Monday, 14 January 2013 15:29

When Crisis Strikes: What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Pray

Written by  Karen Wingate
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Your close friend tells you that her husband has left her and her three small children.  “Please pray,” she weeps into the phone.  What do you ask for?


A Christian college newsletter reports a fatal car accident involving four young people on an outreach trip for the college.  “Pray for the families,” the newsletter implores.  For what, you wonder?


Your pastor’s wife has been diagnosed with cancer.  You read about Christians suffering horrible persecution in Pakistan, China, and India.  Our world is torn by sin’s consequences.  Every day, our newspapers, mail, and telephones constantly remind us that human suffering abounds, around the corner and worldwide.  Emails concerning life threatening medical conditions are forwarded with a single mouse click.  Each situation, beyond the bounds of human control, cries out for you to intercede for God’s power and protection.


Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).  This admonishment follows Paul’s exhortation to stand firm against the powers of darkness by putting on the armor of God (Eph 6:10-17).  But how do we verbalize these concepts in prayer?


Our natural human tendency is to think first of healing and restoration.  We want the pain to stop.  We want the problem resolved.  We want to fix whatever is wrong.  But is that always God’s way?


When I learned that my grandmother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I found myself caught in a downward spiral of emotions.  Grandma was invincible.  I couldn’t believe she might get sick and die.  Needing to share my distress, I told as many people as I could, veiling it, of course, as a prayer request for healing.


Why?  The thought suddenly hit me.  Grandma has lived a long, full life, and she must die sometime.  If we pray for her healing and she dies anyway, will we be tempted to feel that God has let us down?


Prayers for healing and restoration are supported in the Bible.  But we must examine our motives for praying that way.


 We often pray for healing and restoration because we feel otherwise helpless about a particular situation.  But there are specific things we can pray for, even when a person or situation is beyond or sphere of influence.  Here are a few ideas:


1. Pray for faith.  If the person is not a Christian, pray that this trial may cause him or her to consider the need for Christ.  If a Christian, pray that his or her faith will be deepened through this crisis.


2.  Pray that the person and his or her family would express their faith boldly, despite opposition.  When Peter and John were dragged before the Jewish leaders for healing a man, they used it as an opportunity to proclaim the resurrection of Christ (Acts 3,4).  After they were released, they and the other believers prayed that God would give them boldness.  In the very next chapter, they were given a chance to test this request.  In response to the Sanhedrin’s accusation that they were continuing to teach in Jesus’ name against orders, they declared boldly, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  I would say that their prayer for boldness was answered!


3.  Pray that his or her faith would be a silent testimony to unbelievers and that bystanders would come to Christ.  In 1972, one of our church elders and his family plummeted off a mountain highway in their Bronco, instantly killing the couple.  The peaceful acceptance of their three children amazed the emergency room staff and led another patient to accept the Lord and be baptized in the hospital therapy pool.  God used this horrible event for His good, and it consequently lost some of its senselessness for our congregation.


4.  Pray that other believers will be supportive of the person and family involved.  Sometimes, church people are too quick to blame sin for another’s suffering.  This is a time for mercy, not finger-pointing.  Pray that God will raise up people who will offer comfort and support.  In cases of persecution, pray that the church will be merciful to those who buckle under persecution.  Our Lord was merciful to Peter after his denial; we should be, too.


5.  Ask the Lord, “What is Your will for these people?”  Ask Him how you can be personally involved.  Perhaps He will lay on your heart to send a card or money, or to go in person to offer comfort.  If you feel this nudge, be sure to obey His prompting.


6.  Let the person know you are praying for him or her.  Be specific.  Instead of saying, “We’ll be thinking about you,” say, “I am praying (this) for you.”  If that seems too bold, ask the person, “How can I pray for you?”


     When I asked how I could pray for a young mother traveling to Russia on a short-term missions project, her answer surprised me.  “We are taking our six-month-old baby with us,” she said.  “It will be hard to purchase the things we are used to having for the baby.  Pray that the baby stays healthy, that my way will be eased in the care of the baby so that I will not be overly distracted by his needs.”  When she returned I had something specific to ask about, and she was able to tell me that all had gone smoothly with the baby’s needs, just as I had prayed.


     Praying for others is something we can always do, even when the situation is complicated, messy or unclear.  When we pray specifically for faith issues, it gives us a chance to see God’s awesome power, working in ways beyond our comprehension.  And those who are standing by will see not that prayer works, but that God works – something we all need to know.


Karen Wingate is a contributing writer.




Last modified on Monday, 14 January 2013 15:35
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