It’s prayer request time in your Sunday school class or Bible study group. People take turns sharing while you listen quietly, trying not to zone out and think about the movie you saw last night or the growing to-do list that you’d really rather be working on than sitting and listening to people whine about their problems.
Aunt Edna has cancer. She needs healing.
Billy Bob was in a car accident. Praise that he survived with only a scratch.
Sheila and her husband are leaving for a two week cruise in the Mediterranean. They need traveling mercies.
Dave lost his job and needs a new one.
Priscilla’s friend at work has a daughter whose step-son knows a boy who knocked out a tooth at a baseball game. Pray for him.
And Jessica has an unspoken.
I’m not making light of these prayer requests because I am a very firm believer in the power of prayer, and that no prayer request, when made with a genuine heart that seeks after God’s will, could ever be unworthy. However, let’s be honest. All of us have listened to others share prayer requests that are a little…questionable. Does Sheila actually expect you to pray for traveling mercies, or was she looking for a reason to boast about her upcoming vacation? Does Priscilla actually expect you to pray for a person she doesn’t even know, or was she just looking for a reason so share something with the group?
And what is up with an “unspoken”? How many of us hear that word in prayer circles and immediately begin imagining the worst? Since Jessica requested prayer for an unspoken, that probably means that she just found out she’s pregnant, she lost her job, and her husband left her- all yesterday- and she doesn’t want to talk about it. But you will.
In the spirit of “praying” for one another, we often feel the need to discuss the problems of others with our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the effort to make sure we’re all “praying” for them, of course. “Did you hear about Wanda and Geraldo? Let me tell you all the details I have about their outrageous behavior. Wait- you’re gonna pray for them, right??”
There is a very thin line between discussing the problems of others with our brothers and sisters in Christ in an effort to make sure everyone is “praying” and just flat out gossping. Recently I was speaking with a young woman at church and she made the comment, “I just wish everyone would stop talking about it and start praying.” I suddenly felt like my friends and I were stuck in a production of The Music Man and we were the hens from Pick-a-Little/Talk-a-Little. It was a very convicting moment.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
When someone shares a prayer request within the comfort of a group, whether it is your Sunday school class, your Bible study group, or maybe just over coffee with you, there is an unspoken, yet expected air of confidentiality. Sure, maybe they are announcing it to others, but unless they are specifically asking for it to be shared, it’s probably best that we don’t.
How many of us have said, “I’ll pray for you!” and then don’t do it? I know that in the South, where I live, “I’ll pray for you!” is one of those phrases thrown around commonly with, “bless her heart,” and “God love ‘im.” “I’ll pray for you” are powerful words–they come with an automatic assumption of expectations. Those words bring hope to others, and help them to believe that they are not alone.
Prayer is powerful. It works. Scripture tells us how to pray and just how powerful it is. What a comfort it is to go to someone and say, “Will you pray?” and know with 100% certainty that they will do so. What a comfort it is to know that you are not alone in your struggle or event, and that others are lifting you up to the Lord. You don’t have to be a prayer warrior or a master at intercessory prayer to lift someone up. So if you say you’re going to pray for someone- Do It.
On more than one occasion I’ve prayed, “Lord, I know I told someone I’d pray for them today but I can’t remember for the life of me what they needed prayer for. Thank goodness you know, Lord, so I lift that prayer request up to you now.” And I am thankful that He knows all of our prayers, praises, and dirty little secrets.