What Does It Mean to Pray for Others?

 

Over the last few years, many of us have expressed our desire to pray for others who have been the victims of savagery, storms, illness and other kinds of suffering. There are times when we can do other things—make donations, help make repairs, offer words of comfort. It occurred to me, though, how much I rely on praying for others as a way to not only offer solace to them, but as a way to relate to G-d and comfort myself. And yet at one time, I didn’t know what praying for others meant.

I grew up in a barely Jewish family that didn’t speak of prayer or of G-d. We did attend High Holiday Services and decorated for Chanukah. I was even sent to Hebrew and Sunday schools. But even there I don’t remember talking about prayer. At services, of course, there were many prayers to recite; when I returned to Judaism, I was amazed at the number of prayers I remembered just from my exposure to them as a child at synagogue. But they were simply verses I recited, rather than my relating to them in a spiritual way.

In recent years, however, I am discovering the meaning of prayer: the daily prayers and what they are actually saying. They are an opportunity to communicate with G-d, to express gratitude, to ask for guidance, and to honor Him. There is also a portion of the daily prayer where we can pray for particular people in our lives. I also feel connected to G-d during my daily meditation.

But praying for others in a spontaneous way or in a deeply personal way is quite different for me. I have personal prayers where I pray for friends, loved ones, victims of one kind or another. But I sometimes wonder how others pray.

I know there are people who don’t believe that praying for others has any effect, and I also suspect that there are people who would love to pray for others but don’t quite know how to do so. What does one say in prayer? Does one make requests? How often does a person do it? Do you have prayers you express from your own faith? Or are they spontaneous prayers? Do you express them at particular times of the day, or do you experience prayer for others throughout the day?

For those who might not know how to relate to praying, I would love for you to share:

What does it mean to pray for others?

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!
    @TheGreatAdventure

    One of my favorites is to ask Him to join in my thought processes during some event – when I’m embarking on a journey in the car or something.  Just join my thoughts with His, asking Him to help make my thoughts worthy.  Sometimes I experience nothing.  Other times I experience joy, awe, any number of… I hesitate to call them “emotions” because that word has been so dumbed down, but you know what I mean.  

    Often those thought processes touch on the people I’m wanting to pray for.  I pray for healing, for protection, for people to know Him better.  But I always try to keep in mind that I don’t know His will – that He is so far beyond my comprehension and that life on this orb will happen.  And I believe He knows of everything that will happen.  I do not believe He causes the pain, the situations where bad things happen.  I believe that He knows they will happen and is available to us when they do. 

    Finally, prayer is not an exercise in me trying to convince Him what a good boy I am.  Been there, experienced the worthlessness of that. 

    • #1
  2. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    Susan Quinn: I grew up in a barely Jewish family that didn’t speak of prayer or of G-d. We did attend High Holiday Services and decorated for Chanukah. I was even sent to Hebrew and Sunday schools. But even there I don’t remember talking about prayer. At services, of course, there were many prayers to recite; when I returned to Judaism, I was amazed at the number of prayers I remembered just from my exposure to them as a child at synagogue. But they were simply verses I recited, rather than my relating to them in a spiritual way.

    This—with a slight swapping of the proper nouns—describes me, too, Susan. And going to Seminary was weirdly unhelpful, since everyone else seemed to know what prayer was about, and the classes didn’t seem to directly address the question of what was meant to happen when one prayed. 

    As it happened, I learned on the job: the mourners I met with in the midst of dreadful circumstances taught me. 

    Then, being me, I wrote a book on the subject, because it struck me that perhaps other people had the same problem. It turned out that quite a few people did! Clearly, our kinda-sorta-barely religious families—holidays and hymns aside—aren’t doing such a hot job of teaching this very basic skill…

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):
    One of my favorites is to ask Him to join in my thought processes during some event – when I’m embarking on a journey in the car or something. Just join my thoughts with His, asking Him to help make my thoughts worthy. Sometimes I experience nothing. Other times I experience joy, awe, any number of… I hesitate to call them “emotions” because that word has been so dumbed down, but you know what I mean.

