Do you ever struggle to know how to pray for other Christians? One possible (and common) approach is simply to pray for whatever people ask you to pray. That’s fine, as far as it goes, and we do see the Apostle Paul sometimes asking people to pray for him (Col 4:3; 1 Thess 5:25). Another common approach is to pray for someone’s needs. That is also fine, and Jesus encourages us to bring our daily needs to the Lord, so, arguably, it would be appropriate to pray for the needs of others (Matt 6:11; 7:7-11). But today I want to recommend one way to pray that has the potential of breaking wide-open your prayer life on behalf of other Christians in particular.
Here’s my recommendation: Pray about their Christian growth, including their growth in God-honoring character-qualities. I don’t mean pray for Christian growth in general; rather, pray—and keep praying—about specific issues that the Holy Spirit moves you to pray concerning specific Christians he has put on your heart. This is by far the most common way that the Apostle Paul prayed for others. (See my previous post on the content of petitionary prayers.) This recommendation may strike you as simplistic, but I am confident that it could have a profound impact on your prayer life.
To make clear what I am recommending, let me break it down into steps:
- Spend time in the presence of the Lord reflectively asking the Lord what character qualities he would want you to pray for a particular Christian friend or family member.
- Your goal during this initial period of prayer is to find a word or short phrase that you can write on a card you have set aside for this person that will remind you of each character-quality you will be asking the Lord to develop. I will offer some examples at the end of the post.
- Don’t rush this initial period of considering what to pray about. Stay open to what the Holy Spirit might put on your heart to write on your card. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a mystic to do this! Juststart thinking while you are praying about what you should write on your card. Talk to the Lord about your thoughts.) Don’t write anything on your card until you have settled in your heart that a particular Christian-growth issue is an important issue for the person for whom you will be praying. The period in which you ask the Lord to show you what to pray about can stretch out over days if needed—or even weeks—though sometimes you will know immediately one or more of the character-qualities you should write down.
- Limit yourself to a few issues. One of the cards I have been carrying around with me on my morning prayer walks for the past three years only has two words on it, representing two things I am asking the Lord to do in this person’s life. At the other end of the spectrum, I have another card that has five or six words (or phrases) on it.
- Once you have identified a couple of words or phrases (that represent needed areas for Christian growth in your Christian friend or family member), begin to pray for the needs those words represent. By all means, don’t feel like you have to pray these particular prayers every day! I probably use prayer cards less than half the time I spend in daily prayer, and when I do use them, I almost never make it all the way through my stack of cards.
- You will sometimes need to add or remove words from a particular card (again, carefully and prayerfully), or even retire an old card and start a new one. If you observe significant growth in a person’s life from the time you began praying about a particular issue, it might be useful to note it in some way. I acknowledge it on my card with a tiny check (then sometimes record what God has done in a separate journal).
You will be surprised at the spiritual encouragement and boldness in prayer you will gain as you watch the Lord transform the hearts and minds of your Christian friends and family members through your prayers.
Examples: Following are some words or phrases I have used in the past to prompt my prayers for others.
Let go of control
Quick to hear
 I am dependent upon Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, for teaching me the value of using cards with simple words on them to guide my prayers for others. Miller’s book, by the way, would be a wonderful read if you want to grow more broadly in your prayer life. Please also note that there might be a different way to organize besides using cards. Feel free to do whatever works best for you!
 You might also want to include the date (month/year) when you started praying about this character-quality.