Being specific is a necessity in so many of life’s domains. For instance, if you’re going to set life goals, they should be specific, otherwise those goals will have no meaning. “My goal is to be the best,” doesn’t tell you anything. However, “I’m going to be the best by selling the most widgets,” gives you an actual, measurable target. “Lord, please forgive me for my sins,” isn’t nearly as helpful as, “Lord, please forgive me for the way I treated my co-worker this morning.”
All prayer is the same way. This is especially true when we are praying for others. “Lord, please heal my friends in Sunday School,” is good, but, “Lord, please heal Edward from his addiction,” is exponentially better. Not because there’s any magic in using Edward’s name, and not because God doesn’t know his name or his addiction. Instead, one reason that it’s better is that using your friend’s name creates a more personal connection in your own mind. It causes your mind to focus on your friend. While prayer is certainly a spiritual activity, it is also a mental one, so using his name will increase your empathy for him, and hopefully increase the earnestness of your petitions to God on his behalf because he’s no longer some fuzzy “anybody” in your Sunday School class. Further, it increases the likelihood of you remembering him throughout the week, and checking up on his progress when you see him again, which in turn will influence your future prayers. There is, more often than not, simply more sincerity in a prayer with a name, than in a prayer without one.
This kind of sincerity and earnestness is modeled by Jesus. Consider his plea for Simon Peter (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus calls him by name, twice. He tells Peter, specifically, that he has prayed for him. The battle that Jesus engaged in was a dangerous spiritual one. Satan had asked for Peter so that he could be “sifted like wheat.” Jesus entered that spiritual battle with specific mental focus in his prayers on Peter’s behalf. His prayer was personal.
If you want to make your prayers for others as effective as they can be, then don’t neglect to make them specific by naming the person for whom you are praying.