To pray a "flare prayer" is just as it sounds--to shoot a quick, short prayer to God in a moment of immediate need when time is of the essence but not largely available. There have been many instances in my own life when I pray these kinds of prayers on behalf of my own need(s) or that of my family or friends. But I believe it is as important that we do this type of praying for outsiders, as well. I was reading from Matthew 25 this morning about the parable of the sheep and goats. Jesus is speaking on the Mount of Olives with His disciples, and He tells them a story about how He (God) will separate people one day based on whether they were giving and loving (sheep), or not (goats). He goes into detail about examples of how we are to be giving to those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, imprisoned, etc. He tells them in verse 40, "...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." He goes on further to say that the "goats" will be told to depart, and will be thrown into the fire with the devil. On that happy note, let's back-up to the initial parable. Who are the downtrodden, weak, hungry, and sick in our life today? Who has God placed in front of us that we can show His love and kindness?
Of course, there are obvious answers to those questions. We all have family, friends and neighbors with needs. Big needs, and plenty of them. If you're ever feeling sorry for yourself or having a one of those "pity party" moments as we all do at times, just look around. Your current problems will look like blessings in comparison. In fact, the best cure for personal depression is to get over yourself and start looking around at the issues and battles others are facing. Before long, you'll find yourself too busy helping someone else to even care about what is going on with yourself. Wah la! There's a cure for depression that doesn't come in a pill bottle.
I have a neighbor with cancer who I try to help regularly with various needs--meals, trips to chemo treatments, phone chats of encouragement, prayer, whatever I can do. I have friends who struggle with loneliness who I try to support and uplift by spending time with them as much as I can and giving them words of love to hopefully lift their spirits as they work through this season of life. I give food and drink to homeless people (or beggars) as often as I can when I see them on the street. I have done prison ministry (and found myself blessed and encouraged by the prisoners)! But I have also found that "flare prayers" are an easy, quick way to show God's love to others and get immediate wisdom from God on how to help that person right then. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells us to "pray continually." I believe this is because not only do WE need prayer continually, but so does everyone around us. Here are some instances where I use flare prayers the most often (and these, too, will get your mind off yourself and your problems pretty quickly):
*Elderly people eating alone in restaurants. (I hate seeing this. I always immediately assume their spouse, the love of their life, is dead, and they are sitting here alone, lonely, sad, and downcast. Matt makes fun of me and always says, "Honey, their significant other is probably just visiting the kids or grandkids")!
*Homeless people/beggars. (I know, I know. If they got a job they wouldn't be homeless. Gimme a break. Anyone standing on a street corner with a sign can't be doing that well in life, even if they do somehow miraculously have a cell phone and are trying to scam me).
*Soldiers saying goodbye to loved ones in airports. (This one brings tears every time. I always pray right then for the soldier and the family members).
*Disabled people who look downcast, needy, or weary. (I always make a point to find some reason to talk to them or offer to help them. This almost always works to cheer them up--they are always glad to not be "invisible." Who isn't?).
*Human advertising dancers holding up signs on the street. (Okay, I'm aware these people agreed to do this job, but it still makes me sad to see folks belittling themselves for a paycheck, especially when they are forced to dance around in the heat wearing a ridiculous costume! I always honk, wave, and smile, and pray that God gives them a better job and a great day)!
*People on the side of the road with car trouble.
*People who've been in an accident.
*A kind waiter being lashed-out at by a belligerent, rude customer.
*Children being verbally abused in public by a parent. (A few times, I've even made the mistake of getting involved--it's the teacher in me. If you pick on a kid, look out...I'm coming for you). Years ago, I had the sheer horror of witnessing one mother, (and I use that term in the loosest sense of the word), call her 3 to 4-year old son an S.O.B. and spank him profusely in Wal-Mart because he had walked along and pulled a few cards out along the card aisle (yet she was not paying any attention to him as he did this, as if he was old enough to control himself). I looked right at her, disgusted and shocked at the despicable behavior she'd displayed, and said, 'Well, you got that right.' She wasn't too happy about that once she figured out what I had just said to her. I got called some choice names, as well. I told her at least she was picking on someone her own size. You wonder what happens to these kids at home if this is what happens in public. I don't understand why God gives children to women like this and not to others who would be wonderful mothers. I will never understand that.
*Children being mistreated or verbally abused by an older sibling (I ALWAYS get involved here. Can you say, "Tongue lashing?" Mrs. T. goes on a tangent for sure in these instances)!
*Women crying discretely in the ladies room.
*Young women crying discretely in restaurants during an argument with their boyfriend. (You can always tell they are trying to keep the disagreement on the "D.L.," and it is painful to watch--not that I stare, but I have been known to follow young women to the ladies room who are obviously being mistreated by a cruel, emotionally-detached jerk, and tell them they are too beautiful and too worthy to waste their time. This has never gone poorly, and nearly all these gals have thanked me. I am convinced young women have very little self-esteem or worth, and if any guy gives them any attention at all, they will tolerate horrible things just to keep that attention. It is heartbreaking. Matt says someone should warn these guys that they better mind their P's & Q's or the "relationship-reckoner" is going to wreak some havoc)!
*People who appear to have serious health issues (cancer, etc.).
*Young moms in the grocery store using a calculator who then begin putting things back. (I've been there. Struggling as a young mother on a tight budget myself once, boy, can I empathize. When I see this, I still get that sick feeling in my stomach I used to get 25 years ago when that was me, trying to figure out how to cover enough meals for the week. I've been known to give the Cliff's Notes version of how I was once in their shoes, and offer to pay for anything extra they were needing. No one has ever taken me up on this offer to date, but you can tell it is a blessing to them to know they aren't alone).
So as you can see, there are needs everywhere, and in plenty. People who say you have to go to other countries to do mission work are flat blind. There is a mission right in front of you today. You just have to look and have an open heart. Flare prayers are great. God hears them. He will also give you wisdom for action and the words to say should He desire for you to do more than just pray for that person at that moment. I always say, "Lord, what do I do here? Do you want me to do something else?" Most of the time, it is pretty clear. The times when it isn't, I go with my gut instinct, and I'm sure I don't always do the right thing. I've probably ignored things I shouldn't have, and on the opposite end, I've probably been taken to the bank more times than not with these homeless people. But I figure God will judge them for their scamming of me. I know one day when I am in heaven, I will meet people (strangers) for whom I have prayed and who have prayed for me. I think that is going to be one of the greatest things about heaven--seeing all the unseen things finally in clear view.