When in the company of a fellow brother or sister-in-Christ, I believe there are few things more loving than to pray with them. But oftentimes, we can be so caught up in our busy schedules that we might not be in the right frame of mind to pray intentional prayers.
I experienced this in early January, when I ended a wonderful evening of fellowship and song-writing with a sister-in-Christ with prayer. However I left the meeting feeling somewhat disappointed with myself. As it was getting late, I felt like I had rushed through our prayer time, and thought that my prayer could have been more God-centered—focusing more on what God wanted to do in and through her. Reflecting on that experience and other prayer times, I began to think about how to pray more effective, God-centred prayers for my friends.
A few mornings later, I came across the first chapter of 2 Timothy in my Bible reading plan. I found Paul’s prayers and encouragement for Timothy in verses 3 to 7 particularly God-centered:
“I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:3-7)
In his prayer, Paul first thanked God (v3), recalled Timothy’s struggles (v4), prayed specifically for Timothy’s situation (v6), and reminded him of God’s promise and provision (v7). His words were convicting, yet deeply personal.
Based on that passage, I discovered four ways we can pray for our friends more boldly and relevantly—putting the focus of the prayer time on God and not on our own words and wisdom.
1. Take time to understand their prayer requests
Paul could pray specifically for Timothy because of their friendship and regular correspondence, which continued even while Paul was in prison. This shows that when we intentionally and openly share our prayer requests, it can help us pray for each other more specifically.
It can be easy to default to a “practiced” prayer that we have prayed or heard before (I’m reminded of the mealtime prayers my father trained me to say since childhood). However, such prayers, no matter how pious or grand they sound, may not be relevant to your friend’s specific needs. I’ve found it helpful, whenever possible, to take time to listen to a friend share his or her prayer needs in an unhurried manner. Here are some questions to get started:
- “How can I pray for you?”
- “What concern/need has been on your mind lately, and how have you been lifting this up to God?”
I would then write down brief prayer request notes or type them in my chat thread to my friend, so that we can have a running record of our prayer requests. This makes it easier for us to reference later on—so that we can also give thanks for answered prayers!
2. Acknowledge God and ask for His perspective
Paul opened his prayer for Timothy by thanking God—and we can start by doing the same. How marvellous it is to know that God, in all His greatness, gladly receives every prayer through Jesus our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-15) and so readily offers mercy and grace in our time of need (4:16).
Here are some simple prayers to help you put God at the centre of your prayer time:
- “Lord God, please speak through me. What do You want to say to (my friend) through me?” A short pause after this can help restrain us from rushing into “practiced” prayers, and instead orientate our hearts to whatever God has in store for our friends.
- “God, let what’s on Your heart for (my friend’s name) be on mine.” This allows me to pray from God’s perspective as much as possible.
- “God, thank You for loving and saving us. Thank You for hearing us and already knowing what we are going to pray. Your love for us means You care for every prayer request. And we trust in Your power to answer us in Your perfect time and way.”
It gives me peace knowing that, when I hand over control of the prayer time to God, He helps me pray in accordance with His will (Romans 8:27).
3. Draw from God’s Word and community
When Paul prayed for Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God”, it reminded me of other biblical references of the Holy Spirit as fire, like in Matthew 3:11 (“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire”). It may have been that Paul was recalling other scriptures in his prayers. And what better way to ensure our prayers are God-centered than by drawing the vocabulary of our prayers primarily from Scripture and other prayer warriors around us?
Here are some ways to grow in this area:
- Turn to Scripture before or while praying. It definitely helps to write down or turn to verses to pray over others so they’re easier to find and reference. Here are some passages I often use: Ephesians 6 for spiritual protection, Philippians 4 for a healthy Godly thought life, and Romans 8 to counter guilt, shame, and thoughts of unworthiness. The Psalms are also particularly helpful examples of prayers. The scriptures will remind you of God’s faithfulness and how He has sustained your faith. Then you can declare God’s promises boldly over your friend.
- Get plugged into or start a praying community. It might be a good start to attend church prayer meetings and to ask Christian friends to pray with you whenever you meet. Some describe prayer as a muscle that gets stronger the more you do it—the important thing is to start!
4. Listen to God’s promptings and give thanks for answered prayers
Lastly, if there is anything that God puts upon your heart for your friend as you listen to Him in prayer, I encourage you to do so. It could be affirming your friend’s steps in the right direction, signposting them to seek professional help, recommending relevant resources (e.g., books or podcasts), or simply reminding them of God’s promises in relation to their situation.
Sometimes when we pray over a friend, God uses us as part of His answer, so let’s avail ourselves to His promptings, and continually check in and pray for our friends. Ask your friend how they would like to be further helped by you and how often—as each of us have a preferred way to receive love and support from our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Lastly, remember to share each other’s joy in answered prayers! Refer to your written notes or chat threads the next time you meet and share how God has been working since then. Rejoicing and giving thanks pleases God and gives Him the glory He deserves—as the healing account of the lepers reminds us (Luke 17:7-18).
Going back to that evening with my friend, I’m thankful that on my way home, I was reminded to pray, “God, let what’s on Your heart for her be on mine”. As I felt the Holy Spirit put the words in my mind, I immediately texted my friend about what I felt God wanted to tell her—a prayer that she said spoke into her situation. After that, I felt peace upon my heart.
Prayer is a lifelong spiritual discipline, which is why it’s so important to pray in community—so we can encourage one another from time to time. In my own journey, I have learned more and more what a privilege it is to be prayed for as well as to pray for others—lifting up our needs together to a God who hears us and answers us so readily.
Why not make it your resolution this year to put God at the centre of your prayer times? As you increasingly let God speak through you to your friends, you may find yourself praying more relevantly and boldly than before, and so see your friends’ and your own faith rise beyond your expectations.