One of the best known among the parables of Jesus is the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Jesus tells the parable in answer to a follow-up question from a n expert in the law:
Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus paints with a broad brush, here– perhaps because the law expert “wanted to justify himself.” Our neighbor is anyone who crosses our path, engages our attention, and has a need for mercy, or help, or encouragement.
How do we apply this to prayer? Most of us are willing to pray for those in dire need or those close to us– friends, family, and such. But there is so much more we can do! Prayer is powerful and mysterious–much more so than most of us realize. If we want to pursue prayer, we need to consider how we can lift others up–including our “neighbors” who may not otherwise come to our attention. Here are a few suggestions to try:
- Make lists. It’s easy to list members of our families or close friends. Try some other lists: co-workers; the people who live on your block or on the floor of your apartment building. Are you feeling really adventurous? Dig up an old yearbook or staff directory from an old job; list all the people in local, regional, state or provincial, and federal government who directly represent you. Lists will help you to remember to pray for people, not because you already love them or know their needs, but because God already loves them and knows their needs!
- Find a focus–Choose a person (maybe someone who is facing chronic pain, or someone you don’t know as well as you would like, or even someone at random: Pray earnestly for that person every day for a week– or a month! Don’t turn it into a bludgeon (“I think you should know I’m praying for you, because I think you really need it…” In fact, you don’t need to tell the other person you are choosing to focus on them, but you may wish to ask if they would like prayer and how they would like you to pray for them).
- Pray for your enemies! You may not have a long list of “enemies”, but it is likely that you know several people who are “difficult”. Don’t pray at them or about them– pray for them. If they have caused you pain, ask for the grace to forgive them. (Keep asking as necessary!) Ask the Lord to bless them, and to help you be an encouragement to them. This is one of the most difficult things you will ever pray, but it can be life-changing.
- Pray the calendar–write in three or four names or general prayer requests for each day of the year. For example, on February 14, I could pray for my nephew who has a birthday, three couples I know with anniversaries that day, and for those I know who struggle with being alone on a day when others celebrate their relationships. On February 15, I can pray for those who broke up yesterday (even if I don’t know of anyone specific), for a friend who celebrates her birthday that day, and for marriage and relationship counselors.
- Pray the newspaper. NOT the TV or internet news! By this, I mean that the newspaper is organized into sections– pray for national and international news issues one day a week. Another day, pray for local issues; weather/environment on another day, etc. When I do this, it causes me to see God in every aspect of what is happening around me– business, government, entertainment and culture…
- There is no perfect formula for being a “Good Samaritan” in prayer. But there is good reason to pursue ways that God can be glorified (and we can reach maturity in our walk with God) through our prayer life.
- See more suggestions in the pages section of the blog.