When You're Overwhelmed with Prayer Needs

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve felt bombarded with major prayer requests. One day I hear news of sick and struggling family members, the next I hear a church friend report that she has cancer. A steady stream of WhatsApp messages report crushing trials for international ministry partners. Then I look at the news and hear of turmoil in Afghanistan, an earthquake in Haiti, and a growing darkness in our country—and this doesn't even account for the prayer concerns in my own extended family that I seldom seem to remember before the Lord.

The more my various inboxes fill with pressing concerns, the more I feel like a dam about to burst. It’s overwhelming, making me want to throw my hands in the air and quit praying, or pray with guilt as my motivator, something that won't sustain faithful intercession over the long haul.

How can we persevere as intercessors and not let the weight of the world's problems crush us? Here are six suggestions.

1. Be Realistic

There will always be more to pray for than you have time and ability to handle—this is especially true with social media gathering prayer concerns from all over the world. God doesn't expect you to pray for all the world's concerns, but He does expect you to pray for some. Let your limitations drive you to the humble realization that you can’t do it all, and to a greater dependence on the One Who can. Then resolve to use the limited time God has given you to pray as faithfully as possible over the long-term.

2. Conduct Prayer-Request Triage

Ask these three questions when weighing the importance of prayer requests: 

  • Should I pray for this? The family crisis of a friend in your small group probably does merit prayer, a sick dog you hear about on Twitter probably not. (Sorry, Sparky.) The closer a situation is to you, the more likely God wants you to pray for it.
  • How urgent and important is this for me to pray about? Some prayer requests are one and done—pray as soon as you hear it, and then move on. Others require more thought, energy, and long-term commitment.
  • How often should I pray for this? Depending on how close you are to the situation and how important it is, you may want to pray regularly for a request. I recommend thinking in terms of daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms of prayer.

3. Organize Requests

Once you have triaged prayer requests, plug the requests into a system for organizing prayer requests. If you don't have such a system, create one. You might try using index cards, a prayer journal, an app like PrayerMate, or something similar. The goal is to create a simple system that will remind you regularly of a variety of prayer concerns. When you come to a prayer request that's been in your rotation for a while, you can update it or remove it. Not every prayer concern is for the long-term.

4. Schedule Prayer

Busyness can kill our good intentions for prayer. That's why planning is key. Maybe your morning prayer time suffices for working through prayer requests, maybe pressing concerns spur special times of prayer throughout the day. If our prayer concerns are organized and we have a plan to pray through them, we will intercede more faithfully over the long run than if we didn't intentionally take these steps.

5. Ask Others for Help

When flooded with pressing prayer concerns, reach out to others. Ask them for help or to pray with you. If you are a leader in the church, budget extra time in small groups and meetings for praying through critical prayer needs. You may find bringing printed sheets with specific prayer requests will help your group focus on prayer and pray more specifically for the matters at hand. If you have a large group, divide up the prayer requests for smaller groups who can pray over each one more deeply.

6. Trust 

Even when the burdens of a broken world overwhelm us, we can rest confident that God doesn't call us to do more than we're able. We're not Superman. We're not the world’s saviors. We don't hold the universe together—He does (Col. 1:17), and there's nothing more exhausting than forgetting that fact. He knows our limitations, hears our prayers, and goes beyond our weaknesses to work out His redemptive purposes in the world.

Your Prayers Can Change History

Our intentionality in constructing a life of intercession isn't simply to quell our guilty consciences, it is to express faith in the God we pray to, express love to those we pray for, and express the God-glorifying yearning of "Your kingdom come" for our broken world.

Instead of letting a mountain of prayer requests overwhelm you, let the surpassing power of God to answer prayer overwhelm you and drive you to prayer. Just like one seed can eventually become an entire forest, one single prayer could change a life, a nation, or the course of human history. The question for each one of us is, will we work diligently sowing seeds for the kingdom, or will we enter heaven with prayers left unprayed?

Kevin Halloran (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves with Unlocking the Bible, a ministry dedicated to proclaiming Christ through media, mobilizing believers in evangelism, and equipping leaders for the church. He is the author of When Prayer Is a Struggle.

Related Links

Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer, a free online publication from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

"Watson’s Wisdom on Prayer" by Donald McKim

"The Simplicity and Profundity of Prayer" by Mark Johnston

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

Everyday Prayer with John Calvin by Donald K. McKim

When Prayer Is a Struggle by Kevin Halloran