Prayer lists

The thought that most stuck in my mind from chapter 1 of A Call to Spiritual Reformationwas the idea of prayer lists. I have dabbled with them but all these attempts have been short lived, largely because whenever I try to write one the list of names I think of to include quickly becomes unmanageable. There’s everyone in my extended family, course-mates who I want to accept the gospel, those in leadership in the CU and at my churches at home and at uni, my Christian friends, Christian friends I’ve lost touch with, non-Christian friends I’ve lost touch with. I feel like I should pray for all of these so inevitably end up discouraged by the size of the task and pray for non. The paragraph in D.A. Carson’s section on prayer models included the following on Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones:

“I recall how shamed I was when one of Lloyd-Jones’s daughters told me some months before he died that her father had asked her to tell me that he prayed for me regularly. It was not as if I were within his inner circle of friends – and so I suddenly realised how extensive his prayer ministry must be and how deep his commitment to intercede for ministers of the gospel.”

That is truly impressive, but it’s not long before I think that really I should pray for D.A. Carson. He is an influential Christian leader, so his maturity and growth are hugely important. The list of names I could pray for becomes huge and I quickly buckle under the weight. Really, though, that’s quite stupid. Because I want to pray for so many people I pray for none. Hm. So I’ve set a realistic target of having 12 people (it just seemed an appropriate number!) that I would commit to pray for regularly.

So, where to start? Which 12 to pick? I’m sure I could have made a better selection, but the point is to avoid the search for perfection and just start praying! I’ve gone for 3 members of my family, 2 guys I’m accountable with, 1 close friend at church, 1 friend from home, 1 Bible teacher over me who I know well enough to ask how I can pray for him, 2 in CU leadership and 2 non-Christian friends. It’s a start, and it’s manageable. I hope that with time and God’s grace I can extend the list, but for now I can commit to “with out ceasing mention [these guys] always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9-10) – that is that whenever I spend time praying I will include thanks and intercession for this group.

The second problem I’ve had was how to be relevant and varied. How to pray things that would actually help people out without resorting to the same petitions every day (which, apart from simply becoming routine, would drive me to boredom and to give up). Two answers have come to mind over the last couple of days – both of which are pretty obvious. The first is simply to ask them what I can pray for. This is obviously easier with Christians, though it does require developing a habit of doing so. With non-Christians it can sometimes be appropriate to promise to pray for some situation they’re in, but often we will have to go with our best guess. Thank God that the Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness (Romans 8:26)!

The second is something that Carson mentioned a couple of times: to pray over the Scriptures. For example, from my Bible reading today (I’m using the McCheyne Bible reading calendar, which I find great) I can thank God for evidences of faith, love and hope in the Christians on my list (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) – and pray that they will increase. I can pray that they will rejoice in the LORD and their meditation will be pleasing to him (Psalm 104:34). For non-Christians, I can pray that they will hear the gospel “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5) and so they will see that “the LORD, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39). This doesn’t require me to be really smart – I have no idea what I would pray from Ezekiel 48 – but it means that I get ideas of what to pray for, and what I pray is hopefully in line with God’s word.

In all this, I don’t want to add another legalist tick-box to my life. It’s a fair bet there are days when I won’t pray for any of these 12 at all. It’s a fair bet I’ll pray things which would actually be bad for them. It’s a fair bet I’ll sometimes feel proud when I pray and sub-Christian when I don’t. But I pray that God will transform my heart to depend on prayer, and view it as the most useful thing I can do for my friends and family and – most of all – that through my prayers he will move in the situations I’m praying for and so show his glory by achieving things I never could on my own. Surely that’s what it’s all about.

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