Is it just me, or is praying for someone not quite as simple as it sounds?

For a while I’ve been both fascinated and frustrated by the ambiguity that we find ourselves in when we commit to pray for someone (also known as “interceding” for them). Praying for John Doe surely involves more than repeating the phrase, “God, be with John Doe,” over and over. It also seems, frankly, to require us sometimes to “edit” prayer requests when someone asks us to pray for things that we sense may not be close to God’s heart. If you’ve found yourself in this dilemma before, we hope the suggestions below will help you.

Pray according to the Scripture.

We cover this in greater detail in our disciple-making training lesson on prayer and in our post on New Testament topics for prayer, but for now just keep in mind that there are virtually infinite biblical ideas for prayer when you ask God to bring about things in a person’s heart and life that are consistent with what He says is good. Take Psalm 1:1, for example:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on His Law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:1

From these verses we could pray, “Lord, I ask that John Doe would not be drawn aside from Your good path by adopting the life of people who don’t know You, but that instead he would enjoy and love Your Word and put it into practice.” Easy, right?

Spend some time praising God before you jump into requests.

Jesus presents this model for prayer in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13), in which He instructs us to pray, “Hallowed be Your name” first, and “give us today our daily bread” later in the prayer. When we open our prayers with praise, we are more likely to pray for people with a God-centered perspective.

Don’t be afraid to go off the script.

In some instances the person who is requesting prayer might not even be sure how to direct others to pray, or might be fixated on an earthly perspective. Though we usually feel we should offer the specific request they made, it is perfectly fine to pray for the person as you feel led by the Spirit of God and the Bible, even if this requires praying for them a little differently than they had envisioned. Rather than completely dismissing a request someone has made, we usually can pray for something related to their request, perhaps with the infusion of a biblical passage that pertains.

These are just three specific principles for praying for others, but there are many more ideas. What are your habits when praying for someone? Please leave us a comment!