When you pray for someone you know, it’s not hard to see how God answers. But when you pray for complete strangers, how do you get a praise report?
A recent experience left me wondering this. I had awoken in the wee hours with the nagging notion that I should pray for people and circumstances I’d read about in the newspaper that day. So I got out of bed and found a quiet place–which really wasn’t very hard at 3 a.m.
My real challenge was that I didn’t actually know any of the players in the situation for which I was praying. Consequently, my intercession was a little rough-going at first. But because of my strong sense that the Holy Spirit was calling me to this, I asked Him to help me, and He did. Soon I was praying with compassion and surprising urgency for a need about which I had only the sketchiest of information. Before I knew it, nearly an hour had passed.
As I thought about my experience the next day, I started to doubt the effectiveness of my prayers. The issue I had prayed about had the potential for global ramifications–but I was just one little person praying in the dark–literally and figuratively! How would I ever know how God answered?
Lord, do my prayers for strangers actually matter? I asked.
Here’s what I sensed Him speaking to my spirit: My child, I was grieving over this situation. I was awake with it, as it were, and I wanted company. I looked around to find someone else who might care about it with Me–and I found you! So I tapped you on the shoulder, and you willingly joined Me and talked it over with Me. It made my heart glad to have your company. Doesn’t it make your heart glad, too?
His words certainly did make my heart glad! And I realized anew that when we pray, it’s not only (or most importantly) results that we seek. When we pray, we seek God. We seek to know Him, to join our hearts to His, and to align our passions with the things that make Him passionate. In this case, God cared deeply about the people I read about in the newspaper, and He wanted me to care for them with Him. I do believe God used my prayers to accomplish tangible results for the people I prayed about. But even more importantly, I realize that my prayers matter because they brought a smile to my Father’s face.
God loves those we consider strangers and cares about them. “Don’t abuse or take advantage of strangers,” He reminded the Israelites in Exodus 22:21 (MSG, see also Matthew 25:35 and Hebrews 13:2). So we really shouldn’t be surprised if He sometimes calls us to step outside our familiar prayer routines and join Him in caring for someone we don’t know.