Is it Necessary to Pray for People By Name

As our church has grown, I’ve found it harder and harder to keep up with the names of every child of every member of our congregation. This is made especially hard, given the fact that we have several very large families. With that in mind, I made the following post on my Facebook page:

I finally had to add the names of the children of our congregation to my weekly prayer list. For years I’ve been praying for the kids from memory as I came across their parents’ names. That’s just not possible any more! Soooo many kids (but that’s a good thing). It is a privilege to pray for you all, Rockport Baptist Church.

Within an hour or so of that post, I received a question from a friend and former member in my inbox (which I’ve edited to preserve the anonymity of the sender).

Good morning. I have a question. Is it necessary to mention everyone in prayers by name as you stated in your post? Are the children of Rockport less blessed by Him if, in my prayer, I say “the children of Rockport?” How is this different than when, in prayer I say “all the victims of a disaster”? I trust that the Lord knows about whom I am speaking. Maybe I have misunderstood something here. Chapter and verse, please, so I can get my prayer life where it needs to be.” Have a day filled with the blessings of the Lord. (Name withheld)

Here, in an edited and slightly expanded version (using made up names) is my answer:

Dear Friend,

I find many passages that speak of “making mention of you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16, 1 Tim 1:2, Philemon 1:4). It makes sense that I, as a shepherd, should lift to the Lord by name those who are under my care, just as I lift my girls to the Lord individually. Now certainly, there are different kinds of prayer and different levels of responsibility. It is true that, since I do not know all the folks who suffered during the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook, I have no choice but to lift them up as a group to the Lord and trust that He can and does interpret my prayers as needed. In the same way I also sometimes pray for the “families of our church” as a whole rather than individually. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, when it comes to my specific responsibility to shepherd and care for individuals, I find that it is necessary (or at least helpful) to bring them to the Lord individually. When I ask the Lord to bless the Baker family for instance, I am thinking of them as a whole. Certainly God can and does use such praying. But when I am praying for little Tom Baker, for instance, the Lord brings his individual needs to my mind so that I am moved to pray for him more earnestly. Does that make sense?

I think it comes down to a matter of wisdom. Since I cannot pray for every individual in the world, I spend specific time praying for those individuals for whom I bear a personal responsibility. So that is the question: For whom has God made me responsible? My wife and children, certainly. Grandkids when I get them one day. My own parents, siblings and families. Other relatives, in-laws, etc. And as pastor, the people of this congregation. I also include good friends, missionaries I personally know, and on in on. Generally I begin with those closest, and move out in concentric circles as I seek to pray for those in my immediate sphere of influence. This is where my “lists” of people I know begins to come in handy. I have broken up my week into various categories of prayer so that I may work through most of the people in my life on a weekly basis, while praying for those closest to me daily.

Does that answer your question?

My prayer is that this answer may help others as well

Grace and peace, through faith in Christ,

Pastor Scott Lee