Oh, those infamous prayer requests!
“We need to pray for Olivia and Liam. I heard that they might be getting a divorce!”
“I’m calling to ask for prayer for the church board. Something big is happening tonight. The chairman might resign!”
How do we keep gossip out of our prayer ministries? This is the most frequently asked question people ask me since I began teaching on resisting gossip.
It’s complicated. We want to encourage intercessory prayer, so we create phone chains and email prayer lists and we solicit requests from people at small group meetings. However, prayer requests come from sinners, are about sinners, and are passed on to other sinners, so there are plenty of opportunities for sinful gossip to enter into the process (Prov 10:19).
Here is a mental checklist I developed for managing prayer requests in a careful, godly manner. Before you pass on a request, make sure to check your facts, check your role, check your audience, and check your heart.
Check Your Facts
Prayer requests can get muddled very fast. If the situation is not something potentially shameful, getting the facts wrong may not be a big deal. If it gets reported that “Cheryl is having her tonsils out” when Cheryl is really going to have her wisdom teeth removed, it’s embarrassing to the one with the incorrect facts, but not embarrassing to Cheryl. But if we report that “Cheryl got cut from the softball team” or “Cheryl lost her job” or “Cheryl broke up with Jeremy” and it’s not true, then it could be very damaging.
So check your facts. Is this info straight from the person it’s about? Don’t transmit hearsay or rumor. Make sure what you are passing on is true.
And remember—don’t say more than you have to. You don’t have to share all of the juicy details. God knows all about it.
Check Your Role
Are you the right person to pass on this request? Do the people being talked about want this request to be made known? Would they want it repeated? Is the prayer request confidential? (If so, keep it that way!) Is it your place to pass it on? Should you shoulder this prayer burden alone and not pass it on to others?
Many of us never ask ourselves these key questions, but we should. Sometimes we still need to pray for people who wouldn’t want it—unbelievers who don’t believe in prayer, for example. But often, simply applying Jesus’ Golden Rule answers a lot of difficult questions: “Do to others what you would have done to you” (Matt 7:12).
Check Your Audience
Some people shouldn’t be trusted with certain prayer requests. Think about the person you are talking with. Are they tempted to be a gossip? Do they seem over-eager to hear bad news? Do they have a reputation for being unsafe with confidences (Prov 11:13)?
Be discerning. There may be nothing wrong with passing a request on to Melinda but everything wrong with passing it on to Daryl.
Check Your Heart
Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart. What is your motivation for sharing this prayer request? Is it loving? Is it for the glory of God?
Be honest. Do you actually want to be seen as someone “in the know” with an inside scoop? Do you want to impress your listener? Do you get a surreptitious thrill from sharing the secret? Would you say it differently if the person you’re talking about was present? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, be very careful how you handle information about other people.
Anyone can be tempted to gossip. But we can avoid it if we slow down and evaluate whether we are the right person, with the right motivation, talking to the right audience, with the right information. A good prayer request comes from the good stored up in a good heart, and one day, we’ll all have to give an account for the prayer requests we passed on (cf. Matt 12:35-36). May we be found faithful.
An earlier version of this blog appeared on other websites, including The Exchange: A Blog by Ed Stetzer on October 14, 2014.