Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The problem of prayer lists. . .

Every pastor surely has struggled with the problem of prayer lists -- those listed in the service folders, newsletter, other publications, and those he is asked to announce on Sunday.  It is a messy business.  Sometimes I am not even sure what or who we are actually praying for (the brother of my sister's friend who lives down the block from my aunt).  Sometimes I am not at all sure if the person whose name is on our prayer list is still living or has died (pray for so and so who is near death according to my mother-in-law with whom I spoke last Thursday).  Sometimes I am not sure what we are praying for (the situation is not one I want to disclose, just mention the name before God).  Sometimes I do not even have a name (the name cannot be recalled but they are now in the emergency room).  Sometimes it involves a request to pray for people who are not Christian (my Mormon neighbor whose wife died on Friday).

It is not that I want to do away with prayer lists but I do think we need to clean it up a bit.  And we do need to be clear about the names, the information, and the requests that are given to us for the prayer of the church.  One other thing, we need to put some time limits on these requests.  I filled in at a small congregation and forgot to check out the prayer list only to find several paragraphs of names, for a whole variety of needs, all mixed up (of course) -- indeed, more names on the prayer list than were present there for the Divine Service!!  It took forever and in the end did not mention the causes at all, simply lifted the names before the Lord who knows all our needs.  But it did not satisfy those who expected to hear the names and the needs of those they had submitted.

We currently have two prayer lists -- a shorter one with more recent names and needs that is published in the Sunday service folder and a longer prayer list that is published monthly for people to take home and include in their own intercessions, supplications, thanksgivings, and prayers.

I would like to know how other congregations and pastors have wrestled with this issue and what kinds of solutions they have found to the problem.

  • Who gets on
  • What needs are listed or identified in the prayers
  • How long do names remain on the list
  • What do you do to sift through the names and causes
  • Do you omit names from the list
  • Do you publish the names (and do you publish the needs)

It seems to me that there are some strange expectations here.  Perhaps we presume that if the pastor prays on Sunday morning the likelihood God will relent and give you the answer you desire increases?  Perhaps we just like the assurance of hearing the names spoken out loud before the Lord?  Perhaps we think of prayer like an election and the more votes you get, the better off your cause is?  Whatever the reason, prayer lists tend to accumulate names in a not so good way.  There are times when we have continued to pray for someone who is ill only to find out that they died weeks ago!

So if you have some good ideas, I would appreciate them.

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