Praying for Bahrain

I have never been to Bahrain. I know very little about Bahrain. All I know is that it is a small country in the Middle East, located on a series of islands in the Persian Gulf. But I prayed for Bahrain the other day. It’s on my prayer calendar/journal. Every day of the year, I have a nation, city, or geographic region (desert, ocean, continent) to pray for. It’s somewhat random, and personal–many of the “cities” are really local small towns or places close to my heart–and it doesn’t make my prayers virtuous or important. My prayers can’t “save” the world, or any corner of it, from natural disaster or political corruption, disease, or any other malady common to our fallen world. So why do it?

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First, because God loves and cares about the whole world. It’s easy for me to focus on my surrounding community; my state; my country. I know the people and language and culture here. But there is nothing exclusive about God’s love. Throughout the Bible, it is clear that our God is a global God. Sure, God “chose” Abraham and the nation of Israel to display His Holiness. But He also raised up other nations and leaders– Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the Queen of Sheba, Caesar Augustus–and sent prophetic warnings to Babylon, Edom, Assyria, Egypt, and many other nations who neither knew Him nor worshipped Him. I don’t know enough to know how many of the people of Bahrain are Christians, Muslims, Atheists, or any other religion. I don’t know how many of them are suffering from depression, domestic abuse, or disease. But I know that God knows– and cares. Even though I am praying “blind,” I am making an effort to “see” God’s heart for others.

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Second, as I pray for various nations, I become more interested in them. I learn more about them. I recognize them when they are mentioned in the news, or when I hear about people who live or visit there. Again, this doesn’t make me a better person, or my prayers better than anyone else’s–but it helps me be a more informed (and hopefully more compassionate) person than I was yesterday or last year.

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Praying for others reminds me of two important truths: I am very small in the scheme of things– one of more than 8 billion people on the planet! I cannot know them all; I cannot care for them all or influence them, or change their situations. But God can! I serve a God who not only knows all 8 billion individuals; He knows their thoughts, their pasts and their futures–He even knows the number of hairs on each head! The second truth that arises from that is that, small as I am, I am known by God. He cares about ME, just as He cares about each person that breathes. HE can change the small circumstances of my life, and the lives of those I know and love; AND He can raise up kingdoms and break down empires!

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Pursuing prayer is about following God. Part of that is learning discipline. God isn’t “grading” me on whether or not I pray for Bahrain, or Belarus, or Boston, or the tiny local town of Baroda. He isn’t going to turn His back on me if I don’t pray for any of these places. And He won’t love me more if I do. But I will get better insight into His character as I learn to pray faithfully, consistently, and compassionately for others– wherever they are.

Lord of All, Large or Small

I’ve written a number of times about my prayer journal. In it, I pray for individuals and individual requests, as well as praying for communities and regions each day of the year. I also use what I call “Prayer Points” for each day of the week. These are broad topics– The Church, Family and Friends, Government and Politics, Community and Services, Global Health (Healthcare, Diseases, Ecology, etc.), Business and Economy, and Cultural Issues. Often, these broad topics will lend themselves to specific needs or requests (which may overlap items in my prayer journal), but there are also times when the topics seem generic and almost overly broad. I use them anyway.

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Why?

It isn’t because I have any influence over such broad categories– but because God does! And I need to be reminded of that every day. God loves to hear our specific requests– heart cries and urgent needs–even bad hair days and misplaced keys. But He also loves to hear us acknowledge that “all the world” belongs to Him; that He is sovereign over our nations, our culture, His Church, our families, etc. He has authority over world economies, including all the factors we worry about– drought and famine, production, distribution, wealth (or lack thereof). He has the power to overthrow corrupt governments and bring justice. He has the power to defeat disease, and restore forests and rivers; to meet our financial needs, and to save marriages.

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Moreover, He knows best in all these situations– even when I know next to nothing! My efforts to change society or fix the planet will be puny, and based on my limited knowledge and experience. Even my outlook on my own small community is limited– I don’t know all the individual people, organizations, or companies that make up my small town. I trust that God, however, knows each teacher, garbage collector, city worker, police officer, fire fighter, mail carrier, nurse’s aid, day care provider, physical therapist, food service worker, accountant, paralegal, banker, and shopkeeper (and all the other valuable members of my community)– AND He knows the number of hairs on each of their heads! It revolutionizes the way I think and the way I pray each day.

