more lasting than “the morning mist, and the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:4). A real hearty prayer, flowing from a broken and repentant spirit, is worth all these things put together.

I know that the elect of God are chosen to salvation from all eternity. I do not forget that the Holy Spirit, who calls them in due time, in many instances leads them by very slow degrees to an awareness of Christ. But the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call any one justified until he believes. I dare not say that any one believes until he prays. I cannot understand a silent and speechless faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How can a man live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too. Let no one be surprised if he hears ministers of the Gospel dwelling a lot on the importance of prayer. This is the point we want to bring you to — we want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. Your love of evangelical religion may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. The great point is this — whether you can speak “to” God as well as speak “about” God.

Ryle, J.C. (2010-08-06). Practical Religion (Kindle Locations 1063-1107).  Kindle Edition.

[August 17, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to August 17, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 17, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 17, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 17, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

38 thoughts on “The Abuser’s Claim to be a Christian Examined in Light of Prayer”

  1. “But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. The great point is this– whether you can speak “to” God as well as speak “about” God.” Ok, I feel a great conviction coming on….

    That last line hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminds me of an old saying of Corrie Ten Boom’s, “Just because a mouse lives in a cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie!”

  2. “Did / Does your abuser have a personal, private, prayer life in which he prays from his heart to God?” My abuser says he prays to God and receives answers to his prayers. He will sometimes use scriptures to back up what he says was an answer to his prayer.

    I no longer look at someone’s prayer life as being a surety of their true Christianity. Words in a prayer are too easy for people to learn, to recite, and/ or to imitate. I look at the evidence of their behavior – is it congruent with their words. Is that person’s life and their behavior exhibiting and showing any evidence of growing and maturing as a result of building a relationship with and spending time with God – connecting with HIm in an exchange of thoughts, ideas, feelings, relating to and with Him. Living with a person who’s abuse includes the ability to create an image of a Christian person with a healthy relationship with God by repeating what he hears from people who seem to have a real relationship with God, a person who has certain Christian beliefs that he lives by and claims they are godly, biblical, and what God has told him to do, but of which have been emotionally destructive to me and my children, I do not look at his claims of a prayer life as evidence of his Christianity. I have observed him laying on the floor in a church service, crying and seeming to be repenting to God, to then having him get up, leave the church and have no long-lasting or discernible changes. I have only seen him “praying” or spending time with God at home a few times. But again, anything he claimed he was getting or learning was short lived or was “prophetic” and /or mystical in nature and didn’t transfer into real life or living. So prayers, words or claims of “prophetic encounters” with God are not enough for me any more to believe a person is following the God who guides them and helps them grow into the person He knows they can be.

    1. Speaking of prayers being prophetic or mystical- I remember two different times when my MIW told me that “god” told him he was going to have lots of money so he could help people. Another time”god” told him he was going to own this huge castle like hotel in nearby city. Obviously neither one ever happened.

      1. The anti-husband used to tell me often that God told him this or that. Most of the times it was that I should do what he (the anti-husband) wanted me to do. When I finally filed for divorce he told me that God told him that I would never be free, nor would I ever be happy. He was so sure that I would believe him and cancel the divorce. Fortunately by that time I had enough peace and guidance from the Lord that I knew what the anti-husband supposedly heard couldn’t possibly be true.

      2. “God told me you are not to drive the car anymore.”

        This is where we can thumb our noses and blow raspberries at them because God does not tell one person His will for another person. He knows perfectly well how to communicate with each believer concerning their own matters. If God didn’t want her to drive the car anymore, He would have told her not him. There is no “sent to wrong address” stamp in the heavenly mail room.

      3. The times when I told my then-husband that he was playing Holy Spirit he quickly denied it and become offended that I would suggest such a thing. The messages became more frequent and more twisted when he sensed I was going to commit in his eyes the unpardonable sin and file for divorce. The last message he delivered was, “God told me that since He loves me unconditionally you are to love me unconditionally, too.” I never responded…

      4. “God told me that since He loves me unconditionally you are to love me unconditionally, too.”

