24-7 Prayer founder Pete Greig offers timeless advice on how to pray for our friends who are suffering.
When a friend or loved one is suffering, our instinct as believers is to offer to pray. Though we know this offer is received with gratitude, we often feel powerless in the face of another’s pain. How can we pray effectively, with faith and conviction, when someone we know is going through hell?
In 1999 Pete Greig started a prayer room in Guildford, southern England. The small group committed to praying 24 hours per day, seven days per week for one month. Miracles began breaking out, people were getting saved. That month of prayer sparked an international, interdenominational prayer movement, now coming into a quarter-century of non-stop prayer.
Eighteen months after 24-7 Prayer went viral, Pete’s wife Sammy was diagnosed with a brain tumour. “My wife got very sick and nearly died multiple times. She had a brain tumour and I watched her slipping into epileptic fits again and again, which is horrible,” shares Greig.
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He cried out to God to make the seizures stop, but it didn’t work. “I went from believing that my prayers could save the world, to questioning whether they could save my own wife,” he says. Amidst the miracles happening all around them, the Greigs faced a terrifying situation that challenged them physically, emotionally and spiritually. Sammy survived lifesaving surgery all those years ago, but she continues to live with a chronic illness.
In the miracles and mystery of their 25-year journey, the Greigs have remained at the helm of a remarkable, global prayer movement that has touched millions of people through over 22,000 prayer rooms. Greig offers insightful advice on how to pray for a friend who is suffering.
Do offer to pray
Even if you can’t do something practical to help, do offer to pray. “The only thing most people can do is pray for us. What a privilege, to quote the old hymn, it is to be supported in that way,” says Greig.
He recalls one of Sammy’s first stays in hospital. “She was so scared but somehow she managed to sleep through the night without sleeping pills. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to her hospital bed. We found out later that people we’d never met before had driven two hours to the hospital chapel and had prayed through the night for her,” he shares.
Knowing others are praying for you and experiencing small miracles and mercies on the journey makes a huge difference during difficult times. “I can’t tell you what a comfort it is,” says Greig.
Listen to the person
When praying for others, Greig emphasises the need to listen to them.
“We’ve had countless people over the years saying the reason that Sammy wasn’t healed is she hasn’t been to Bethel or she hasn’t been to Lourdes, if they’re Catholic. Or someone said she needed to rub coconut oil on herself, it just goes on and on and on. It really hurts,” shares Greig.
“You think, ‘Is God going to count us out on a technicality because we went to Bethel instead of Lourdes, or we didn’t fast quite enough days? Is that really how it works?” he says.
The more damaging thing some people say is that suffering is a result of some sin that a person hasn’t repented of. “You add guilt to suffering, and I realised pretty quickly that had more to do with the unbelief of the other person than it does to do with us,” says Greig.
“Their worldview was being so shaken by the reality of our suffering because they have a hermetically sealed Jesus who obeys all the algorithms that they call theology. If we defy that by our very existence, they need to sort us out or they’re going to have to change their theology,” he says.
Greig suggests that we need a theology of the cross, one that encompasses the chaos and the suffering of this world. The Bible contains all that, so these damaging ideas people come up with have to do with their own unbelief. Rather than assume you know better, simply ask, ‘How can I pray for you?’ Then listen and pray.
Finally, Greig encourages believers to exercise faith on the behalf of others. Greig recalls how at one point in their journey, Sammy didn’t want to ask for prayer anymore. “She had to get her faith up and then it’s even harder to cope with the next seizure, the next flashing lights that take her to hospital because she’d dared to hope,” says Greig.
That was until they met a kind elderly couple, named Andy and Audrey, who had absolute faith that Sammy could be healed. “They were faithful but very gentle. There was no insecurity in them. Sammy really surprised me, she said, ‘I trust Andy and Audrey. I’d like to see them regularly and allow them to believe for me,’” shares Greig. He recounts, “Andy would phone and say, ‘Hello Pete, how is Sammy? Has she had any more seizures?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, Andy.’ I didn’t feel guilty. He’d say, ‘Never mind, we’ll pray on.’” The Greigs deeply valued the elderly couple’s faith, “it felt like they were truly standing over us and with us.”
Chucking rocks in a swamp
Praying without ceasing means persevering, even when it seems like nothing is happening. Greig shares a powerful image, borrowed from Frank Laubach, a great American missionary to the Philippines and a pioneer of literacy. “If you see a man chucking rocks into a swamp, it just seems pointless. Every rock just sinks without trace. But if that man keeps throwing rocks for long enough, eventually, instead of a plop, you’ll hear a click and the rocks will begin to appear on the surface and he’ll be able to walk through,” says Greig.
He says persevering in prayer is like chucking rocks in a swamp – “eventually you do see a breakthrough.” It may take years of throwing all the words we have at the heavens, years of sighing and thinking of the person or situation you are praying for before you see the miracle. “It’s not that we’re trying to bend God’s arm. Prayer is less like a hammer that breaks the rock and more like the stream that comes down the mountainside and just gets into the crack in the rock. Eventually, there’s a freeze and the whole thing shatters,” encourages Greig.
“Sometimes I’m just chucking another rock in the swamp, but I am not going to give up,” he says.
The full interview with Pete Grieg will feature in our summer edition of Eternity magazine, available in churches in November 2023.
24-7 Prayer has a range of free resources available for anyone who wants to strengthen their prayer life. Lectio365 is a free app that helps a quarter of a million daily users to pray the Scriptures. The Inner Room app makes it easier to record and consistently pray for specific prayer needs.
24-7 Prayer Australia will be hosting their first national gathering on 13-14 October 2023 in Melbourne, where Pete Greig will feature as one of the guest speakers. You can find more information here.