A guest post by Beth Beutler
“Send your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes.”
“I’m so sorry. You are in my thoughts and prayers.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”
In a world that is often decidedly not interested in serious prayer, we do see a lot of “thoughts and prayers” being offered when things get tough. And things have been extra tough of late. But how meaningful are these “thoughts and prayers,” really?
Some time ago, I took a class on praying for others.* Its focus was on understanding biblical grounds for ministering to others through prayer. It’s eye-opening main point was that prayer is about asking God, “How do you want me to pray about this?” and listen for the answer, so we can align our prayers with what He tells us. This is quite different from our standard offering of a list of requests and hopes to him.
Certainly, we can present our thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears to Him, as well as others that have been shared with us. Philippians 4:6 encourages us to forgo anxious thoughts for prayers of gratefulness and the freedom to present our requests to God.
But, prayer is also a conversation. Think about how you relate with those closest to you. Do you only talk and never listen? (To be fair, some people do!)
I regularly use an app called Marco Polo to communicate with some friends who enjoy staying in touch that way. It is a great tool to allow space to process things out loud at my convenience, and for my friends to process back at theirs. Effective use of the tool means participants need to regularly share as well as listen to what others record. While it’s not the same as a face-to-face conversation, it does model what our relationship with God can be. He is a great listener. However, it’s also important for us to take the time and listen to HIM.
One way to do this is to ask God “How do you want me to pray?” This paradigm shift leads me to these thoughts and observations:
- When I’m given something to pray about, I can ask God, “What are you doing here? How can I cooperate in what you are doing in their life?”
- When I sense how God wants me to pray, I may end up seeing more concrete answers because I’m aligning with what He is already doing, not just what I want out of the situation.
- I may choose to keep the content of my thoughts and prayers to myself. If I enter into an honest dialog with the Lord, He may reveal something to pray about that would be best for me to keep discreet. It may not correspond exactly with the outcome one making the request seeks, but God’s plans are ultimately better for them.
- When asked to pray, I can respond with “I’ll be honored to talk to God about that” or something similar. Responding in this way allows me to continue the private conversation with God without promising someone I’m going to pray a specific way.
- I can encourage people to handle prayer requests differently. This type of prayer would make our current methods of sharing outcome based prayer requests seem a bit “off.”
It’s far easier to ask,
“Please pray for ____ to experience complete healing”
instead of “Pray that ______ will be made more like Christ in his/her suffering.”
“Please pray that I’ll get this job”
instead of “Pray that I will depend wholly on Jehovah Jireh, the provider, to make Himself real to me.”
“Pray that I can get this situation with my friend resolved” instead of
“Pray that I will listen well and trust the Holy Spirit for the right words.”
In the right relationship, I can ask my friends questions like, “What do you want God to do in YOU through this situation?” or “How do you see God already at work in this situation?”
Certainly it’s not wrong to ask God for some specific outcome–He is a loving Father and enjoys us coming to Him with everything. But how much richer is it to wait to ask for those specifics after He’s revealed more to us? It’s like a child asking Mom for a cookie, when she’s made an ice cream sundae and it’s behind her on the counter. If the child were to be attentive, they would likely have asked for the sundae instead!
Let’s learn to “ask for the sundae.” Take a look at a biblical model for praying deeper, spiritually related things over ourselves and others, observing Paul and the Colossians.
Read Colossians 1.
What is one of the first things Paul expresses to the Colossians and what does he start with each time he prays for them?
How often does Paul pray for them?
What does Paul ask God to do in them?
For what reason does He pray this?
What characteristics does he “pray into” them? What does he hope to see?
What concept does he circle back to?
What overall focus do his prayers contain?
Compare this approach with the typical way we share prayer requests with each other and bring them before our Father.
Perhaps it’s time to enter a richer, deeper conversation with God.
What changes are you encouraged to make in regard to your “thoughts and prayers” for others?
*Praying for Others: Understanding the Biblical Grounds for Ministering to Others Through Prayer, a workshop through The River Upstate.
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