Here is another “summer re-run.” This post on prayer was originally from March 2011. (Also, it is not too late to enter the Philip Yancey book giveaway.)

“I’ll pray for you” – oh, really?

In different countries of the world, “greetings” are different. We had a number of foreign exchange students live with us. One was from Germany and he remarked that in America people ask how you are, even though they do NOT care how you are! We say “how are you” as a greeting only, and we expect a one or two word response. “Okay” – “Good” – “Fine”. He said in Germany that you did not say “how are you” unless you wanted to get in a longer conversation and really find out details of how the person is doing. Thus he found our “how are you” rather superficial and uncaring.

I fear that in the American Christian community, we say “I’ll pray for you” and it has become, too often, only “a greeting.”  Do we really then pray for the person or situation? I realize we can all be absent minded from time to time. But saying “I’ll pray” seems thrown around way to loosely in my opinion. If you say “I’ll pray” and then do not…you have not only made yourself a liar, but you’ve also given someone a false sense of encouragement. Maybe we should be a little less prone to say we will pray, unless we really plan to do so.

I really appreciate the honesty of a friend of mine. If there is an issue that needs prayer, she says up front that she might forget, so she likes to pray right then and there with you. She does say she’ll attempt to pray again, but if she forgets at least we did pray this once together. I appreciate this honesty and also the “on the spot” prayer!

If you’d like to remember people in prayer and not forget, here are some thoughts:

  • Don’t say “I’ll pray” so often! You might think “but that is not spiritual”, but it is better not to say it at all – if you are not likely to do it. We need to be realistic…We can’t pray for everyone and everything in the world. Perhaps we need to keep some focus in prayer, and only say “I’ll pray” if it is an area of special concern for us. Maybe we are particularly burdened for the salvation of unbelievers, or for the sick to be healed, or for prodigals to return. The Spirit may give us special sensitivity to certain needs. Many people need our prayers, but we may need some limits or focus.
  • If you do say you’ll pray, write it down somewhere. Maybe have a little prayer notebook or index cards where you can jot down prayer requests. This will help you remember. Keep the notebook or index cards near where you usually pray or somewhere else visible in your house, so it will remind you to keep the things in prayer.
  • Especially if it is a “long term” type of prayer need, from time to time let the person know you are still praying and ask for any updates or changes in the situation. It is great to pray for someone, but if they don’t know you are praying, they can’t be encouraged by it! You could send them a postal card, or e-mail, or make a phone call to let them know you are continuing to pray.

I’m going to be very forthright here….If you are truly keeping someone in your prayers, they should be on your mind. Right? I have a couple of long term prayer concerns in my life. In the past, I’ve had people say they would pray about it, but they have NEVER again inquired or asked me about it. Which honestly made me wonder if they really were praying. It seems to me, if they were, they’d ask or inquire from time to time. Right? Which takes me back to the beginning – if you say “I’ll pray” please try to really do so…and occasionally let the person know that you are indeed continuing to pray.

Prayer can be a wonderful way to encourage others. And I’ll end with this quote:

Though some people may seem to be naturally gifted at encouraging and uplifting other people, the Bible makes it clear that we’re all to be encouragers.  According to Scripture, encouragement is to be a regular part of our interaction with other people.  This necessarily means that we must spend time with other people for the purpose of knowing their needs, their struggles, and how best they may be encouraged. Wayne Mack