"We've all had one. But we probably didn't realize it was doing more harm than good."
This is how an article started that I read today on "unspoken" prayer requests and how they are destroying the church today. The author, Reg Rivett, makes a case for the openness we need to have in sharing and making known our requests to others, as well as, God. Interestingly enough, I have thought about this same idea recently because of recent "unspoken" requests in my own student ministry that I lead.
Stop me if you've seen this scenario played out:
You are teaching class and it comes time to take prayer requests. Several students chime in with their various requests. You know, the one about the dog whose face imploded or the cat with kidney infections and is having to wear a catheter or help me to make the sports team or whatever extracurricular event they want to be a participant.
Then, 15-20 minutes later everyone has their prayer requests in so you begin to say the prayer when one more hand goes up... and they say their prayer request, "unspoken."
The infamous unspoken prayer request.
Almost every Christian has experienced a moment like that. I, myself, have experienced it. This request could have been made known from a variety of people, in a variety of ways.Whatever the details may be, at some point there was someone asking for prayer regarding an unspoken situation or for a mysterious request. It may have seemed innocent enough at the time. It could be totally alright to do this in your mind. But that isn’t the reality.
The reality is that unspoken requests really bother me, and here's why:
What we don’t realize about these prayer requests is that they open some very destructive doors for the enemy to attack us. And it also closes a door that God wants to leave wide open. Unspoken prayer requests open the door to church disunity.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatian 6:2 NASB
The great thing that people do when they share an "unspoken" is, first they look to God for help, but secondly they look to the body of Christ for help.
I struggle with this prayer request because I believe it goes against what I try to teach our students - "bear one another's burdens." It's so hard to do that when we don't know what burden to bear, we don't know what to pray for, or we don't know how to minister to them. Unfortunately, it begins to cause some murmuring among the other students - What is this person's struggle? Is it so bad that they can't share it with us?
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” – Romans 14.13
There is no guarantee that a spoken request will not lead some people to gossip. But the mysterious nature of the unspoken prayer request gives it an edge. What is going on in their life that they need prayer for, but don’t want to share publicly? Are they ashamed of needing prayer? Are they guilty of something terrible? What did they do? Such thoughts flood the mind and then spill into our conversations in the form of gossip.
We disguise it as concern or the spiritual need to know what exactly to pray for, but the reality is, it is gossip.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7.7
All children are taught to ask for something from their parents. If they want more apple juice, they have to ask. If they want more supper, they have to ask. If they want that toy on the shelf, they have to ask.
Jesus taught his disciples that if there was anything that they needed, they were to go to God and ask. If there was something that they didn’t have that they wanted, they needed to seek God out and He would bless them with it. If there was a desire in their heart, something that God could fulfill, they should knock and the door of heaven would be opened and the answer found.
But all that asking, seeking and knocking requires a level of action. It requires that we open our mouths and speak. It demands that we say something, that we speak our request. God is not limited by our prayers not being spoken. Not in power or ability to know what we need. However, Jesus says to ask.
What parent, when their child wants more juice but will not ask, knows that juice is what the child wants? The child needs to let the parent know what is wanted, regardless of how knowledgeable or powerful the parent is.
How many times have you heard or said yourself, “If you want something, you have to ask.” Why would it be any different with God? For we are His children, and He our Father. We should ask, with words aloud, not unspoken requests. If we do not ask, how will we receive? If we do not seek, how will we find? If we do not knock, how will the door be opened?
How can we confront the "unspoken" prayer request? Obviously, we do not want to embarrass the person by calling them out in front of the class. We need to talk to them privately and check on them. It's obvious they are in need of being ministered to. We need to share with them our concern and our desire to minister to them. Talk with them about why it is important to make our requests known to others.
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." - James 5:16
We need to create a safe environment/atmosphere where people feel willing to share and they understand we want to pray for them, we want to help them, and we want to be accountable to them. We need to create accountability in our ministry, as well as, openness. So, we can "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17) for one another.
This is an issue I struggle with every time that I have an "unspoken" prayer request at the end of class. I hope that this article helps you in how to handle this situation, so that we can make this a teachable moment. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to comment below or e-mail me privately firstname.lastname@example.org.