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Imagine what can happen when we pray this way collectively! Imagine the way it can change our outlook, and our actions. I can be saddened by the state of our culture or the breakdown of families. But I have a Mighty Father who has both the wisdom and the power to redeem them! I know I can trust God with everything– large and small. But it is easy to take that for granted, or to “know” it only in the abstract. Keeping prayer points where I can see them and use them daily helps me to live out the truth that I already know.

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So this morning, instead of worrying about our business or the larger economy, I will lift them up into the arms of One who can really make a difference! And I will pray for smaller and more personal requests– those in the hospital or grieving a recent loss; those who are discouraged; those who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, promotions or new opportunities; those who are lost, and those who have misplaced their keys (again).

Because God is the Lord of ALL. AMEN!

Why I Keep a Prayer Journal

I keep a journal of my daily prayer life. I have found it useful, and I recommend it as you pursue a lifestyle of prayer. Why?

  • It helps me keep organized and disciplined as I pray. Not everyone needs help in these areas, but I find that I do, and keeping a journal helps. It helps remind me to pray specifically for certain people, issues, locations, etc. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray “in the moment.” But it means I have a focus when I sit down to start the day or finish the day in prayer.
  • It provides a place to document God’s answers to prayer. I leave space in my journal, and I go back through and note the ways God has answered prayers for various needs. It is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and even His attention to detail!
  • It reminds me how BIG God is–I am amazed at how many different items end up in my journal. I pray for a lot of people each day, and a lot of different situations– needs, praises, confessions, worship, “unspoken” items, continuing issues…God hears them all. He knows them all before I even pray! Yet He delights in hearing them on my lips or in my mind.
  • It helps me focus on others. Life can be full of “self” distractions–“my” finances, or aches and pains, scattered thoughts, etc.. A prayer journal reminds me that others need prayer, that our lives are intertwined and impact each other, and also that others are praying for me. In that sense, it makes prayer a very unifying and “communal” activity.
  • It also makes my prayer very personal–conversely, using a journal means that my private thoughts and goals and relationships are in a journal for my eyes (and God’s!) only. I may write down a poem or someone else’s written prayers as well, but I’m not praying someone else’s heart-cry or someone else’s thoughts in place of my own.
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Keeping a prayer journal doesn’t make me a “better” prayer than anyone else. It doesn’t impress God or bring me closer to Him because I have a journal of my prayer life. And I don’t recommend it for any of those reasons. But I have found it easier to be more consistent and more confident as I pray. I am not journaling just my words or even my thoughts– I am journaling a relationship.

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How can you develop a prayer journal?

  • Do what works best for you–this is YOUR journal, not mine. I keep mine in four simple notebooks– one for each season, one page for each day of the year. But you could use index cards, or a calendar, or your smartphone or computer calendar. Use whatever works– it may take a few tries before you find what works best.
  • Pray! Ask God to give you wisdom about what to include or how to organize your journal. I use birthdays and anniversaries to remind me to pray for certain people, but I leave plenty of space for “spur of the moment” requests and ongoing issues. I also pray for various geographic regions, but you can organize it around cultural issues, family members, etc. There are even websites and books that can help you learn about various topics or people groups to pray for..
  • Start simple. You don’t need to have a year-long journal to begin the process. Try journaling for a month first, if that will help you keep with it.
  • Don’t let the journal become bigger than your prayer life. This is a pitfall I landed in early on. I had the ambition to have a “perfect” prayer journal– and it ended up so convoluted that I wasn’t actually praying! Starting small allows you to build the habit first, and add the discipline of journaling in a more natural way.
  • Ask for help– just remember that you don’t have to do it “just like” anyone else, and you shouldn’t do it just to impress someone else.
  • See the attached pages on keeping a prayer journal on this blog..

Pursuing a lifestyle of prayer is a great way to start a new year. And continuing is a great way to look forward in the new year!

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s not actually midwinter just now. In fact, “winter” won’t officially begin for another few days. But it has been bleak around here.

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I suffer from seasonal depression. In spite of the joy I know I should feel during this season; in spite of all the reasons I have to BE joyful, I have been in a funk. I’ve been physically ill, but even more, I’ve been mentally drained and emotionally overwhelmed for over a week. I’ve missed posting a couple of days recently, because I feel hypocritical writing about Christmas.

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But I choose to write tonight about the enduring power of prayer. There are people praying for me, not because I’ve said anything about my condition, but because they are faithful in praying for people, and I happen to be one of them. The clouds are beginning to lift and I’m finding it easier to feel what I already know– that God is in control; that He cares; that He has a purpose beyond the sadness. It’s why I’m so passionate about praying and keeping a prayer log or prayer journal. I am one of those who pray for others, and I am one of those who are being prayed for–we lift each other up, even when–especially when–we don’t fully understand why.

