We’ve all been asked to pray for various things. Please pray for my sister, she’s going through a hard time. Please pray for me, I have an important decision to make. Please pray, my husband lost his job. And when someone asks us to pray, we feel compelled to say yes. After all, the Bible is full of examples—both exhortations to pray for each other and examples of those prayers. Prayer is an excellent way we can demonstrate our love for people, fulfilling God’s commandment to love one another as ourselves. Jesus clearly tells us to share our prayer requests:
Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
But—how many times do we agree to pray for someone else, and then forget? Or, we pray for them right then and there (so at least we’ve done it once), and then forget? If we’re diligent, we might actually follow through and pray later too, but if we don’t really know the situation, we feel no burden for the people involved and we pray solely out of commitment. Worse, rather than growing in my love for those requesting my prayers, I find myself resentful. I feel as if they’re imposing on me.
As I talk to others, I discover that I’m not alone in my frustration; many Christians sense that they are essentially guilted into prayer commitments they don’t want and can’t keep. Clearly something has to change. I have a few suggestions to share that are helping me.
First of all, I’ve decided to not be part of the problem. I ask God what issues I need to share and who I should share them with, then only ask those individuals to pray. This has ended up restricting my requests to significantly fewer people, typically those who already know the issues and people involved, and/or are my closer friends.
I try not to ask anyone to pray for a personal situation that I’m not already praying for. When praying for direction, I expect God to speak to me directly. If others pray also, I expect either clarification or confirmation of what I was already hearing. (A rare exception is when I’m too upset or sick to pray, and I need others to stand in the gap for a while.)
What should I do about other peoples’ requests? I realized—to a large extent, it boils down to quality or quantity. Do I pray “laundry list” prayers for a lot of people, or focus my time interceding for a few?
I’ve tried both approaches over the years. I used to make long lists of everything people had asked me to pray for: Aunt Alice’s cancer, Jonah’s finals, the lost in France, a wayward teenager—all important and clearly worth of prayer. Then I would pray what amounted to one sentence for each item. God, please heal Alice. Help Jonah concentrate. Reveal yourself to those who don’t know you. I had no time to pray more than a phrase or two because my list was so long.
I was praying for these things—but there was one huge problem. I wasn’t really spending time with God. I wasn’t getting to know Him better. It wasn’t a two-way conversation. I didn’t have time to listen to His heart.
On the other hand, I noticed that sometimes, when someone shared a prayer request with me, I sensed God telling me, “This is your assignment.” And then I couldn’t get that request out of my head.
Even more significantly, I knew what God wanted me to pray. I was intensely aware that I was praying God’s heart. I could pray with authority and I had confidence that He was answering. We were a team, God and I, accomplishing His will on earth. This kind of prayer brings intimacy. Incredible!
I now try hard not to take on obligations that aren’t meant for me. If someone asks for prayer and God doesn’t give me that familiar nudge, I tell the person that I’ll pray right now, and as God brings it to mind. And then I do just that.
I’m not saying we should limit our prayers to what I call “assignment prayers.” We might be directed to gather and pray for something at church—a missionary or nation, our government leaders, mothers on Mother’s Day. We may be assigned a topic in our small group. We may have personal requests. And of course, we don’t always have to ask for something when we pray. Sometimes, we spend our prayer time in praise. Sometimes, God just wants to hang out with us!