When people ask me to pray for them, of course I agree. But what they often don’t know is that I don’t always pray what they think I am going to pray. In fact, when I pray for people, they may very well get more than they bargain for.
Mind you, I always pray something good for them. I always pray blessings. But I don’t limit blessing to the immediate relief from pain, deliverance from trouble, and victory over obstacles. I see blessing as something more and deeper (and often longer and harder) than that.
I wonder if I scared any of you away with that confession. I hope not! It’s just that I’ve lived long enough to know that what I most need is not always what I most want. I usually want sweetness and light, peace, joy, and harmony—and could You please make that quick, God? What I usually need are faith, integrity, humility, and truth—and I suppose some patience would also help.
So what does praying with these things in mind look like? I can give a few general examples. People often share prayer requests for health concerns. They ask me to pray for their healing—and I do, since God invites us to ask Him for healing, and Yaweh-Rapha is one of His names. But sometimes I sense that God wants to do more than just heal the immediate health issue. Sometimes the health issue provides an opportunity for Him to help them cultivate an important relationship, grow certain graces, or deal with habits such as stress, anger, unforgiveness, and workaholism that contribute to poor health both physically and spiritually. If God always healed our physical concerns immediately, we might never grow in the ways that bring us ultimate peace and joy, and in the ways that make us most like Jesus. So when I pray for healing, I am likely also to take time to listen: Jesus, what else do You want to do here? Do You have bigger purposes behind this illness?
Similarly, both individuals and ministries often share prayer requests concerning finances. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He promises to supply all our needs. So I can pray about finances, knowing that God is willing and able to provide. But when I listen to God’s heart for these people and organizations, He frequently seems to direct me to pray about identity issues, self-discipline, faith, wisdom, relationships, integrity, and other less obvious but even more important needs.
You probably have the idea, but I’ll give one more example. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me to pray for peace—for their own hearts and minds, or for relationships that are important to them: family, work, church, and so on. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, so of course I can ask God to give them peace. But when I take time to ask God if there’s anything more He wants me to pray, He often gives me important insight. Usually those of us praying for peace are extremely uncomfortable with conflict. So our request for “peace” basically means, “God, please make the conflict go away!” But God’s usual method for bringing peace seems to be by addressing the underlying issues: fear, pride, selfishness, stubbornness, insensitivity, unforgiveness, control, and so on. Sigh. Those are not easy things to pray about! But if we really want peace, then it’s pretty sure that God is going to want to address those issues first, so we can enjoy deep, real, and lasting peace.I
I wonder if this public confession will result in fewer people asking me to pray for them. I hope not! Because I really do believe that God wants to and “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20, ESV). So, when I pray in this way, the most important thing I pray—the biggest blessing of all—is that God will personally take up residence in them, making His presence, power, and love known to them in ways deeper than they’ve ever known.