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Some may ask, “How can you say that prayer works if you are depressed? Doesn’t that just prove that prayer isn’t working?” Some people mock the power of prayer in the face of “bad” circumstances. The recent school shooting in my home state of Michigan, or the recent spate of tornadoes in Kentucky and other states are prime examples. Sincere people of faith are being mocked for saying that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the people who are suffering. Mockers say that thoughts and prayers are meaningless–otherwise, prayers should have prevented the events in question from ever happening. In the aftermath, only actions are of value.

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In the face of disaster, distress, or depression, prayers may seem small and even meaningless. Most prayers don’t pack the power of a tornado, nor elicit such an immediate and dramatic response. My depression didn’t suddenly disappear the moment someone began praying for me; those whose homes and lives have been turned upside-down in the past days and weeks didn’t wake up this morning to find that it was just a bad dream. And prayer should be accompanied by thoughtful and compassionate action. But prayer heals– and healing takes time. God chooses to use the prayers of others to seep into our lives; to fortify us and draw us together. Actions may change the circumstances, but prayer changes the person. Prayer reaches beyond the circumstances and the limitations of our human nature.

So today, I will pray. Through the “funk,” through the pain, through the confusion and chaos of a troubled world, I will choose to pray. For those individuals listed in my journal; for those whose needs are posted online or made known to me some other way; for those whose names and faces come to mind throughout the day. Because it is God’s way. Because others are faithfully doing the same. Because, in the end, it brings joy and peace. Even when–especially when– things seem so bleak.

24-Hour Help Line

My husband and I run a small business. And I am always surprised at the number of people who call us “after hours.” Sundays, early mornings, late at night…they seem to be under the impression that we will be available to answer their questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have a website, which includes frequently asked questions, and a list of our hours, but people still call when we are not available. Some of them even call to complain that we are not open as they stand outside our door–which also has a list of our hours! We just can’t be at our shop all the time, and we can’t anticipate when someone will call or want to stop by.

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God doesn’t have any “after” hours. He’s always available when we need help, have a question, or want to express our feelings and thoughts. There is no busy signal, no “peak” time, and no need to “hold” while waiting for Him to listen to our call.

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We know this, or we ought to, but we often take for granted this incredible gift of access to the Almighty. Suppose God went on vacation for two weeks every year, or took a siesta every afternoon, or had a staff of “receptionists” to screen prayers, so that only certain ones reached His ears? Imagine a God who could only be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, or could only be reached at His “main office” in Peoria, or Lagos?

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God– The Only, Sovereign, Eternal God–is accessible in a way that no one else can ever be. He is our “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46). No matter when, no matter where, God is “on call.” And He is available to anyone and everyone at all times. Hundreds of thousands of prayers rising up at any given moment– ALL reach His ears and capture His attention.

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It is tempting, especially when we expect an instant answer, to interpret God’s seeming silence as inattention or even rejection. We begin to wonder if God has heard us, if He cares, or if He is indifferent to our pleas. One way to keep things in perspective is to journal our prayer life. Not just the requests, but the answers.

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I keep a prayer journal, and periodically, I go back over the requests from last week, last month, or even last year. I am astonished at how many I’ve forgotten in the march of time, and how many of them God has answered– often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He never forgets, but He often acts in His own ways and in His own perfect timing.

God is the ultimate 24-hour help line– ALWAYS there to listen; always available; always able; and always compassionate.

Prayers for the Nameless…

I keep a prayer journal. In it, I like to write the names of people I know and pray for– family, friends, neighbors, etc. For every day of the year, I have a list of people who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries (if I know about them). And I also have a space where I list specific requests related to health or suffering, needs, grieving, and more.

But many times, I also get generic or “unspoken” requests–no names or specific details. And for every day of the year, I also have a place or region– a city, state, province, nation, continent, ocean, desert–for which I pray. Sometimes, this can be awkward. I don’t always know for whom I am praying, or for what outcome…should I pray for peace?..prosperity?..courage?..the weather?..the government?..

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So what is the point? Why not stick to more “focused” prayer? Why not pray for those things with which I am most familiar? Most comfortable? Most able to make or see a difference?

Because God calls us to pray. And He calls us to pray both for those people and things we know well, and those we can only hope to trust to Him. I don’t have to know WHY I am praying for Albania (beyond the fact that it is on tomorrow’s page of my prayer journal). I don’t have to know who lives there, or what the needs are. I don’t have to know, because God knows, and I am trusting HIM to know the who and the why, the how and the when.

