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