I have often seen someone ask for an “unspoken prayer request”. This is when someone asks for prayers publicly, yet does not give the reason for the prayer, or anything about what is going on. Most of the time, they will add that “God knows the reason.” Nothing is wrong with this thought, as we always should seek the prayers and support of others. However, we must keep in mind that our prayers (and their direction) are very important. This is time devoted to spending with our Lord in focused remembrance of where we are in relation to Him. Let us consider some examples where when to pray and not pray is discussed in the Scriptures.
First, I should make it clear that when we do see these requests, we ought to be praying for that person in a general way, that God’s will be done in their life and that their spiritual growth begins or continues (1 Tim. 2:1-2; Phil. 4:6; Rom. 10:1-4). In fact, in some cases it seems that ending the practice of prayer for others would be a violation of God’s will. When the Israelites said, “…we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…” (1 Sam. 8:19–20), the response from God was to give them a king. Samuel helped to accomplish this, anointing Saul, but the Israelites also understood their need to repent of the rebellious attitude they had displayed (12:19). However, Samuel’s response was gracious: "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.” (12:23) Samuel implies that to stop praying for them would be sinful. We need to understand and apply this great truth. We have brothers and sisters who are spiritually suffering and need our prayers. We need to be willing and able to see these troubles and pray for those suffering from them (James 5:16).
That said, there are certain situations where the Scriptures seem to indicate that praying for certain situations would not be very fruitful. John speaks to one of these situations: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” (1 John 5:16-17) Specifically, John is saying that we can hope for results from prayer for the Christian who is struggling with sin yet wants to follow God, yet we should not always expect results from prayers for the Christian who has completely turned away and has no interest in doing the right thing. Certainly we can pray generally for their well-being and have a hope that one day they will change, but if we understand the record of Scripture, we see that God eventually “gives up” those who do not want to be a part of His kingdom (Ps. 81:12; Rom. 1:24).
The difficult question is knowing when such a thing has occurred. We cannot and will not have a perfect knowledge of the matters of others, and praying for others does not require this. However, the effectiveness of our prayers is tied somehow to the confession of others (James 5:16). Thus it would seem that we have a need to know SOMETHING if someone is to “confess [their] trespasses”.
Jesus encourages us to do good in the light of day. When I see a post on Facebook that says, “unspoken prayer request. God knows,” I have to wonder about Jesus’ words: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (Jn. 3:19–21)
Of course, we can appreciate a measure of privacy in our lives, and we are not required to share every detail publicly. In fact, there are situations where this would be unwise if not dangerous. However, if I am working in the light of day, and petition others for prayers, I will want them to have some basic idea of what I’m struggling with so that their prayers can be properly focused.
The Scriptures seem to be plain; while I can pray generally for God’s will to be done in any situation, I have found no examples in Scripture of someone requesting prayer without giving the reason for such a prayer. We should not expect help from others when we are unwilling to be open and honest about our struggles. Anyone who is doing good things will work within the light, with nothing unscrupulously hidden. -Steven McCrary