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Better than ‘I Will Pray for You’

Written by Elliot Clark on . Posted in The Gospel Coalition Blog

Article by: Elliot Clark

Virtually every Christian desires to be a blessing. The problem comes when we don’t quite know how. Even the way we talk about “blessing” has become nebulous. Blessing others can be understood to entail just about any good deed. Yet we’re easily perplexed, never quite sure if we’ve accomplished it or how to go about it.

But I think being a blessing can be both simpler and more significant than we realize. And it can happen through prayer. Not the thoughtless and private petition, “God bless so-and-so.” What we need is to rediscover the subjunctive mood of prayer.

In my previous country of residence, the Central Asian Christians I knew were constantly doing this—blessing others in ways I wasn’t, peppering every conversation with short and simple expressions of desire. “May God’s peace be upon you.” “May God grant you healing.” “May God’s name be praised.” They had a way—a whole culture—of blessing people that I found incredibly refreshing and expressly biblical. It seemed that for every circumstance and setting my friends had an appropriate invocation, a verbalized expression of reliance on God.

And it’s something I’d love to see revived in Western churches.

More than a Promise

“I will pray for you” is perhaps the most common phrase spoken among American believers. It also may be the most hollow. Even if it can give soft encouragement, the words are often the shell of an unfulfilled promise. In reality, they say very little. In the midst of hurt and suffering, our culture generally makes an effort not to say too much. And we end up saying virtually nothing at all.

‘I will pray for you’ is perhaps the most common phrase spoken among American believers. It also may be the most hollow.

But there’s a way of speaking to others that actually blesses them. It’s incredibly simple and, potentially, deeply meaningful. I’m almost ashamed to say so, but I wasn’t awakened to it until I lived in another country, despite the fact that such prayers permeate the Scriptures.

Biblical Examples

Think about the pages of the Bible. God blesses man. Man blesses God. Man blesses his children and his neighbor. Perhaps the most famous example is Aaron’s blessing on the people, “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).

Other examples include Isaac’s inadvertent blessing of Jacob in which he recapitulated God’s blessing to his father Abraham (Gen. 27:18–29). But there are also many short, sentence-long blessings throughout the Bible, such as Boaz’s greeting, “The LORD be with you” (Ruth 2:4), or Paul’s simple “Grace to you” (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Philem. 3)

Blessings like these can and should, if possible, include invoking God’s favor on others in their presence, even to their face. The patriarchs did this for the children at their knee. Paul did it in letters to far-flung churches. We may do this by reading a benediction at the conclusion of our Sunday gathering. But it need not end there.

Everyday Benedictions

Everyday benedictions should saturate Christian conversation throughout the week, since they have the double-edged power of supplication and encouragement. When we actively bless others we’re simultaneously asking God for help and building them up with hope. Consequently, our words become increasingly God-centered and God-glorifying. As a result, we find we’re actually blessing people.

We can greet in joy, pronounce hope, express concern, exalt in worship, spur action, speak trust, and comfort the soul.

Of course, spoken blessings need not be formulaic. They can be as flexible as our faith. We can greet in joy, pronounce hope, express concern, exalt in worship, spur action, speak trust, and comfort the soul. More than just saying, “God bless you,” we can actually bless others with short and specific prayers in their presence for their good. “May the Spirit fill you with his comfort.” “May God’s power accomplish all his purposes in you.” “May Jesus’s name be known through your witness.”

Instead of just praying for a blessing or even trying to somehow be a blessing, we can do both at the same time. Through text messages. In conversations after church. At major life events. Over e-mail.

It all starts when we begin our sentences with “May God” rather than “I will” or “you should.”

If we do that, I think we’ll recover a bit more of what it means to pray unceasingly. And we may just rediscover one powerful way to be a blessing.

Elliot Clark has been living in Central Asia for six years where he serves as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and three children. He previously completed an MDiv in Christian ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 

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