How to Use Supportive Prayer with Someone Going through a Life Crisis

Often when someone we know is going through a life crisis we may formally or informally enter into a supportive, care giving relationship with them to help them through.  Using effective prayer strategies is essential.  If you are a pastor,  Stephen Minister, mentor, counselor or caring friend of someone in a life crisis, here are some strategies of how to overcome the obstacles to prayer in your role of being a supportive caregiver helping a care receiver going through a life problem.

DSC01012-2Over the years I have been blessed to be able to serve as a care giver to a variety of people going through life crisis periods in my role as a trained Stephen Minister.  Through Stephen ministry, I was assigned to be in one-on-one caring relationships with many different people with common life problems, such as divorce, grief, unemployment, family issues, homelessness, illness, domestic violence and hospice care.  Here are the prayer secrets that I have learned.

1.  Overcome interferences to prayer.

Fact: Prayer requires a private setting free from interruptions and distractions.

Reality: If you are meeting in someone’s home or office, the telephone will ring, children may be underfoot, the T.V. may be on, others may be in the next room within earshot or a pet may be on the prowl barking or seeking attention.   If your meeting takes place in a restaurant or coffee shop, concentrated prayer is nearly impossible because of the lack of privacy, noise levels and feeling self consciousness.

Strategies:  The solution to this problem is to simply structure your caring visits in a meeting place and at a time that is as free from interferences as possible.  Here are some ideas:

Try not to meet every time in restaurants and coffee shops.  If you must usually meet in this setting, find a way to pray nearby, such as in a park or the parking lot by your car as you are leaving each other.  You might also consider sitting for a few moments in your car together for prayer if the weather permits.

On occasion meet together in a place of prayer, such as a prayer chapel or church sanctuary.  Or go to such a place if there is one nearby as a part of your regular meeting to talk.

In a home or office setting pray through interferences when possible.  Briefly pause and acknowledge in prayer or in a break in prayer that something is interfering.  Pray silently while the interruption is being taken care of, then resume praying.

cell phone Before prayer time, make a request that your care receiver turn off their cell phone ringer or cage pets.

Pray over the phone with CR if it’s not possible when you are meeting together.  You can make it low key by saying, “Do you mind if I say a little prayer before we hang up?”

Pray before your meeting that God will clear out the interferences the interrupt your prayer time together.

Treat interferences with a sense of humor.  One time when I was meeting with my care receiver her yapping little dog jumped up on the sofa where I was sitting and “piddled.”  We laughed as the deed was cleaned up – and my care receiver put the dog in his crate.  We had a great prayer time that day!

Be assertive.  One Stephen Minister found frequent interruptions from hired sitters,   maintenance people and visitors during visits with an elderly care receiver.  She learned to say, “We’re going to need a few minutes for prayer time right now.”

2.  Overcome Forgetfulness about praying.

Fact: It’s very easy to forget to pray.  Praying together is not the first response, even within church groups.  You will forget to pray with your Care receiver sometimes.  Make a plan that will help you remember to pray.

Reality: Often when someone is in a crisis period, much of the time of a caring visit gets taken up with very important and sometimes emotional discussions.  As care givers, we can get so caught up in trying to understand the situation or soothe the person’s emotions that we can  forget to pray.

Strategies: The solution to this prayer obstacle is to both make prayer time a habitual part of the normal routine and to also to become more aware of and sensitive to reminders from God that we have temporarily forgotten to pray.

John Wesley Prayer TeapotStructure meetings around prayer.  Start a tradition of either opening or closing your caring visit with prayer.  If you haven’t made prayer a formal part of your visits, you can start fresh at your next meeting by telling your care receiver that going forward you’d like to make prayer part of the format

Ask your care receiver to help you to remember to pray if you forget.  Two heads are always better than one!

During a session when you remember that you forgot to start with prayer, apologize and stop and say the prayer.  It’s never too late to pray.

Ask God to give you an inner “prayer buzzer” that alerts you when to stop and pray during a session.  I sometimes feel a lot of stress and anxiety building in my own neck and chest when my care receiver starts telling me about difficulties she has encountered.  I think to myself, “If I’m feeling this way just with her telling me this, imagine what she’s feeling actually living through this.”   I use my own feelings of distress as a signal that it would be a good time to stop and pray – right then – about the problem being addressed.

Set your cell phone alarm to signal prayer time at projected end of your meeting.  Two ring tones that are good prayer reminders are bell tower and harp.

3.  Deal with worries about unanswered prayer and how it might affect the care receiver’s faith

Fact: Only a small fraction of our prayers are answered in the way we had envisioned they would be or as quickly as we had hoped they would be answered.

