When You Can’t Pray for Yourself

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Was there ever a time you felt so hopeless you couldn’t even summon the will to ask God for help?

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even the great leader Moses had days when he needed others to hold him up–sometimes literally. God never meant for us to carry all our burdens alone. And while He Himself is the ultimate Burden Bearer, He understands there are days we need someone we can see, hear, and touch on the physical plane. “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, NLT).

If you’re too worn down to pray for your own needs, find someone who can pray for you:

  • A loyal Christian friend
  • A spouse or adult relative
  • An organized small group
  • A pastor or Christian counselor
  • A church class

And if you feel there’s no one: you have no home church, no friends close enough to confide in, no family members who understand? Look up Bible-believing churches and Christian ministries in your area–or, if you’re desperate for immediate help, prayer hotlines. They always have someone available to pray for and with anybody who asks. It’s not good to depend indefinitely on the kindness of strangers, though (and it can be used as an excuse to avoid confessing weaknesses to those who know you personally), so among your other requests, include “find the right church/small group/prayer partner to support me spiritually and hold me accountable for the long term.”

Besides what you need prayers for and whom you should ask, you may want to consider how others will pray for you:

  • The submit-written-requests approach. Usually done in the context of a social-media group, email list, or official prayer ministry. This can be useful with one immediate problem, or as a supplement to other prayer support. Unless you know the prayer partner(s) well and personally, however, relying exclusively on written communications tends to lack the comforting power of hearing someone pray for you in real time.
  • The over-the-phone approach. This is standard with prayer hotlines, of course; but it can also be useful when prayer partners live far apart or when “I need to talk now” emergencies are likely.
  • The face-to-face approach. This is the best kind for serious needs, as it provides the full three-dimensional experience of audible, visible, and physical contact. Count it a special blessing when you find someone who is able to regularly pray for you in person.
  • The laying-on-of-hands approach. A form of the face-to-face approach that involves (usually) several people gathering around one member and making physical contact at once, then offering verbal prayers (in turn or as led) for a specific need. Particularly helpful for anyone facing difficult challenges, this is a traditional part of commissioning missionaries for overseas work. When you feel especially discouraged, it can also be the best means of receiving assurance that others–including God–care about your hardships.

One more thing. However difficult and persistent your troubles, don’t expect to always be all take and no give. Ask for prayer; take some time off to rest; but do expect to regain your own prayer power eventually. Always remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT): “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Much of that comfort comes in the form of prayer.

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The Blessings of Group Prayer

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Having spent the past few posts on the hows and whys of individual prayer, it’s only right to acknowledge that group prayer has special benefits of its own. Jesus Himself said that “if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). And some of the early church’s greatest moments, including the first Pentecost and the commissioning of the apostle Paul as a missionary, came about in the context of prayer groups.

For many a Christian introvert, solitary prayer comes easily but group prayer is fraught with squeamish situations. Where everyone takes turns praying, you freeze up when it gets to you, sure that everyone is judging you “uncommitted” by your silence. Where prayers are offered spontaneously, your mind wanders and you keep wondering when it’ll be over.

You have my permission (I recognize God’s right to override that permission in individual cases) to stay home from gatherings called primarily for the purpose of huge-group prayer. But you shouldn’t neglect praying with others entirely. Here’s why:

Group Prayer Strengthens Relationships

By saying you shouldn’t always pray alone, I’m not saying you have to join a roomful of people, or even a circle of a dozen. Jesus specifically said it only takes “two or three” to generate real power. More about “group prayer power” in a second, but I want to emphasize first that agreeing in prayer doesn’t just improve chances of getting a “yes” answer: it draws the prayer partners closer together in Christ. Agreement in prayer creates spiritual bonds, increases mutual love and empathy, and smooths the way to agreement in more earthly things, from whether to accept a job offer to what to budget for in a building program.

If you’re married, make sure the two of you pray together daily. Include your children and anyone else who shares the household. If you live alone, find one or two intimate friends you can share a prayer period with at least weekly.

Group Prayer Generates Power

In some mysterious way, having multiple people praying as one for the same thing apparently makes it easier for God to answer that prayer with a “Yes” (Matthew 18:19-20, above). That’s not to say the prayer of a single faithful believer can’t generate miraculous results–or that every group prayer gets the answer the group was hoping for. It simply means that having everyone in agreement clears away obstacles such as contrary desires, unresolved arguments, or self-centeredness.

For maximum effectiveness in a group “request” prayer, make sure everyone understands and in fact agrees with the request. If an important matter is involved, it pays to discuss it in detail–including bringing any individual reservations into the open–before actually praying. In larger groups especially, it can be easy to simply bow your head and “go along” while in fact thinking this is not the best thing to pray for. Whether or not this affects the chance of the prayer getting a positive answer, it will become a stumbling block to your relationship with God and the group.

Group Prayer Nurtures Empathy 

Hearing others’ prayer concerns helps curb temptation to feel you have all the problems and your needs are more important than anyone else’s. It also gives you a window into others’ souls that helps you realize your struggles aren’t so unique, and often it opens opportunities for you to share the perspective of experience.

Again, you don’t have to become a prayer-meeting aficionado if that’s not the way God wired you. Gathering regularly with one or two of your most intimate loved ones can be all God needs to shower all of you with the blessings of shared prayer!

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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