Teenagers - Whispering a SecretIt usually begins something like this: “You need to pray for my (friend, relative, neighbor). He/she is really going through tough times right now.”

The problem is, how do you politely stop this person from sharing something that might turn out to be nothing more than gossip, without coming off as pompous or heartless?

This is not to be confused with conversations that we might have about others. (That’s another issue.) This is about couching gossip as a prayer request.

Being a hairdresser, as well as someone who counsels women whose marriages are in crisis for the past 25 years, I’ve had my fair share of people sharing a “prayer request” that was anything but. Over the years I’ve had to develop ways of making sure that I don’t get caught up in a mess, and much of what I’ve learned has been the hard way. From being too quick to listen so I could help, or stopping the person cold, causing embarrassment, my lessons have been painful to say the least.

These following 5 principles have helped me identify and stop “prayer gossip” and I hope they will help you as well.

1. Has the person asked to have their prayer request shared with others?

I belong to a national prayer chain and the person who emails the requests has permission to do so. Jennifer (AMFM) is a trusted source and anyone who emails her for prayer knows that she will send it out to the rest of us. We don’t have to worry about whether or not she has broken a confidence. Likewise, Joe and I have our own prayer chain, but when we email this group of ladies they know that we prefer the requests to be confidential, and they do not email or share with anyone else.

2. When am I expected to pray?

If time permits, I like to ask if we can just pray now for the situation. By doing this, I don’t have to keep the information for long or feel guilty for not praying later. This also helps the person and myself to bring the discussion about someone else to a focus on prayer rather than our opinions (so tempting to do). If it’s truly a prayer request, then we should pray rather than discuss.

3. Am I getting unnecessary details?

It is a red flag when someone goes into personal details about someone else’s marriage, health issues, family, or finances. It’s not easy, but these are times when I have to politely stop the person sharing and say something like, “I’m sure the person wouldn’t like knowing that I have all this information, so it’s probably best if we don’t discuss this, okay?” This might even happen in a Bible study or group setting, and speaking up can also help others feel at ease. Even though it’s difficult, stopping the conversation will be the best for all.

4. Do I have permission to contact the person we are praying for?

I like to know at some point if the person I’m asked to pray for is needing more than prayer? For instance, is there a call for action as well? Is a marriage in crisis? Is the person dying of an illness? Is the family suffering in some way and needs assistance? If I’m being asked to pray, I also want to know if there is another reason for sharing this personal and sensitive information. If a situation is dire, it makes sense to be sharing a prayer request with a call for action to help and the person should be informed that others are being told so they can help as well as pray.

5. How would I feel if it were me?

This has helped me stop gossip wrapped in a prayer request more than anything else. When someone asks for prayer for another, if the information being shared begins to make me wonder what the person would think if they were listening, it’s time to stop the conversation. Saying something like, “You know, If that were me, I don’t think I would want others knowing about it. Is he/she openly asking others to pray?”

Jesus modeled the perfect way to pray for others all through the New Testament. He took it seriously. So should we.