Reality: Everyone is conflicted about praying for healing with a dying person, asking God to save a marriage that might not be saved, etc. for fear of setting up God to fail in the eyes of the care receiver.  Also, our care receivers may themselves have unrealistic expectations about how and when God should answer their prayers.    

Strategy: Often our worries about unanswered prayer can be alleviated by praying  care giving prayers instead of cure giving prayers.  This can be done by avoiding prayers that create too narrow a target to define the word “answer,” such as being adamant that God answer in the way we envision He should act or how we think events should work out, or what we think needs to happen to make our care receiver happy and solve their problems.

Christ in anguish Pray specifically while leaving room for God to work.  If the Holy Spirit leads you to pray specifically for healing or resolution, couple it with a phrase like, “You tell us in the Bible to ask for what we need, and so we are asking for….  Yet at the same time we ask in the same spirit Jesus did when he asked you to spare him the suffering of the cross and then prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.  (Luke 22:42)  Helpful resource:  article on finding and answer to every prayer.

Use Process-oriented care giving  prayers  Instead of emphasizing favorable outcomes or events in prayer, pray about the journey toward healing.  Consider praying that God might show your care receiver the next step on the healing path.  Thank God for the good steps already taken, ask Him for guidance on what to do next and pray for His strength and help to take the next step.  Helpful resource: Finding God’s direction.

Pray Presence Prayers: Affirm God’s loving presence, his ability to interact with your  care receivers situation, speak hope that no matter what, God is there and emphasize God’s loving nature and goodness.

Use “Triple P” Care Giving Prayers – Presence, Praise, Process: Here are three words that you can use as a mental outline to form a personal prayer with your care receiver that emphasizes God’s involvement in the process toward stability in your care receiver’s life. 

Presence – Ask God to be with the care receiver, to send strength, courage, encouragement, peace, comfort, helpers, reassurance, Grace, mercy, etc.

Praise – Thank God for the good qualities your care receiver possesses, the positive notes in their life situation, for the graciousness the care receiver has shown in allowing you to meet with them, for their honesty, their desire to get well, their desire to grow, and their reassurance that God loves them, etc.

Process  – Ask for God’s step by step guidance for your care receiver for the success in what they need to do the next day, for God’s help in making a long term plan, to give them a vision for the new life God is leading them toward, etc.

4.       Overcome self consciousness/lack of feeling “skilled” in praying with others. 

Fact: Often we feel inadequate to pray with our care receiver because we compare ourselves to those who can offer extemporaneous prayers that sound eloquent, are full of Scriptures and are prayed in such a way that God surely hears.  We wish we could pray in such a way that everyone who hears the prayer feels uplifted and blessed.

Reality: When we are praying about huge life problems, we sometime feel we don’t know the right things to say in prayer.  We also may feel uncomfortable praying out loud.  We may be unsure if our care receiver is comfortable with prayer and we may be unsure of what prayer customs they are familiar with and respond to.

Strategy: There are a large variety of prayer methods you can use during your meeting with your care receiver.  Many of them can be prepared beforehand or can be read as a prayer, making you feel less pressure to “say the right thing” when you pray.

Extemporaneous praying  This is saying a prayer that you make up as you pray it according to what you sense God is guiding you to say.  If you are not one of those people who can do this easily at this time, you might want to utilize another form of prayer from the suggestions that follow.

Praying for peace on the Lebanese border

Praying for peace on the Lebanese border

Pre-written personal prayer Consider writing a prayer in advance in a retreat-like setting, such as at home where you normally pray or in a quiet prayer chapel.  After you have written your prayer, go back and use a search engine to look up Bible verses that remind you of something that came to your mind while writing the prayer and insert them where appropriate.  I used this method one day sitting on a porch swing in a small garden area of a hospital for someone who was hospitalized.  Take your written prayer to your next caring visit and pray it out loud as your prayer for them.  You can give them a copy of the written prayer to keep and re-read when they need God’s reassurance.  See: Prayer I wrote for healing while on the garden porch swing.

Guided prayer.   A guided prayer is one where the leader prays a few words on a subject of need, then pauses for more specific prayer about the need.  The pause can either be a time of silent prayer for both the leader and participant, or the participant may say a few words on the subject if they feel comfortable doing so.  You can make up your own guided prayer using the same method you used above to create a written prayer.  Or you can use one you find online or in a prayer book.  Here is a guided prayer written for you: Guided prayer for caregivers helping someone through a life crisis.

Psalm 139 “What we’ve just talked about” closing prayer.  Fortunately, at the end of a caring visit you normally don’t need to ask “are there any prayer requests?” because in essence your whole time together has in some ways been a way to bring the situation before God.  You can use a “What we’ve talked about today prayer.”   You might say something like this, “You’ve heard all that my care receiver is dealing with and feeling.  we thank you that as they have been heard here today, they have also been heard by you.  Thank you that you know our thoughts before we think them, and our words before we say them and that you care about all of the big and little details of our lives.”

