Why do we pray for people?
How do we pray for people?
Maybe these sound like stupid questions to you, but I've been thinking about these two things quite a bit lately, especially the second. People often ask me to pray for them, but what exactly are they asking? Are we just to say "God, I lift Jimmy up to you," or more like "God, please be with Jimmy." Either way it seems kind of silly -- who are we to lift Jimmy up to God, and surely God is already with Jimmy; why are we asking Him to "be with" Jimmy?
Maybe we need to pray specifically for people: "God, please help Jimmy in his struggle with anger. Give him peace and calm and remind him that a man who can't control his anger is like a city without walls," or "God, please give Henry strength in his battle with temptation. Let him remember that lust is just as sinful as adultery in your eyes. Make him clean and pure."
Of course, that requires knowing something specific to pray about. What about cases where the request for prayer is private, and we can't be given any specifics? Perhaps the best strategy is to, as Dr. Nichols* puts it, "pray blessings upon" the person requesting prayer.
*one of the math professors at OBU, a dear old man.
So the next time you ask someone to pray for, be specific about what you want them to pray or about what you are struggling with. The next time you pray for someone, think of their situation and tailor your prayers to fit them. I'm sure machine gun prayers ("God, be with Jimmy. God, please bless Chris. God, be with Henry...") have some effect, but is that how we are meant to speak to our Father?