PRAYING LOVING PRAYERS
by Eric Elder
Can I share with you something from my heart that I’ve learned about prayer in the last two weeks?
Two weeks ago, I was talking to a dear friend who’s going through a painful divorce. At the end of our conversation, I said something that I thought was incredibly loving and kind. I said that, even after all that she had shared with me about her divorce, I was still praying that if there was any way possible, even at this late hour, that God would bring about a reconciliation.
She said, “Eric, if you have even one speck of love for me, you will never, ever, ever pray that prayer for me again.”
I was totally caught off guard by her reaction. While I meant well with my prayer, and I have seen God pull off miracles at the 11th hour in similar situations, what I didn’t realize was how my prayer sounded to her ears. She felt betrayed. Hurt. And the pain on her face was excruciating.
What to me was an expression of a last sliver of hope for her situation was to her like a 10-ton weight that I had just dropped on top of her. In one fell swoop, I had negated her thousands of hours of praying about the situation, her decades of wrestling through and trying to do everything she could possibly do to avoid what she now felt God was leading her to do. I had invalidated the very real and very difficult decision she had finally come to, a decision that she felt went against everything she had ever believed in, and was going to cost her immeasurably in terms of her family, her friends and her standing in the Christian community.
The pain I caused her in that moment was as real and as strong as any of the other pain she had experienced over the years.
I went home and cried. And I’ve been crying on and off every day for the past two weeks–not just about how I hurt her with my prayers, but how I’ve hurt others in similar ways by similar prayers over the years. While my prayer was a true statement of my belief in a God who can do anything, absolutely anything, it wasn’t kind. It wasn’t loving. And it caused real pain.
While I believe it’s right and good and God-pleasing to have strong, deeply held beliefs, I don’t believe it’s right and good and God-pleasing to express those beliefs–in prayer or otherwise–in a way that crushes others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not kind. It’s not loving. And it causes real pain.
We cannot sacrifice others on the altar of our beliefs–especially when there’s a better way.
I’m not wanting to discourage you from praying for others. I’m wanting to encourage you to be sensitive to how others might receive your words, even those words that you believe are right and true and good.
Even Jesus held back at times from sharing the full weight of what He could have said because He knew His words would have crushed those who heard them. When He was heading to His imminent death, Jesus told His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).
It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t want to tell them everything. It’s just that He knew that if He told them in that moment, His words would have crushed them.
If there’s one thing I could share with you today, it would be this: Don’t sacrifice others on the altar of your belief. Instead, come alongside them in prayer. Pray prayers that you can stand behind AND which express your love for them in a way that they can hear it.
How can we do this? It can be as simple as asking, “What do you want me to pray for you?” Then listen to their response and pray the best possible prayer you can pray that honors their request.
Jesus did the same. He didn’t presume. On several occasions, He simply asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (see Mark 10:36 and 10:51).
So I asked my friend whom I had hurt so deeply, “What do you want me to pray for you?”
She said, “Pray that I would be able to truly love my husband through all of this. I want to be able to do that no matter what happens with our marriage.” Now that was a prayer I could stand behind. That was a prayer I could pray with my whole heart AND which would express my love for her in a way that she could truly hear it.
Don’t sacrifice others on the altar of your belief. Come alongside them in prayer. Pray prayers that you CAN stand behind AND which express your love for them in a way that they can truly hear it. As the apostle Paul said, “…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2b).
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about prayer, and how you can have a more effective prayer life, I’d love for you to join Greg Potzer and me for a “Guided Prayer Retreat” in December. We only have 12 spots left, so let us know soon if you’re interested in joining us in person at The Cove in North Carolina. (You’ll also be able to join us for the event live online, but we’d love to meet you in person if you can come!) Click here for more details or to register to join us in person!