Psalm 139:1-4 NIV says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sti and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”

Closing prayer highlighting the discussions during the caring visit.   Listening is the hallmark of a healthy caring visit.  When it comes time to pray a closing prayer use the recollections of what you have just talked about with your care receiver as a way to structure your prayer.   I used this method and often my care receivers would remark after my prayer, “Wow, how did you remember so much of what we said!”  It makes the care receiver feel doubly blessed not only for their needs and concerns to be lifted up to God but also that you have heard them well.   Here’s a brief example of the kind of prayer I prayed with someone,  “You know my care receiver doesn’t like surprises, even good ones, so help her to find a good resource that will give her an idea of what to expect during chemotherapy.  Strengthen her husband.  Help her know how to handle nosy questions people ask her that she doesn’t want to answer…”

Job Learning of His Ruin by Gustave DorePrayer of Lament.  Did you know that it’s very Biblical to say a prayer of sorrow about injustice, oppression, grief and disaster?  These are called prayers of lament and there are many Psalms that follow this pattern.  Saying a prayer of lament with your care receiver may help them express their feelings to God knowing that he cares.  Helpful article:  Praying prayers of lament 

Prayer of affirmation and blessing.  Prayers of blessing and affirmation can make a huge difference in you care receivers life.  Your care receiver may have never heard anyone pray out loud for them, commending them to God and asking for his blessings.  The added bonus of such prayers is that they are non-event related and are not problem solving prayers.  Instead they are requesting God’s grace, presence and in-filling in your care receiver’s life.  The purpose of prayer is to reassure your care receiver that God cares about them, values them, has heard them and wants to help them through their times of difficulty. Helpful article as a sample of a prayer of blessing:  Prayer of blessing for life’s hard times. 

The whole armor of God.  Often care receivers are need of strength and protection against evil life forces.  If your care receiver is in need of courage for a particularly tough day, praying the whole armor of God will help them. (see Ephesians 6:10-17)  You can pray all of the armor, or the particular piece of armor they need that day.  Helpful articles: Praying the armor of God.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Pray scripture.  Before your visit look up scriptures about an issue that your care receiver is dealing with, such as fear.  Write the scriptures down before the meeting, then read them as a prayer saying, “We claim that promise in the Bible for my care receiver  today that says….”  Helpful article: Praying Scripture

Use a written prayer from a book or the internet.  Find a prayer on the life situation your care receiver is experiencing, copy it and read it during your visit as your prayer.  Here is a list of specific written prayer topics available on this website: Specific life situation written prayers 

Pray a future and a hope.  Don’t be afraid to pray a hopeful, general picture of the future where your CR is on their feet again.  A good scripture to pray is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (NIV)

prayer pill box Pill Box Prayers.  Giving your care receiver a tangible reminder that you are in prayer for them even when you are apart can be of great comfort and encouragement.  In the pill box prayer idea, you write down a daily prayer on a small slip of paper and put into each compartment to be opened daily for a week.  Here is more information on how to make and use a prayer pill box.  

5.       Help your care receiver to become personally active and more confident in prayer.  

Fact:  People experience trouble praying when going through crisis periods due to their  diminished mental energy and they have less time, space and opportunity for their usual prayer times.   Some may enter a crisis without having previously developed personal prayer habits at all.  Helping a care receiver find prayer modes that will nourish them and help them feel that God is there is a vital part of a caring relationship.

Reality: Your care receiver may depend on you to do all the praying.  They may not know how to pray or how to grow their personal prayer life.  They may also erroneously feel that they are unworthy to pray, or that you as the care giver have a special “in” with God because you are more religious.  They may also be suffering from numbness, grief and depression which makes God feel very distant and unreachable.  They may also have anger towards God, religion and other people.  Or they may think that prayers need to go through a priest or a minister.  Or they may feel that they first meet certain conditions or do good deeds in order to be heard.

Strategy:  During a personal crisis period, the more instruments of prayer you can immerse yourself in, the more strength and hope you will feel.  It is essential that you introduce your care receiver to new prayer ideas and practices they can do on their own.  In some cases, you may enable this process by initially going somewhere with them, such as to a prayer chapel or a prayer labyrinth.

