How much do we really need to know about a person's needs or a particular situation in order to pray effectively? The question, "How may I pray for you?" is part of the litany in Prayers for Healing, Laying on of Hands and Anointing with Oil. We are encouraged in the Scripture to be forthright with our brothers and sisters in Christ regarding sins to be confessed and other needs.
It is certainly helpful to have a sense of one's particular state of mind and what words might be shared with them through prayer that would bring comfort, encouragement, wisdom, discernment, or whatever else for which they feel a need. Effective prayer will also rise above felt needs and dig beneath surface concerns to the very core of human existence.
God does not need any "new" information that our queries or prayers might provide. God knows our needs before we even ask. And God's knowledge stretches beyond our deepest needs, motives, secrets, and everything else about us and those for whom we pray.
Prayer is a way of attuning ourselves and those we pray for to the presence of God. God is with us in the midst of the darkest night of the soul and the greatest joys of life - and the great majority of life that is somewhere in between.
Too often our prayer groups can turn into "organ recitals" as we list the ailments and updates of each of the physical illnesses among our circle of friends. This may be where the subtle shift occurs. We no longer are listening to others share their needs; we are participating secondhand at best.
Our whispered concerns shared in the strictest of confidence have ways of clustering on the local grapevine - which becomes fodder for speculation and further dissemination without any prayer ever taking place.
We should pray without ceasing and broaden our prayer focus to include the spiritual, psychological, relational, and personal needs that hinder full healing and true wholeness. We never will have an exhaustive understanding of needs.
This is why the Holy Spirit assists us with words beyond our ability to express. Faith in God truly is the active ingredient. If we are imagining our steps to the answer before we've even begun the walk of prayer, we already have denied the vitality of faith in God's power to hear and act.
An often repeated adage is that "prayer changes things" and yes, we see circumstances differently once we've prayed. Sometimes the circumstances are changed, but in reality, prayer changes us. In that mysterious conversation of our listening and speaking with God we are shaped and formed more fully into reflecting the living Christ.