Let me ask you something: when was the last time you prayed for someone who was not on the prayer "list"? Put another way, when was the last time you prayed for someone whose need you did not know?
That's not the same thing as asking when you prayed for someone who had no need - we are a fragile people in a tender flesh in a fallen world; there is not a person among us who does not have a need for prayer. It's simply asking when you prayed for someone whose need you did not know.
But whose name, of course, you did.
This is an important question, for so often, we don't think about one another unless there is the gossip to go along with it. We don't think about even those that we love unless we can place a specific need on their name, a burden on their shoulders for which to pray. After all, why would we pray for someone who is not in trouble or distress? Why would we pray for someone who has not told us their need to pray for them?
Part of this sensitivity comes from the fact that we have made praying for one another almost an act of pity. Someone tells us their trouble, and we say, ah, yes, that's terrible; I will pray for you. Someone tells us how hard things have become for them and we say, gosh, I understand how difficult that must be; I will pray for you. And prayer for others has become this thing we do because we feel terrible for someone, we are thankful we're not in their shoes, and it's something we can do without making, like, a huge commitment to do something more tangible. We have become a people who use prayer to say, "Stay warm!" so that we do not have to give a coat, and then we go on and gossip about the one who is cold, saying how terrible it is that they are exposed to the elements and recruiting others through whispers and pity to pray for them, as well.
And to pray for someone in our time has become even an insult in some cases. When someone says or does or believes something stupid, it doesn't take long before someone else looks at him or her and says, "I will pray for you," when, of course, the stupid person has not asked for anyone to pray for him or her. And really, we won't pray. We just used this phrase to indicate to this person that we believe he or she is making a mistake, a foolish error, or a bad judgment.
So there is no prayer, only condemnation.
And still more, most of us either do not think to pray or do not want to pray until we know all of the little dirty details. We hold our prayer for one another hostage until we're given the specifics, until someone pours out to us the depths of their darkness. We demand to be given full access to the skeletons in the closet or no, we won't pray for you. Thus, we add shame on top of pity and condemnation. Oh, what a miserable people we are.
It's a terrible thing that our prayer has come to this, that we either wait upon a need and use prayer in pity and shame or that we throw prayer as an insult in moments when we have no intention to pray at all. For the truth is that every one of us, every single one of us at every single time, stands in need of prayer, not "because...." but just because. Just because we're fragile people in tender flesh in a broken world and life requires prayer.
When was the last time you prayed for someone whose need you did not know? Not out of pity. Not out of obligation. Not out of some perverse voyeurism that feels entitled to their dirty laundry and broken story. Not out of mere thankfulness that you are not them right now.
Out of love.
When was the last time you prayed for someone out of love?
Think of someone in your life that you love. It may be someone you know well or someone you don't know well but with whom you interact fairly regularly. Maybe it's your spouse. Maybe it's your brother. Maybe it's your pastor. Maybe it's the cashier at the grocery whose line you make a point to go through. Maybe it's the mechanic who fixes your car. Whoever it is, make it a point to pray for that person every day for a week. Just a week, just a prayer. Not because you know their need, but just because you know their name. Try it.
Seriously, just try it.