The Spoken Unspoken Prayer Request

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“I have an unspoken.”

Then why did you just speak it?

The “unspoken” prayer request (pause and meditate on that phrase for a few minutes) has bothered me for years. If I have such a sensitive, secretive topic, then I can pray for it without the announcement that I have one. If I do not think I should share it with a group of people, then I shouldn’t. If it is a request that is burdensome enough to share with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, then I need to say what it is. I don’t have to share all the details to ask for prayer. I can ask my small group (Sunday School class, Life Group, Connection Group, Whatever-Clever-Name-You-Want Group) to pray about a big decision that I have to make. This is not the “unspoken” I am referring to. I am talking about those generic “I have an unspoken” comments. What is their purpose?

I liken this to a child who is supposed to keep a secret. A true secret-keeper will not give others the indication that he or she has knowledge of the secret. But as all parents have experienced, the first time you tell your child a secret, he has to advertise that he knows something that others do not know. This advertisement, this announcement of the secret knowledge, is too revealing. In essence, it is no longer a complete secret once people know that there is one being kept.

So why ask for prayer for an unspoken reason (that’s actually not unspoken)?

Could it be pride?

“This is so important, this information I am privy to, that I can’t share it with anyone.”

“This very personal issue is so private, that I can’t tell you about it.”

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘pray’ about this thing you don’t know about. Because God knows.”

It’s true that God knows. It’s also true that none of the rest of us have to know about it. If it is wise to not share about the request, then don’t. Sometimes, I think it’s good to just be quiet.

Is it really God-honoring to share an unspoken request? Request sharing should be a time of honesty, authenticity, and brokenness between like-minded, sinning disciples of Christ. Perhaps the sinning saints are hurting because we are sojourners and living in a hostile world brings trouble. (“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus warned.) Perhaps the purpose is based in praise, and we see a piece of home here on earth because loving God and loving others will bring blessing. Perhaps we share to adore the One who is redeeming us for a greater purpose. I don’t think unspoken requests accomplish any of these.

Do we see any examples in the Bible of the unspoken request? Prayers in the Bible are specific: prayers that the gospel would be shared boldly; prayers for protection and safety and holiness; prayers of thankfulness. However, even the prayers recorded in the Bible do not share all the minutia of every request. We are even instructed to avoid wordiness and repetition (Matthew 6:7). Imagine Paul (or Peter or James or John, etc.) writing, “Dear Brothers and Sisters, I have an unspoken.” It seems strange.

These are only three reasons why I see no benefit in sharing unspoken requests: they are often rooted in pride; they do not serve a God-honoring purpose; and there is no biblical precedent.

What do you think? Am I missing something?

Amy Lytle

Wife, mother, middle school teacher who wishes pajamas were fashionably acceptable, who speaks the language of sarcasm, and who imperfectly loves Jesus and her family (though she is perfectly loved.)

6 thoughts on “The Spoken Unspoken Prayer Request

  • July 31, 2017 at 1:19 pm
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    I think many times people will call a group such as their Sunday School class or Life group to pray for an unspoken request because they sincerely need their prayers but they also know that sometimes the confidential information is shared with other outside the group which then can turn into gossip or misinformation. The “unspoken” request can be shared with trusted individuals but many times in a group it needs to be private.

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    • July 31, 2017 at 2:33 pm
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      I definitely agree that there are times that confidential information should not be shared with the group. I also agree that sharing a request (that would be unspoken in a group) with specific, trusted individuals is a good thing. I agree that some requests should be private. I guess where I disagree is that I see no purpose in “sharing” a confidential, private request in a group with a generic “I have an unspoken.” However, I appreciate your comment, and I hope to learn from others’ perspectives with whom I disagree. Thank you.

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  • July 31, 2017 at 4:29 pm
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    Here is something I don’t get on this topic: I will be in a place sometimes where the a person will be on stage during a service and take requests from the audience and at the end ask “Does anyone have an unspoken?” and most of the crowd will raise a hand. What does that do? Even with Amy’s argument above, I can sort of kind of see a purpose in sharing an “unspoken” with 6-10 people – though I’m with Amy in the sense that I never do it and take her approach to it. Yet for 70 people to raise a hand for one second – that seems meaningless and shallow. In a small group the person who prays loud or anyone in the group praying silently can remember the specific person. In a huge group that seems difficult, especially when many others have shared specific requests.

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    • July 31, 2017 at 10:42 pm
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      I don’t see a purpose in the huge group show-of-hands thing either, Gowdy. I wonder if that’s a rural church thing? On a different topic, I don’t see a purpose in the I-see-that-hand thing at the end of the service, either.

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  • July 31, 2017 at 5:59 pm
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    I guess we ask for prayer (spoken) for an undisclosed person or reason and we say it is unspoken. It is probably a wrong choice of words. When we were first married, I was adjusting to the culture of a new area of the country. In the women’s meeting at church they would say, “Remember my object.” Or, “I have two objects.” My mind went immediately to tumors or something horrible like that. What they were saying was they had prayer needs they didn’t want to announce to the world or even to the small group.
    There is power in prayer when two or more are praying for specific requests and no, we don’t have to know what it is. We can just pray for Sister Sue’s object. God knows.

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    • July 31, 2017 at 8:41 pm
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      Interesting to hear how an unspoken request is shared in a different language/culture!

      I have never personally had any experience where there is “power in prayer” (in regards to sharing requests) when nothing was shared except the quick, “I have an unspoken” sentiment. My only experience in seeing and being a part of prayer that was powerful has been when the request is known, even if the details are not.

      Reply

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