Quiet sanctuary prayer.  Go with your care receiver to a place of prayer such as a prayer chapel, a church sanctuary or outdoor chapel.  Once there, simply sit in silent meditation and prayer, experiencing God’s presence through the symbolism and quiet.  Some churches open their doors for meditation time where soft hymns and praise songs are playing in the sanctuary to enhance the experience.   Some churches and groups also designate special prayer “soaking” rooms where you can quietly rest in God’s presence.  Helpful links: soaking prayer

Capture prayer labrynithActive prayer.  Doing a prayer walk is a wonderful way to improve the state of your body, mind, soul and spirit.  Prayer labyrinths are simple pathways that lead to a center point where the pathway itself guides you and you are free to meditate upon God or upon some grace or word of guidance you need.  Prayer labyrinths can be found outdoors, painted on a church floor or can be a canvas mat that is temporarily placed on the floor during special times of prayer.  Another form of prayer walk is to walk through a place connected to the subject of prayer while praying silently for the people and situations in that locale.  An example would be doing a prayer walk through a church or home, or on the grounds of a school or through a community.  As a care giver you may meet your care receiver at a prayer walk location to help introduce them to this prayer method.  Helpful articles: Prayer Walking    Pathway Praying

Healing prayer service. Local churches often hold healing prayer services.  Some are offered on special occasions and others are offered on a regular basis on a certain day of the week.  Most offer healing prayers for physical, emotional and spiritual problems.  Before suggesting that your care receiver go with you to a healing prayer service, it’s wise to visit the service yourself to see what they do during the service so you can explain the procedure to your care receiver beforehand.  It’s vitally important to ask questions to make sure that those conducting the healing service do not advocate participants stopping medication or medical treatments.  It is dangerous for anyone to go off of medication or to discontinue treatment without consulting a trained medical professional.

Also make sure that the healing prayer team looks at healing in a holistic way.  This would mean that healing is presented in a broader sense to include emotional, spiritual and mental healing in rather than simply seeing it as exclusively physical.  This broader outlook on healing will help all involved be open to the various types of healing God wishes to work in someone’s life at any given time.

It is also advisable to talk to your care receiver prior to the service about the fact that God heals in many ways.  God can heal a person quickly or more slowly.  He usually works through many pathways, including modern medicine, good health habits, rehabilitation and prayer.  A person who may not receive a physical healing at a healing prayer service, but may instead receive a new dose of hope, peace, forgiveness or joy.

I personally enjoy a healing prayer service where they offer a combination of time to simply sit in God’s presence in a music filled sanctuary and a way to receive private prayer with one or two individuals for the specific request you might have.  For an example of this type of service see this link How to have a healing prayer service.

Hiding Place prayer. I discovered this comforting form of prayer when a family member was seriously ill.  In hiding place prayer, you find a mental or physical place where you can feel separated from your problems and sheltered in God’s care.  This can be a very comforting form of prayer to teach your care receiver that will help reduce their stress and give them a means of feeling God’s care.  Click to learn more about hiding place prayer.

Denominational prayers.  Your care receiver may be used to different prayer practices from the denomination in which they grew up or currently attend.  Ask your care receiver to tell you about the ways and means of prayer that have meant something to them in the past.  For instance, a person from a Catholic background would be more open to using familiar written prayers used in the liturgy.  You could ask them to educate you on a prayer practice you may not be familiar with so you can encourage them to use it as a way to connect to God.  Helpful links: using the sign of the cross in prayer,  praying your suffering with the suffering of Christ

The Jesus Prayer: The Jesus Prayer is a simple prayer used for centuries by Christians all over the world.  It is prayed slowly as you relax and mediate on the words: “ Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  This prayer is based on a teaching of Jesus found in Luke 18:13 where Jesus commends a tax collector who feels unworthy to even look up toward heaven as he prays the words of this prayer.  As a side note, if your care receiver is suffering from depressed and has a low self esteem, you may simply use the first part “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me” and omit “a sinner.”  Helpful link:  Praying without ceasing

Direct them to sources for making confidential prayer requests.  There are many ways in which your care receiver can ask for and receive confidential prayer from a variety of sources.  Often the process of writing down a prayer request and submitting it helps us articulate to God what we want and need.  Since your care receiver’s situation may be confidential, you may want to explore the avenues of prayer open to them in your church or community.  For a list of different ways and means of making confidential prayer requests, see How to make confidential prayer request.  

Give your care receiver a book or study on prayer.  If you have a favorite book on prayer, it is very helpful to give them a copy as a gift.  You can either read the book “together” by each reading a chapter a week and discussing it briefly in your meetings, or your care receiver may simply read it on their own.  One important word of advice:  when someone is going through an initial crisis period or is depressed, reading a book may take too much time and/or mental energy.  If this is the case, limit books to short ones with prayer promises that can be quickly read and prayed or books with very short key thoughts on prayer.  Longer books on prayer would be most useful during a period of stabilization or a long term recovery, especially books that tell true stories of how prayer has worked in the lives of real people in similar situations.  Here is a list of books on prayer  that have been recommended by our prayerideas.org community.

Other resources giving new ideas on how to pray

How to pray articles

Specific written prayers for different life situations

Prayers for specific life needs and situations

Copyright Karen Barber 2013.  All rights reserved.