Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has a great post today about the bad habit so many have of telling someone "I’ll pray for you" and then forgetting it as soon as we hang up the phone or walk away or close the email.
I have learned (and continue to learn) that same lesson. Even in public places, I often say, "Would you mind if I pray for you now?" And I cannot think of a single time when anybody has said, "Not here" or "Do it later." In email requests for prayer, I stop myself from typing, "I’ll pray for you" until I actually have closed my eyes and prayed for the person and the situation. Or sometimes I’ll type out a prayer into a return post so they can receive the prayer with their own eyes.
In the ’80’s, my home church was pastored by a man who always did this. He cared about people he knew and about total strangers. He could be in the grocery store check out line, and he would engage the person in front of him or behind him in conversation. And if something came out that revealed a problem, i.e. "My child is having trouble in school" or "My wife just left me," he would take their hand and pray for them right then and there. Not in a pushy, showy, preachy kind of way. It was all about caring for the other person.
I have a little prayer notebook where I jot down the needs of others, and I try to remember to find out what happened in different situations. But to be honest, I’m pretty lousy at following up (or even when I do, about writing the answer in the prayer book). I also have a prayer basket in my office. Because of the type of women’s fiction I write (stories that deal with infidelity, broken families, alcoholism), I often receive letters from readers who tell me personal stories of pain ("my son is an alcoholic, and your novel gave me hope"). These letters go into the prayer basket after I write on them what I’m asking God for on that reader’s behalf.
I have a wonderful prayer team that prays for me, my family, and my writing ministry. I send them bi-weekly prayer bulletins with my prayer request. A new team forms every August, making a commitment to pray weekly for one year. Occasionally, I hear from someone who says they aren’t sure they should continue because they sometimes forget to pray weekly. My response: "Hey, if you only pray for me 30 times instead of 52, I’m still enormously blessed." Many of the prayer team members have been a part of this ministry from the first year I realized I needed that spiritual back-up for my writing. I frequently hear, "I have been so blessed by doing this." They say they’ve been built up and encouraged as I share my needs and my praises with them and as they go to the Father in prayer on my behalf. Isn’t that just like God? When we pray for others, we receive a blessing too.
Since the advent of the Internet and e-mail, I know of countless people with cancer and marriage problems and joblessness and a host of other kinds of needs. Sometimes the sheer volume of needs leaves me feeling overwhelmed. There is so much and I’m only one person and how could my prayer change anything. Well, that’s something else I learned from that same pastor back in the ’80’s. God tells us to pray, but the results are up to Him, not me. We aren’t required to pray elaborate prayers. We only need simple words, obedience, and childlike faith.
There have been some hard things happen in my life, times when the prayers of others have literally carried me through, times when I didn’t have the strength or the clarity of thought to be able to pray my own prayers. I can tell you that those who stood in the gap for me have blessed me beyond measure. I’m so grateful for them.
When he finished, one of his disciples said to [Jesus], "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1, TNIV)
Note that Jesus wasn’t asked to teach them how to pray. He was asked to teach them to pray. The how isn’t the tricky part. It’s the doing that trips most of us up.
Lord, teach us to pray.
In the grip of His grace,