Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Simple prayers for friends and family members

Lynne Baab • Tuesday July 5 2022

Draw near: Simple prayers for friends and family members

Sometimes when I’m praying for family members and friends, I try to think of one word to summarize what I long for in their lives. Recently one of my favorite words is “shalom,” with its broadest meaning – wellbeing in every area of life. For several friends and family members, I find myself praying the word “joy.” For friends who struggle with anxiety, I simply pray “peace.” For my intrepid granddaughter, when I feel anxious about her safety, I pray the word “protection.”

Cheryl Forbes’ book Imagination: Embracing a Theology of Wonder, has helped me to see my one word prayers for people as a small manifestation of the imaginative work of Jesus in me. Forbes writes:

“Jesus was a what-if person, a why-not person. What if this man could talk? What if this leper were healed? What if the people didn’t cry out – would the stones? Why not touch his robe? These are the questions Jesus and others asked. He had the spirit of change about him, a curiosity about people and situations. He wasn’t content to hear, ‘But we’ve always done it that way.’ He not only changed the way, he changed the ‘it.’  Whatever the ‘it’ is in your life or mine, when Jesus enters, he transforms it. That is imagination in action.”

My one-word prayers come from my longing for people I love, a form of “what-if” related to their lives. What if this particular friend was able to dwell more deeply in God’s peace? What if this family member experienced deep joy more consistently?

Forbes’ ideas about Jesus not only changing the way but also changing the “it” can also fuel our prayers. When we pray for complex family relationships for a friend or challenging work conditions for a family member, we are thinking about the “it” of their lives and asking Jesus to enter and transform the situation. When we pray, we engage our imagination to picture how things could be better for the people we love.

Another way to engage with the creativity of Jesus in our prayers is to think about what attribute or name for Jesus might be helpful for the person we’re praying for. “Jesus, Good Shepherd, my friend needs the guidance of a shepherd as she tries to figure out whether to apply for a new job.” “Light of the world, shine your light on my cousin who is trying to figure out how to navigate her relationships in her household.” “Jesus, the One who showed compassion on people in need, give your help to the young woman I know who is in danger of being evicted.”

Our prayer lives are one of the many areas of life where we need to remain open to correction. Perhaps I’ve been praying for a friend, using the word “Emmanuel” – God with us – hoping that she will feel Jesus’ presence with her. In a conversation with this friend, I tell her that’s what I’ve been praying, and she says, “Thanks so much for those prayers. I have felt God with me. But what I really need is God’s strength. I am so tired and so overwhelmed with the demands of life right now. Please pray for God’s help with my fatigue.” All of our imagination for our friends, all the ways we try to discern the “it” that God is trying to change in their lives, must be informed by the way they view their lives.

Maybe for my tired and overwhelmed friend, I begin praying for energy and strength. In addition, I can still pray “Emmanuel” for this friend, especially if I perceive that a sense of God’s presence is still what that friend needs. And obviously God answered my earlier prayers! In our prayers, we need to be informed by what our friends and family members say about their situation, as well as what we perceive to be God’s work in them. Jesus, the imaginative one, speaks to us through the Holy Spirit so that we can think creatively about the lives of people we care about.

Creative God, give us creativity in our prayers. As we pray, help us think of words and pictures that come from you and from the needs of people we love. Enter into our hearts as we pray, loving Jesus, and bring your imagination. Amen

(Next week: praying with others. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Some previous posts about imagination from Cheryl Forbes's book:

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