Prayer by Proxy When the Person You’re Praying for Isn’t Present

A reader recently asked me about prayer by proxy where someone sits in for a person who is not present while others pray and lay hands on the person acting as the proxy.  Here are my thoughts, ideas and experiences with prayer using a proxy.

What is prayer by proxy?

My reader described the prayer mode she wanted to know more about as the practice of having someone sit, kneel, etc. in the place of someone else that is being prayed for.  I told her that this might be called prayer by proxy, or using a prayer proxy where someone sits in for the person who is the subject of the prayers while others lay hands on them and pray.  This person sitting in for someone else can be a member of their family or someone who feels close to the person for whom prayer is being lifted.  You might encounter this prayer practice in churches and in other Christian prayer groups, especially during times when strong prayers are needed for someone’s deliverance or healing.

The concept of using a proxy in the Bible 

Since I’m not a theologian, I will leave it to others with more depth of knowledge to fully explore the Biblical and traditional roots of prayer by proxy.  Instead I will note that the general idea of using a proxy is in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, a “scapegoat” was used as a proxy to stand in the people’s place to take away their sin.  (see Leviticus 16: 7 -10, 20-22)  In this ritual, Aaron, the High Priest, laid hands on the scapegoat  and confessed the sins of Israel and then drove the goat out into the wilderness to symbolize the sins of the  people being removed.

In the New Testament Jesus Christ took our place on the cross and acted as a proxy or a stand-in for us so that we could be forgiven and have a relationship with God through the work of Jesus.  (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Prayer by proxy does not override the free will of the person you’re standing in for

Please note that in these Biblical instances, these proxies were determined by God.  More importantly, this divine proxy system only works if individuals who need to be forgiven and need to connect to God make their own decision to personally accept the work of the proxy on their behalf.  This is called free will.

Therefore, I think we can say that prayer by proxy is not a legally binding process where  we have complete authority to act on the behalf of someone as a prayerful stand-in, especially in situations where they need deliverance and salvation.   In essence a prayer by proxy is the same as all acts of intercessory prayer: coming before God as inspired by the Holy Spirit to pour out God’s love, longings, hopes and desires for others that by their own free will they might embrace God and his plan for their life.

If you’re using prayer by proxy for someone’s physical healing, the person, though not physically present, typically wants and accepts the prayers on their behalf. Therefore, the free will issue is not usually a barrier.  On the other hand, in my own personal prayer experiences, I have found that actually being present with someone as you pray for their healing adds extra benefits for the ill person.  Praying with them often brings them feelings of peace, comfort and a sense that God is with them.

My experiences with prayer by proxy

In my personal experience with prayer by proxy I have felt God’s presence and power in a very real way.    It’s extremely comforting and empowering to those of us participating in the prayer.  As an example, at a small prayer group at church where we know each other well, on occasion one of the women with a family member in deep distress might sit in a chair as we lay hands on her and pray for that child.  We didn’t do this thinking, “We need to do prayer by proxy.”  We didn’t even have a name for it.  Instead we did it as a natural way to pray given the circumstances.

Having been in the chair myself being prayed over for one of my sons, I can tell you that it’s very moving to feel the outpouring of prayers for my loved one.    If I try to analyze a bit of what I experienced, I felt like God was filling me (the person standing in) with new power and encouragement and insights into how to stay in relationship with my son in healthy ways.  I also felt that the intercessors around me were able to speak out in prayer more specifically about the person who was not present.  Maybe the words synergy, intimacy and specificity apply as the intercessors are freed by praying over a proxy to speak God’s words into the life of the person in need as if that person were actually present there in the room.

The elements of prayer by proxy that make it feel powerful

One unspoken question in our minds on the subject of prayer by proxy is this: Is this a more effective way of praying for someone than other means of intercessory prayer?  I can’t speak to what goes on in the spiritual realm, but I can speak to the elements that tend to heighten the feeling of God’s presence.

First and foremost is the power of praying together with others in agreement.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:19  “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with you .”  (NIV)

A second source of power of this prayer mode is posture.   Posture helps us communicate with our whole being body, mind and spirit.  The posture of others gathered around in prayer and the person standing in proxy of kneeling or sitting in a receptive posture help us pray with more focus.

Of course these elements aren’t unique to prayer by proxy.  They’re also present in other forms of intercessory prayer where believers gather to pray for each other and for our world.

Prayer by proxy does not guarantee quick results

Back to my experience with being prayed over as a proxy for my son.  I will note that he did not experience a miraculous turnaround at the very moment we were praying.  However, over time and with continued prayer, things slowly changed.  The crisis passed, the situation stabilized, we learned how to relate to each other in new ways.  And I learned how to speak honestly and openly with God and also learned to be vulnerable enough to let others pray for me in a very personal way.

At Prayerideas.org we appreciate the fact that there are many different prayer practices and we invite those who practice these to write articles for us based on their experience so that our readers might discover whether this is something that makes sense to them and one that will bring them closer to God through prayer.  If you have further questions about prayer by proxy, I’d advise anyone to speak with their clergyperson or research the teachings of their denomination on this subject.

Other helpful articles

Standing in the gap in prayer

Travailing in prayer for yourself and others

How to start a prayer group for mutual care and support

Copyright Karen Barber 2018.