Praying for other people

September 23, 2006 | 8 comments

It’s time for another round of dumb questions from the new convert…

After almost a year of following the good advice I got about praying last December, I think I kind of get it. The ultimate purpose is to let God know that you submit to and trust his will since it would be absurd to ask him to do something other than what he’s planned (right?). It’s a chance to get closer to God and perhaps understand what his will is so that you can conform to it. Either way, I pray regularly now. I figure I’ll get it right one day.

One thing I don’t really understand, however, is how praying for other people works. I pray for others all the time yet always feel strange about it, like I’m asking God to change his mind. If I say, “Lord, please let Bob’s sister recover from her illness, ” isn’t that proposing my own plan as opposed to just submitting to his will? Yet I don’t think that when Bob asks me to pray for his sister he has in mind that I’d just say, “Your will be done in regards to Bob’s sister, Lord.” When you pray for someone else’s situation to have a certain outcome, aren’t you kind of bossing God around?

Also, I’ve often heard of the power of prayer, of people seeing the impact of others’ prayers in their lives. I’ve even seen examples of this in my own life in the past few months. Yet, why does that work? It seems to unfairly favor those who have lots of people out there to pray for them. What about good, deserving people who don’t have anyone praying for them? Do they receive less help from God?

So, I ask you guys: How exactly do you go about praying for someone else? And why does it work?


  1. Martin

    It’s not a dumb question at all.

    BTW, Jimmy Akin has an entry in his blog on this very question: (read through the comments as well)

    As far as intercessory prayer for others goes, look at what happens at the wedding at Cana. They run out of wine at the party. Mary goes to Jesus and let’s him know …. but he tells her that his time has not yet come. But then, He goes ahead and performs the miracle of turning the water to wine. Did Mary’s intercession get God to change his will …. or was he already willing to help *if asked*?

    I look at this in a similar way as I do the whole question of predestination vs free will. God knows who will be ulitimately be saved and who won’t. Do the people “off” the list not have a chance at all? Of course they do. But ultimately, they’ve chosen to accept or reject God’s grace …. God knows that they will or they won’t, but this must be an act of persuasion and not compulsion.

  2. Jim McCullough

    When your four year old asks you for something, it is simply an appeal from a little heart. Sometimes you can, and will, but wanted to be asked. Sometimes you can’t or won’t and often for reasons that fly well above the head of the child. As John says in one of his letters ‘we are God’s children now … .’ I doubt He considers He’s being bossed around anymore than you do when the child asks. Rather, for a bunch of reasons, He wants to hear from you.

  3. Adoro Te Devote

    Go to scripture for the answer to that.

    I think it’s in Matthew, after “seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened…”

    Jesus explaines that if a man goes to his friend’s house to borrow a loaf of bread for unexpected guests, if the friend does not respond out of friendship, he will do so out of persistence of the one asking for help.

    It is a lesson in fortitude and persistence. Additionally, we do have to ask for all things “in accordance to God’s will.” So intercessory prayer is not bullying God, or making demands…unless we forget ourselves and realize that God isn’t some little weenie running around obsequiously doing things for us at the drop of a hat. Prayer is an experession of love for another, thus intercession serves to build up the mystical Body of Christ.

    So you see, when you pray for someone else and ask God to change the events in their life for the better, it is pleasing to the Lord and he will answer, if the request is in accordance with his will. Sometimes he doesn’t answer the prayer…at least, not as we may be asking it because he has a greater purpose in mind. In that case, God may still honor the prayers for a certein person by giving them the strength to withstand whatever problem has disrupted their lives.

    I’m not sure I stated that very clearly, but, well…there you go.


  4. SteveG

    One thing I don’t really understand, however, is how praying for other people works.

    Just my 2 cents, but I think that more often than not, it works by changing us. By prompting us to DO something for the person that we are praying for. In your example…

    If I say, “Lord, please let Bob’s sister recover from her illness,” isn’t that proposing my own plan as opposed to just submitting to his will? Yet I don’t think that when Bob asks me to pray for his sister he has in mind that I’d just say, “Your will be done in regards to Bob’s sister, Lord.”

    …Maybe Bob has a group of people praying for him. And maybe some of them start pitching in with extra effort to make a difference in his, or his sister’s life. Maybe more people begin visiting his sister in the hospital, sending cards, cooking meals, making calls, helping take care of her needs, etc., etc.

    Maybe the kindness that all the prayer causes to be poured out is the thing that touches his sister’s heart, or his heart, and draws them closer to God, or even reconciles them to God (which ultimately is God’s will for each of us).

    Maybe the actions that are spurred by the prayers are just what those people being prayed for (Bob and his sister) need at that time to make peace with God, with others.

    Maybe on occasion, the ‘miracle’ of a cure occurs, but even when that is not so, it seems that the loving acts that prayer play a part in causing are small ‘miracle’ of their own.

    I think it helps to remember that all prayer, even prayer for others, is primarily about changing ourselves. That’s why for my part, when I pray, I try to think if there is anything in particular that I can do for those for whom I am praying. That seems to fulfill the spirit of what prayer is really about more fully than just listing off the names of people I care for.

    But even when that’s all I can do, maybe I am joining my own prayers and petition with others who are praying for that person who are in a better position to truly help that person. And even when we can do nothing other then offer our sympathy through prayer, even that in itself is ‘something’ that we do for that person.

    Just a few reflections. Sorry if they are a bit scattered.

  5. Anonymous

    Please Pray For Heather Get a Job with good pay, In The Name of Jesus Christ.
    God bless ya’ll for Praying

  6. Anonymous

    Pray for Mike. In The name Of Jesus He has the tummy flu. He works the 3rd shift. Mike by His self no Family or friends. No Dr. and hospital Inc. Mike is mine son

    Pray For Israel & Jews…

    Pray For World Homeless Families. & Please Pray For Homeless Women to… In The Name of Jesus Christ & all There health Problem In The Name Of Jesus Christ


    Please Pray for Street Bullies In The Name Of Jesus Christ & Pray For Schools

    Prays for President Obama and Wife, & Children’s and his new administration. Your efforts will work powerfully in our nation.


    Prayer for families is the very foundation that keeps a family unit together. Have you heard the phrase "A family that prays together stays together"? The concept is true – a family that has their focus on praying to the Lord Jesus Christ has a foundation that may be shaken at times, but it will withstand all that comes against them.

    Prayers for Justice and Peace

  7. Beau

    I don't know if you read comments on posts this old or not, but as a fellow convert (and former atheist/agnostic) I relate to this question very strongly.

    After talking with various priests and other Catholics, and using a fair bit of logic, here's what I came up with:

    God is outside of time – we can't think of God in linear fashion as we do ourselves. God has known everything for all time.

    Why pray for the sick to get better? Why pray for the dead after they've died? (logically, it's already too late for them). Because God knows we will make those prayers BEFORE we ever make them. He knew we would make those prayers before the universe was ever created. Is God's mind already made up? Sure…but he made his decision knowing that we would be making sincere prayers asking for his intercession.

    I still struggle with free will vs. pre-destination, but I believe that we are making choices freely even if God knows those choices in advance.
    BTW – thoroughly enjoying reading through all your old posts. Lots of similarity in my own journey.

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