        What a perfect summation of the supremely entitled mindset of the abuser.

      5. “What a perfect summation of the supremely entitled mindset of the abuser.”

        LIKE BUTTON There has to be at least a few million remarks made by an abuser, that this sentence could be used for! My new favorite response!

  3. I will never forget the GREAT disappointment of my heart shortly after marrying this “Man of God”, when I asked him to pray with me and he coldly replied, “You won’t follow me anyway!” and refused to pray (other than at meals or in public) or do Bible study with me because I had somehow offended his position of leadership and authority. It still hurts my heart even though looking back with open eyes I can see how this fit into his game of manipulation and dominance. I feel dirty for giving my heart to this.

    1. OH, Kings Daughter . . . I can so relate to this. I, too, married “a great and ‘called’ man of God” (the first time . . . I am now married to a wonderful REAL man of God) . . . and he refused to pray with me. And, in the 6 or so times he DID pray with me (in 12 years), it was wordy . . . impersonal . . . rote . . . sad attempts at magnificence. This article Jeff has written has absolutely affirmed my decision even more. When I stopped for a minute and thought back to his prayer life . . . it was strained, unnatural . . . And the only times I really heard of him praying was when he felt guilty. And there was no joy — no forgiveness — no moving on — just self-condemnation as he talked to some “god” that seemed to keep him in shackles . . .

    2. Mine always had excuses for why he wouldn’t pray with me. He wasn’t good at it. I wouldn’t pray first. etc. I finally gave up.

      1. Mine never prayed or read his Bible either. That is until I put him out and the pastor had him start writing prayers and sending them to me, so he (the pastor) could paint him in a good light! I found out later, that those prayers were being forwarded over to the pastor for his records, so there was the “real” answer for the sudden prayers. They were only written to be used against me! Phony. God knows the difference!

  4. “Did/Does your abuser have a personal, private, prayer life in which he prays from his heart to God?”‘

    How would I really know? It’s supposed to be a private prayer life. I have had my doubts, however. It always bothered me that I didn’t see him in prayer or Bible reading. The rare times I have seen him do such, I was snarled at for interrupting.

    1. Anonymous- We know by the fruits. Last time I checked, snarling was not listed among love, joy, peace, patience, kindness….. And you know, when a genuine Christian snarls, the Holy Spirit within him “snarls” real conviction and repentance follows. “I acted like a complete jerk to you. That was wicked. I am sorry. Please forgive me for hurting you.” No “if’s,” no “ands,” no “buts.”

      1. Considering I know of churches that have encouraged barking, growling and groaning “in the spirit”, I would not put it past some people to include snarling as a “spirit” led activity! Some people can claim the “Holy Spirit” can lead them to do anything, including things that are overtly evil!

  5. I really don’t know for sure what his prayer life is like. He goes to his office (here at home) to pray, or so he says. I have been baffled at the thought that he could be spending time with God, but He (my Father) doesn’t talk to him about his behavior?! …or doesn’t open his eyes to what he is doing?! So, I just can’t wrap my mind around him really praying.

  6. I think this is accurate, but what I would question is what constitutes a life of prayer. I’ve never been good at long periods of time in a closet devoted in prayer, yet I believe my life is constantly bathed in prayer. I talk to God a lot, dwell on him, and listen for him to speak to me. I always spend a short focused time praying before bed, but that’s more ritual (a good one) that I can bank on to keep me plugged in. But if I’m driving, or walking, or thinking, or getting ready for work, I am often in a state of prayer.

    I don’t really know what my ex’s prayer life was like. We didn’t pray together, and when I tried to focus on making that a priority, it never lasted. That was certainly partly my fault (it’s not like she made praying together difficult like some folks here). But I also never sensed that we were really accomplishing much in our joint prayer life.

