Praying for others with overwhelming problems can overwhelm us too. The good news is that Jesus is doing the praying and it’s your job to join him.
I often rely on my knowledge of people to see me through my prayers for them. For example, someone comes to me because they fear something they’re facing in their life. Because I’ve prayed with them for several years, I have an intuition (let’s call it a “holy hunch”) that it’s actually related to a larger pattern of fear I’ve seen in their life. I’m able to pray into both the current circumstance and the larger fear and something happens–the dispassion of fear, courage, an ability to abide in God while in the fear–to answer the prayer.
Last week, this was taken away from me! I was attending a prayer conference and was acting as a small group leader. The seminar leaders prayed the Garden of the Heart prayer and suggested that those who felt they needed it should go to a small group leader for prayer. I got super nervous. “Lord,” I thought, “I don’t know these people. How am I going to pray?”
As I was agonizing over how to pray for people I knew nothing about, someone came to me for prayer. Let’s call him Rob. Rob explained that as he was praying the Garden of the Heart prayer, he came up against a closed and locked door. “I don’t have the key,” he explained. “I can’t find it.” I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s pray,” and invited Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be present to us in our prayer.
Here’s what we so quickly forget when we pray for others: we are not alone. It’s not up to us to pray the right prayer. Jesus is actually already praying for Rob, he’s already praying for the person you are praying for. Jesus knows the right prayer to pray. (See Romans 8:34.) Even if we know and understand this, we might still doubt our ability to join Jesus in that prayer. Fortunately, that also is not up to us. We ask the Holy Spirit to intercede with us, to translate our “groanings” into prayers (Romans 8:26) and in turn to unite our prayers with Christ’s prayers in heaven.
How can we unite with Jesus in his prayer?
Ask Jesus to be present.This might be as much a reminder for you as it is for the person you’re praying for. Jesus is already present. You are NOT praying alone, nor is the person asking for prayer alone in their openness and vulnerability. Christ is in your prayer and in the recipient’s heart.
Ask the Holy Spirit to be present.In whatever manner seems best to you, ask “Come Holy Spirit,” “Spirit pray through me,” “Spirit, give me the prayer Jesus is praying for this person.”
Thank God for the recipient.I have heard many good reasons for why this is important. When I am the person praying, I find it helps my heart unite with the heart of the person I’m praying for. It gives me a holy compassion for them and this compassion puts me squarely with Christ in his compassion for this person.
Start with the request they’ve asked for.I occasionally find myself on the receiving end of prayers I did not ask for. Most of the time it’s fine, sometimes it’s wonderful–sometimes, it’s not! If someone does not pray at all for request I give, it causes me to distrust the other prayers they’ve prayed, putting up a barrier between myself and the good of the prayer.
Go silent.If you can’t think of anything more to pray, go silent. Ask the Lord to give you a picture, a word, a scripture for this person. Being compassionate really helps in this–stay with the thankfulness and gratitude you’ve prayed for the recipient and ask Jesus what he would have you pray.
Offer prayers humbly.If you’re getting a holy hunch, it’s OK to ask if it resonates with the person you’re praying for. If it doesn’t, but you find it helpful, go ahead and stick with it internally and return to silence.
Keep Jesus squarely in the center of the prayer.Particularly in cases where I don’t know someone well, inviting Jesus to speak to them directly can be a great way to stop second-guessing myself. Also, if the prayer is getting muddy or confusing, I go back to Jesus and thank him again for the person I’m praying for and all the hard work they’re doing. It acts like a prayer reset. I then go back to silence and ask again for Christ’s prayers for this person.
Conclude with thanksgiving.There are times when it just seems like nothing is happening in prayer, or that the work God is doing is hidden from us. That’s OK. Return to Jesus, identify that the Spirit is at work and thank him that he will make this work apparent when the time is right. You want the person you’ve been praying for to be better off for having prayed with you. Thanksgiving, gratitude and blessing are all prayers that build into a person regardless of what else is going on, regardless of whether the feel like they’re receiving something.
As for my experience with Rob, I thanked God for him and prayed for him to find the key, then went into silence. After a couple of minutes, felt a nudge and finally prayed, “Lord, I ask you to bring the key to Rob and place it squarely in his hands. Don’t let him go wandering or digging. Bring that key to him.” Then I thanked Jesus that he was going to do this. Rob did not find they key in the moment, but the morning after he approached me, leaned over and said with a grin, “I got the key!”
Jesus will always provide the key to unlock healing for us. We need to have confidence that will happen and make ourselves available to whatever method he wants to use to deliver them.
What helps you stay with Jesus as you pray for others?