February 6, 2018

Prayer With Strangers

Who knows whether that person you meet at the store might appreciate a word of prayer?

Sandra Gogel

My knees shook as I approached a young man studying in the library. I handed him my small prayer paper and said, “Hello, my name is Sandy. What is your name? Every day I pray for someone, and I’m going to pray for you today.”

When I first became a Christian, I was so on fire that I would talk about the Lord to anyone who would listen. Some 40 years later, however, I was content just to have my own quiet relationship with God. Fortunately, God wasn’t going to let me off that easy.

I do a lot of babysitting for my grandchildren, and my free time is limited. So the idea of becoming involved in a time-consuming project wasn’t going to happen for me. Just going on with my life without touching anyone else for God, though, wasn’t an option either. I then heard about someone who would tell random strangers she was going to pray for them. That struck a chord with me. I could certainly pray for people! I decided to hand them a paper with a prayer on it as well. That way they could see I was serious, and they couldn’t just brush me off. It would also serve as a witness to those who might not know God.

I’m now in my fourth year of praying for strangers, and it has taken me on an exciting journey. I keep a list of everyone I have prayed for, and God often reminds me to pray for a person again later. I also write a short description of each person and where I met them to jog my memory as I look back over the list.

I was content just to have my own quiet relationship with God. Fortunately, God wasn’t going to let me off that easy.

Most people thank me, and some have even said they will pray for me too. I’ve been surprised at how many people value prayer, considering how much we hear about declining religion in our society. But what amazes me the most is someone who is so excited about my praying for them that they give me a hug, which happens more frequently than I anticipated it would. Young men are the most likely people to hug me. That’s probably because I remind them of their grandma! The other more common huggers are women my age.

Choosing the People

How do I choose whom I am going to pray for? I just get an impression from God that this is the person. Usually it is someone whom I have some contact with, such as a store cashier or a server. But it also might be someone sitting next to me at Taco Bell, such as the kid with the low-hanging pants and a gangbanger demeanor. (I had to talk myself into approaching him, but he was so happy for prayer!) Or it might be a young woman crying outside a store. It could even be a random person asking for money. Sometimes I see the person again and remind them they are on my prayer list. I am elated when they respond that they had kept my prayer paper. One person told me it is taped to her bathroom mirror. Another said it is on her refrigerator. Other papers are in wallets or kitchen drawers.

One day I was in a large department store and passed a girl demonstrating something I wasn’t interested in. She looked bored. I had walked a couple aisles away when God impressed me that she was the one He wanted me to pray for that day. I argued a little with Him and then went back. She was not real communicative. The next time I saw her I reminded her I was praying for her. This time she started telling me about her life. Every time I am back in that store I look for her, and we’ve had several interesting conversations.

Another woman I’ve prayed for is a server at a restaurant that we stop at each year on our family vacation. Her wayward son, whom I was praying for, was recently baptized. She was so happy! One girl cashiering at a local store asked what church I go to. She was looking for a church to attend, so I wrote the address and service times on the back of my prayer paper.

An Unusual Encounter

One morning I was walking along the boardwalk overlooking the ocean in Cambria, California, when I realized I needed to find a restroom. There were several hotels on the other side of the street, so I was hoping the desk workers in one of them would be kind to me. To my surprise, I was turned down at every one. The next building was a restaurant that was closed until noon. I was so desperate, however, that I decided to knock on the door. A nice woman came to the door and said of course I could use their restroom.

When I came out, I had the impression that God was pointing me to her, so I gave her my prayer paper and told her I would pray for her. She broke into tears and told me her sister was dying in the hospital and would I please pray for her. It was easy to see why the hotels had turned me down.

“Don’t Pray for Me!”

I have prayed for men and women of every age and nationality. Some of them seemed not to know what I was talking about, but most were happy to be prayed for. Only one said—almost screamed, really—“Don’t pray for me!” She was a very young girl working at a grocery store. She was visibly distressed with a wild-eyed fear in her eyes. Of course, she got more prayers than the others.

I never ask for any specific need that a person would want me to pray for, as I don’t want to come across as prying into a person’s life, but sometimes people will share something specific. God knows each person’s needs. Sometimes I get an impression to pray for health, finances, or family, but I always pray for their salvation.

An Exciting Prayer Journey

My prayer list has grown considerably since that first knee-shaking encounter. My knees no longer shake, and I try to be in tune with God’s leading each day. I would guess that many on my list have no one else praying for them.

Please consider joining me on this exciting journey. Just imagine what a change would take place in this world if we all prayed for people who otherwise have no one praying for them!

Ellen White wrote: “It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which he would not bestow did we not thus ask.”*

* Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 525.

Sandra Gogel writes from Costa Mesa, California.