Dave and I were standing on the sidewalk outside of his parent’s house. He had just shared something that was troubling him and I, without a lot of forethought, offered to pray for him. So we prayed right there. When we opened our eyes, I was a little surprised to see how much Dave was moved by the prayer. It wasn’t that my prayer was anything spectacular. It was the fact that I had stopped and prayed for him on the spot. “No one, not even my priest, has ever prayed for me,” Dave said. I will never forget that moment because it is most often the simple things, the things we give little thought to, that make the most difference.
So this week’s spiritual exercise is not especially deep nor is it rocket science. It is simply this: when someone expresses a need or a concern to you, offer to pray with them on the spot. In fact, let’s take this a step further. Never tell someone, “I will pray for you” because you and I both know what happens in most cases: we usually forget. When we say that not only is there likely a missed opportunity for prayer, but a chance for discipleship has passed by. Discipleship, the practice of helping someone follow Jesus with you, does not happen so much in a classroom or even in a well-structured Bible study, but through the modeling of simple practices. When you are in a conversation and someone expresses something that troubles them, God has given you an opportunity for a discipleship experience to model prayer. So how do we go about this? Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, start with the question: would you like me to pray with you? I think this is better than offering to pray for someone because you want to invite the person to participate in their own prayer rather than being a passive observer.
Once the person has agreed to pray with you, it is important to follow up with a question: “What would you like God to do for you?” I ask this question even when a person’s need is quite obvious. Why would we do this? There are several reasons, but the most basic is that Jesus modeled this for us.
Mark records a moment where a blind man, sitting outside the city of Jericho, hears that Jesus is passing by on the road and begins shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him yell at him to be quiet, but he shouts all the more. Finally, Jesus stops and urges the crowd to bring the blind man to him. Here is their conversation:
Mark 10:51: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
Why would Jesus ask such an obvious question? I think it is because he wants the man to express his needs to God in his own words, because by doing this he is learning how to pray and is participating in his own healing.
Let the person tell you their concerns. Listen carefully to what they are saying. You can even follow up by asking, “Do you feel comfortable telling God what you told me?” This allows people to take an active role in their prayer. For some, this may be the first time they have ever prayed out loud. Others will be too shy to form their own prayer, but the fact that you offered them this opportunity is what is most important.
Finally, after listening to their concerns, and after giving them an opportunity to offer their own prayer, pray a simple prayer on their behalf. But before we talk about what we pray, we need to think about how we pray. A year ago, I was in a conversation with someone with whom we had shared significant times of prayer. She told us that she loved praying with us. Our prayers were so beautiful, they sounded like poems. I could feel the pride swelling inside of me until she said, “I could never pray like you guys”, and then my heart sank. The way we prayed was preventing her from praying herself. When you pray with someone, your language should be so direct and simple that the person receiving the prayer says, “Is that all prayer is? I can do that.” That is the goal.
Then you can use the Lord’s Prayer to organize your simple prayer. Jesus taught us that our prayers will largely fall into one of three categories: 1. What we need to survive for today (daily bread) 2. Forgiveness (both receiving God’s forgiveness and forgiving others) 3. Protection from temptation and from the evil one. As you listen to the person share their needs be thinking: how are they expressing their daily needs, their need for forgiveness, or their need for protection? Then offer a short prayer using simple and direct language.
Have you had experience praying for people “on the spot”? Share your experiences and insights in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.