“Pray for Manchester” is a slogan popping up all over England after the attack on concertgoers in that community. Good idea! Now, what do you ask when praying for Manchester? When we say we will pray, what do we pray?
Prayer generally should have thoughtful content. The word translated “to pray” in the New Testament is the verb “to ask” – so what is your request? While we often do not know what is specifically needed or what would be the best outcome, we still should think about our intent and state it as clearly as we are able. I am convinced that thoughtless prayer is one of the reasons we don’t pray more (whether measured in time or frequency)! Saying, “I pray for ______” while not identifying anything we are asking quickly gets old and feels rather gimmicky.
In the example above, we need to think about Manchester as a community—what do they need from God? Certainly comfort and consolation come to mind. But is it simply a matter of feeling better?
Some may already be concerned that I have left out adoration and worship from prayer, but in reality those need to be directly related to our requests. In this case, the God we serve is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3), but does He give those things apart from Himself? Aren’t they received as one learns to trust in Him? The prayer for comfort and consolation is really a prayer for spiritual awakening and revival, is it not? Why not ask for that explicitly?
One reason it that we find ourselves in need of the same things! If I ask that for Manchester, do I not need to ask the same for myself? A great side effect of thoughtful prayer is that it keep me in the same picture as the ones for whom I pray. I may be humbled at my own need or stimulated to be part of the answer to my own prayers. Prayer helps us to have heaven’s perspective on our earthly plight—we are in the same “boat” as those for whom we pray.
That brings another thought into play—for whom am I praying? If I pray for Manchester, I am also praying for a sizeable Muslim community. The bomber was part of Manchester, even while planning to hurt his neighbors. Are you praying for others like him? These are men and women who match the description “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” (1 Tim. 1:13) Of course, that was the apostle Paul’s self-description of his pre-salvation state! He was a religiously sanctioned terrorist (Acts 9:1-2; Gal. 1:13)! What do you suppose the Christians of his day asked God on His behalf, if anything?
Thoughtful prayer will be more concerned with obedience than expedience. Have we prayed for the salvation of suicide bombers? “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a) Paul’s own people, the Jews, were the instigators of his mistreatment and sought to have him killed, yet he wrote to the church in Rome, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) Is that true of us in regard to Muslims?
To pray for Manchester should include a prayer of spiritual awakening among post-Christian Britons, Christ-ignorant Muslims, and grace-ignorant American Christians. In our circles it is not uncommon to hear assent to the “nuke ‘em all” sentiment thoughtlessly tossed around by unbelievers. Have professed believers thought about standing before the judgment seat of Christ having endorsed sending people to hell for whose salvation they have never prayed (or worked)?
The example of the apostle Paul should teach us that with God, nothing is impossible! Paul said of his conversion, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16) He can and will do it again! Let’s pray for an awakening in the Muslim world, as well as our own. Beware of the temptation to political idolatry: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
The problem with thoughtful prayer is that it is ever-expanding in both scope and intent. To pray thoughtfully requires concentration and preparation; you have to know the priorities of Scripture and the heart of God. It also requires time.
But the blessings of thoughtful prayer are a greater fervency on the part of the prayer and a clear sense of purpose with awareness of answers when they come. Prayer can be a delight!
May God grant that we not only watch and pray, but also think and pray.