As long as I've been a Christian, I've been in small groups of one kind or another. Young Life Campaigners was my first such small group with a winsome leader who fed me milk and helped me learn to take my first baby steps in the faith. She listened to copious tears (metaphoric and literal) and in no small way, gave me a faltering voice with which to talk to God. Back then, when we prayed, both in that small grade and gender-only group of which I was a part and the larger all-high-school Campaigner group, often requests were asked for before corporate praying took place. I remember the quietness in the room (particularly the large den when we all crammed together on Sunday afternoons) where we shared our concerns and the more awkward (at least when I was very young) silence while we waited for someone to pray.
But I learned to pray in that room/ those small groups. And those requests helped direct my prayers. We all did. I remember the retreat the believers (more guys than girls by a LONG shot) in our class took at the end of our senior year in high school. We spent the weekend at a friend's lake cabin, mostly eating, talking, laughing and doing fun lake activities. But we also spent a whole lot of time singing and praying. By then we knew who the real pray-ers were in our class; that is, who tended to be verbose, and who barely ever opened their mouths. It probably won't surprise you that I was a pray-er. But so too was the not-yet-the Beve. Others fell asleep while we prayed--so soundly asleep that there was some actual snoring going on, but I won't name names at this late date. What had changed by then--after four years in the school of praying-- was that we no longer needed prayer requests to lead us into prayer, nor did any silence feel awkward. We knew each other well, and we knew God better.
Since then, I've been in so many different prayer groups I can hardly list them. Wouldn't even want to try. And even more than that, of course, I've been asked to pray privately. "Please pray for X," I've been asked. Every believer is asked and answers such a request. And often, the second clause of that request is, "Pray that..."--with specific directives for what our prayers should constitute. And, as I said, when I was young, and thought like a child, such directives helped guide me. They also actually helped me remember to pray at all. This is a common malady among believers, I think. We say we will pray...because we ought. But then we sink back into our own lives and that other person and that need doesn't pierce beneath our skin. So a specific request pierced slightly more--it was more information, I suppose.
However, the older I've become, the less I appreciate such directives. For several years while my children were in high school, I was involved in a weekly prayer group of women who met for only a single hours or so early in the morning. Early on we made the decision NOT to spend our limited time sharing our requests because it would eat away actual prayer time, not to mention that such requests are often simple gossip in masquerade. And I think those five years with those women in that hidden room off the bathroom in that church taught me more about prayer than any other group or study in my life. We didn't talk about it, or talk to each other, we talked to God. And our prayers grew and expanded and built on the Spirit's knowledge of needs that we didn't always know existed.
Because of that time in particular (though even before that I'd been leaning toward this), I've grown increasingly disinterested in knowing specifics about those for whom I'm asked to pray. It seems to me that directives slam the door in prayer. There have been too many times when I've tried to pray for that one thing, only to feel strongly that that one thing is exactly what God DOESN'T intend for good for that person. He is working, but not in that way, ie, that prayer is NOT His will. That's the scriptural way of saying it.
In contrast, to be asked to pray for a person and know nothing but the person's name is to allow the Spirit the freedom to roam around within, to direct and speak. And amazingly, this is how He wants to work--through our participating with Him in doing what He intends. What a high calling this praying is--to pray that a person is met at his/her place of need rather than simply getting what they want. After all, isn't that really what we're after? That is, don't we really want to be met by Him, to have Him meet our needs. "What does it matter if we gain the whole world but have not God?" That's the point. And to that end I pray. No matter what a person thinks they want or even what they assume they need.
And...this is why I seldom ask people to pray for me. I have the strongest sense that except in critical--ICU--moments, God the Spirit will put me and my needs on people's hearts. As HE sees fit. To ask is of itself a directive. Perhaps I take it to the extreme, perhaps it's a reaction to a practice I have come to dislike. But that's the result in my life.
Nevertheless, I pray. And am thrilled that the more I pray, the more God reminds me to pray. I rarely tell a person I will pray for them without doing so. I would say never, but that can't be true...I am a sinner. I fail. But the more I pray, the more He reminds me to pray. Not to talk about it, just to do it.
Tell me to pray and I will do so. Tell me how to pray and I probably won't.
That's the bottom line.