“I’m Praying For You!”

Each month, I want to give some practical suggestions on ways we can better pursue a lifestyle of prayer.

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This month, I want to encourage you to let people know you are praying for them. This seems like such a simple thing, and not necessarily a way to improve one’s prayer life. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us not to brag about our praying? Aren’t we supposed to pray in private, not calling attention to ourselves? (See Matthew 6:1-15)

There are four “do’s” and a couple of “don’t’s” when it comes to telling others about praying that I want to emphasize today. Not because I have a perfect formula, but these are things I have found true in my own experience, and I think they line up with Biblical principles:

DO:

  • When you hear a need, pray about it. Don’t put it off; don’t promise to pray at a more convenient time. Do it now. If that means stopping in the middle of a conversation and praying with someone who is pouring out their heart– do it (assuming that it is possible). Not only is this practicing obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but it is honoring the importance and value of the other person. (see Philippians 4:6; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; others…) Showing others that their needs are important and that God cares about their needs is NOT boasting or being hypocritical. Just remember to approach with humility. Don’t be offended if they refuse in the moment; don’t use the opportunity to pray “over them”– pray beside them; pray with them; pray for their needs, not your own virtue-signaling. If you are worried about your actions being misconstrued or offensive in some way, ask first. “May I pray for you right now?” “Would you mind if we just stopped and said a quick prayer about this situation?” They can always refuse to let you pray immediately, but at least they will know you sincerely want to bring their burden before God. Also, if there is practical help you can give in the moments following, don’t hold back. Maybe their need is beyond your ability, but if you can direct them to counseling, aid from a local church group or non-profit, or offer to follow-up, you should do what you honestly can. Don’t promise beyond your ability, but don’t just pray and walk away, either.
  • The same goes for on-line requests for prayer. Don’t just scroll past someone’s need. It takes three seconds or less to type, “Praying”, or “I’m praying for you.” Again, if there is practical help you can offer, this is an opportunity to do so. There is no need to go overboard– but letting others know that someone “out there” is praying can be an enormous encouragement.
  • Be specific. Generic prayers aren’t “bad,” but they are often hasty and leave something lacking. The same goes for practical help. One of the mistakes I often make is to say, “If there’s anything I can do, give me a call.” I mean it– I want to help, and don’t know just how. But this puts the burden of asking on the person you meant to help! If you don’t know what to do– say so– but give them something solid to go on. It may be a phone number or e-mail, or an idea of a service you are able to offer–“I have Wednesday afternoons off if you need someone to drive you/go with you to an appointment.” or “If you ever want to meet for coffee…” or “I know the church has a Benevolence fund for unexpected bills and expenses. I could contact someone or give you their contact information,” etc..
  • Follow through! If someone asks for prayer for an ongoing concern, make a point of checking in every so often. Call, send a note or text, stop them at church and let them know you are still thinking of them and praying for them. This can also be another opportunity to offer practical help, a hug, or other form of encouragement. Often a week or two can be time enough to reveal practical steps to meet some of the smaller needs related to a big crisis or situation.

DON’T:

  • Say you will pray and then forget to do it. I used to be bad about this on-line. It only takes three seconds to promise to pray or to type a message about prayer, but don’t say it/send it if you aren’t going to act on it. Either stop then and there to pray about it, or stop and write it down where you will see it later and act on it! Good intentions are NOT enough to bring real encouragement and change. And good intentions do not form a disciplined and growing pursuit of prayerful living. In fact, such lost opportunities can become a barrier to our prayer life AND our relationships with others.
  • Break confidences. If someone asks publicly for prayer, it is fine to respond publicly that you will pray or are praying. It is NOT fine to then share someone else’s burden with ten of your other neighbors or closest friends. It is not fine to repost someone else’s request without their permission. It is not fine to publicize others’ private burdens, confessions, or pain. You may want to ask others to join in prayer, but don’t share details and names. Even if you have permission to share a prayer request, it is not for you to pour out someone else’s feelings, relationships, or struggles. This is another area in which I’ve had to learn a lot. I tend to over-share my own struggles when asking for prayer, and I want others to be concerned, so they will pray also. But it is very easy to fall into gossip, oversharing, and speculation, which has no place in prayer– and no place in my relationships! Share only those specifics that are helpful– “S______ is battling cancer. She has an appointment with her oncologist this week and would like prayer.” It is tempting to give the time and date of the appointment– and S______ may be ok with you doing this so people can be praying “in the moment.” However, she may be concerned about too many people knowing when she will or won’t be home, which might tempt a burglar. She may not want to receive a host of phone calls later that afternoon from people wanting “updates” or wanting to “cheer her up” when she is exhausted. Respect others’ privacy.

We are commanded to pray for one another (see Galatians 6:2; Colossians 4:2, etc.) And prayer is the most powerful tool we have to help those around us. Even though I recommend “practical” help along with prayer, I do not mean to say that prayer is impractical. Prayer IS practical and powerful. It should never be dismissed as “lesser than” other forms of help. But neither should it be used as an excuse not to meet needs in others ways as God gives us resources.

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Making a habit of praying for others– really responding to needs immediately and faithfully in prayer– is a great way to experience its power. We will see God working through the prayers we offer– not just in the way He answers in the lives of others, but in the way He will change our hearts and minds about situations, relationships, and in growing Faith and confidence. It will train you to listen for needs, and to prepare to help. It will also train you to see needs in your own life, and make it easier to trust God with the needs in your life. You will find it easier to share your needs with others, and to accept help when you experience how much your efforts (even small ones) can encourage others. It may even encourage you to begin networking with others to meet needs and be proactive, instead of just reacting to needs after they are felt! If you are already strong in this area, be grateful for the way God is using you in the lives of others. If you are struggling in this area, I hope you will persevere. God is gracious in giving us opportunities to grow and serve!

