When Saying “I’ll Pray for You” Is a Bad Idea

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How often do you tell someone you'll pray for them and then completely forget? Keith Ferrin offers some effective strategies for making sure you pray for that person.

I saw him as he was walking into church. My mind immediately flashed back to last week. He had shared some of his struggles with life, work, and family. We had ended the conversation with the all-too-familiar refrain, “I’ll pray for you.”

Of course, a week later, I didn’t want to admit I had completely forgotten to pray. I also didn’t want to lie about it. So I quickly offered up something like this:

Father God, You are outside of the bounds of time. You are eternally present in the past, present and future. You know his needs. You know what he needed last week. I pray for him. That You would be near him. That you would heal what is broken. Amen.

I stretched out my hand. He accepted the handshake. And in the very next breath, I said, “How are you? I’ve been praying for you.”

Lame.

How about you? Ever told someone you’d pray for them…and then completely forgot?

Ugh.

As I’m wrapping up my 4-Month Bible Read Thru, I have spent the last several weeks in the New Testament. In the last three weeks, most of my time has been spent with Paul. (Ok, technically with Jesus. But through the writings of Paul.)

This year, something struck me over, and over, and over again. It’s how Paul talks to people about prayer. And it’s not that he doesn’t say he is praying for them. Actually, he says it in almost every letter.

What caught my attention is that he tells people exactly what he is praying for them.

Take Ephesians for example. He does it twice in this short letter. Only 16 verses into the first chapter, he tells them he’s constantly praying for them. He spends the next three verses telling them what he is praying for them:

  • That God would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.
  • That they would know God better.
  • That the eyes of their hearts would be opened.
  • That they would know the hope they were called to.
  • That they would be reminded of the riches of their glorious inheritance.
  • That they would experience His power. The same power that brought Christ back from the dead.

Now that’s a prayer!

A couple chapters later (Eph. 3:14) he says he kneels and prays for them. The next five verses he gets specific again. Check it out. It’s one of the coolest prayers in the Bible.

If you want to look at some more examples, check out Romans 1, Romans 15, II Cor. 13, Phil. 1, Col. 1, Col. 4, I Thess. 1, I Thess. 3, II Thess. 1, and Philemon 1.

Next time you are going to pray for someone, give one of these three approaches a try:

  1. Tell someone what you’re praying. Give it a shot. Watch their eyes. Lots of people say “I’ll pray for you.” Very few say, “This is how I am praying…” The difference is massive.
  2. Email a prayer. I did this several years ago with a good friend who was struggling. I simply typed out what I would have said if we had been together. I closed my eyes and typed while I prayed. Then I hit “send.” The response came in less than five minutes: Best use of email….ever!
  3. Pray immediately. You might be in the middle of the foyer at your church. Or at a restaurant. Or standing in the underwear section at Target. Or in your company’s parking lot. It might be a bit uncomfortable. Do it anyhow. (Though moving to Sporting Goods or Kitchenware might be a good idea.)

Mind if I give Approach #3 a try right now?

Lord Jesus, I lift up this child of yours. I pray that You will show Yourself to them today in a very real and tangible way. Through Your Word. Through a conversation with a friend. Even through the voice in their head and heart, reminding them that they are known. Show them a specific way they can show your grace to another person today. Remind them of the depth of Your love for them. Remind them of Your delight in them. At the place of brokenness, show Yourself as Healer. At the place of fear, show Yourself as Protector. At the place of confusion, show Yourself as Guide. At the place of loneliness, show Yourself as the One who is closer than a brother. And at the end of this day, remind them that You are present…and always will be. Amen.

Question: What is another approach to specific prayer for someone else?

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