A View from the Pew: Our Prayer Requests Speak Volumes

From my childhood to today, the churches to which I have belonged have all engaged in the ritual of voicing prayer concerns.

This occurred most frequently and meaningfully on Wednesday nights in what we called “prayer meetings.” It also has been a consistent part of the opening conversational time of our Sunday morning Bible studies. In my teen years at my home church, we had a special time of prayer at 5 p.m. on Sundays for men and women separately. And I have been blessed to have participated in special prayer vigils from time to time for everything from elections to protections from adverse weather to peace and physical healing.

I’m not theologically trained enough to explain how prayer works, particularly when all of us have plenty of experience with circumstances not changing in the way we expected after fervent praying. I can quote all the scripture about “ask and you shall receive.” However, what I’ve come to appreciate about prayer, especially when gathered with my sisters and brothers, is the act of requesting. There is power and meaning in the voicing of prayer concerns all on its own.

Yes, it is a cliche to say that many church prayer meetings devolve into “organ recitals” in which members ask for prayer for their and their family members’ failing anatomical organs. I have also been known to say on occasion that the most frequent form of gossip in church is prayer requests.

The truth is, when I take the time to hear people share their concerns, I am connecting with them, hearing their heart’s desires and seeing up close what they fear and lack control over in their lives. Sometimes I can be timid about asking for prayer for myself, so when someone in my church family is moved to ask for prayer, it fills me with compassion and empathy.

As with all things in the life of the church, it is most often the children who lead us most honestly in the area of prayer. They have no qualms asking for prayer for their goldfish or their friend at school or their trouble with a classmate. They don’t have the pretense of adults, and they know there are areas of life that require the assistance of a higher power. Listening to children give prayer requests can be more hope-filled for me than 1,000 sermons.

I have recently made a significant career transition, filled with decisions that I prayed over fervently. Those requests, sometimes spoken aloud and other times kept to myself, reflected my anxieties and the limits of my ability to control the final outcome. In the end, when I received a new job, my prayer request shifted from acquiring the job to succeeding at the job.

So when a woman with a mental disability recently asked for prayer, it resonated with me deeply. We were gathered in a joint Sunday school hour in which all of the adult classes were present. And as is our custom, we opened our time together with the sharing of prayer concerns. The woman shared that she had recently moved to a new group home, and she asked that we pray for her so that “God will know where I am now.”

In that moment, I knew exactly how she felt. I wanted God to know where I was now, too, with my new job. The impact of her prayer request is still with me nearly six weeks later. It has challenged me and inspired me each morning in my own personal prayer time. Her desire for God to know where she is now comes from the same root emotion as many of my recent prayers.

My prayer for you is the next time you find yourself in a prayer meeting, and you feel it veering off into gossip or an organ recital, focus on what others are revealing in their requests. Open your heart to compassion and let their concern become your concern.

Someone’s prayer request may contain the wisdom and comfort God wants you to hear or the cry for help he wants you to help answer.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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