I don’t like to pray about other people’s weaknesses and sins. It’s not because I think corrupt government leaders or habit-addicted friends or divisive church members don’t need prayer. I know that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). No, the reason I hesitate is because I’m concerned about becoming judgmental or arrogant. I absolutely do not want to be like the Pharisee who thanked God that he wasn’t a sinner like the tax collector standing next to him and went away from his prayer time unheard (Luke 18:9-14).
Still, Scripture makes it clear that one of the best things I can do for people who are trapped in sin is to ask God to help them. So how do I pray in a way that keeps my own heart humble and doesn’t tempt me to rise in judgment over others?
A friend once suggested a practical solution to this dilemma: If she can’t pray a person’s need for herself, then she didn’t pray it at all. I have tried to adopt that approach for my own praying. Here’s what it looks like: If someone I know struggles with a negative, biting tongue, I pray for myself first, then for that person. Lord, there are so many times when my words hurt others. I don’t mean for them to, but they just slip out sometimes. Please forgive me. Please transform my heart so that the words that issue out of it are edifying and loving. And Lord, please help my friend in this area, too. Help her to build up her family and friends and not tear them down.
But what if the person’s sin is something I can’t identify with? In those cases, I ask God to help me understand the root issue behind that person’s sin. Often He’ll give me an insight into the fear or emptiness or shame the person is feeling that opens the door to temptation. Women I know who have had abortions, for instance, have often been driven by debilitating fear. I’ve never had an abortion, but I definitely have sometimes been fearful enough to make sinful choices. So that’s where I start my prayer.
Get the idea? What do you think? How do you avoid becoming smug and superior when you’re called to intercede for people caught in enemy snares?