Pray with Petitions and Requests
[Praying Aloud - Part 4]
At the beginning of my Catechism classes, I sometimes ask the students for their prayer requests.
Invariably, the requests will come: for a sick Opa, for an auntie’s pregnancy, for a country affected by catastrophic flooding. It is good to pray together like this, bringing our cares and concerns to God.
We do the same as families and congregations. Praying in the home or in public worship or the classroom, we pray to the Father for our loved ones, our civil leaders, fellow church members, and many more. Scripture calls us to do this in 1 Timothy 2:1,
I urge…that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.
When you reflect for a moment, there really is no end to the matters for which we can pray. God teaches us to pray for wisdom so we can live faithfully in this world. God teaches us to pray for the Holy Spirit so the church might increase in good fruits. God desires that we pray for the repentance of our nonbelieving neighbours. Or think of the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, forgiveness, and strength to fight temptation.
Widening the Circle
So many needs in life, so many causes in Christ’s kingdom, and so many troubles in the world means we can bring a multitude of petitions to God. At times, it can be overwhelming to think about everything which needs attention in prayer. But this should motivate us to improve in praying with petitions.
Broaden the circle again to pray for our federation of churches and sister churches: pray for office bearers, missionaries, teachers, and professors.
Again widen your prayers to extend to our country and its leaders, its police and judges and military, its poor and sick and imprisoned.
Moving out once more, pray for the people in this world who are suffering, like refugees, those living in countries afflicted by war, and those without the gospel.
And pray for Christ’s catholic church: the persecuted, the physically needy, the spiritually vulnerable.
To assist with praying for “all people,” some have found helpful the practice of maintaining a prayer list. On your phone, in your diary, or tucked in your Bible, make a list of the many persons in your life—and in the world, and in the catholic church—for whom you want to pray regularly. Let us admit that our minds are fallible and forgetful, and we need reminders and prompts for meaningful prayer.
Teaching by Praying
Everything I have written so far applies to individual prayers just as much as to communal prayers. In our personal prayers, we should take time to intercede for others. But when we pray aloud, praying on behalf of the two or three (or more) gathered, there is a special opportunity to bring to God the cares of the community.
Andrew Blackwood touches on the power of communal prayer, “So pray, that by the power of the Holy Spirit resting on you, you express the desires and thoughts of every one present, and stand as the one voice for the hundreds of beating hearts which are glowing with fervour before the throne of God” (60). You have the privilege to voice the requests and petitions of many of God’s children at the same time!
I have touched before on how our ‘leading in prayer’ sets an example for those who are ‘listening.’ Here too, it is good to remember that those who are joining your prayers are likely also learning how to pray from you. Communal prayers become a model for children, fellow believers, and students to follow. So what do you pray for regularly as parents with your family? What does your minister pray for? How does your principal or elder pray?
I remember when one of our daughters—probably six or seven years old—prayed at the dinner table one night. The scope of her prayer was remarkably global, and there were certain beautiful phrases that stood out. To my wife and me, it was clear that our daughter had been listening intently to her Year 2 teacher as she prayed with her class a few times per day. She picked up and echoed some of her teacher’s ‘prayer language’ and themes—and for her ‘leading in prayer’ we were thankful!
Praying with Eyes Open
Earlier we said that prayer should be varied. God wants to hear from his children about anything that concerns them, for He has power and willingness to respond. In Ephesians 6:18, Paul exhorts:
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
It is just not possible to pray too much, and it is not possible to pray too widely, as we make “all kinds” of prayers and requests.
From personal experience, I know that those who regularly pray aloud tend to slip into habitual ways of speaking. Perhaps most of us could predict the exact things which our dad would pray after a meal, making general supplications for ‘the poor and needy,’ ‘the sick,’ ‘those who proclaim your Word at home and abroad.’
Let’s be clear that it is appropriate to pray for all such causes, but a good routine can quickly deepen into a rut. So if you are often leading in prayer, take time to reflect on how you’re praying and what you’re praying for—and what you’re not praying for. There is a world of needs which we can bring before God. Pray in concentric circles. Pray from a list. Pray with eyes open to the situation of the people around you.
Though there are many things to pray for, we don’t need to pray for each of them every time. Instead, we may choose to pray specifically for one particular person or cause on a given day. For instance, one of my ministerial colleagues had the practice of ‘praying through’ each of the sister churches on a regular basis. Instead of a blanket petition, “Be with all our sister churches around the world,” he would single out just one, and pray for that church in its unique challenges and circumstances. Such a specific prayer, of course, requires specific knowledge about that church—or about any other topic regarding which we seek to pray.
For example, before praying for our government, it is good to reflect on the needs faced by our leaders. For instance, we all pray for our premier or prime minister or president—but what exactly do we pray for him? What does he require to do his task faithfully? Being in a position of power, what temptations might he face? How can we pray for our leaders more thoughtfully?
Or when we pray for mission projects that we support, we should make use of the prayer notes which are included in the mission bulletins. Here are specific matters which we may bring to God, for example: the need for another missionary, protection from illness, or the opportunity to preach in a new village.
Finally, if you are praying on behalf of some gathered people—your family, a committee, an entire school—it is good to have an awareness of those around you. What are their joys? What are their sorrows? What is the opportunity of the moment? As you pray with them, may your prayer be personal and thoughtful, knowing that God in heaven delights to hear the voice of his children and to answer with grace.
Next time, in a final article in this series, I’ll share a few techniques and tips for praying aloud.
Andrew W. Blackwood, Leading in Public Prayer (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1958).