How to… Pray for Others

Maybe I am over-thinking this. Maybe I compare myself too much to others. And maybe I’m just making excuses to keep from stepping outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I pray for others in the privacy of my own home, but ask me to pray when others can hear me… I’ll do it, but I end up worrying the rest of the day about what I said and how stupid I sounded. And even when I pray “in my head” for others, I usually fumble through with “please help…” and “please heal…” and “You know their needs…” What I’m praying just seems feeble and week. Not only that, but prayer sometimes feels awkward and uncomfortable to me, especially when I’m praying for others.

Here’s what I know for sure:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:1)

“Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16)

Clearly, scripture encourages Christians to pray for others. But shouldn’t those prayers be more than a child’s prayer of “Please help…” followed by a list of names. Shouldn’t they be more than saying a person’s name followed by “heal them” or “give them wisdom”? I use about 3-4 of those sayings (please help, heal them, etc.) that pretty much make up my intercessory prayers. Yet, I feel like there’s something missing. I mean, I can pray with great detail about my own needs. Shouldn’t I be able to offer something more for others too?

Until reading What’s Your Pleasure on A Curious Band of Others, I didn’t think too much about how I prayed for others. I even commented after reading this post that I didn’t struggle with intercessory prayer. But then came that small voice inside (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) that made me rethink my approach to intercessory prayer.

Don’t get me wrong. Prayer of any sort offered with sincerity pleases God. But just like communication within relationships deepens and becomes more detailed as the relationship grows, so should our communication with God as we grow closer to Him. More for my own growth than as any sort of advice, the following 4 tips on how to pray for others are now offered. This is not a prayer formula; rather, it exists as encouragement for deeper conversations with the Lord.

  1. Use empathy. I can think about a situation that a person is going through and what I might need if I were in that same situation. Then, I can pray accordingly.
  2. Find models of maturity. There are those who are really good at praying out loud. Typically, they are the pastor or Sunday school teacher (though that’s not true in my case). While copying these individuals verbatim seems manufactured, certainly gain insight and ideas on how to pray from them. Just like a child learns from a parent, I can learn from those with more maturity in their prayer lives. Caution: I must refrain from feeling as if I need to pray exactly like these people. Instead, I must simply be willing to learn from them.
  3. Realize that deeper does not mean wordy. In fact, the Bible warns against wordiness. (Matthew 5:6) Maybe specific is a better word than deeper. When possible, offer specific prayers for others. In some cases, my past experiences will allow me to pray more specifically for someone than the actual person could pray for themselves because I’ve been through a similar and found victory already.
  4. Pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:18 says to pray in the Spirit. Henry’s Concise Commentary explains doing so as praying “by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, in dependence on, and according to, His teaching.” In other words, let the word of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit guide my prayers.

As a Pentecostal, my prayers for others also often consist of praying in tongues as the Spirit enables (Acts 2:4).  What’s more, Romans 8:26-27 assures us that the Holy Spirit “helps in our weakness” by interceding for us. So, even though my prayers usually feel inadequate and even though I often stumble with the right words, I know that the Holy Spirit by far makes up for where I lack.

DISCUSSION: Do you pray regularly for others? What advice can you offer for making intercessory prayer effective?

For more reading on prayer, please see the following posts: A Plea for More Prayer and What’s Your Pleasure on  A Curious Band of Others

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March 28, 2012 at 10:48 am

Kari, thanks for getting my attention in the first place and for the link. You write your thoughts on prayer in a way that I can relate to. It's interesting to note, based on your 2nd point–find models of maturity, how we learn to communicate. In Russia, I would often say, "The dogs and the babies know more Russian than I do." Why? Because masters and parents spoke to them and they learned what those words meant. Children then pick up that ability to communicate, at first mimicking then shaping their own unique sentences. Your suggestion follows that line of thinking. Well done.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I like the connection you made to your experiences in Russia. We sometimes forget the impact of modeling when it is probably one of the most powerful impacts we have, whether referring to communication with each other or with God. Being more aware of this impact could really transform our lives. Thanks again for checking out the post and leaving a comment. I appreciate it!

March 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I sometimes like praying through Bible verses or the prayers of the Bible for others. One I like is Ephesians 1:15-19. I also did that with Augustine's "Confessions" – not all of it, but some of it. Don't worry – I'm not saying his book is like the Bible, but it just led me into prayer. I suppose it was like being in a prayer group with him! I also get together and pray with a friend sometimes – just back and forth conversationally. We pray mostly for our kids. I liked all your ideas.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Praying through Bible verses is a great way to pray for others. I need to make a habit of doing that more. There are a lot of solid books on prayer too that can be a big help. Power of a Praying wife is an example. You have some terrific ideas, and I'm glad to be reminded of them. Amazing how we forget some ways of doing things and need these sorts of reminders. I do anyway.

March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm

These are great tips. I think empathy is crucial, and I especially like the part about not being wordy. I find that I can be incredibly passionate without going on and on and on and on.

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