The other day, I was reading in Genesis– the story of Noah, and the Ark. The Bible introduces Noah by giving us a genealogy: a list of the descendants of Adam through to Noah. And there is a curious side story about Nephilim, and giants, and wickedness. But there is something noticeably missing. The women’s names. Even in the story of Noah that follows, Noah and his sons are named. But not the wives…we know they are there in the Ark. We know they were saved from the flood. We know they were crucial to the survival and future of mankind, but there are no names. At other times throughout the Bible narrative, there are seemingly endless lists of names of people we are likely to forget–names like Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:2), Unni (1 Chronicles 15:18), Shelumiel (Numbers 10:18), Palal (Nehemiah 3:25), Tryphena (Romans 16:12), or Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16).

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Names are important to the Lord. He knows each and every person’s name before they are even born. He knows the number of hairs on each person’s head (even the ones that used to be there!). But it is not necessary for US to know every name, every need, or every situation in order to lift it before our omniscient and loving Father.

So I will continue to pray for the nameless and the unknown. I will lift up unspoken and unformed requests to the God I DO know.

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Another reason I continue to pray for the nameless is that it keeps my focus outward. One of the drawbacks of the modern and post-modern world is that the “smaller” our world becomes, the smaller our focus. I can connect, via internet, to people around the globe. I can look up statistics for any country or region; I can see news reports and video uploads in real time from nearly every corner of the world. But it can be frightfully easy to turn my focus on myself and those immediately around me, to the exclusion of those whose names don’t show up on my “friends” list, or those whose faces get lost among the thousands of videos, and Facebook Posts, and Instagram shots. It can be deceptively easy to depend on what I can “know” from a computer screen, and not to depend on what God knows to be true.

Let’s open our hearts and minds to pray for the nameless among us– near and far. They are not nameless to God, and they are precious in His sight. And somewhere, someone may be praying for “nameless” people in our nation, or city, or region– US!

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This Little Light..

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how prayer is like a candle:

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Even a small candle can provide enough light to make a real difference in the darkness. Sometimes, we feel our prayers are small and ineffective, like a single candle in a dark room. But a single candle can pierce the darkness and offer hope and focus and even warmth where there was none before. We are in the season of Advent, and we light candles to mark the weeks of waiting for the One who is the Light of the World to come into the darkness. His light was enough to save the world from the darkness of Sin and Death. And it is This Light who hears our prayers, and intercedes for us. It is This Light who empowers us to share hope and love where it is most needed right now, right where we are.

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We are never a single candle! Not only do we have Christ living in us, and His Holy Spirit empowering us; God’s people around the world, through all places and times, are praying. Imagine seeing a single candle at the end of darkened room. Now, imagine how much brighter to see a long table lined with a row of candles, or a room lit by chandeliers and wall sconces with dozens of candles. Even if they are spread out– especially if they are spread out– they will fill every corner of the room with light and warmth. This is one of the reasons it is so important to pray for believers around the world, and to pray with other believers, through prayer nets, prayer meetings, prayer lists and blogs, and prayer journals.

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Our prayers are powerful. Not because of our “candle”, but because of the light God provides when we pray

Showers of Blessing

One of the things I find amazing about prayer is hearing about and seeing God work globally through the prayers of His people. God is Sovereign–He can choose to work however, whenever, and wherever He chooses. But He gives us the awesome privilege of participating in His work.

I use a prayer journal. In it, I keep names of people, ongoing and urgent prayer requests, and a list of places. Each day, I pray for those who are celebrating their birthdays or anniversaries (if I know them). I also pray for ongoing and urgent requests as I receive them. I pray for world leaders, local officials, and even those who wish me ill (if I know of them). Lastly, I pray for a particular place each day–as I write this, I am on the day reserved for Uganda. I don’t know anyone in Uganda; I’ve never visited, and I know very little about the nation. But God knows. God knows the people, He knows the weather, the land, the economy, and the spiritual needs of Uganda. I don’t have to know any of that. I just need to be faithful to call out to God on behalf of this land that is precious to Him. Some days, I pray for a nation; sometimes a city or a region; sometimes an ocean or desert.

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My prayers rise to God like a mist, but God gathers prayers to form clouds and send a shower of blessing wherever He wills it. I may never see the answer to my prayer for Uganda today. But I trust that God will send blessings like rain– maybe today, maybe next week– to someone in Uganda. Someone I’ve never met. Someone I hope to meet and love in Eternity–my long-lost, never-before-met brother or sister! And as I pray for those with birthdays or urgent needs, I trust that others are doing the same. God may not choose to answer those prayers in the way we expect. But He WILL send out showers of blessing. The rain will fall on the just and the unjust https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+5%3A44-45&version=NIV and it will fall where and when God decides.

