She came to me in a state of desperation. Her seven-year-old son had spent a year fighting cancer, and he had just lost the battle. She had a deep faith and knew that he was with the Lord. But, like all of us, she is a fallen, finite human and her mama’s heart was shattered. Her arms were aching with emptiness, and her entire being was in a state of panic. She needed hope and a way through. In her moment of greatest need, she looked to me for help. What’s the most powerful response that I could give?
Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation. Someone comes to you in terrible grief. Or maybe she brings a sin she’s struggling to overcome. It could be depression she just can’t shake. Perhaps it’s a complicated situation that she’s not sure how to navigate—someone else has sinned against her or has a great need she cannot meet. Regardless of the situation, the question in the face of need is the same: What’s the most powerful response that you could give?
Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.
I can think of a few gracious options. You could listen well and sympathize with her situation. The Lord did this time and time again and Paul instructs us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). You could verbally process with her, giving her any experience or wisdom you might have like we see in several epistles.
What if, in addition to these options, you added, “I will pray for you”? Would this seem like the most powerful response you could give? Sometimes, I think, it can sound cliché or be annoying. In relationships, “I’ll pray for you” can be like a “get out of jail free” card when you’re unwilling to engage. Or, in the face of overwhelming suffering, it can feel trite or empty. But that’s only when we don’t understand prayer rightly. In contrast to this, prayer is our most powerful response—by far.
You can’t bring her son back, and you can’t stop the panic. You can’t say to your friend, “I’ll give you the strength to overcome that sin.” You can’t shake her depression for her. You can’t enable the people who hurt her to repent. You want to because you love her, but you are powerless to give her what she needs.
But when you pray for her . . . well, now you are asking the One who loves her most to do what he has the power to do—act in her life to transform her and others. Her Father will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen her to overcome sin and to comfort her in her sorrow. He will give the wisdom to know what other steps to take. He will move in the hearts of those who have sinned against her. He will enable her to forgive. He will give her everything she needs. Most importantly, he will remind her of the gospel and give her himself.
When you pray for her, now you are asking the One who loves her most to do what only he has the power to do—act in her life to transform
The problem is, it’s easy to say those things, but it is harder to believe them when you’re sitting face to face with your friend. At that moment, her pain and her circumstances will appear more real than what is unseen. It will seem as if those things are the tangible reality that is right in front of you, while Jesus and the gospel are somehow far in the background, not quite connected to the moment in which you live. When you pray, you can’t offer immediate solutions. When you pray, you are not in control. When you pray, you are completely dependent. And that can be scary, both for you and your friend.
What you need is a clear picture of who God is and what he’s willing to do. And you need the faith to believe it. In the context of bearing fruit, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). There’s that difficult part that makes us all uncomfortable—you don’t have the solutions, you are not in control, and you are dependent.
Thankfully, Jesus added, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7). Jesus, who made this promise is the eternal Son of God who became human, was despised and forsaken and died a horrific death on a humiliating cross—one we all deserved—so that you could be reconciled to him and given eternal life. And he’s saying, “If you keep remaining in me and you keep holding onto the gospel, you can ask and I will answer!”
Better still, Jesus later says that we can make our requests to the Father, who welcomes us (Jn. 16:26-27). The author of Hebrews says that the things that Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection have opened the door for us to have access to the very presence of God (Heb. 10:19-22). We can ask the Father—the one in sovereign control of absolutely everything—for what we need and can rest assured that he will answer.
Your Heavenly Father is real, and he is reigning, and he is willing to hear your requests and answer. He is not in the background, and he is intimately connected to and acquainted with your friend and what she needs. So take heart! Begin by asking for greater faith—for eyes to see the unseen reality of the Almighty God, who is your generous Father—he will give it. And then pray for your friend.
Here are four ways to consider entering into another’s life in prayer.
1. Ask your friends how you can pray for them
Specifically, what do they want God to do? Remind them of God’s promises as you talk, the ones you just read about here. Talk about how God answers the way that he wants, so that she is reminded that we submit to God’s authority as we pray. But don’t let that mitigate his promises to hear and answer. He wants to hear our specific requests.
Think about Hezekiah. He was sick and Isaiah told him he would die. Hezekiah prayed, and God answered, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life” (Is. 38:5). Of course, God is not obligated to answer exactly as we’ve asked. But he does want to hear our requests. He will either grant them—he often does!—or we can trust that he has a reason that is in our best interest for withholding them. But never forget that specific prayer accomplishes great things (Js. 5:16).
2. Pray together right then and there
This can be awkward. Embrace it. It’s worth it when you think about what you’re accomplishing. When you pray together, you are coming into the presence of the Father together. He welcomes you as daughters. He has generously given you his Son, and there is nothing good that he will withhold. Even if your friend has to wait to see the outcome of her prayers, she will be comforted by God’s presence and promises as you pray as one. Your relationship with God and each other will deepen and grow.
3. Remember to pray and keep praying
This is what you’ll do if you expect the Lord to answer. God is not a genie, granting wishes at our command. But God does tell his redemptive story in each of our lives. This means that he’s going to take the time to answer. He will make you wait for your faith and perseverance to grow; it’s one of the most common themes in the Bible! This waiting can be extremely difficult. So remind your friend that the story is moving forward, even when it seems to us like nothing is happening. Look for common themes together. These might be ways in which he comforts her, like reminding her that he is a good Shepherd or a faithful friend. Often, as we pray, God is developing fruit in us, such as patience and peace. Notice together when the friend who sinned against her is kind to her. Seeing these themes will remind you both that the Holy Spirit is at work, writing a redemptive story.
Praying for someone is an act of devoted love. Our love for each other imitates God’s love for us. He is patient with us. He never leaves us. He doesn’t get frustrated with us or give up halfway through. As Paul writes, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7-8). When you can say to your friend, “I have been praying for you.” She will know that you have not forsaken her. This faithfulness, in turn, will remind her that neither has her faithful Father.
Sisters, this is what we need as we labor in ministry to others. Not paltry platitudes for each other, but the powerful response of believing prayer that perseveres to the end. Let’s persist together today. Someday we will see the glorious end of the Story, a tapestry of answered prayers. For now, remember that prayer is the most powerful response you can give.
Katie Roberts has taught women’s Bible studies for the past twelve years and has led women’s ministry at her church in Eugene for the past six. She is passionate about teaching the Bible to women, especially in the light of how all of the Scripture points to Jesus. She finds great joy in seeing the Spirit transform her heart and the hearts of others as he reveals Christ in the gospel. But most of all, she longs for the return of Jesus when she will see his face and be made like him. Katie is currently a student at Western Seminary and will graduate with her MA in Biblical and Theological Studies in April. Katie is a co-founder and co-director of the Verity Fellowship.
Adapted from The Verity Fellowship, “You Are Not Alone- Four Ways to Be Devoted in Prayer.” Used with permission.