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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

‘Pray For Me’

Feb 19, 2021

Is it wrong to tell others about our prayer needs?

No, this article is not a specific prayer request that I am asking for myself. It is a generic piece on the matter of prayer, and prayer requests. Prayer is obviously a key part of the Christian life, and we all need to daily be involved in prayer and supplication.

But this piece springs from a social media post a friend had put up recently. She had wanted to ask for prayer, but she said she was quite hesitant in doing so, since in the past she had Christians rebuking her for this, telling her she should only pray to God. They claimed that if you shared your prayer requests with others, that means you do not really trust God.

Good grief! I offered this short and sharp reply to her: “You do NOT need ‘Christian’ friends like that telling you not to share your prayer needs!” I hope she agrees and gives these folks the flick. Imagine being rebuked for sharing your prayer requests!

The Bible everywhere tells us – commands us in fact – to pray, and that includes praying for one another. And it is kinda hard to know how to properly pray for our brothers and sisters if they are not allowed to tell us their needs. It is difficult to support, uphold and help other Christians if we are not allowed to know what concerns they have and what things they want covered in prayer.

Sure, as always, we must avoid unbiblical extremes here. Just as we must reject unbiblical absolutes which say we can never share our prayer needs and requests with others, so too we must reject the opposite unbiblical absolutes that say we always must share our prayer concerns with others.

It is certainly possible on particular occasions that God may lead a particular Christian to just pray to him alone, and not share his needs with others. That is fine. Nothing wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong when you do share your needs.

Consider one example of the former: the great English evangelist George Muller (1805-1898). He felt led of God not to share his prayer needs, and just take them to God, especially the need to get financial help to keep the orphanages running that he had set up. And yes, he had many interesting and miraculous tales to tell of God’s faithful provision.

But what he felt led to do is not an absolute for all other believers. Just think of all the overseas missionaries and evangelists who regularly send to their supporters back home their lists of prayer needs. That is perfectly acceptable. Giving such specific requests (eg, we are seeking to reach a new tribe, we need funds to dig a well, or we want to set up a food kitchen, etc) helps Christian supporters to know how to pray – and to pray specifically.

And it also gives them an idea of practical things they can do as well. Let’s say a missionary in Africa is wanting to build a small school for the kids he is ministering to. He may ask for funding, and he may ask for workers to come over and help out on the project. And often Christians from the West will respond – they will go on short-term trips to these places to do these very things, perhaps as a carpenter or a plumber or whatever.

Again, there is nothing amiss in any of that. But let me look briefly at some of the biblical material here. Some folks might be thinking of a passage such as Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Yes, God is of course the object of our prayers. We pray to no one else but God. But a believer is being cultic if he adds to Scripture when he imagines that the passage is really saying this: “let your requests be made known to God – and make sure you don’t tell anyone else!”

If it is wrong to tell others about our prayer requests, then the same guy who wrote that passage – the Apostle Paul – was quite wrong to say things like this: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:3-4).

Or this: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Paul obviously was not hesitant to tell his supporters about his situation, including being in prison. As he also told the Philippians in Phil. 1:19: “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

And he can tell people about specific things to pray for, such as what we find in Romans 1:9-11: “God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.”

So many other passages could be mentioned here. These are a couple more – and just from the letters of Paul:

Romans 15:30-31 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there,

2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

I think you get the drift: Paul asked for prayers often, publicly, and persistently. He was not shy about letting his needs be made known, and neither should we. We need the prayer support of others, and to get vital and specific prayer cover we need to give them specific prayer requests.

Still, some critics might make this reply: ‘Yeah, but what Paul asked for prayer about mainly had to do with proclaiming the gospel.” So? What of it? Can one only ask for prayer about evangelism and the like, but not for other things?

What if I am giving a teaching on the Christian response to the culture wars this Sunday to some young people (which in fact I will be doing!). Or what if I am speaking at a prolife rally and ask for protection from the activists? Or if I am simply attending it?

What if I am praying about moving to a new house, and I want God’s wisdom as to the right move? What if I am wanting to buy a new computer to do the work of my ministry? What if I want to take my wife on vacation? What if I am going into the hospital for some tests? Are these not all valid things to ask prayer about?

Are we really not trusting the Lord if we ask others to pray for us and/or with us? It is just silly for Christians to attack other Christians with such foolishness. Of course we are to pray and pray without ceasing. Of course we are to pray for one another. And of course there is nothing wrong with sharing prayer requests with others.

A passage alluded to by my friend in her post that I mentioned above should really put all this to rest. Galatians 6:2 says this: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That is a command. But it is pretty hard to obey it if we are never allowed to hear about the burdens that others have.

Unless others tell us about their struggles, their troubles, their problems and their worries, we can only offer vague, generic prayers. If they tell us the details, and the specifics, we can pray for them specifically and in detail. Such details are important.

Otherwise, we end up like the Christian who comes to a prayer meeting and the best he can do is pray like this: “Lord, bless the world. Amen.” Um, I think even God would prefer something a bit more specific. Maybe a prayer something like this: “Lord, please be with the suffering believers in North Korea right now. Sustain them and give them your grace. Help them to endure….”

Specific prayers can result in specific answers. So forget these hyper-spiritual types who try to tell you that we must only pray to God, and never let anyone else in on our needs. They may sound oh so spiritual in saying this, but it is simply unbiblical to try to make such a case.

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6 Responses to ‘Pray For Me’

  • Thank you, Bill! I hope the Christians who wrongly object to requests for prayer are sufficiently enlightened.
    And I’m sure the dear lady you mentioned will be much encouraged by your clear teaching on this. I have been praying for her too, and thanks to her specific requests, I know exactly what to pray for.

  • I think a problem some have in the asking department is what the prayer is for is embarrassing and sometimes Christians don’t look at you the same afterwards and they want to avoid that or they don’t want it spreading around through gossip (the sharp tongue of gossip is something many a Christian has not avoided). Like a man with a porn addiction or who is attracted to another woman not his wife. Or a woman attracted to another man or porn addiction. Judgmentalism is a big problem in that we don’t just see a sin that needs to be worked on but judged and judged harshly. I wonder how many marriages could have been saved by asking for prayer??? Prayer is a POWERFUL tool so is the tongue. Some become so afraid of the latter they can’t bare to ask for the former.

  • You’d have to wonder if these people ever read their bible. How do people read Mat 18:19 and not stop to think that we would need to discuss together what we agreed on before praying ?

    Another scripture that comes immediately to mind is James 5:14-16 but these sorts of scriptures are throughout the bible.

    Yes there are certain things we should not be praying for such as that God should bless wicked people’s pursuits because you are then partaking in their evil deeds (2 John 1:11) so when we pray a blessing on those who curse us we need to be very careful how that blessing is framed so as to not be promoting and encouraging wickedness.

  • Unless the request gives away someone else’s privacy or is attention seeking I thought ,as we are told to pray for one another, then asking for prayer is necessary. Anyhow the subject surprised me but you have covered it well.

  • I have never in my life met an anti-prayer-share person. That’s pretty fringe. I have, however, known quite a few who have a tendency to want others to do the praying for them.
    This can be for a number of reasons. Some are just plain lazy, but a more sinister reason is that they completely missed the message of the temple curtain being torn in half. We are all priests and that is how God wants it.
    “Can you pray for me?”
    Yes, I can pray for you, and praying for each other is the Body in action. But it must also include praying to God yourself. Otherwise it can become like an ignorant peasant asking the local priest to pray for them because they think God listens to him more then they will be heard themselves.
    That is the problem right there.

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