Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Should I Pray For You?



I recently became involved in a conversation that troubled me deeply.  A fellow believer was attempting to talk people out of ever offering "unspoken" prayer requests.  (For those who may not know, an "unspoken" request is a request in which a person, for whatever reason, chooses not to reveal any details.  They simply say, "I have an unspoken request," and they ask others to pray for them.)

His arguments, as I understand them, went like this:


  • You have to give me at least some bare specifics, or I won't know what to pray about.  I will not pray for your unspoken requests, because they might be sinful.  (But don't give me too much information...I do NOT want to hear it!)
  • There must be something wrong with either your ability to form healthy relationships, or something wrong with your church's ability to provide such relationships, if you do not have someone you can trust with the details.  You need to work out those problems with yourself or your church, instead of bringing your unspoken requests to us.
  • If you're in a tragic situation where you don't have anyone that you can trust with the specifics, then why bother bringing your unspoken request to us?  You obviously don't trust us, or you'd tell us more (but remember, not TOO much.  We really don't want to hear it).
  • You lack faith if you believe that your own prayers for yourself are inadequate.  Trust God to listen to you as you pray for yourself.  You don't need our prayers.
  • I suspect that your request has something to do with your sinfulness, and your unwillingness to talk about it comes from your prideful unwillingness to confess your sin.
Someone else agreed with him, and complained about people going on and on with their requests and boring him with the details.  He actually described it as "torturous."  And then he complained about the fact that people who pray for the detailed requests will actually mention the details in their prayers, "as if God hadn't heard them the first time."

I was left stunned.  If the people who brought these arguments and complaints are representative of many believers (and I pray they are NOT), then the church has a lot of repenting to do when it comes to the subject of intercession...regardless of the amount of detail given or withheld in our requests!

Are we really going to pridefully critique one another's prayer requests and refuse to pray for those that we consider imperfect?  Where is our love?  Where is our humility?  

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with groanings too deep for words."
(Rom. 8:26)

That was the Apostle Paul, including himself when he said "WE do not know what to pray for as we ought."  Do we dare believe that we do better?  

God forgive us our arrogance!  Where would we be if Your Holy Spirit would only intercede for us when our prayers were perfect?  Where would we BE?

If we feel ourselves qualified to sit back and judge the prayer requests we hear, and spurn those who "do not know how to pray as they ought," we place ourselves above the Spirit.  He may condescend to intercede for us when we pray imperfectly, but we have higher standards than He does, evidently.  "Don't bother me with the details, and don't bother me without the details.  Tailor your requests to suit me, or you can forget my prayers."

Oh, how I thank God that He never spurns my imperfect prayer requests, because those are the only kind I've ever made!  And not only does He not reject our requests, but He actually goes a step farther and polishes them up for us, making them like sweet incense as He brings them before the Father.

Are we above interceding...above taking an imperfect request and agreeing with it by offering an imperfect prayer of our own?  Do we not realize that the Holy Spirit will have to clean up our intercessory prayers, just as He has to clean up the prayers of the person we're interceding for?  

Do we not realize it is a privilege to be allowed to pray for others, to be allowed the opportunity to be used by God in someone else's life, when we are so imperfect ourselves?

What is the purpose of asking for prayer?  Is it, as my acquaintance suggested, because we lack faith to believe that God hears us if we pray alone?  Is it so that people can judge our requests and determine if we deserve their intercession?  Why didn't God just tell us to keep our requests to ourselves, and why did He tell us to pray for one another?

Could it be that, wonder of wonders, God wants us to learn to love one another, humbly and non-judgmentally?  And could it be that love is actually more than enjoyment of others, but extends into bearing with them, and bearing their burdens?

What would these acquaintances of mine do, I wonder, if someone they deeply loved offered a "sub-par" request, with either too much or too little detail?  Would they roll their eyes and say, "Forget it, I'm not praying for you?"  I think not...and the reason would be simple.  They love that person.  So when they roll their eyes and refuse to pray for someone else with a "sub-par" request, with too much or too little detail, the reason is equally simple.  They do not love that person.

Jesus said that "Love your neighbor" is the second-greatest commandment.

So what do we do with unspoken requests...or any kind of prayer request?  It would seem to me that humble love for our neighbor could not be satisfied with less than this:

"Lord, my brother/sister has a need. I don't know what it is, but You do. Help me to love my brother/sister as I lift them before you now. Please work in their situation for Your glory, and may your Glory in their situation ultimately bring them joy in You.  If there is anything I can do to lighten their load, please help me to do so.  And please bring their name to my mind frequently so that I can continue to hold them up before the Throne of Grace.  Thank You for giving me the privilege of praying for someone who trusted me enough to ask."

Let me say it again...it is a privilege to be allowed to pray for someone in this way!  

Oh Lord, forgive me for the times when pride has sullied my prayer life, as I'm sure it often has.  Please humble me so that I can pray for others as I should.  And please raise up a whole army of prayer warriors who love deeply and humbly, so that no one need fear to bring their requests, however worded, before Your people.  In Jesus Name, and through His Spirit who intercedes for me, Amen!

3 comments:

Laurie M. said...

Good words, Betsy. We need to be gentle and patient with one another. I've heard pastors from the pulpit make little mocking jokes about the way people pray, the little patterns or habits or word-choices they use. After that I remember thinking, well, how would he mock MY prayers.

Tami Boesiger said...

Aren't prayers offered for unspoken prayer requests less tainted by our human ideas? If we don't know exactly what to pray for, we're forced to leave it to the Holy Spirit and our own desires aren't plugged in. It actually seems like a purer way to pray to me.

RitaR said...

Prayer is a subject dear to my heart and it pains me that so few Christians (including church leaders) have an interest in prayer or even have a basic understanding about the awesome privilege and joy of intercessory prayer. Just as sad is the thought that these Christians don't know the incredible comfort and strength they would experience from having others intercede for them.

Betsy, I loved the sample prayer you gave at the end of your well thought out article. What a wonderful way to pray when we don't know any details of the prayer need!

I would like to share that we can also pray scripture for someone when their prayer request offers few or no details of the need. In those cases, I often include passages such as Ephesians 1:16-19 or Ephesians 3:14-21 in my prayers for them. The Lord delights in our intercessions and has commanded us to pray for one another ... what an incredible privilege He has given us!

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