If a friend asks you how she can pray for you, what kind of prayer requests do you typically give? Do you ask for prayer for the circumstances of your day, or for a big event coming up? Are your prayer requests for someone else’s needs rather than your own? Do health and safety make up a majority of your requests? Or is that a really awkward question for you? Maybe you tend to brush it off or deflect it with a reassurance that you’re really doing quite fine, thank you.
Oftentimes in Christian circles, promises to pray for each other are quickly given, and just as quickly forgotten. We sometimes talk as if prayer is our last resort, and we may treat it as if we really don’t expect much to happen from our prayers. Thus, when we ask for prayer requests, we usually aren’t expecting much more depth than when we ask, “How are you?”
But what if sharing and praying with one another was actually at the core of Christian community? What if praying for one another was a primary means of our growth toward maturity in Christ? What would it take for our requests for prayer to not only be about events and others’ needs and health or safety (granted, all of which are very good things to pray for), but to begin including requests for overcoming habits of sin, or perseverance in loving an unlovely person, or courage to obey God in a difficult decision?
When David Powlison, former director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), was asked, in an interview, what the first steps might be for Christians who are learning to counsel one another, the starting place he mentioned was making prayer requests.
I think that if we could learn how to make prayer requests dealing with matters of consequence, and then learn to pray for each other about the actual struggles of our souls, then we have made a huge start at becoming effective counselors. The Bible’s prayers are rarely about health, travel mercies, finances, finding a job, or the salvation of the unsaved. Of course, these are not illegitimate things to pray for, but these dominate most church prayer requests. In contrast, the driving focus of biblical prayer is that God would show himself, that we would know him, that we would love people. When we are asked “How may I pray for you?,” we could respond in a manner like this: “I have been inattentive and irritable to those nearest and dearest to me. Pray that I would awaken and turn from my preoccupation with my work, recreations, health problems, or money. Ask God to help me pay attention to him and take my family to heart.” This kind of prayer gets at things that matter both immediately and eternally. It gets at the daily version of the issues that serious counseling deals with.
When people start to identify where they really need God’s help, then they are already both seeking and becoming biblical counselors. We step into reality. Most prayer requests ask for God to give external blessings. Biblical prayer, like counseling, deals with God’s changing us. Retooling this is an accessible way for believers in a church to begin to teach each other to talk about the things that really matter, the things that are on God’s heart. We need to study together what the Bible says about prayer—not just about how often to pray, or the techniques and elements of prayer. What is the Lord’s Prayer asking for? What are the Psalms asking for? This is what we ought to be asking for. This is what people really need.
What is your reaction to Dr. Powlison’s example of a prayer request (highlighted above)? If that feels completely overwhelming–you’ve never shared a request like that, nor heard anyone else share such a request–perhaps you could start with a trimmed down version of that: Please pray that I would not be so preoccupied with my work, but would give attention to my family. Then, as you grow in sharing this kind of prayer request, and as you find brothers or sisters who want to pray deeply for you, you can gradually share with more depth.
So how may I pray for you? Feel free to put a prayer request in a Comment below (which is visible to all readers of this blog), or send me an email at email@example.com.