Connecting with people through prayer

Rev. Jacqui King (second from r) clasps hands and prays with people at the Discipleship Ministries booth during the 2019 meeting of Black Methodists for Church Renewal in Atlanta. (photo courtesy of King)

A simple question changed Rev. Jacqui King’s entire approach to prayer.

It started one morning when the United Methodist pastor was in line at a busy counter outside the Nashville International Airport. The man checking in bags was smiling and polite, but King could tell something was bothering him.

She looked at the man’s name tag and was about to silently pray for him. But then, she said, the Holy Spirit nudged her to do something outside her comfort zone.

When she stepped up to the counter, she found herself asking: “Daniel, how can I pray for you?”

That was the first time she remembers directing that question to a stranger. It would not be her last.

As vaccinations increase and pandemic restrictions lift, people are starting to reconnect with friends and meet strangers in person once again. King sees prayer as a crucial part of connecting with God and each other.

“Scripture says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” said King, previously an executive with United Methodist Discipleship Ministries.

“For me, prayer is that love connection.”

King continues to be in extension ministry as a church coach focusing on community development, leadership, virtual visioning and prayer.

When people pray together, even mundane encounters become miraculous.

That was her experience five years ago across the airline counter from Daniel.

When she asked how she could pray for him, he opened up. He told her that he was worried because his daughter was going on a school field trip that morning—not long after a school bus crash had killed six children. “Would you pray for her safety?” he asked.

King held his hand and prayed with him. She handed him her luggage and hurried into the terminal, feeling exhilarated that she had done what God asked her to do. “But I never expected to see Daniel again,” she said.

She was wrong.

Two weeks later, she was at the same counter at the same time, and Daniel greeted her like an old friend.

He said his daughter had a great trip. He then stunned King by saying, “You changed my life.”

His Bible study group had been trying to pray for the Nashville community without much success, he said. Whenever study members asked people “Can I pray for you?” the answer was invariably “no.”

He told King: “You changed my life because you changed the question.”

From that time onward, King committed to having the boldness to ask people: “How can I pray for you? And then I actually pray.”

King, who grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, had a great deal of experience coming to God with a bowed head.

As a community organizer with the United Methodist Church’s ‘Shalom Zone Initiative’ and later pastor in the Texas Conference, she frequently asked people for their prayer requests.

However, she often would ask them to jot their requests on index cards to reference in her private prayer time.

“The change for me was that I stopped putting prayer in this time period where it was convenient for me,” she said. “That’s it. People need to be prayed for right now.”

It’s not always easy to talk to strangers, much less pray with them. Whenever she asks to pray with someone, King said she has to get out of her head, screw up her courage and trust God.

“Every time I pray for somebody, it’s a humbling of my soul to listen,” she said. “If you believe that prayer is a means of grace, how can you not act?”

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