How often have you responded to a friend’s troubles with these words: “I’ll pray for you”? I know I have. Even though this response might seem overused, we should never forget what a significant privilege it is to offer prayers to God on another’s behalf.
Prayer is the most important thing we can do for others. Oswald Chambers, the Scottish author best known for his book My Utmost for His Highest, once said, “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.”
Of course, we also care for each other in practical ways. We are called to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). In most church families, people come together to help when someone faces a serious illness, loss of a loved one, or financial hardship. I’ve watched church members bring meals, care for young children, sit for hours with the bereaved, or even shovel snow from a driveway.
But intercessory prayer, another privilege given to God’s children, is also powerful and necessary. At churches I have attended, I have seen intercessory prayer in practice. During weekly prayer meetings, members gather to share their needs and bring one another’s requests before God. Some churches have a prayer chain— one member phones the next, asking God to provide healing or help for one of their own. Together, they pray for one another.
Some might think that praying on behalf of others should be done only by people who seem most holy. But reserving those prayers for the pastor or church leaders is simply not scriptural. Again and again, the apostle Paul asks ordinary men and women to pray on his behalf (see Rom. 15:30 and Col. 4:2–3).
James 5 urges us as well: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him (vv. 13–14). As James reminds us: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (v. 16).
What a wonderful opportunity we have to carry every burden, both for ourselves and for others, before the Lord in prayer! May we never neglect this important task.