In the Old Testament, Samuel declares that he would be sinning against the Lord if he fails to pray for the Israelites. (1 Sam. 12:23) The value of praying for others is a familiar Christian call to action, but how can we do so effectively, giving the practice more than cursory lip service?
First of all, we need to develop relationships founded on a deep level of care, vulnerability and trust. Praying for one another will become natural and effective when our relationships are in a safe place. One of the best ways to encourage others to be vulnerable about their needs is to be open about our own. Vulnerability must be reciprocal. Also, our friendships should be based on a secure confidentiality. We should be confident that whatever we share will not be repeated to others, and it will not affect our love for each other.
When these prerequisites have been met, we can offer powerful prayers for each other. Consider these practical guidelines.
- Keep a prayer journal to make sure prayers are being offered and so that answers to prayer give God His glory. (2 Peter 3:1)
- Don’t be afraid to pray for people on the spot. (Acts 20:36) Praying with one another is as important as praying for each other. Even though we continue to pray for our friend’s need, praying with them immediately or on the telephone is an emotional and psychological blessing.
- Encourage people to share their needs and prayer requests, and share your own. (1 Thes. 5:25) This requires humility on our part and underscores the interdependence of the body of Christ.
- Let people know you are praying for them. (2 Thes. 1:11) Besides blessing the people you pray for, it may encourage them to seek God themselves.
- Whenever possible, pray about specific areas of concern, avoiding generalities. (Philem. 1:6)
- Designate a specific time and place to pray for others. (Luke 6:12) With some discipline, we can hold ourselves accountable to our promises to others. While it is helpful to maintain a daily ritual of prayer, we can also acknowledge God’s cues throughout the day to pray for a person.
- Realize that praying for others requires time, effort and emotional commitment. (Col. 4:12) Wrestling in prayer for others is a strenuous spiritual exercise.
- Pray as long as it takes. (1 Col. 1:9) We may be called on to pray for someone a long time until God reveals His answer. God doesn’t give up on the unsaved spouse, child or friend, prolonged illness or misfortune. Neither should we.
- Minister in other areas as they become apparent. As we pray for others, act on cues to offer hospitality, comfort, encouragement, etc. For instance, we may be prompted to spend more time with the person or provide practical assistance, like child care or resume writing.
Even if we are paying attention to the previous guidelines, I have some personal issues that bother me when I hear people praying for others. You may disagree with me, but it is worth clearing the air.
When we pray for others, does it sound like we are talking to God or to the person(s) we are praying for? If at some point in the prayer we start preaching to the person we are praying for, we should remember we are speaking to God.
Are we using trite, overused phrases like “Bless the hands of the physicians as they operate?” What the Bible calls vain repetitions become prayer clichés that lose their meaning from overuse.
Do we use an “ecclesiastical voice” and King James English? Some people adopt a prayer voice that seems showy and ostentatious, lacking sincerity.
Are our prayers simple and focused? These intercessory prayers can be accomplished is just a few minutes focusing solely on the expressed need. Longer is not necessarily better.
When we pray for others, Christ is not asking us to do something that He has not and is not doing for us. Who is on your prayer list today?
Don McMinn, Ph.D. (with Kimberly Spring)
Executive Director of theiPlace.org
The 11th Commandment: More Insights into the One Anothers of Scripture