    I believe I do know what you mean @thegreatadventure! And I love it! To ask G-d to join you in the midst of your thoughts is a powerful and lovely endeavor. I will remember that. Thanks!

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    Then, being me, I wrote a book on the subject, because it struck me that perhaps other people had the same problem. It turned out that quite a few people did! Clearly, our kinda-sorta-barely religious families—holidays and hymns aside—aren’t doing such a hot job of teaching this very basic skill…

    Excellent! I’m so glad there is a resource out there. And you are such a wonderful writer, and have lived the difficulties that go with learning to pray–thank you for posting that. I agree. We simply may not get it from our families, but I love how you suggest that those who need our prayers can essentially teach us how to pray with and for them, simply through our interacting with them. I hadn’t thought of prayer in quite that way. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. DonG Coolidge
    DonG
    @DonG

    Is it bad to write “God”? 

    As a Catholic I’d break prayer into three groups:  (1) requests (2) thanksgiving (3) standard/devotional.  I don’t think people do enough being thankful praying.  We really are blessed.   Thanksgiving is not just a day for eating turkey and watching football.

    • #5
  6. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I say a prayer at night and in the morning – the same prayer.  It’s gotten longer over the years.  If I can’t sleep or feel edgy, I’ll start it and usually fall asleep during or right after. It’s purposeful and sometimes I’m tired and push myself, in other words, not spontaneous.  I may say a short spontaneous prayer at any given time just because – it may be interpreted as just a sentence or two communication with God.  I did that after reading the headlines this morning, and several clergy posts – sigh…….

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DonG (View Comment):
    Is it bad to write “God”? 

    No. We’ve discussed this in other posts, too. In Hebrew, G-d’s name is not spoken or spelled out. So in English, some Jews choose to honor that, too, but it’s not necessary. Just another reminder of the sacred. Thanks for your thoughts on prayer, too, @dong!

    • #7
  8. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    our kinda-sorta-barely religious families—holidays and hymns aside—aren’t doing such a hot job of teaching this very basic skill…

    I don’t think prayer is basic at all. After all, sometimes prayer comes easily. Sometimes you feel an incredible connection (Jews call it “kavanah”). Sometimes…. nada.

    It takes two to connect. Prayer is hard.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    our kinda-sorta-barely religious families—holidays and hymns aside—aren’t doing such a hot job of teaching this very basic skill…

    I don’t think prayer is basic at all. After all, sometimes prayer comes easily. Sometimes you feel an incredible connection (Jews call it “kavanah”). Sometimes…. nada.

    It takes two to connect. Prayer is hard.

    Maybe. If we believe that G-d is always there, we can always pray. We may not feel that we’re always getting an answer or that we’re having a deep connection at any given time, but prayer isn’t necessarily difficult if we don’t burden it with expectations.

    • #9
  10. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    I start and end the day with Psalm 63:

    1. ¶ O God, thou art my God, I seek thee,
        my soul thirsts for thee;
      my flesh faints for thee,
        as in a dry and weary land where no water is.
    2. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary,
        beholding thy power and glory.
    3. Because thy steadfast love is better than life,
        my lips will praise thee.
    4. So I will bless thee as long as I live;
        I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
    5. ¶ My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat,
        and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips,
    6. when I think of thee upon my bed,
        and meditate on thee in the watches of the night;
    7. for thou hast been my help,
        and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy.
    8. My soul clings to thee;
        thy right hand upholds me.
    9. ¶ But those who seek to destroy my life
        shall go down into the depths of the earth;
    10. they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
        they shall be prey for jackals.
    11. But the king shall rejoice in God;
        all who swear by him shall glory;
        for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

    I find this a good way to orient my mind, heart, and will to conform to His will. I am not very good at this, but as Eliot said “Ours is in the trying, the rest is not our business.”