  7. The abuser I know has made many loud claims to his ex about God having answered his prayers when it is perfectly evident that he has created his own desired end by schemes and machinations, or else is just plain lying. He does this to manipulate and intimidate and apparently has no idea how utterly stupid he sounds to people who really do know about prayer and when God answers.

    So he claims to not only be a man of prayer, but one whose prayers are heard. It’s quite ridiculous and would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

  8. my ex-idiot claimed to pray. and said he read his Bible, but never wanted to join anyone in prayer, even praying before meals was rote or praying/fasting when he would lose another job was just so rote. Looking back , I would plan the fast to only miss a meal and a half so that he would actually fast. Sigh. Now I see the evidence of him being like Balam who talked to God , spoke for God but did not worship God.

  9. Wow…love JC Ryle’s take on prayer. God has no speechless children…they see their need for mercy and grace…they feel their emptiness and weakness. Doesn’t it say it like it is. Even when I find no words, even when I feel drained and overwhelmed, the cry to engage with the Heavenly Father is there. At times, it sounds no more than a whimper, like “Help God!” but how could I not turn to Him? Prayer does divide the children of God, breathed by His Spirit, and the pretenders. Wow again…thanks, Jeff.

  10. Thank you for more light on this topic. I am new to Pastor Jeff’s sermons and to this blog site, but am devouring them all as a truth-starved-daughter. Until now, I have wrested with the disparity between my husband’s claims to be a believer and the fact that he hasn’t read the Word for himself in over ten years, doesnt want or seek Christian fellowship, and absolutely cannot look inward to see a need for personal repentance: for abusive speech and anger in the home, never asking me for forgiveness for verbally and emotionally raging against me, for shoving me, for screaming that I must obey him, for becoming excessively angry if I voice my concerns or my need for him to use self-control in dealing with the kids. The birth pangs are growing more violent and are closer together. What used to be once every two years is now twice in one year. It started with a post honeymoon explosion and has continued with excessive anger and force in child discipline gradually over a 20 year period and has culminated to the reality of a daughter with a concussion at age 16 and a son who was tackled and slapped until his cheek was bruised in 2012.

    Recent counseling and telling his family has helped only to the small degree that my husband knows the conversation will no longer be swept under the rug by the abusive powerful wife-shut-down. The wife-shut-down, in the past, was effectively won for him with his show of force in raging anger, telling me: “I have done nothing wrong. I am in complete control. You must submit to me.” In my confusion, I did submit and allowed it to be swept under the rug. No more! I will no longer submit to ungodly anger, unholy living, participating in his deeds of darkness by my silence.

    Out of great concern several years ago, I went to him in tears, pleading with him as to whether he had truly tested himself to know if he was found in the faith. That plea was met with venom and I was told that I was a hypocrite to ask. I am able to see to get “the speck” as I have had to “get the log” out of mine own eye for I once was an abusive woman towards my children, lashing out in great anger and inflicting ungodly bruises and wounds to the hearts of my children. Ten years ago, I began to see the fruit of my sin and anger was bringing a spirit of death to my children. They were angry children and violent one to another. I began to CRY OUT to God in repentance, begging Him to CHANGE me or take me out of this life. He heard my cries and gave me new life and the reality of freedom from bondage to abuse and freedom from anger began to characterize my life. It would appear that as I have been set free, in response, my husband has hardened his own heart. I have wondered if I am to blame for his hardening and my husband’s siblings have even suggested that I am to be blamed. However, God is showing me the truth. Only God can bring repentance and only God can harden a heart. He is Lord and He is sovereign.

    1. daddysdaughter2, I am so glad you have found the blog and Jeff’s sermons. Your story is awesome (and regular readers here know that I don’t use that word often). Praise God for his work in your life, and for his continuing work in showing you the truth and giving you confidence and assurance in believing it.
      Yes, you are not to blame for your husband’s behaviour and attitudes. How could someone softening and becoming more like Christ “make” another person more hardened? You don’t have that much power! None of us do.

      The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
      he turns it wherever he will. Prov. 21:1

  11. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. The great point is this– whether you can speak “to” God as well as speak “about” God.

