By Mary Foulger
I was embarrassed. I had been so excited to pray with some of the important leaders in my Christian organization. Perhaps I would learn something, or maybe even simply demonstrate I could pray with the best of them. Perhaps I would just feel I belonged, that I had something to offer. And instead, I prayed wrong.
One of the leaders let me finish my prayer, and then he gently informed me that the schedule had changed, and the people I was praying for were no longer doing what I had been praying about. Quietly a huge hole opened in front of me, and I disappeared into it.
Abraham, the great Old Testament intercessor, the friend of God, got it wrong too, or at least he didn’t always get it totally right. There’s that wonderful story where the Lord is on his way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, recorded in Genesis chapter 18. The Lord stops to see Abraham, and to share with him what he is about to do. Abraham asks the Lord if he would save those cities if there were 50 righteous people living there. God agrees to hold back on judgment if there are 50, and Abraham gradually goes down to 40, 30, and eventually he arrives at 10. Then he stops. As a person who loves numbers, this is very frustrating. What was the point of getting God down from 50 to 10 if there were not 10 righteous people living in Sodom and Gomorrah?
When we read on from this incident, we find that the Lord sends his angels to rescue Lot, Abraham’s nephew, together with Lot’s family, from the very place that is about to be destroyed. This was not what Abraham had prayed for, and yet it seems quite likely to me that this rescue was in answer to Abraham’s requests. I love this — the Lord provides for Abraham’s family to escape from judgment, even though he did not specifically ask for that.
I called Carol Padfield, a fellow intercessor with many years of experience praying for both family and local needs, plus needs further afield in this country and beyond, and I asked her about this very question. She responded that many young Christians struggle with the possibility of praying something that is wrong, but quickly added that “God does divine editing with our prayers.” God knows our hearts, and he will answer accordingly. The important thing is that we pray.
This is wonderful, and we should not be afraid of getting it wrong sometimes, but that should not deter us from getting as much information as possible before we start praying. I asked Carol how she prays when she receives a request from someone. She responded that she asks the Holy Spirit to guide her and prays as she feels led. On the other hand, if a person gives her more information, that always helps Carol to pray more effectively, and she tends to spend more time praying for situations she has more knowledge about.
For those of us who want to pray for situations in other countries, there are many helpful places to go for information. I particularly want to pray when there has been a recent problem in a country, like a terrorist attack, or flooding. In looking for a news station that is both trustworthy and unbiased I tend to go to BBC World News. Their news is up to date, and they do not appear to have a political agenda in what they share. Something else that I have found helpful is to simply type such things as “how to pray for Afghanistan today” into my search engine and see what comes up. I have discovered some very clear guidelines on how to pray into some volatile situations.
A second situation is when I just want to pray for a country other than my own, perhaps a country that has very little Christian influence. Years ago, I purchased an excellent book called Operation World. It included all the nations in the world, something of their current situation, and how to pray for that nation. I did sometimes wonder, however, if everything I was praying for was still the same. Thanks to the internet, the information from Operation World is now available for free, and it is regularly updated. They also have a prayer calendar, and every day there is a new country or region to pray for. Any day that you have a few minutes to spare, simply type in operationworld.org and you will immediately receive some very helpful information.
The easiest situation to make a mistake in when praying is when we pray for those much closer to home. This is simply because we might be asked to pray for a friend and not be given a lot of details. Since we know this person, we can easily make assumptions about what their current need is. I tend to pray two types of prayers. One is a quick “Lord please bless Bill today,” when Bill comes to mind. The other kind is when I stop and ask the Lord how to pray for Bill, and spend more time listening to the Holy Spirit, and then make requests on Bill’s behalf. Both are valid. I also do some research each week, and then write out some intercession suggestions for those in my church who are committed to praying for others. I include both situations around the world where there is particularly a need for prayer right now and needs from within our church. The latter is much more challenging to write, because often those who are sick or suffering do not want everyone to know about their difficulties. I may only be able to say, “Please pray for Sarah this week, because she is struggling physically.” Then the intercessors can either pray for Sarah to get better or wait on the Holy Spirit for more information. Again, both are valid, and I believe the Lord responds to both. And if I should pray “Please Lord heal Sarah’s stomach,” because I know she has struggled in that area before, and that is not her current difficulty, the Lord still hears me, and moves in response, even if this is not the current pressing need. He knows, and he provides that divine editing.
I know that I didn’t impress anyone in that prayer meeting years ago, and I’m not sure that I learned anything either. The fact that I still recall so clearly what happened lets me know that it certainly upset me at the time. But now, well, I believe I have a better understanding of who the Lord is, and how much he loves both me and my prayers.
Mary Foulger currently lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband Mike. She is a college math instructor who enjoys writing about her faith and living it out.