    • #10
  11. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Here is an excellent presentation on prayer offered by Sir Roger Scruton:

    • #11
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I don’t believe. I assume that prayer for me or for others is without effect. 

    Except. 

    Except that prayer on my behalf means that someone is setting aside time to wish me well in a sober and heartfelt, rather than a ‘have a nice day’ sense. 

    Prayer on behalf of suffering groups means much the same sense. Sure, it can be considered ‘lip service’, but it is so much more as there are no witnesses (or One witness who will know if you don’t really mean what you say), so it is a gift on their behalf. 

    Gifts are often useless or unappreciated. 

    There is an old joke about a man on his deathbed whose son asks if he wants to talk to the Rabbi. The guy says, ‘Only if he thinks it might help him’. 

    So there’s that too; prayer is the reinforcing behavior of giving a [redact]. That alone is worth the price of admission. 

    • #12
  13. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!
    @TheGreatAdventure

    I posted this as an OP yesterday and it didn’t attract much attention.  But please do yourself a favor and spend 20 minutes.

    • #13
  14. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude
    @GrannyDude

    iWe (View Comment):

    GrannyDude (View Comment):
    our kinda-sorta-barely religious families—holidays and hymns aside—aren’t doing such a hot job of teaching this very basic skill…

    I don’t think prayer is basic at all. After all, sometimes prayer comes easily. Sometimes you feel an incredible connection (Jews call it “kavanah”). Sometimes…. nada.

    It takes two to connect. Prayer is hard.

    I find it very hard sometimes and not hard at all at others, meaning that I agree with you! 

    Can “kavanah” be associated with intense sorrow or joy, those moments when there is simply nothing else but prayer? That’s where I see that  people who have a religious tradition or practice have something that those who do not might lack: It is not that the religious are more likely to say “let’s pray” or more likely to accept their losses with equanimity. Rather, it’s that when they are knocked to their knees by grief,  they have at least some glimmer of an idea of what they might do while they’re down there. If they are angry, at least they know whom their rage must be directed toward. 

     

    TBA (View Comment):

    I don’t believe. I assume that prayer for me or for others is without effect.

    Except.

    Except that prayer on my behalf means that someone is setting aside time to wish me well in a sober and heartfelt, rather than a ‘have a nice day’ sense.

    Prayer on behalf of suffering groups means much the same sense. Sure, it can be considered ‘lip service’, but it is so much more as there are no witnesses (or One witness who will know if you don’t really mean what you say), so it is a gift on their behalf.

    Gifts are often useless or unappreciated.

    There is an old joke about a man on his deathbed whose son asks if he wants to talk to the Rabbi. The guy says, ‘Only if he thinks it might help him’.

    So there’s that too; prayer is the reinforcing behavior of giving a [redact]. That alone is worth the price of admission.

    I agree with you, TBA: this, alone, is worth the price of admission. 

    • #14
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    GrannyDude (View Comment):

    Rather, it’s that when they are knocked to their knees by grief, they have at least some glimmer of an idea of what they might do while they’re down there. If they are angry, at least they know whom their rage must be directed toward.

    Some might call it a guide rail, some might call it a crutch. 

    All I know is that it helps people not be miserable selfish bastards and so I like it. 

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    I find this a good way to orient my mind, heart, and will to conform to His will. I am not very good at this, but as Eliot said “Ours is in the trying, the rest is not our business.”

    Thanks, @mikerapkoch. What a beautiful testament to the power of prayer. And the Psalms are so inspiring.

    • #16
  17. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I just say, “Lord please be with so-and-so” or “please watch over so-and-so.”  In 2016, every night I said “Please watch over us all and guide our leaders and don’t let her win.”   So it works!

    • #17
  18. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    There was a movie I watched once that seriously influenced my prayer life. I recommend it to anyone  – War Room (2015).

