How to pray for others more . . . better

Have you ever told someone sincerely, “I’ll pray for you!” and then wondered, “Oh no. What have I done?” You have the best intention of praying for them, but you feel like you don’t know how.

I’ve been there, too! Until this past semester, in fact.

Up until then, if I wanted to pray for someone, the best I could do was pray, “God bless so-and-so,” “I pray for so-and-so,” “I lift up so-and-so,” and that was it. I had no idea how else to pray for someone! Granted, I would sometimes “offer up” things for people; I’d offer up a rosary or I’d offer up a sacrifice, but intentionally and deeply praying for someone was something I didn’t know how to do.

Then I was given a simple tool that revolutionized my prayer for others. Last summer Joseph Williams shared a reflection he called, “Expanding your prayer vocabulary.” It’s basically a three-step process, and this is how it works:

1) Identify a need (i.e. my dad who is sick). Write down your basic need on a piece of paper. (Writing it down seriously helps, whether you’re just starting or you’ve been doing this for a while.)

2) Brainstorm specific related needs (i.e. healing, patience, faith, and trust). Your dad’s sick, and you want to pray for him, but “God bless dad,” won’t cut it. What does he truly need? He needs healing. He needs patience. He needs faith. He needs trust, during this difficult time. Write all this down.

3) Pray for each of these needs as simply or as in-depth as desired. In praying for trust, for example, you can pray, “Lord, I pray for trust for my dad,” or you can take that further and add, “Teach him to pray: Jesus, I trust in you. Give him the grace to trust you, my God. Let him know that you watch over him and that you protect him always.” It’s your choice how deep you’d like to go.

Pro-Tip: Before you even begin to pray specifically for someone, you can first 1) turn to God, 2) ask for his help, and 3) praise him. And after you pray, you can spend a moment and 1) listen to God, 2) thank him, and 3) praise him again.

Also, be sure to follow up later with those for whom you pray asking them how that test went or how was their interview. They’ll know you thought of them and prayed for them.

If you try this out, I guarantee you that three things will happen when you pray for others:

1) God will change your heart. 2) God will change their lives. 3) God will change your relationship with them.

May God bless you and your prayer for others!


Andy Norton is serving his third year as a missionary at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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