Some Prayer Requests Can Hurt

By Mark A. Taylor

My wife used to be a part of the prayer chain at our church. Maybe you’ve participated in one of these. Somebody calls the church with a request, and the prayer chairman calls someone who calls someone who calls someone else to share the need, till everyone in the chain has been notified.

My wife actually prayed about these requests. Sometimes I did too, but I must admit I was often more interested in hearing the news than taking the needs to God. Who’s having a baby? Who’s going to the hospital? How bad were the test results?

Alas, even prayer can be perverted. Satan wants us to abuse every good gift from God, including this one. When I pray—or ask someone else to pray—I may be playing into his hands.

Maybe my prayer is little more than an attempt to make myself feel better or look good.

Maybe I’m seeking juicy tidbits about another’s misfortune “so I’ll know how to pray accurately.”

Maybe I’m spreading gossip or innuendo or even unfortunate facts about another and making my words seem holy by ending with a prayer request for the offender.

As difficult as it is for me to realize my own motives, it is impossible to fully know for sure why someone else makes a prayer request.

But his words and accompanying actions may give us a clue. If a person broadcasts a prayer request for someone without talking to that person first, be suspicious. If he’s praying in public about a person (or institution) he has not first met in private, ask him why not. (Even secular journalists seek comment from their subjects before sharing news about them or repeating their past statements.)

It’s possible to pray for someone with the attitude of a fellow struggler; I know we’re both earnestly seeking God’s will. But I may pray for him with the condescending posture of the Pharisee: “Lord I’m grateful I’m above the mess he’s in!”

Perhaps you’ve heard both kinds of prayer requests. Perhaps you or your ministry have been the object of prayers from helpers as well as those who condemn.

God, who operates beyond our egos, responds even to poorly motivated prayers. After all, no prayer comes from a heart that’s perfectly pure. I’ll thank him for those who seek prayer, no matter their reason.

Nevertheless, this truth remains: Prayer in the midst of muckraking doesn’t undo the damage it causes. In such a case, an offer to pray intensifies the hurt.

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