    From the synopsis

    Elizabeth, a realtor, goes to work with the elderly Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) to sell her house. Miss Clara senses the stress Elizabeth is under, and suggests that Elizabeth fight for their marriage by praying for Tony. Miss Clara shows Elizabeth a special closet she has dedicated to praying, and calls it her “War Room” because as she puts it, “In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray.” 

    It encouraged me to set up my own virtual war room for my prayer life using Google Keep. I use the Label “War Room” to maintain 4 ‘pinned’ lists of things that matter to me. There is Prayer, Answered Prayer, Blessings, Blessings on My Mind Today.

    The “Prayer” list is the current list of people that I am praying for. I pray for them each time I do my morning devotional. Periodically, whenever it seems like I have been praying for the same thing for a while, I follow up with the person to see how things are going. If I find their situation has resolved, I move their name to the “Answered Prayer” list with the date and what the resolution was. I maintain the “Blessing” list with things I am grateful for and the “Blessings on my Mind” today list is for those things that have struck me as particularly beautiful or that I am grateful that day for. 

    Additionally, as I am studying my bible, if I find a particularly apt verse, I clip it to its own note, along with whatever struck me about that thing. Further, as I study the history presented in the bible I update my understanding of bible chronology or history.

     

     

    • #18
  19. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Instugator (View Comment):

    There was a movie I watched once that seriously influenced my prayer life. I recommend it to anyone – War Room (2015).

    From the synopsis

    Elizabeth, a realtor, goes to work with the elderly Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) to sell her house. Miss Clara senses the stress Elizabeth is under, and suggests that Elizabeth fight for their marriage by praying for Tony. Miss Clara shows Elizabeth a special closet she has dedicated to praying, and calls it her “War Room” because as she puts it, “In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray.”

    It encouraged me to set up my own virtual war room for my prayer life using Google Keep. I use the Label “War Room” to maintain 4 ‘pinned’ lists of things that matter to me. There is Prayer, Answered Prayer, Blessings, Blessings on My Mind Today.

    The “Prayer” list is the current list of people that I am praying for. I pray for them each time I do my morning devotional. Periodically, whenever it seems like I have been praying for the same thing for a while, I follow up with the person to see how things are going. If I find their situation has resolved, I move their name to the “Answered Prayer” list with the date and what the resolution was. I maintain the “Blessing” list with things I am grateful for and the “Blessings on my Mind” today list is for those things that have struck me as particularly beautiful or that I am grateful that day for.

    Additionally, as I am studying my bible, if I find a particularly apt verse, I clip it to its own note, along with whatever struck me about that thing. Further, as I study the history presented in the bible I update my understanding of bible chronology or history.

     

     

    Well thanks a lot for makin me look bad

    • #19
  20. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Well thanks a lot for makin me look bad

    I’ll put you on my prayer list.

    • #20
  21. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Instugator (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Well thanks a lot for makin me look bad

    I’ll put you on my prayer list.

    hahaha!

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I just say, “Lord please be with so-and-so” or “please watch over so-and-so.” In 2016, every night I said “Please watch over us all and guide our leaders and don’t let her win.” So it works!

    Thank you for doing that, RA!

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Instugator (View Comment):

    There was a movie I watched once that seriously influenced my prayer life. I recommend it to anyone – War Room (2015).

    From the synopsis

    Elizabeth, a realtor, goes to work with the elderly Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) to sell her house. Miss Clara senses the stress Elizabeth is under, and suggests that Elizabeth fight for their marriage by praying for Tony. Miss Clara shows Elizabeth a special closet she has dedicated to praying, and calls it her “War Room” because as she puts it, “In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray.”

    It encouraged me to set up my own virtual war room for my prayer life using Google Keep. I use the Label “War Room” to maintain 4 ‘pinned’ lists of things that matter to me. There is Prayer, Answered Prayer, Blessings, Blessings on My Mind Today.

