What If Prayer Lists Were Work Lists?

Prayer Requests
“Ok everyone, time for prayer requests…” I don’t know about you, but those times always unsettle me a bit. Not that I mind praying, but something just always seemed missing or “off.” It finally hit me, why are we just making prayer lists? When we say “pray for Tom who is sick” or “pray for Fred who lost his job” what are we actually asking God to do? Are we asking God to fix it? Are we asking for God to give us just what we wish would happen? What if we actually paused during “prayer request” time and asked ourselves, “What should we be praying for?”

Is It Really Out of Our Control?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:14-16 (ESV)

Related: What Happens When Jesus is Not the Answer – by Kerry Dixon

When we ask God to “help” there is an immediate underlying assumption that something is beyond our control. No, wait, not control… responsibility. The farmer is does not control nature, but he is responsible for working the land all the same. If someone has fallen on hard times, it seems almost insulting to just say “let’s pray for them” without pausing for a second to ask ourselves, “how can WE help?”

If Tom is sick, let’s help him with food or mow his lawn while he gets better. If Fred lost his job, let’s see if anyone in the church can help him look for a new one or give some career advice. No, we can’t just walk up and heal Tom (at least not in my church), but we can do much for him. How many times should “God help them” be “God let us know how to help them”?

Log Removal Service

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? – Matthew 7:4 (ESV)

No, prayer requests are not often obviously judgmental. Most people have the common sense not to say, “pray for Jim, he’s a jerk.” However, we do tend to allow prayer requests to float around that paint a very “victim” slanted story. Yes, Fred lost his job, but did he deserve it? Maybe Fred isn’t a very good worker, or maybe was in the wrong job. Often times the “hard times” in life are simply the times God needs us to change. If we never question our prayers, we miss the opportunity to pray for ourselves. Instead of “God, help me get a job” maybe we can say, “God, show how I need to work on myself.”

Brave New Films

Also by Yaholo: Five Reasons Christian Parents “Lose” Their Children

Work List First, Prayer List Later

If we are really gathered together in a time of prayer, let us take this time first to talk with one another. Let us use these times to share, examine, and work through our challenges. Let us first think, “what do we need to work on” before we write up the list and check it off via “we pray for _____.” I think any small group or prayer group that takes the time to ask “What should we really be praying for here?” instead of just pushing through prayer request time would see life change in a heartbeat.

Yaholo Hoyt is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. You can find him at http://yaholo.net or read his blog at http://practicalchristianmysticism.blogspot.com

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About the Author

Yaholo Hoyt

Yaholo HoytYaholo Hoyt is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. You can find him at http://yaholo.net or grab his book at "What If Christians Grew Up?"View all posts by Yaholo Hoyt →

  • Frank

    Prayer is not about us its about God. This just seems like trying to make if more about us and more about self help.

    People whose prayers are simply a list of wishes don’t understand prayer and people who suggests that we should be more about action in prayer equally does not understand prayer.

    • My intention with this article is to more address corporate or collaborative prayer times. Especially small group prayer where we have the time and space to open up conversation. Even then it is a suggestion regarding some of many applications for prayer. I would agree with your final statement.

      • Frank

        Thanks for the clarification! Prayer is often misunderstood. Its not about us changing Gods mind, its about God changing our mind. Its about us submitting.

  • Drew

    I have to disagree with this article in that I have had a completely different experience.

    My Church has their prayer ministry in addition to other ministries, not in place of other ministries. We have teams assembled that do everything you mentioned and then more – hospital visits, caring for the elderly, caring for the ill/injured, caring for parents of newborns, ect. We also have a benevolent fund where anyone can request financial assistance and the pastor/elders consider the request. I think (or would hope) most Churches have a similar set-up.

    I also know that when most people see a need that they can meet on a prayer list that they usually try to contact the Church office or the individual to help. I know this has been the case at my Church.

    My main problem with the prayer list has been with people abusing the prayer list, ranging from the mundane to the inappropriate.

    • Drew,

      I am not sure how you are disagreeing with article. You seem to be simply stating how your church implements the concepts within it. You even point out the problem of personal responsibility as people put petty things on prayer list best left off or dealt with themselves. What part are article are you disagreeing with?

      • Drew

        I don’t disagree as much as 1) I think it is a non-issue and 2) I think the solution, as implied by the title, would not work.

        I’ve never seen a Church that had a prayer ministry but not “helps” ministries. If anything, I think the problem is too much of a helps ministry aimed towards the Church and not at the community/world.

        The other point – which I did not mention in my previous post – is that a public “works list” would probably fall flat. A lot people have a problem putting their problems out there (the reason our Church as a confidential/non-confidential list).

  • Digger

    I like the article. I, too, often have a problem with “prayer requests”. First of all, God already knows what we need. Second, saying, “pray for Fred” is a lot like a child going to its father and saying, “I need something.”
    The father–and the Father–want to hear WHAT you need.
    Finally, a prayer request is worthless without the prayer. And if someone says they have a need during “prayer request” time, and if I can fill that need, why ask God to do my job?

  • the3nchanting

    So true, especially of immediate things! My favorite book in the Bible is 1 John, so this made me think of 3:17-8
    “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
    (Pet peeve when 18 is quoted without 17 in sermons to pressure people for things unrelated to the context.)

    One teacher I respect mentions how Jesus told the disciples to “pray
    for workers for the harvest” and then shortly after that we see Him send
    them out into the harvest. His point is that we become the answers to
    our prayers. As we pray about something, it changes us, our hearts, our purpose.

    My dad was
    a pastor and people would come to him and insist that “someone” needs
    to start/do some particular ministry, he would tell them that the fact
    it’s on their heart might be a clue as to who that “someone” might be.

  • jonathan starkey

    I think I’m hanging on my last leg for this site.

  • jasonhackwith

    Prayer is always the first and greatest work.

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