There are over 7.5 billion people in the world. How many of them do I pray for?
It’s easy to pray for what feel like the most pressing requests, which usually means the requests that impact me the most. We get so wrapped up in our own needs and worries. Tomorrow’s responsibilities. Next week’s plans. That irritating detail that may derail our schedule this weekend. The friend that won’t text us back.
So many people in our world, including in our local communities, face needs and problems every day. Many may not know God, and certainly aren’t able to rely on Him to face their difficulties. With the love and security we have in Christ, we are perfectly positioned to spend time praying for others’ needs in addition to our own. But how often do we? Our view of the world becomes myopic as we become consumed with our personal problems and lose sight of what others are facing.
Naomi, the bitter one
When Naomi first returned to her Israelite homeland in the book of Ruth, she told her friends to quit calling her Naomi, which means “pleasant,” and to instead call her Mara, meaning “bitter.” To be fair, Naomi had legitimate reasons for grief: her husband and sons dead and buried in a foreign country, with no heir in sight to care for her in her old age. But she refused to trust God to take care of her needs, choosing instead to be overwhelmed by her problems. She closed her eyes to the miracles in front of her, like a daughter-in-law who insisted on staying with Naomi despite her fatalistic outlook.
But while Naomi was counting her losses, her God was designing a story that would provide for Naomi and include her in His plan to bring salvation to the world. Not until God’s provision was overwhelmingly obvious did Naomi take her eyes off her own misfortunes. How much more might she have seen if she had chosen to trust? How much do we miss out on by focusing on our problems instead of looking for what else God might be doing around us?
A different prayer
Let’s try this challenge: Don’t pray for your own prayer requests today. Instead, praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done — and what He is certainly doing now that we can only guess at. Then, while you’re at it, take some time to pray for others’ needs. Who knows how God might use your prayers in a story He is writing?
Seven and a half billion is a lot of people. (In fact, if I did the math right and we spent five seconds praying for each person on earth, it would take 1189 years of around-the-clock praying to get through everyone.) It makes sense to start with the people we know best: family, friends, fellow church members. What worries have they told you about? Which concerns can you guess they may be keeping to themselves?
Paul told us to pray for everyone, but he singled out authority figures in particular. Government leaders at the national level probably come to mind first, but leaders at the state and local level also wield a lot of influence. With the next election creeping up on us, this is the perfect time to start praying for those who will return to familiar positions or enter new ones. Unelected leaders such as judges, court justices and advisors all make decisions that affect others. Leaders don’t even have to be in politics: Movie directors and TV show writers hold enormous influence in our society, as do authors and teachers. Employers and managers impact customers and employees everywhere. Our church leaders face decisions we often never know about.
How often do we pray for missionaries in other countries and right here in our own communities? Local pregnancy resource center staff? First responders? Organizations and the people they serve, such as homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters? What about children in foster care — including some in your community who may have entered the system today or will be picked up by child protective services tonight?
When did I last pray for people in Ukraine, Afghanistan or Myanmar? There are countless tragedies around the world that show no sign of letting up. Famines, wars, preventable diseases, extreme poverty, oppressive governments. “Our prayers can go where we cannot,” Brother Andrew wrote. “There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”
Prayer and trust
The Bible tells us to make our requests known to God, to ask our heavenly Father for our needs just as we would ask our earthly parents. Yes, it is good and right to pray for our own needs, and how comforting it is to know that none of our problems are too petty or insignificant to bring before God. There is nothing more spiritual about not praying about our own needs — we show faith in God when we ask Him for what we need.
But just this once — or maybe every once in a while — it would be good for us to pray exclusively for others’ needs. To take our eyes off our own problems and step into others’ concerns, trusting that our God is big enough to also hear the prayers that go unsaid.