May I Pray For You?
By Kevin G. Harney, Lead Pastor, Shoreline Community Church
Prayer resides in the very center of effective evangelism…always. Jesus himself said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Interestingly, our Savior emphasized the need for us to pray for ourselves, and other believers. One of the most important focal points of our prayers should be, “Lord send me and other Christians into the world with fresh grace and boldness as we share the message of Jesus.”
With this in mind, every follower of Jesus should learn to ask this question with frequency and sensitivity, “May I pray for you?” In particular, we should be asking this question of people who are not yet followers of Jesus. Many Christians are nervous to ask if they can pray for (or with) people who do not name Jesus as the Savior and leader of their life.
I have discovered, over and over, that almost every human being is open to being prayed for. If they are going through a time of great joy or deep sorrow, most people would love to have someone come alongside and support them in prayer.
My mother was an intellectual who resisted faith and claimed no relationship with Jesus. We sat on the couch in her living room talking about my dad. They were in their fifth decade of marriage and she was going through some fairly normal relational challenges, but she was concerned. After listening to the struggles they were facing, I looked in my mom’s eyes and asked, “Mom, can I take a moment right now and have a prayer for you and dad?” I did not know how she would respond. She paused, pondered, and finally said, “I think that would be nice.” I finished the prayer and closed by asking, in the name of Jesus, for God’s hand and leading on my parents’ marriage. I looked at my mother and was surprised that she had tears in her eyes. I was sure that she felt the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, even if she did not know how to name or explain it. This was one of dozens of times I prayed with my mom through the years.
Esther was one of three adult daughters who works at a family-owned Italian Restaurant near my office. She was always kind and very curious about my faith. She had family history with church, but was not practicing her family faith in any serious way. As I sat for lunch, Esther took my order and seemed unrushed so I said what I often do, “When my food comes I will be saying a prayer and I would be honored to include you if you have any needs or joys. No pressure, but I would love to pray for you if you are comfortable with that.” Esther quickly told me about her pregnancy and asked me to pray for her unborn son. She even told me his name. To put things in context, Esther was about nine and a half months pregnant, so there was no mystery about her upcoming delivery. When she brought the food to my table she lingered, waiting to be part of the prayer. As a matter of fact, she stood very near the table and slid her belly (and baby) onto the table right in front of me. I wondered if she was looking for me to place a hand on her stomach, but I refrained. I lifted up a prayer for my meal, for her family’s business, and for Esther’s baby boy. In the coming months, whenever I dined at that same Italian restaurant, Esther would show me pictures of her boy and would let me pray for her family. This also opened the door for many spiritual conversations.
Gretchen sat next to me on an international flight to London and began talking right away. I was tired, but she was up for a chat and seemed to have a lot of energy and passion about her work and life mission. Gretchen was an atheistic, humanistic, communalist who ran a camp in Berlin Germany. The focus of this camp was gathering high school age young people together for a week in an effort to help them resist the dangers and lures of Christianity. Over the next hour and a half I asked many questions and listened with great interest. I had never met anyone quite like this twenty-five year old woman. When she finally asked me what I do for a living, and I shared my story, she was shocked and amazed. We ended up having a wonderful conversation and before we landed I asked her the simple question, “Gretchen, would it be OK if I said a prayer for you right now?” She was curious and very open. I don’t think anyone had ever asked her this before. I prayed for God’s love and presence to shine in her life and for Jesus to show her his presence. I also gave her a couple of books and we exchanged contact information. She even offered her home to me, my wife, and our sons if we were ever in Berlin.
There are all kinds of ways Christians should pray as we engage in outreach. I believe one of the most important and powerful ways to pray actually praying with non-believers. As we do this, God shows up, the Spirit moves, and hearts become tender. The next time you are with someone who does not have a relationship with Jesus, they could be a friend, family member, or someone you just met, don’t be shy to ask them, “May I pray with you right now?” If they say yes, lift up a prayer with grace and passion.
Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the Founder and Visionary Leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International (OrganicOutreach.com), and the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and many other books, studies, and articles. He is also a regular contributor to Outreach Magazine.