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prayer hands

Three Questions about Prayer

“Peeking in prayer closets” originally posted on ChurchCentral.com

Each day presents many opportunities to pray for others. Specific requests come through conversations, email, text, and social media. They come from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even, at times, complete strangers.

I’m not surprised by how often people request prayer. Life can be tough and each of us encounters those storms where we need help.

No, what sometimes surprises me is who the requests come from. I’ve had practicing Christians, practicing Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and functional atheists ask me to pray for them or for someone they love.

So is there a universal tendency for people to pray (or at least petition prayer from others)? It sure does look like it. I’ve found in our research that if you ask just about anyone “How do you communicate with God?” you’ll receive one answer: prayer.

In a recent survey, 80 percent of young adults in the U.S. said they believe in prayer. Our 20 country study from several years ago revealed that in a typical week, 90 percent of Muslims, 86 percent of Hindus, 77 percent of Christians, 47 percent of Buddhists, and 46 percent of Jews will pray.

How regularly does your average Christian pray? Church surveys show that about two-thirds of Christians pray daily. The remaining third will pray on two or more days in a typical week.

Prayer is the most common private spiritual practice. In fact, it’s twice as common as daily devotions or Bible reading.

With its universal appeal prayer becomes a powerful tool, not just as a means of ministry but also as a starting point to connect with someone spiritually. Most often we focus on the need for prayer and that is important.

But are we missing a critical opportunity?

My counseling professor once told me to carefully time when you give a crying person a box of tissues, because having a tissue often shuts down the crying and cuts short the emotional work that’s happening.

Perhaps our typical “I will add them to my prayer list” response has the same effect on (potential) spiritual conversations.

I see requests for prayer as a jumping off point for one-anothering. I encourage you to do so as well. Here are three questions to kick off your conversation:

  1. How do you like to pray? The movie The War Room included many scenes of the various characters in their “prayer closets.” Sometimes they were sitting or standing. Other times they were kneeling or even lying on the floor. Hands may be clenched or raised. In those closets, prayers were silent, whispered, spoken, written and shouted.
  1. What do you pray about most often? Through our surveys, we have learned that when we pray most of us: pray for someone else, ask for God’s help in a particular situation, express thanks or gratitude, ask for help in changing something about ourselves and pray about the wrong things we’ve done.
  1. What do you see as the benefits of praying? You know that scripture outlines many reasons to pray, but you may be surprised to learn that prayer has become a pretty hot research topic in psychology and neuroscience. In fact, the American Psychological Association identified 5 benefits of prayer:
  • Prayer improves our self-control. Like a muscle, we can strengthen our ability to control our impulses. Science shows that prayer helps to build up our self-control “muscles.”
  • Prayer makes you gentler. People who pray for others are less likely to use aggression when something angers them.
  • Prayer helps you forgive. Praying for a loved one or friend makes you more willing to forgive them.
  • Prayer increases trust. Matthew 18:20 tells us that Jesus will be among us whenever two or more of us gather in his name. Science now shows the power of praying in community. Praying with a friend increases the trust and feelings of unity between you.
  • Prayer diminishes the negative health effects of stress. In an interesting study of older adults, researchers found that praying for others reduced the stress of chronic financial problems. A key part here is the focus on others. Praying for your own material well-being did not reduce stress and its health effects.

So the next time someone asks you to pray for them definitely add them to your prayer list. Then continue the conversation by letting them peek into your prayer closet and asking them about theirs.