How to Pray for Someone … When You Don’t Know What to Pray

On many occasions, I’ve sat in the circle of a Bible study group, and as we shared prayer requests, occasionally someone would say, “I have an unspoken prayer request.” And some people do this so often, they just say, “Unspoken.”

I’ll confess I never know what to do with that. I’m clueless how to pray. “God, there’s a need out there. I don’t know whose it is or what they need, but would you take care of it?” We’re called to come before God boldly and confidently (Heb. 4:16), but it’s difficult for me to pray confidently when the request is vague and I don’t even know what I’m asking.

But then I’ve also had these moments when someone’s name or face came to mind. I have no idea why, but I felt a strong, even overwhelming, compulsion to pray for that person. I guess it’s my own version of an unspoken prayer request. I felt strongly led to pray for the person by name, but I was clueless of what to pray. I prayed anyway, standing in the gap for that person. “God, I don’t know what he is facing right now, but strengthen him. Work in his life and let it be obvious that You are at work.”

I’m now using a different approach with these unspoken or unknown needs. I’ve learned to pray with boldness and confidence by embracing a pray Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

I may not know specifically how to pray for an individual, but I can pray that the person would “be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” If I know the person is not a believer, I pray they would become one. I want Christ to dwell in his heart! I also want Christ to dwell—be totally at home—in the heart of a believer too. I pray that Christ would strengthen him to live a life that pleases God.

I can pray the person would be “rooted and firmly established in love.” Paul’s prayer was not just that the believers would be grounded in God’s love, but that they would see just how wide, long, high, and deep His love is. Whether a person is facing something discouraging, debilitating, or difficult, I want him to experience God’s loving presence. No matter what they face, nothing will separate them from God and His infinite love for him (Rom. 8:38-39). This is not a pray just that they would be aware of God’s love; I pray that they would be immersed in God’s love and experience it deeply.

I love the phrase Paul used: “to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge.” It sounds like an oxymoron. How can I know something that is beyond knowing? Paul’s prayer—and mine too—is to know by experience the love of God. I will never fully know and understand that love, but I can still enjoy it. A baby clings to his mother instead of going into the arms of a stranger. That infant doesn’t know how much his mother loves him, but he still trusts that love, rests in it, and enjoys it. That is my prayer for others.

Whatever a person is facing, he needs God’s strength. He needs God’s presence. He needs the comfort, encouragement, and strength that comes from God’s love. I’m working to make this a regular prayer. As the names of people come to mind throughout the day, I want to pray for Christ’s presence and empowerment in their lives. I pray that the love of God would give them the strength and encouragement they need to stand strong.

Can you think of anyone who would not benefit from someone praying this prayer on their behalf? I can’t.

In fact, if you want to pray it for me, I won’t mind.

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