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God doesn’t need me to pray for Uganda or any particular person or place. His work will progress with or without me. And if I pray for Moldova or Tokyo or the Arctic Ocean tomorrow, it won’t change God’s plans. But it might change MY outlook. And I will know the joy and glory of joining in God’s work as I watch it unfold. Amazingly, I know that some of those showers will fall on me and my family as other believers– perhaps strangers I have never met– pray today. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+113%3A3&version=NIV

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Pray without ceasing..

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Praying for Nebraska

Before I get started, I want to assure anyone reading this that there is no disaster in Nebraska (that I know of). No mass shooting, no tornado touchdown, no flooding or extreme drought…as far as I am aware, Nebraska is as it ever was.

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But yesterday was my “day” to pray for Nebraska. I keep a journal– a home made set of notebooks with pages for each day of the calendar year. Every day, I pray for a geographical region– a city, state, nation, continent, ocean, etc. I also pray for people who are celebrating a birthday or anniversary (among those known to me), and people facing special circumstances (as I am made aware of them–upcoming surgeries, recent losses of family members, unspoken requests..) Throughout the day, there may be other requests, and there are web sites and other prayer opportunities that don’t make it into my journal. And there may be a day this autumn when Nebraska will feature in my prayers because there IS a disaster, or some other concern arises there.

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Keeping a prayer journal doesn’t make me a “better” person. It doesn’t cover every prayer concern, or even every person I know and care for. My mind cannot hold every person, place, and situation that needs prayer on any given day. But a journal is a handy reminder to pray for people and places that are dear to the heart of God– not because they are in crisis (though we should lift up crisis areas, too)–but because He cares for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Keeping a journal doesn’t make me a better person; but it can make me a better pray-er. It reminds me that God is bigger than I can imagine, and His love is more powerful and everlasting than I can comprehend.

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Another benefit of keeping a journal is that I have space to write in answers to prayer, questions, random thoughts– and come back to reminders of God’s faithfulness over the seasons and years. Because I use home made notebooks, I keep them for about three years at a time. This also gives me the opportunity to update and make changes. Last time, I added Catalonia to my list of countries, and I’ve added several new birthdays and anniversaries. I’ve also begun keeping track of deaths, because I can pray for those who may be grieving the anniversary of a loved one’s loss.

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If you would like more information and suggestions on keeping a prayer journal, there are several suggestions, web sites, pre-printed journals for sale, and I have a page here Prayer Journal with some thoughts.

Now, I have to sign off and pray for the Netherlands!

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Praying for People I’ve Never Met

I keep a prayer journal. For each day of the year, I have a list of names– people who are celebrating a birthday or anniversary. I also list one location (nation, region, major city, etc.) and I have room for urgent prayer requests. As I read through the names, places, and situations on the list, I can lift them up in prayer. Today, I had the names of two young women– distant cousins I’ve only ever met once or twice at family reunions. I know who they are in relation to myself and my husband; I know that one of the young women became a mother earlier this year. But my list today also included the nation of South Africa. I know very little about South Africa, and I am not aware of knowing anyone who lives there. I also received a request to pray for an infant who is critically ill. I have never met her.

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How do I pray for people I have never met? I do not know any details about their needs or anything about their background. I do not have a relationship of trust or mutual experiences with them. They don’t know that I have prayed for them or what I have said about them or their needs.

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But God does! And in lifting up others to Him, I am not praying into a vacuum; I do not need to know any details, or get the words “just right.” Jesus Himself gave a blueprint, when He prayed for those who would come to faith long after He had ascended into Heaven after His resurrection:

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:20-26 New King James Version (NKJV) (taken from biblegateway.com)
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Even when praying for people I know well, it is not my knowing them that makes prayer important, effective, or worthy– it is not the subject of my prayers that makes them worthy or noble–it is the act of bringing EVERYTHING to GOD in prayer. The known, the unknown; the global crises, the aches and pains and heartaches of friends and neighbors, and the unspoken request of a stranger– all of them are welcome at the throne of Grace and in the presence of the King of Kings!

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Never discount the wonder that someone, somewhere– someone you have never met–has prayed for you; may be praying for you in this instant. Why? Because God loves you that much! And He loves every stranger you’ve never met just as much. Don’t hesitate to pray for those you’ve never met. You may yet meet them and enjoy their company in eternity!

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