A few weeks ago I was struggling to pray for someone. I care about this person, but I was having a hard time knowing what or how to pray for them. Whenever this happens or if I’ve been praying the same thing for someone for a long time, there’s a pattern. I mindlessly continue to pray, gradually devoid of empathy, concern, or any expectation that God will intervene. Eventually, I quit praying for them altogether.

It isn’t generally difficult for me to pray. I pray for people all the time. I don’t need to like or agree with you to pray, but some people and things are much harder to pray for and about than others. I was talking to my mentor and friend about all of this and the woman I wanted to pray for but was struggling to, when my friend suggested I pray something simple, but incredibly profound,

“God, give me Your heart for _______.”

Asking God for His heart for this woman has changed everything. How? For starters, I’ve started asking God for his heart for lots of other people; for a close family member, for my friend who is gay, for someone who doesn’t like me, and even for myself. How else have my prayers started to evolve simply by asking God to give me His heart for whoever I’m praying for?

  1. I pray more intentionally. Asking God for His heart for a specific person forces me to pause, think, and care more.
  1. I pray more passionately. It’s almost impossible to ask God for His heart for someone and then just go through the motions of prayer.
  1. I pray more broken. Asking God to give me His heart for my husband, kids, people I like, and even for people I don’t like, has been bringing me to tears; tears of empathy and compassion I didn’t have before.
  1. I pray more expectantly. Like everything else we pray for, asking for God’s heart isn’t answered immediately or obviously, but somehow, I’ve expected Him to answer this request more than I do most of the other things I pray for.

Who in your life is difficult to pray for? Your spouse? That in-law? Your teenager? Stop trying to pray. Instead start asking God to give you His heart for that person. Say their name. Picture their face. Take them to the foot of the cross in your mind and picture Christ’s heart and demeanor toward them.

Although I don’t understand how prayer “works,” I do know asking for God’s heart for people I struggle with, have given up on, or can’t relate to, is changing me. And perhaps that is part of the answer to how prayer works. It starts by changing us. It starts by breaking our hearts for what breaks God’s. It starts when my heart and the lens through which I see people becomes,

More intentional, passionate, broken and expectant.