In church services or home Bible studies, wherever prayer may be requested, it’s not uncommon to have somebody bring up an “unspoken request.” In circles familiar with the term, nothing more need be said. A nod of the head, a slight raising of the hand, and an “I have an unspoken request” is enough. Everyone understands.
To some outside of such circles, such an appeal is contradictory; bordering on the silly. If you want us to pray, give us some idea of what we’re praying about. Is it health? A relationship? A decision? We want to pray for you, but we want to pray intelligently. Help us out.
Such criticisms are made by people who think prayer should be either/or. Either tell us what you want us to pray for or don’t say anything.
I understand such criticism, and I doubt the words “unspoken request” are found in the Bible, but I understand what the supplicant is doing. They want prayer, they need prayer, but for reasons known only to them they don’t want to disclose the reason. It could be it involves another person and they are afraid that if word got back to that person, they would think they were being talked about. Maybe it’s the early stages of a diagnosis; they know enough to ask for prayer but not enough to avert alarming family and friends. Or it could be they are wrestling with sin and need prayer to go the next step and address it.
In a letter dated April 15, 1956, C. S. Lewis responds to a friend with such an “unspoken request,”
“I sympathise with you for the unnamed shock you speak of, without the least inquisitiveness as to its nature: being sure your own decision (not to tell it) was right. Except when speaking to one’s Confessor, Doctor, or Lawyer (where the opposite holds) I suppose the rule is ‘When in doubt, don’t tell.” At least I have nearly always regretted doing the opposite and never once regretted holding my tongue. (Talking too much is one of my vices, by the way).
“About prayer (for others) and suffering for others there is a lot scattered through 2d Corinthians, which is well worth meditation.”1
“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” – Ecclesiastes 5:2.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 738-739.