I’m taking a huge risk with this blog. To suggest that we curb how often we tell people we’ll pray for them could leave me isolated, should you take me too seriously. Allow me some room for hyperbole here. Before you stop praying for me, or stop telling me you are, hear me out, and allow perhaps this overreach in making my point to bring all of us to some healthy balance. I certainly want you to pray for me. I just want us to be really serious about it when we do. Here’s why.
Last month during a period of below freezing temperatures my parents were out of water for eight days. As they posted updates on Facebook I finally wrote something like the following: Okay folks. The prayers are really nice, but would someone please just go and fix the problem?
I find myself hesitant to tell people I am praying for them, because it can sound trite, but I also wonder if doing so defers to God what should be my responsibility. I’ve sat through many prayer meetings where we work through a list of needs. I will overhear a cynical voice in my head say, “I wonder if anyone has thought about helping the person we are right now praying for?” And, of course, that voice is challenging me, too. A pastor friend of mine once said, “Sometimes we need to be the answer to our own prayer.”
Several weeks ago I preached on the subject of believers helping each other out so as to not burden the church in its main responsibility of preaching and teaching the gospel. (You’ll find that in 1 Timothy 5:1-16). I made that statement, (from the previous paragraph) about wondering if by praying we are deferring to God what should be our responsibility. The next week a young couple came to me and teasingly reprimanded me. “Mitch,” the husband chimed, “Thanks a lot. Every time our family gathered for prayer this week and we prayed for people in need, my daughter said, ‘shouldn’t we do more than pray and maybe go help them?’” This is the very definition of intercession, that we pray out of a burden which considers, too, what God might be asking of us to bring about relief and comfort.
I hesitate to say when a need is shared, “I will pray for you.” Yes, I know this can be an expression of support and encouragement, but (and this is just my view) prayer is too sacred to be thrown around so lightly. I don’t claim to have the market on the clever things we should say to people who are hurting. This is a work in progress for me. I mess up more often than I succeed. It’s probably why I am writing this blog, to still sort out the role of prayer in encouragement.
I am trying to weigh my words carefully, not so my posts stand out as unique to all the other perfunctory statements, but because I want these words to flow out of prayer. I’d rather pray and not tell you that I am praying, than tell you I am praying and not pray. I’ve caught myself offering to pray, but actually not praying. Maybe I’m scared of lying to you. I want my words to a hurting friend to give them courage to face the pain, and maintain spiritual perspective while the way ahead might seem unsure. I want what I say to come out of intense intercession for them. So, you see, I am not at all suggesting we stop praying, and maybe even pray more for others. After all, isn’t prayer communion and communication with God, not with others? So I find myself saying things like this, “Lord, help me to know what to say to this friend right now.” This can have tremendous outcome in lifting a hurting soul, more than just the mere phrase, “ I am praying for you.”
Perhaps this will lift the flagging soul, “Brother, I hurt for you right now. Not sure what it’s like to be going through this, but I just want you to know I love you and I’m hurting with you.”
Much, if not most, of what Jesus did came out of prayer not in prayer. He drew away to be with his Father, and by doing so was replenished to touch, heal, preach, exhort and comfort. Then, at the end of the day, again, he went to a solitary place and prayed.
People often say that the church advances on its knees. While prayer is a vital activity of the church, when God presents to us a need we can meet, I don’t think He is pleased when we simply present the need right back to Him in prayer. To really see God at work in our lives and in our churches, we sometimes need to get off our knees and serve. We need to unfold our hands, and help. We need to open our eyes and look around for the needs that God wants us to see. – Jeremy Myers