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?” is the most frequently asked question I have received since I began teaching on resisting gossip.
It’s complicated. We want to encourage much intercessory prayer, so we create and maintain phone chains and email prayer lists and we take requests for others at small groups and prayer 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 make an entrance in the process (Proverbs 10:19).
Here is a mental checklist that I have developed for managing prayer requests in a careful, godly manner. Before you pass on that request, make sure to check your facts, your role, your audience, and your heart.
Check Your Facts
Prayer requests can be famous for being fuzzy. That’s no big deal if the situation isn’t something potentially shameful. 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 team” or “Cheryl lost her job” or “Cheryl broke up with Jeremy,” then it could be very damaging.
Check your source. Is this info straight from the horse’s mouth? Verify the facts. Is there another way of interpreting the facts you have (Proverbs 18:17)? Don’t transmit hearsay or rumor. Make sure what you are passing on is true.
And remember: you don’t have to share all of the juicy details with others (even their names). 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 if they knew about it? Is the prayer request confidential? (If so, keep it that way!) Is this your place? Should you shoulder this prayer burden alone, not shrug it off onto others?
Many of us never ask ourselves these key questions. The answers are not always obvious. 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 of Thumb answers a lot of difficult questions (Matthew 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 safe or unsafe with confidences (Proverbs 11:13)?
Be discerning. There may be nothing wrong with passing on this request to one person but everything wrong with passing it on to another.
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 friend? Do you get a surreptitious thrill from sharing the juicy secret? Are you passing it on for entertainment purposes? Are you asking for prayer about a situation so that you can stealthily complain? Would you say it differently if the person you’re talking about was present?
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. Matthew 12:35-36). May we be found faithful.
Join the Conversation
Have you struggled with gossip in your prayer requests? Either way, how can we help our church to live and pray in a way that is gossip-free?