“Les has been gone since last night. Please pray.”
This appeal showed up in my Facebook feed recently — posted by an old high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in decades.
I was mystified. Who is Les? Her husband? Her son? Her daughter? A co-worker? Her dog?
And what does “gone” mean? Run away? Missing? Kidnapped? Away on vacation? Dead?
If you want people to offer intelligent prayers on your behalf you must give them more of the backstory. They need to understand who and what they are praying for. This is especially true on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where most of your followers do not know the names of your loved ones.
In intercession we ask for a specific outcome for a specific person or situation. It’s hard to do this if we don’t know who needs help — or what the need is. We can always lift up a generic prayer such as, “God, please bring Les home safely” – but praying for a missing child is different than praying for a missing dachshund. Prayers for a runaway teen differ from prayers for a business traveler.
People tend to omit the backstory because they know their own lives intimately – and assume everyone else does, too. Their social media post makes perfect sense to them and their very close friends. Everyone else is mystified.
Back to my friend. If she had said, “Pray for my 12-year-old son Les, who left for summer camp last night” – then everyone would have known who and what they were praying about. No one would have feared a calamity was at hand.
The same goes for prayer requests at church.
I used to attend a small church where folks were invited to stand up and offer requests and praise for answered prayers. Oftentimes a petitioner would say something like, “Please continue to pray for Gladys Hunt.” Longtime church members would murmur and nod their heads in agreement.
But most of us were thinking to ourselves, “Who the heck is Gladys Hunt? And why are we praying for her?” Had the petitioner simply said, “Keep praying for Gladys Hunt, who’s recovering from a broken hip” then the assembly could direct its prayers toward her healing.
Some prayer requests require more delicacy – but we can still be specific enough.
Let’s say your friend Calvin discovers his wife is involved with another man. Calvin is considering divorce and asking for prayer – but wants to remain anonymous to spare his family embarrassment. Here are three ways you could share the request without breaking confidentiality:
- I have a friend who really needs prayer right now.
- I have a friend whose marriage just hit a crisis point. He has young children.
- I have a friend who needs prayer. He’s a young father who just learned his wife was unfaithful. He has asked for prayer as he decides what to do.
Request #1 doesn’t give potential pray-ers enough information to pray specifically and intelligently for Calvin.
Request #2 is better because it identifies the age and gender of the person, and his situation in life. We know we are praying for a marriage that’s in trouble.
Request #3 is best because it allows the body to pray quite specifically.
Of course, we can share too much detail in our requests for prayer. For example, it would be a breach of confidence to share request #3 among Calvin’s friends because they could easily figure out from the situation whose marriage is in trouble. You should never say, “Please pray for our organist Betty whose son was arrested on drug charges” — unless Betty specifically authorized the request. It’s easy to spread gossip in the form of a prayer request.
Jesus told us to be persistent and specific in prayer. Most men are not satisfied to lift up generic prayers for generic issues – they want to focus their prayers on real people and real problems. Christ told us to expect answers when we pray – but how can we get answers when we don’t even know what to ask?
So please – next time you ask for prayer, whether in church or on social media, give enough backstory so people can pray specifically and intelligently over your situation. Give them the tools they need to envision an outcome — without gossiping. And don’t forget to update them (with rejoicing) when the prayer is answered.