What to Pray for?

by Jeff Bulthuis

Don’t ask me to pray!

Have you ever wondered what to pray for someone in a particular situation?

Maybe you’ve been at work or church, and someone asks you to pray about a certain need. Or you receive a list of prayer requests and feel like you don’t have enough information to pray well. What if you’re simply drawing a blank? Or you worry that your prayer will be completely off base? I’d like to offer some practical advice to help both with praying for others in person and as you pray through your weekly prayer list.

If you’re not sure what words to say, I would encourage you to be honest about that in your prayer. Isn’t that what we do in other life situations? Maybe you’re in the funeral home after a tragedy or walking out of the doctor’s office after a seemingly hopeless diagnosis, and you have no idea what to say to your friend. Often the words, “I’m not sure what to say right now” are the best thing that you can say. Likewise, they’re the best words that you can pray. We often say that prayer is a conversation with God and an outworking of our relationship with God; this is an opportunity to live out the reality of this relationship. When praying with someone, it also shows them—even though you might not have the words to pray—you do have the will to pray, and that’s often the most important thing.

What if I say the wrong thing?

What about the concern of praying the wrong thing? Unless the request is completely contrary to Scripture, simply make your prayer match up to the request. Maybe a family member has a chronically sick son, and she asks you to pray that God will give her the strength and ability to persevere through it so that she can continue to provide care. If you only prayed for the healing of her child and missed her main request, you would show that you haven’t listened. So pray for her. Perhaps a friend lost his job, and he asks for God to provide good, meaningful work. If you only prayed for peace, patience, and a deep sense of trust, you would miss the mark. It sounds simple, but we all have a tendency to pray for things that we might need in that situation; pray instead for their needs.

Praying in these ways allows us to encourage and love our friends. But it does more; it keeps us in line with Scripture. We’re reminded of the apostle Paul’s words: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Truly listening and praying accurately allows us to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).