There is an old song that goes like this:
Not my brother, not my sister, but it's me, oh Lord standin' in the need of prayer
We seem to have lost the heart of that old song. Typically, if you ask someone at church if there is anything you can pray about for them, you will usually get one of two responses:
1) "Yes, please pray for my friend/son/co-worker." The response is always about someone else.
2) "No, nothing in particular."
Is there anything wrong with praying for others? No. But I think there is something else going on here in both responses. We are deflecting our own need of the Lord. We recently set up a Prayer Station at a local park. A woman walked by expressing her excitement about what we were doing. We asked if we could pray for her and she responded by saying that she was the last person in the park in need of prayer.
If prayer is to become vital within a church, I believe each person must become open about their own need of the Lord. But, this will also require a drastic change in how we do things. When someone shares their prayer need, we must NEVER then recoil in horror at what the shared. We must not treat them differently because we know a fault in them. We must be generous in our continuing love and support of them. And WE MUST NEVER take the liberty to share what they said with anyone else. The prayer life of a church can be destroyed by those who share the personal struggles of others in an attempt to gather more prayer support. I'm sure we've all heard it - "I'm only sharing this so that you can pray, but ____________ told me they are struggling with ______________." Don't you dare! If someone confided in you for prayer, you keep it to yourself. If you really want to share it with others for the sake of prayer, then ask that person if it is OK to share it. I have seen too many examples of prayer being crushed because it was overtaken by gossip.
Be honest with yourself. Your Christian life is not perfect, is it? So, when someone says, "How can I pray for you?" Tell them an area where you need to grow. You don't have to share your ugliest secret. But you do have a need for prayer in some way. Recognizing how much you need prayer will help you be more compassionate when someone shares their struggle with you. And if you don't want what you shared to be shared with others, don't even think about sharing with others what someone else told you in confidence.
If our quest into prayer is to have any traction, these are issues we must address from the beginning.