Wealth in the Wilderness

In Exodus, chapter 16, the people of God are wandering in the wilderness of Sin (literally and figuratively!). They begin to grumble and complain about food, contrasting their current situation with their life in Egypt. Whenever I have read this passage in the past, I have assumed that the Israelites lacked food– that they were starving in the desert–and that their grumbling had some merit. After all, they are in a desert. Their complaints about water make sense. Surely, their complaints about food have the same ring of desperation.

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But a few chapters earlier, and a few chapters later, we get a better picture of the true situation of these wandering bands of Israelites. As they left Egypt, they demanded from Pharaoh that they be allowed to take their flocks and herds! This would suggest that they had sheep, cows, and goats with them–meat and milk in some quantity. They may have had other animals as well– chickens, pet dogs or cats, oxen or horses. The need for water was greater– not only water for the people, but for their animals– but the complaint about meat seems to have had nothing to do with actual need. If anything, their complaint might have been about grazing land for their animals– but they never bring this complaint before the Lord. Either there was enough grass, even in the wilderness, or they had brought grain to feed their flocks. And there was grain for bread–just a few short chapters later, God gives directions for the sacrifices– sacrifices that are to involve rams, bulls, and three different types of bread, cakes, and wafers made with wheat flour!

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The Israelites have provisions. They have taken enough food for the journey up to that point, and more. They complain, not that they ARE starving, but that they believe they will starve. God answers their complaint by sending quail– enough that they got sick of it– and bread from heaven (manna). The manna continues to fall without fail every day (except the sabbaths) for 40 years, throughout all their moving; in every location and season, on rocky mountainsides and dusty plains.

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God’s amazing and miraculous provision should have produced thanksgiving and worship. Instead, the people got sick of the quail, and continued with their complaining and grumbling for an entire generation as they wandered around the wilderness.

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How many times do we complain about “needs” that are not needs at all? I find myself worrying about bills getting paid, or the car making “odd” noises, or an aching shoulder. I find myself thinking back to days when I had more money or free time, and far fewer aches and pains. It is tempting to ask God for a return of “the good old days.” But God’s plan for the Israelites didn’t involve pots of meat that came with chains attached. God’s plan for my life doesn’t involve my immediate comfort, but my eternal character. And even in times when I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness, God never leaves me. I have been poor, but I have not starved. I have been sick, but not left to die alone. I have been lost, but never abandoned.

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There is wealth in the wilderness–the riches of God are available to those who will trust Him. Like manna, God will provide what only He can, and enough to see us through each day. He doesn’t promise that we will have “pots of meat” or easy circumstances. Instead, if we open our eyes, we will see miracles of grace, showing us how much God loves us and cares for us.

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God’s people complained a lot, but rarely did they celebrate God’s provision or offer thanks. May we learn from their story, and praise the God who sends quail and manna to the very ones who doubt His mercy and love!

Content, But Not Complacent

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 

1 Timothy 6:3-12 (NASB)
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“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) We are entering a season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it can be a wonderful time to count one’s blessings and give praise with a humble and thankful heart. But it can also be a season of discontent, envy, overspending, and even depression. Many people are restless. They want “more”– more stuff, more respect, more power, more popularity, better health, a bigger house, trendier clothes…the list can be endless. Advertisers work hard to stir up this kind of discontent in the hope that people will buy their products. Politicians stir up discontent and fear to get more votes. Even religious leaders can stir up discontent in the hope of gaining influence, respect, and money.

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God will not stir up discontent in our hearts. Instead, He wants us to learn to be content and grateful for the blessings we already have, and to trust Him for the things we both need and desire. He will see to it that we get what we need to live a Godly life, even if it seems meager compared to others who boast of their circumstances. Those who trust in their wealth or power will find it is never “enough.” Discontent breeds more discontent– envy gives rise to anger and bitterness. Greed gives way to dishonesty and violence. It is the enemy of Godliness and Humility. It is the enemy of the Christian Walk.

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But there is another danger to the Christian. We should desire to develop a spirit of contentment, but we must be careful not to let contentment become complacency. The Apostle Paul does not stop in his message to Timothy, but reminds him to both “flee” the temptation of greed and discontent, and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Contentment is not an excuse for complacency. We are to “fight the good fight of Faith.” We are to be content with what we have, but not complacent about where we stand or how we live.

Discontent says– “I don’t have enough. I need more! (Even if I must take it by force or manipulation)”. Complacency says–” I have everything I need. I am an island of self-sufficiency. I don’t need anything (including God!) Both attitudes are conceited and fail to acknowledge God’s provision and His Sovereignty. The discontented, greedy person will be at war with God’s laws. The complacent person may not be fighting against God’s laws, but s/he will ignore God’s will, and refuse to stand up for justice or mercy. The complacent person is complicit in evil, even when they are not the ones doing it. The complacent Christian is ungrateful, and has only half-hearted praise for the Author of the blessings they enjoy.

There are many “Christians” in both categories. Many who claim to follow Christ, but are really following what they think will bring them power, wealth, health, or popularity. Many are being lulled into complacency by their blessings and comfortable circumstances. Both groups have lost their focus. God is to be the center of our lives– not our own comfort or our own pursuit of it.

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This season, may we be content, humble, and willing to give God the Thanks, Praise, and Worship He deserves. And may we not become complacent about doing good, standing firm in the Faith, and helping others.

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