Prayer Request Gossip

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One of the problems that frequently affects churches is gossip. We can pass it off as “little gossip” or “no big deal” but Scripture* identifies it as sin.

Why is this such a problem? Well, for starters, almost everyone likes a “juicy little bit of inside news.” Never mind that it’s probably either not true or exaggerated, it’s hard not to listen to it. (And, aren’t those who listen to gossip as guilty as those who purvey it?) We should refuse to listen, though.

The second reason that gossip is so prevalent in our churches is because our (church) culture inadvertently encourages it. I say inadvertently because this terrible sin of gossip, which can destroy a congregation just as cancer destroys the human body, too often grows out of our prayer life--which is one of the most important aspects of the (corporate) body’s life. Unfortunately, we let our great privilege and life-line be subverted into something evil.

(This is often Satan’s ploy: to take something godly and pure and turn it to his own evil purposes. Sex is a great, God-given gift for married couples, which Satan has perverted--and ruined for a lot of people. Working to provide for one’s family is a good and honorable thing, but Satan convinces some people to work so much that they neglect their families.)

When does a prayer request become gossip?

When we make a prayer request in a public place, what detail(s) can we impart that God is not already aware of? So, let’s say they’re taking prayer requests at church and I ask for prayers for, “My friend Jim Smith, who has cancer.” That may not be gossip (unless Jim told me to keep this under wraps). But, honestly, if I hadn’t even said the name and my fellow parishioners had gone to God later asking, “Please bless Sam’s friend,” wouldn’t God know who they were talking about (and what needed to be done in Jim‘s case)?

Prayer requests most often become gossip when we give out way more information than was needed. Let’s say I stand up and say, “Please pray for my friend Jim Smith, who has cancer, because he smoked three packs a day for forty years even though his wife begged him to stop.” THAT is gossip. It may be true, but there’s no way it’s my place to pass on that information unless Jim, regretting his decision to smoke, has asked me to get the word out to everyone I know about the dangers of tobacco. I don’t know about you, but no one’s ever asked me to do that.

A more typical illustration of when prayer requests become gossip would be when a prayer request like the one about Jim is made, then either I add on--or someone else does--something like, “And did you hear about his daughter? She just found out she’s pregnant and she’s not married.” Granted, that’s a situation that needs ministry and prayer, but the prayer side could have been covered by a simple, “And Jim’s family could use our prayers, too.” We may think of gossip as info that’s either untrue or exaggerated, but it’s really any info that--even if true--shouldn’t be passed on; because we don’t have permission to pass it on or because it’s information that would hurt someone.

The ministry side can (and should) be covered by the friends who actually know Jim and his daughter well enough to minister to them in Christian, friendly love.

If anyone’s still reading at this point, they may be objecting, “But more details help me pray.” I can’t decide whether to respond, “Yeah, right,” or “Then learn how to pray better.” A person who can’t pray without all the details is a person who is trying to bend God to his will rather than submit to God’s will. Because, as I alluded to earlier, God already knows all the details. It’s less important that we know the details than that we submit to the detailer. When we do, he’ll let us in on what his plan for us in the matter is. And then, we’ll be so full of the real details that we won’t have time for all that extraneous stuff we used to look for.

And this is why the Enemy loves gossip so much. If he can get us thinking and talking about the wrong details, he knows we won’t get around to pursuing the right details.

* I point that out for a very specific audience. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t consider Scripture to be either authoritative or from God isn’t going to be particularly interested in what Scripture says. But, notice, this article is about something that goes on in churches which, ostensibly, are full of people who do believe Scripture is authoritative.