I love the mental and spiritual space that the academic summer can provide. Though, in some sense, I don’t have any less to do, having more unstructured time encourages me to experiment with different patterns of being. The summer feels like the perfect time to try playing the accordion or buying more groceries from the local farmer’s market.
One thing I was inspired to try this summer was a daily time of prayer specifically for others. I planned on half-an-hour a day. This might seem like a lot to some or a little to others, but for me it was simply a different way to approach prayer.
Here are a few things I found:
1) Praying this way helped make me aware that I don’t, on my own, truly know what others need.
Often, we begin praying for people when they ask us to pray for them or we ask them how we can pray for them. And I love this. It allows people to be vulnerable and fosters a sense of spiritual community.
But not having a specific prompt for others, only a designated time frame, encouraged me to listen to how God would have me pray. I felt the ease of not needing to figure it out. I also sensed subtle shifts in how I prayed for the same person over the course of days, even when I was praying for the same situation. Sometimes I later found out these shifts corresponded with different developments. Life is never static so it makes sense that God’s intervention would be dynamic.
2) If you dedicate time to pray for others, God will have you pray for your enemies.
Enemy is a rather strange word. Not many people I know would recognize themselves as having an enemy, let alone being an enemy to someone else. During these extended prayer times, however, God brought people to my mind for whom I never imagined myself praying. Truthfully, I did not want to think about some of these people at all. In the most beautiful way, God showed me my blind spots.
3) You cannot pray well for someone you envy.
This truth took me by surprise. Envy is also something we tend to hide from ourselves. As I was praying for a friend to receive something she wanted, I realized that part of me did not want her to have it because I was envious of the good things she already had. Because I believed in the power of prayer to enact change in the world, I knew my prayer lacked power until I repented. I began to see more clearly both how pervasive envy is in our culture and how authentic prayer for others works against it.
4) I ended up praying for myself at moments but specifically in relation to others.
Asking God to forgive me for harboring envy so I could effectively pray for my friend is just one example of this. Prayer effects real change and it makes sense that those of us who are praying should also be direct agents of that change at times. Praying for others often awakened a desire for action in me. After praying for someone to experience God’s grace, it then felt natural to pray for God to show me how to be graceful to that person. As a result, God inspired me to serve others in more creative ways. Despite the fact that I had set out to pray exclusively for others, it became a testament to how interconnected we are.
5) Keeping someone in prayer leads you to praise God.
In some ways this may be obvious. When you ask God for something and He answers, it’s much easier to see Him at work in the world. However, when you pray holistically for a person and they receive an answer, it becomes even clearer. Perhaps it’s a result of seeing the bigger picture from the outside. More than once this summer, my immediate response to a text was not my more usual “I’m so happy for you” (though I was) but the old-school phrase “Praise God.”
This is just a short list. I could go on and on about all the things that happened as a result of praying for others this way (an incredible sense of peace both for others and myself not being least) but sufficed to say, this is one experiment I’ll bring into the school year.