Have you ever been prompted to pray for someone, but you have no idea why?
On Monday morning, July 17, 2000, the name of a woman – whom I barely knew at the time – came into my mind, along with a sense that I was to pray for her. Her name is Marianne Flori, and she has since become a special friend across the miles.
In 1976, she and her parents – Hanni & Werner Fricker-Alder from Aarau, Switzerland – were traveling around the USA. While eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, my parents were seated next to them, and a conversation began. A few days later my parents drove to their hotel and brought them to our home. After dinner, they took Marianne to the college group Bible study at our church, and at the conclusion, she accompanied my sister Karen and some of her friends for ice cream. I led the Bible study that evening and was introduced to her, but I don’t recall the event. *
Three years later during my travels around Europe, Hanni & Werner graciously hosted me in their home in Switzerland for a week. Marianne was living in New Zealand during that time.
Twenty-one years later I was prompted to pray for her. Why? What should I say? No clue. But on that day, and several times over the next week, I lifted her name to God.
The following week, I wrote a letter to her parents. I informed them of the prompting I had received and inquired about Marianne’s well-being.
Thus began an email conversation between Marianne and me, in which I shared the day and time of my prompting. She shared with me that on that day – and adjusting for Central Europe time – she was walking in a forest near her home.
No, it wasn’t the famous Black Forest of Germany. But she was definitely in a dark place, crying out to God in her overwhelming despair and anxiety. The complexities of a blended family with four teenage children had put further stress on an already over-strained marriage. Several times in the weeks prior, and again on this day, she questioned whether she could carry on.
But something happened on that forest path – Marianne discovered she wasn’t alone. Here are her own words, reflecting on that moment years later:
When you prayed for me
I could physically feel
that the weight became less;
I felt carried along,
I felt strengthened spiritually,
and with a lasting effect.
The prompting I received still amazes me. God held our respective hands halfway around the earth, and gently led me to pray for her. I knew nothing about Marianne. I have no idea what I said in my prayer.
But I did know some wonderful truths about our God: The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. **
Did you notice the underlined words? Everyone, all his creation – that just about covers it. God leans in towards those who are stumbling along in life, and absolutely loves to calm storms and lift spirits. That’s who he is. What he does.
Let’s think deeper about Marianne’s experience. God didn’t need me to pray before he could lift her out of the pit. My specific words were not his marching orders for which he had to wait. He could have lifted her spirit immediately with no involvement from me.
So why was I prompted? So that she and I – and now you who are reading this – would realize that there is a fundamental connection in life between God and other people, and prayer is often the bridge.
You and I were never designed to thrive apart from God. When we separate ourselves from him, we languish and die. Inherently, we know that.
But we were also never intended to run this race apart from other people. Hermits are not healthy; solitary confinement is the worst form of torture. The path of life to which we are called is marked by loving God and loving others; praying for people is a foundational part of that intimate link.
Bolstered by this knowledge, God invites you to become one who sensitively and compassionately prays for others, whoever they are or whatever they’ve done. This is often called intercessory prayer – one person intercedes before God on behalf of another.
Have no idea what to say? Three simple and similar lines are all you need. 1. I’ll pray for you. 2. Can I pray for you now? 3. I’ve been praying for you.
I’ll pray for you
The power of this phrase can’t be overstated. Many times I’ve had people share with me through their tears – no one has ever prayed for me.
Whether you have an inner prompting to pray, like I did, or you’re with someone who shares with you the details of their rough patch in life, connect that person with God by lifting them up by name. And leave it to his Spirit to take it from there.
Please remember: if you ever say the words I’ll pray for you, then do it … which is a good segue into the next phrase.
Can I pray for you now?
Yes. In the moment. In the grocery aisle. On the phone. In front of your neighbor’s home. At Starbucks.
Here’s a tragic reality: The phrase I’ll pray for you can either be incredibly comforting, or just another hollow promise. When you quickly follow up your offer with the word now, you’ve given an assurance that you mean it.
Why ask permission? It’s a common courtesy, but it also communicates a tender spirit. If you are standing with the person, you might also ask if you can put a hand on their shoulder while you pray. A gentle touch has deep power.
Keep your prayer short and simple – no mini-sermons, Christianese lingo, or pious platitudes. The Good Shepherd has promised to be present in the darkest valleys of our lives; claim that for your friend.
I’ve been praying for you
Lift your friend to God again and again as you have the opportunity. Writing it on a prayer list is a helpful memory jog.
And if possible, follow up with a phone call or a note a few weeks later, and again a few months after that. This will confirm that your first statement was genuine: I’ll pray for you.
OK. Are you ready to begin? Or do you feel a sense of reservation, unable to imagine saying these words to someone? That’s completely understandable.
But part of the joy of living with God is becoming aware of his ability to do far more than you can ever imagine, including this awesome adventure: you can be a part of his work in someone’s life just by praying.
Which is what happened with Marianne and me. She continues to walk with God to this day. We send greetings and updates to each other on our birthdays. In 2007, Linda and I traveled to Europe, and we had dinner in her home, along with her parents and her husband Hans-Ruedi. Soon she will retire from her position for the last twelve years as secretary for her church, which will give her more time with her dear horse, Estoril.
So how do you begin your own adventure with God? It all starts with a simple four-word prayer that sums up your openness to his working, one uttered by Abraham, Moses, Samuel and David: Here I am, Lord!
Benediction of Blessing:
May you thank God for the times he has rescued you when your spirits were crushed.
May you accept his invitation to be a bridge between your God and others.
May your life be summed up by your daily prayer of openness to God’s work, “Here I am, Lord!”
* Marianne has kept a diary for years, which accounts for the specific details of our first meeting.
** Psalm 145:9 and 34:18, New Living Translation.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM