This is a very big question. Please bear with me here; I can’t offer a simple A-B-C answer, because I don’t have any background information on you or your situation, and this post will be read by others with differing situations.
First, the person who wishes to pray for another must first settle in his or her own heart the basis and worth of prayer before entering a patient’s room. This may sound rather self-evident, but we often put too much pressure on ourselves by thinking we have to pray just the "right words" or be the "perfect, powerful prayer" in order to effect any change. I am comforted, however, by the fact that: Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. James 5:17-18
More realistically, God is the one who answers prayer according to the plan He has set for our lives. We can, and should, try to make sure that no sin within us hinders our prayer and that we pray in a manner that is comforting and helpful. All this is good but will be a loss if we do not first realize that our job, as pray-ers, is to be so well acquainted with God, His ways and character, that our prayers lift the person we are praying for into the very throne room of God where they experience His peace, and abiding presence.
Sounds like a pretty tall order, I know. The only way I know to accomplish this task is first having a relationship with the God outlined in the Bible; the Bible sets the terms of who He is and what it means to have a relationship with Him. After we have done this, God’s Spirit gives us the words and power to take people into God’s presence; it is impossible to carry them with us to His very throne room if we are not able to go there ourselves.
Secondly, the person who wishes to pray for another must know the person for whom you are praying. How you pray with someone is really determined by that person's understanding of God and your understanding of what is happening in the patient's life. When visiting with someone for the first time, I try to first find out a little about the person and earn his or her trust. There have been times, after establishing a rapport, that I sense that the person I'm visiting is not interested in prayer. In these situations, I do not even ask if he or she would like prayer. Other times, when I'm not sure, I simply state that I am available if the patient would like a word of prayer. This opens the opportunity for prayer without putting pressure on the patient to do something with which he or she isn't comfortable. If the patient indicates that he or she wants prayer but are of a different faith background, I also ask if it is ok to pray in Jesus name. Whatever the situation, I still ask if they would like prayer, even in situations where I am sure they want prayer.
Thirdly, I ask if there is anything specifically that the patient wants me to pray for. This opens the door for the person to tell me his or her concerns and how he or she feels. Once I do this, I'm able to make sure that my prayer matches up the person’s situation and requests as much as possible; sometimes the patient (or family member, if I'm praying with a famly member) might ask for something that isn’t in your comfort level, like death for him or herself or another. In these situations, you just have to do the best to affirm God’s power over life (John 11) and justice.
When the person is not very religious or uncomfortable with prayer, I keep it short; I affirm God’s goodness, His power over sickness, ask God to heal the person, and ask God to show Himself to the person. Ultimately, our goal in prayer is for wholeness and that the person might see God through the answered prayer, so he or she might give Him the worship and love He deserves.
If the person shows him/herself to be a Christian, the words best fitted to be used of God are His very words. I try to keep a list of verses on various situations in my mind for the most common experiences. I might pray:
That God would protection them like God protected Daniel
That God would heal them as Jesus healed the blind and lame.
That the Great Physician would attend them, Jesus is the Great Physician
That the Good Shepherd would guide them through this dark valley that we travel.
That God would give life to their bones just as he did through Ezekiel (Ez 37).
That God would direct them in the unknown as he lead Abraham into an unknown land.
That God would give the doctors wisdom as he gave to Solomon
Praise that God is El Roi, the God who sees, and sees the problem the doctors can't see
Praise that God is El Shaddi, the God who provides, and that he would provide the thing they need.
This is just a partial list, but you can see were I am going with it. The Bible gives us stories so we can know who He is and His power. Praying the message of these stories keeps us from praying the same prayer over and over again. By praying these stories, the hearer identifies with God’s mighty act in their life and sees that He is still present in their situation, still loving, and still mighty over what they are going through.
Chaplain Ron Suarez
Pastoral Care, Southwestern Regional Medical Center
Cancer Treatment Centers of America