Do you believe in prayer? Your brain probably said yes before you finished reading the question. This next answer might not be so fast. How much do you believe in prayer?
Acts 12 finds the Apostle Peter in prison, facing execution, with 16 men being assigned to guard him alone. Verse-5 says "but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." The night before he was to appear before King Herod for sentencing, an angel of the Lord came, woke him up, released his chains and told him to get dressed. Peter was sleeping between two guards, chained to them, with two chains, and 14 others guarding him. Think about that! Peter and the angel left the prison unchallenged.
A short time later, Peter came to Mary's house, where "many people had gathered and were praying". A servant girl named Rhoda heard him knock, recognized his voice, and in her joy, failed to open the door but ran back telling the others “Peter is at the door!” Their reply was, “You’re out of your mind,” “It must be his angel.” After he kept knocking, they finally opened the door to welcome him in.
How often are we like these people? I can't say what was in their heart(s), but it appears they believed enough to gather together and pray to God for his release, but perhaps not enough to expect any results, or at least not that he would be free and at their door right now. Do we expect God to answer our prayers? Do we sometimes respond exactly like they did?
A visiting preacher recently told about his home congregation's prayer list. He held it up, it was lengthy, and from were I was sitting appeared to be full front and back. He told the story about someone who still had health issues, but had come to him and asked to be taken off the prayer list? Taken off the prayer list, why? I've seen this before, and you probably have too. But why?
Often, people don't want to be a burden to anyone else, and we admire that even though scriptures tells God's family to bear one-another's burdens. We acknowledge that they are better after having been sick, and admire them wanting to get back to normal. But often they are obviously still in need of some recovery, so why stop the prayers? In fact, I've done this myself, as I improved from serious health issues. Why did I do that? I felt like people were tired of hearing my name week after week when from an outward appearance, I looked pretty normal again. I also knew there were people with worse problems than mine. But did I really want these people of God, my family, to stop praying during the final stages of my recovery? Did I think that I was to the point that I no longer needed God to finish overseeing my recovery? Absolutely not, yet I asked my brothers and sisters to stop praying to God about my problem! In retrospect, that doesn't make any sense at all.
I suspect there are a host of reasons why people ask to have their names taken off a prayer list, but why don't we continue to pray until God has totally resolved our issues for us? We know sometimes God's plan isn't what we are asking, like when God told Paul that His Grace was sufficient to handle his "thorn in the flesh". Sometimes recovery isn't God's plan, so what we pray for may need to change, but let us not stop praying. Why don't we start asking for prayers regarding more things than serious illnesses and life changing problems too. Let's start asking for prayers for the things we need in this life, and let us ask with confidence. Is there anything in life we don't want God to oversee?
..."The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16). We can almost all quote that, and we believe it. Many of us have experienced it personally in large and small ways. But, who is a righteous person? Well, scripture says none of us are, not one, on our own accord, but because of the saving grace of our Lord, all of His children are righteous, and with a good number of them sending up prayers, that's a lot of power, and the effect can be tremendous.
The elders of a congregation are shepherds, overseer's of the flock. Their cloud is not any closer to God than yours, yet we read in scripture that the elders should be asked to pray over someone for a specific cause (James 5:14). Elders are chosen, faithful, God fearing men. Use them in addition to others, to supplement your own requests to God. Ministers, evangelists, preachers, whatever term you want to use, also are not on a higher cloud than the rest of the saints, yet various men in scripture prayed specifically for some person, group or situation. Elders and evangelists are happy to pray for people's needs and problems.
But here's the deal. Righteous people, Christians, elders and evangelists can't pray for anything or anyone who has a specific need if they are not aware of that need. Inside the church, we should not be afraid to let people know our needs. There should be no embarrassment, no shame, no fear of guilt when asking for prayers from our own Church family. I for one would like to see our prayer list quadruple in size, and know that people are asking for prayers from the saints to help them in their daily lives. And Christians should not hold back asking for prayers on behalf of their family members, friends and neighbors either. I know we as a Church believe in the power of prayer, but do we believe there is more power to be had and more requests to be fulfilled if we expanded what we pray for, and the number of people on our list with needs?
Why would we not desire a long list or people to pray for? Why would we not let our own personal needs be known by requesting prayers? Are we like the people begging God to release Peter from prison, but refusing to believe Peter is knocking at our door? Let us not be that way, let us "by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God", and thereby benefit from His answers to the prayers of righteous people, which He Himself says are "powerful and effective". (Phil 4:6, James 5:16) I think we could have a two page prayer list in our congregation too. In fact, I'm suggesting that very thing!
So how can you ask for prayers?
At 37th Street church in Snyder, the attendance cards that members fill out every Sunday morning, have a place to request prayers. You can remain anonymous if you feel the need. Just supply the info, and hand in the card. Anyone, member or not can call the church office anytime and request prayers, 325-573-0154. If you are in our community, call any of our Elders of Deacons. You can also submit a prayer request via the webpage. Or, tell any of our church family, anyone would be delighted to get you on the prayer list.
If you don't live in the Snyder area, submit a request via our web page, or contact a church of Christ in your area, and let your needs be known. God's people are a praying people, and any would love to help in any way.
We know full well that we are just people, without any special powers aside from what God has given all His saints. Yet God tells us to to pray for each other, and tells us He listens and responds when righteous people pray. We will not overload God with our prayer requests, although we would probably all be better off if we tried to.