    An eye opening point. My ex use to brag when we were married that God had answered his prayer for Godly wife….the funny thing is I never saw him pray in the 5 years we were together. When I asked him to pray with me he had all kinds of excuses why he couldn’t. He would not study the bible with me. That is until I went for a restraining order…then he suddenly found God and wanted to pray together and read the bible together…but I was the one who actually prayed he would only awkwardly say a few things but never poured out his heart to God. And all of that only lasted a very short time, long enough to get him settled back into the house….just so eye opening. He never really was a believer, he just tried to pass himself off as one.

    1. Yes, thank you Michele. And once again, I contend that the “Christian” abuser is the worst kind. It takes far more of a lack of conscience to pretend to be “holy” and yet be an abuser.

    2. This is old but your story is almost identical to mine. Verbal abuse, emotional abuse, raging anger. Faking finding Jesus until he got back in the house!! Same crap from a fake Christian. I am still in this [approximately 2 decade long] nightmare. I could tell endless stories all disgusting and similar to everyone else’s stories. It makes me feel better that I am not alone going through this and dealing with a fake Christian. He wanted enough Jesus to get him back in the house and then after that he could care less. He spends a lot of time watching porn, telling me it’s all my fault that he watches it and gambling.

      [For safety and protection, the length of the relationship has been airbrushed. Editors.]

      1. Hi Sherry,

        For your safety and protection, I have modified the screen name you submitted with your comment, as well as airbrushed the length of your relationship.

        If you prefer a different screen name, send me an email at

      2. Dear Sherry, your husband’s vile behaviour is not your fault. You are not to blame. Abusers always shift the blame to their victims.

        Welcome to the blog. 🙂

        I would like to urge you to read our New Users’ Info page. It gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog. If you decide you want to change your screen name, please email my assistant Reaching Out. Her address is

        You may also like to check out our Frequently Asked Questions. I think many of the questions listed there may spark your interest.

        You are definitely not alone! Many Christian women have experienced / still are experiencing abuse from husbands who are phony Christians.

  12. Very well said, and I agree whole heartedly. I wish I had been more alarmed than I was when I noticed that my so-called “Christian” fiance didn’t seem to have much of a prayer life. I chalked it up to spiritual immaturity/baby Christian type of behavior, but the Lord was definitely trying to warn me. I wish I would have been more prayerful myself and that I had more diligently sought the Lord’s guidance and discernment. Instead I rationalized my fears away and took the monster at his word. Later after we were married he began using his fake prayer life to control me, scare me, manipulate me…. “I prayed about this and God told me….” Yeah right.

  13. thank you for this excerpt – I’m having flashbacks to the “zero prayer life” of my ex-idiot as well (thanks Scared for a name for him 🙂 )

  14. My parents are both verbally, emotionally, financially and spiritually abusive! They said “God had you get fired from your job because all the people were sinful!” Or “our church is so great!” Or “we were missionaries in [another country]”, they always use religion on me! And look down on everyone! Oh they have tattoos or smoke they are evil people! They go to church and no one says anything to them! I live in pain and always being abused! And they tell me “you can’t get money out!” “We don’t have any money at all!” “You are too low on your card!” “You can’t spend so much!” And they buy stupid things and say “you can’t do this or this but we can!” I am done with religion because my parents are narcs and they go to church and come back and hurt me! Don’t need religion at all.

    [Details airbrushed for protection. Editors.]

    1. Hi Rose, it sounds like your parents are not real Christians, they are just masquerading as Christians. And they are displaying double standards: one standard for them, another standard for you. If they are abusing you, it are wise to keep your distance from them.

      But I’d like to encourage you not to reject Christianity and God and Jesus Christ. It’s not wise to reject Jesus because of the bad behaviour of those who claim to follow Jesus. It is better to seek Jesus for yourself. Jesus is not like your parents have portrayed. He is loving, He understands, He does not break bruised reeds.

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