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When General Prayers Just Aren’t Enough

When General Prayers Just Aren’t Enough

I hated to ask it, but I just had to.

I needed to ask the question, to a new friend, who has learned that her unborn child is going to die. Probably even before she gets to meet him. When you’re facing that, questions from people about the specifics aren’t exactly on the “ok” list.

But I had to ask it anyway:

How would you best like me to pray?”

I asked it, because it’s a question that was monumentally important for me that people ask, when it was my baby that was dying.

Don’t Pray for a Miracle

You’d think the answer to that question would be obvious: Pray for a miracle. But, I discovered, it’s not obvious. In fact, sometimes the last thing you want is for people to be wasting their time praying for something that you know is not going to occur [insert here a theologically correct statement about how it’s never a waste to pray to the Lord for anything]. You’d rather their prayers go toward the things you do believe will or can occur, according to the path the Lord has you on.

After we received Dominic’s fatal diagnosis, I just knew, somehow, that we weren’t going to get a medical miracle. I don’t know if God told me, or if it was just a feeling the Holy Spirit gave me, but I never prayed, even once, for a miraculous healing. Not because I didn’t believe God could heal Dominic – I certainly do. And I know with assurance that the Lord has provided and does provide miracles of healing in many situations; situations as dire as Dominic’s. But I just knew that was not going to be the plan for us. From the first moments after I was able to grasp the reality of our situation, I just felt, in some deep way, that this was going to be a case of “God walks with you through it” rather than a “God miraculously saves you from it”. Pretty important differences, those two options.

Not only did I not pray for a miracle of healing, but I didn’t want others praying that, either. I wanted people to know our hearts for our son, and to pray with us according to the intricacies of what we felt God was doing. It’s interesting how when you’re in a situation of life and death, general “Lord help them” prayers just don’t cut it. Everything, in a crisis, hinges on the specifics of prayer. And both I and my husband were very clear that we wanted prayers directed toward one particular end – that our child wouldn’t suffer. It was the deepest desire of our hearts, and many faithful and wonderful friends prayed that very specific prayer for us. We didn’t want prayer that Dominic would somehow not be fatally ill, or that we would miraculously have a healthy and whole baby. We wanted him to not be in pain. We wanted him to be able to spend his precious moments on earth feeling cherished and content in the arms of the parents who so desperately wanted him.

And…God honored it. Our little man was comfortable and loved through the moment he slipped peacefully into the arms of the Lord.

Getting Down to Specifics

I learned, from that, just how important specific prayers are. Yes, certainly, the Lord can decipher through any prayer we give, no matter how broad or detailed it may be, to get to the heart of the issue: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26). And I am very thankful for the grace that wades through my often crazy, self-absorbed, incoherent prayers and actually makes something good of them. But I also believe there is special power in prayer that is specific.

So, I asked the question of my friend: “How would you like for me to pray?”. And I told her why I asked it – that I just don’t want to be, can’t be, a general pray-er anymore. I’ve just learned too well and too personally how much power is in the details. And, interestingly, when I asked her that question, she, also, didn’t ask for the miracle. She asked for some very specific, personal things that are particularly significant to her and her husband, to help them to best know and love their sweet baby, who they have accepted is going to die.

I am going to pray those specifics for them. Because I believe God’s grace is most clear when we are intimately involved with one another to the point that we don’t try to simply cover all the bases with a generalized prayer. I’ve found (especially for myself) that generalized prayer often serves as a mask so that we can feel like we’re doing something, when we, for whatever reason, have not put in the time, energy, or engagement to either discern the Lord’s plan, or to engage on an intimate spiritual level with our “neighbors”.

What Scripture Says

What does scripture say about it?

  • Galatians 6:2 says “Carry each other’s burdens.” Not “pat each other on the back and tell each other that you hope it gets better soon and then say a nice general prayer before bed for each other.” See, and then choose to pick up and haul around each other’s burdens. If it’s a burden, you can be assured it’s really heavy, but we’re supposed to carry it anyway.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 explains that “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” God comforts us specifically so that we can comfort others, and the help Christ provides us in our time of need is connected with our sharing in…what? Yes. Christ’s suffering.
  • James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” The power of prayer is released as we are intimately involved with one another, even to the point of being able to confess our sins to each other. Doesn’t sound like generalized prayer to me.
  • John 14:13-15 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” In biblical understanding, a person’s name was synonymous with his or her character or personhood. For us to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray according to who Jesus is – to offer prayer according to his nature, personhood, and will. If we want our prayers to be most effective, we have to discern what God’s intent and desire is.

The Power of Specific Prayer in Jesus’ Name

God wants us to seek Him, to make the continuous, conscious effort to discern His will, and to engage with one another in a personal, detailed way as we pray according to what we believe His will to be. It’s a struggle to do that. It hurts to do that; to interconnect with others’ pain in a way that allows you to know, experience, and intercede for their most heartfelt spiritual longings. Yet that, I believe, is where God’s power is made complete.

I believe that if everyone, even thousands of people, had prayed for a medical miracle for my son, we still would not have gotten it, because that was not in God’s plan for us. Praying thus would not have been praying in the name (character, or intent) of Jesus for our situation. For reasons I do not completely understand (and may never understand), the Lord is working for good through Dominic’s death, not by rescuing him (or us) from it. However, the Lord could have taken Dominic in a number of ways, and still accomplished His purpose. I believe the reason Dominic died in such a peaceful, beautiful way, was because the Lord honored the very specific, heartfelt prayers of our hearts and of the hearts of those who prayed that for us. God’s power is revealed most effectively when our awareness of the Lord’s will corresponds with our sincere, specific prayers within that will, and our willingness to enter with people into the details of their pain.

It’s one of the many ways the Lord has worked good into our son’s death. He has shown me the power of specific prayer. And just so you know, if you want someone to pray for the general well-being of your father’s cousin’s daughter’s friend, I’m not your gal. Because I now know, have experienced, what can happen when we are able to personally and specifically carry one another’s burdens through detailed prayer in Jesus’ name and according to His will. What happens is power and comfort. Enough of both that you can be carried and sustained – even through the death of a child.

One Response to “When General Prayers Just Aren’t Enough”

  1. Kathie maxwell says:

    After really studying creation, I know God is into details.
    Thanks for the blog and being specific.
    Also ,thanking Him for His blessings is important. That is why Friday’s are blessings day for me . No asking just thanking God for who He is!

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