    The “Prayer” list is the current list of people that I am praying for. I pray for them each time I do my morning devotional. Periodically, whenever it seems like I have been praying for the same thing for a while, I follow up with the person to see how things are going. If I find their situation has resolved, I move their name to the “Answered Prayer” list with the date and what the resolution was. I maintain the “Blessing” list with things I am grateful for and the “Blessings on my Mind” today list is for those things that have struck me as particularly beautiful or that I am grateful that day for.

    Additionally, as I am studying my bible, if I find a particularly apt verse, I clip it to its own note, along with whatever struck me about that thing. Further, as I study the history presented in the bible I update my understanding of bible chronology or history.

     

     

    That is wonderful, @instugator. Prayer really does fill your life in such a sweet way. Thank you for sharing your process. I’m truly inspired.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Well now, @rightangles, @instugator, it’s not a competition. You both have more devotion than most people!  ;-)

    • #24
  25. Michael Brehm Coolidge
    Michael Brehm
    @MichaelBrehm

    I heard this story once that dealt with one of the Desert Fathers, one of those holy hermits who figured so heavily into the early Christian Monastic tradition. I’ll try to recount it here as best I can:

    =====

    A young monk visited the head of the order with a problem, “Abbe, I have a terrible wracking pain in my foot, but on top of this I have an even greater problem: I do not know whether I should pray that the pain should cease, or as it was sent by God, should I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the pain in my foot and for the strength to endure it and allow it to make me holier.”

    The old man stroked his beard and said, “It is good that you came to see me, my son. When you pray, it is good and important to choose the right words. Well, when you were a little toddler, you did not know all the words that you know now. When you have so few words it’s hard to find the right one to say exactly what you want. So what did you say to your mother and father when you stubbed your toe or had a stomach ache or were hungry?

    “‘Toe!’ perhaps or ‘tummy’ if I was hungry or had indigestion.” the young monk replied.

    “And then your mother or father would come over tend to you.” The Desert Father said “They knew exactly what to do to stop your tears and put you at your ease. Do you see? That is how you should approach God now. If your foot ails you, simply say to Him, ‘Foot!’ as you did to daddy and mommy when you were a child. Trust in Him; He will know best to deal with your foot.”

    ======

    If you want to pray for someone, and don’t know exactly what to pray for, just try saying their name and/or recalling their face and send it to God. He’ll know what’s best for them. (This also works if you don’t know their name or can place their face too.)

     

    • #25
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):
    If you want to pray for someone, and don’t know exactly what to pray for, just try saying their name and/or recalling their face and send it to God. He’ll know what’s best for them. (This also works if you don’t know their name or can place their face too.)

    @michaelbrehm, a great story. And there’s much wisdom in your final comment–an especially astute suggestion for those who don’t know quite what to do when their hearts reach out to others. Thank you.

    • #26
  27. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    In 2016, every night I said “Please watch over us all and guide our leaders and don’t let her win.” So it works!

    Thank you for doing that, RA!

    Don’t mention it. Get up in the morning, make the bed, save the Republic. It’s all in a day’s work.

    • #27
  28. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Susan, my wife and I lead the prayer ministry at out church. I think many people overthink what a vibrant prayer life looks like. First and foremost I believe God wants us to have the courage to be willing to pray. He wants us to trust Him for big things, miracles,  provision, life transformation. If we’re willing to obey in praying (alone with Him, with our spouses, for others etc…) then we get to take part in His miraculous works. Like the child who offered up the small meal he had to Jesus, and got to be a part of Him multiplying it to feed thousands. 

    We had a miraculous healing at our church the other day. He is constantly working through prayer if we have faith enough to ask. Here is a book we recommend in our ministry: The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind Expanded Edition: Access to a Life of Miracles https://www.amazon.com/dp/0768404207/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_7xD4BbNTK5H9V

    • #28
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