“How can we pray for you?”
Asking people this simple question has several benefits:
First, this one question is often a very effective way to get a quick fix on what is really going on in someone’s life. Think of it as the “nuclear option” for getting to know people. If the things shared are of a surface nature, much can usually be discerned simply from the way they respond to that question.
Second, it is an easy question to ask! Anyone can ask it. It accomplishes the same goal as “What’s going on in your life” but without the awkwardness. Even better, it’s a question that can be asked impromptu, without the context of a deep relationship.
Third, it conveys our sincere concern for them and a desire to enter into their struggles with them. I dare say that most people—especially unbelievers—have no one who shows them that kind of concern.
Fourth, their responses are an opportunity to actually talk about spiritual things. Since prayer is a spiritual activity, it is natural to share a biblical truth that applies to their concern. I remember a neighbor (single mother) of whom I asked this question. She responded with how she was scared she’d lose her job. I was able to talk with her a little about how God can be trusted to care for us in all things, especially financial provision.
Fifth, when someone gives you something to pray about, you have an understood invitation to come back later and ask about the matter. I usually ask, “Can I come back and ask you about this in a week or so?” I’ve never been turned down. You can go deeper and most importantly, introduce them to Jesus Christ. One neighbor who we pray for regularly has shared more deeply, listened and asked more questions which over time led to a full presentation of the gospel and conversion.
Asking the simple question, “How can we pray for you?” provides a wonderful opportunity to establish a connection and begin to minister to anyone, especially our neighbors.