Prayer Requests

Written by Drew on March 17th, 2008

Earlier this month, the issue of prayer requests was brought to my attention by friends of mine on two different occasions. Specifically, the question was, “Why do some Christians keep their health problems private?” Both of my companions strongly believe that brothers and sisters in Christ ought to share their struggles with their church family so that prayers can be offered on their behalf. The example of infertility was raised–why don’t our modern-day Rachels want their brethren to pray for God to open their wombs?

One of my friends argued that withholding prayer requests constitutes robbery: When we don’t tell the church about our problems we rob our brethren of an opportunity for prayer, he said, and we rob God of an opportunity to answer those prayers.

This is a question that is close to my heart, having dealt with infertility first-hand. At first, I didn’t want to comment on it because I knew my position would disagree with the arguments stated above. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a question that deserves a proper discussion. I’m writing my thoughts in hopes that my readers will respond with their own ideas. Maybe the discussion will prompt us all to be more prayerful and thoughtful towards those who are experiencing personal struggles.

One of the reasons that some Christians keep their health-related struggles private is because some matters are extremely personal and need to stay out of the public arena. Infertility is a good example. The problem is more widespread than many people realize and most couples who suffer from it choose to keep their pain to themselves. It’s different from having a gall bladder removed or having an apendectomy. People who haven’t suffered from infertility simply do not understand how complicated the problem is. The treatments are rather embarrassing. Tough, ethical decisions have to be made throughout the process of pursuing pregnancy. When it is known that you are dealing with infertility, people tend to pity you when others are expecting, which makes it difficult to give the proper encouragement to those who are experiencing the joy of childbirth. In addition to all these things are the insulting statements that come from well-meaning brethren, things like, “Just relax,” and, “Just watch. Now that you’ve adopted, you’ll have one of your own.”

I can only speak from one perspective. I’m sure that others who have dealt with things like prostate cancer, breast cancer, marital problems, homosexual family members, financial problems, and mental illness could list a number of other reasons to keep their struggles private.

Don’t get me wrong. My wife and I asked others to pray for us. The barren womb never says, “Enough” (Prov. 30:15-16). This is one problem that we did not want to face without God’s help.

However, at the time we did not want to publish a very private matter on page two of the bulletin. The matter was handled among our closest Christian friends and family members, and we believe that, as a result, God has answered our prayers.

Speaking of prayer, where in the Bible does it say that prayers have a compounding effect? Since the advent of the Internet, a phenomenon has developed whereby prayer requests are forwarded over and over again by email. The thinking behind this practice is the more prayers, the better. I want to know where it stops. Are ten prayers better than five? Are 100 better than ten? Are 1,000 better than 100? On and on it could go.

Who are these people that are praying for us? And do they know who they are praying for? The Bible does teach that there are some things and some people that we should not pray for (1 Jn. 5:16-17). The effective prayers that I read about in the Bible are personal in nature, uttered by petitioners with a strong connection to the beneficiaries of their prayers.

James encourages prayer on an individual basis. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jas. 5:16). While they do imply the concept of a prayer list in the church bulletin, the immediate force of these verses is the power of one man praying for someone in need.

I believe in the power of prayer, and I think that it is good for churches to pray together on behalf of someone who is struggling. However, I think prayer requests ought to be left up to those in need. If our objective is to show them how much we care, then we will respect their privacy.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    I agree completely, Drew, I am thankful that you had the courage to speak out on the subject. (I would consider Hannah a good example of a private issue handled by essentially private prayer.)

  2. David Courington says:

    Sometimes it is difficult to know whether to publicize our problems. Doing so could in some cases make problems worse. But we can pray for people without airing all of the specifics of their ailments.
    I can’t see how having thousands, or more, to pray for us could be a problem. The church prayed for Peter(Ac. 12:5) How many and why the church and not just one or two of them? They were all concerned. That is in keeping with “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.”(1 Cor 12:26) Would I not be concerned enough to pray for a brother or sister, even if I did not know them well. My sister in law is high on the liver transplant list at UAB. Pray for her. If the prayer of a righteous man avails much, then how could the prayers of thousands not avail more? Paul thought the prayers of many brethren helped him.(2 Cor 1:11).

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