When Someone Says "I'll Pray For You"
There's an interesting aside in a number of congregational histories
along the Ohio River Valley in the late 1840's, which is picked up
here in Licking County with the following note in the First
Presbyterian Church of Granville records:
"In 1851, the innovation of sitting in time of prayer began to show
That's right. Before this period, the standard Protestant practice
during the pastoral or congregational prayers was for everyone to
stand. In some settings, people might turn, kneel, and pray with
their elbows on the pew benches, or kneel on cushions in churches
with box pews.
But that was it, standing or kneeling. To sit with bowed heads was
an . . . innovation.
It caught on. File that with the long list of things we think have
always been that way, but haven't.
Prayer, though, is a common thread in worship, and certainly
Christian worship. In the core verse on community gatherings at Acts
2:42 (ESV), "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching
and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
Today we continue to have readings from the Bible and interpretation
(sermons), plenty of fellowship, communion where the bread is indeed
broken, and we certainly offer up our prayers.
There are set prayers, such as the "Lord's Prayer" outlined from
Matthew 6 & Luke 11; prayer books in some traditions with prepared
prayers such as the Episcopal "Book of Common Prayer,"; and many
traditions value spontaneous, or impromptu prayers, whether spoken as
an invocation, a dedication over the offering, or in benediction.
Many "pastoral prayers" are a mix of planned phrases and words, from
the heart, in the moment.
Even those of you who don't regularly attend services are familiar
with these prayer forms. But for many unchurched people, there's a
little puzzlement over the statement "I'll pray for you!"
What does that mean?
For various traditions, they might undergird such a statement in
different ways. In Catholic practice, a prayer intention can be the
"holding" of a person's name in one's mind while praying the prayers
of a rosary (which includes the Lord's Prayer and other repeated
short standard prayers). In many Protestant churches, you may be
prayed for by having your name included in the pastoral prayer, or
simply by having your name "lifted up" before the prayer itself is
said, again as a sort of prayer focus for all those gathered. In both
traditions, there may be a "prayer chain" where names are shared,
usually just with first names or even just with a description of the
situation in question, allowing people to offer up their own private
prayers for your health or well-being.
Some believers set aside a set period of time for what's called
"intercession," an intense focus on praying for the needs and
concerns of others, which they may do on their own, or also in prayer
groups that meet regularly. Most churches have at least one prayer
group that meets each week (or should, he editorialized!), and
there's always someone who's known to all as a real "prayer warrior,"
a label given to someone uniquely committed to praying for others.
If someone says "I'll pray for you," they may mean an extended
conversation with God where they ask for something on your behalf;
they could be planning to focus their intentions for blessing and
guidance towards you, through God; they might plan to include you in
their own private devotions where they seek the growth of goodness
and beauty and hope in the world in general through prayer, and for
your needs as a particular.
When I do my own private, personal prayer time in the morning, I
regularly include those who read this column as a group, as a set of
individuals which I ask God to bless, and to help me serve them
(you!) well in showing faith at work in the world around us.
So I can say, quite honestly, to you – you! – that I have, and will
pray for you. Among other things, that you have a blessed & joyful
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around
central Ohio; he's praying for you! Pray for him, or send a message