Article by: Bethany McIlrath
Is there anything I can do?
I texted this to a friend after she relayed the news of an acquaintances’ grim diagnosis. She affirmed what I already knew: all anyone could do was pray.
I asked the same question as someone I love sobbed through sharing about a sudden, unexpected trial. She confirmed that only God could give what she needed then. So she asked me to pray.
In recent years, I’ve asked this question of God Himself daily. As I’ve waited for changes only He can accomplish in others’ hearts and lives, I’ve reminded Him all the time I’m willing to do just about anything to help.
Often, the answer is simply “pray.”
When All You Can Do Is Pray
If I’m honest, “just praying” makes me feel helpless. The frustration and despair in my heart when I’m told all I can do to help is pray reveals something I don’t like to admit:
I don’t always feel like praying accomplishes anything. I don’t always believe prayer makes enough of a difference.
Maybe this is because prayer isn’t tangible.
We don’t usually see prayer taking effect with results that are immediate, visible, or predictable. Sometimes, just praying feels like taking the easy way out of helping someone. (Even if there isn’t anything we can do!)
Do you feel any of this, too?
Does hearing “all you can do is pray” make you feel a rush of guilt and helplessness?Does hearing “all you can do is pray” make you feel a rush of guilt and helplessness?
What we believe God’s Word says about prayer doesn’t always translate to our thoughts or actions.
We easily adopt misconceptions that influence our attitude towards prayer, sometimes without knowing it. This is often why being told, “all we can do is pray,” upsets us so much.
Before examining what prayer really is, let’s remember what prayer is not.
Prayer is not:
- An excuse for not taking action if there is an action to take
- Dismissing an issue by passing off responsibility
- Just thinking about someone or something with hope or empathy
- A last resort after we’ve tried everything else
- Randomly tossing out words in hope someone might hear, care, and respond
So why is praying actually helpful? How does it make a difference? Is praying beneficial to those we desperately want to serve?Prayer is a command, a gift, and a privilege. It’s what God wants us to do in ALL circumstances.
5 Reasons Prayer Helps Others
Prayer is a command, a gift, and a privilege. It’s what God wants us to do in ALL circumstances. And prayer accomplishes much. Here are five basic reasons prayer helps others:
#1. Prayer Entrusts Others to the One Who Can Do Something
“…take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” –Ephesians 6:17-18 ESV
Nestled at the end of a passage commonly entitled “the armor of God,” we find a call to make supplication for the saints. Supplication means asking, requesting, or even begging. It’s something we can do for ourselves and on behalf of others.
When we pray for others according to the Word of God, we entrust them to the Spirit who will fight for them. The Spirit is likened to a sword! He is powerful and able to protect, defend, and accomplish anything in God’s will on behalf of those we “keep alert” for.
We may not be able to do anything for those we love, but when we pray for them, we join forces with the One who can.We may not be able to do anything for those we love, but when we pray for them, we join forces with the One who can.
#2: Prayer is a Form of Showing and Growing in Compassion
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” –Romans 15:30 ESV
The apostle Paul invited people to pray for him, which tells us something about what he found valuable. Paul regarded people praying for each other as “striving” together. This is the same sort of phrase we’d use for partners building a business together, or a team working towards a shared goal. More than an item on a checklist, Paul included this invitation in his personal greetings in several letters. He saw prayer as a ministry in itself.
When we accept an invitation to pray for someone, we show compassion and also grow in our awareness and empathy for them as we strive together to bring shared requests to God.The apostle Paul viewed prayer as a ministry in itself, and so should we!
#3: Prayer Reorients Perspectives
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” –Philippians 4:5-6 ESV
Several well-known verses are clustered in this chapter of Philippians. For instance, this call to prayer is followed by the passage “think on these things.” All read together, it is clear that prayer re-orients our perspective. Praying restores our focus on God, relieves our fears and worries, and redirects what we think about.
We love and serve others better when our heads and hearts are in the right place. Prayer leads us there.
#4: Prayer is Heard and Responded To
“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 ESV
All the details of how prayer works are beyond our understanding as long as we’re humans on earth. Despite what we don’t know, we do know prayer is powerful. God’s Word is full of examples of prayer having an effect. Everything from the example of persistence in Luke 11, to Elijah praying in regards to the rain, to Hannah praying so hard that she was mistaken for a drunk, showcases how God hears and responds to prayer.
God doesn’t miss a word we think or say. He wants to hear from us, and He responds to us perfectly in His timing. Take comfort: God is at work!Take comfort: God is at work! He doesn't miss a word we think or say.
#5: Prayer Can Go Deeper Than Obvious Issues
“From the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” –Colossians 1:9 ESV
When people are in “all you can do is pray” situations, we have the opportunity to pray for deeper things than any of us could tangibly do for one another. We can bring a sick friend soup, and that’s good, but what they may need more than hot food is hope. The deep, feel-it-in-your-bones kind. God can do heart-work which no one else can.
Praying for others helps in a deep way that many of our physical or financial efforts can’t. Our tangible ways of helping are wonderful tools, but they can’t substitute for asking the Great Physician, Wonderful Counselor, and Prince of Peace to do the work.Praying for others helps in a deep way that many of our physical or financial efforts can’t.
What a blessing, when “all you can do is pray,” means striving together, compassionately, before the One who hears, cares, and answers our prayers.
Let us not grow weary in asking God to intervene in the obvious issues, and the deep, spiritual elements too.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:9-13 ESV
– Bethany McIlrath
A learner at heart, Bethany loves to share about her Savior and ways to lovingly serve others whom God has so loved. She wants those immersed in Christian environments to know the sweetness and joy of abiding in Christ for themselves.
You can find her reflections on First and Second Blog and connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Bethany is also grateful to ghostwrite and guest-write for other bloggers and ministries. She and her husband Matt have been married for 5+ years and enjoy their small dog’s antics and opportunities to serve together.