the shape of leadership

Relational Wisdom and Prayer

Being aware of and engaged with God, self, and others when we pray

Donna Barrett on September 9, 2019

Years ago, I went to a prayer meeting attended by three other people who discussed in detail the “prayer requests” on their lists for more than 90 minutes (without exaggeration). Then they “wrapped up” the prayer time by asking God to care for those needs. On my way out the door, I thought, Never again!

You’ve likely had similar thoughts about experiences at prayer meetings. Maybe you’ve asked yourself, Why is that person screaming into the microphone when they pray? or What do those words even mean that I’ve never heard in my life? or How could I ever agree with that person in prayer when they’re mumbling so softly I can’t hear a word they’re saying?

You could probably add some comical stories about prayer meetings that have sent people running away, determined never to return. Sometimes it’s the practical and obvious elements that level the praying field and allow others to engage in the experience. It can be a matter of fine-tuning our focus to the people and prayer practices at hand.

Possibly the best grid I’ve found to drop over a prayer meeting to create an experience and atmosphere that engages everyone present through personal awareness are the principles Ken Sande teaches in his Relational Wisdom 360 material (

Relational Wisdom

My favorite definition of relational wisdom is emotional intelligence from a Christian perspective blended with the God factor. Sande identifies relational wisdom as “your ability to discern emotions, interests and abilities in yourself and others, to interpret this information in the light of God’s Word, and to use these insights to manage your responses and relationships successfully.”

Sande has organized the Bible’s teaching on relational wisdom into six core skills grouped into three pairs: (1) how we relate to God; (2) how we relate to ourselves; and (3) how we relate to others. Each of these three skill groups has an “awareness” component (what we see and understand) and an “engaging” component (what we do and say).

When we drop this grid of relational wisdom over prayer, it helps us level the praying field for others to participate. Let’s look more closely:

Sometimes it’s the practical and obvious elements that level the praying field and allow others to engage in the experience.

1. Become self-aware: In the context of prayer, how can I honestly discern my own interests, values, emotions, strengths and weaknesses?

2. Become self-engaged: In the context of prayer, how can I manage my thoughts, emotions, words and actions so they advance God’s purposes?

3. Become others-aware: In the context of prayer, how can I understand and empathize with the experiences, emotions and interests of others?

4. Become others-engaged: In the context of prayer, how can I encourage, cooperate and build bridges with others so they can grow in their participation in prayer?

5. Become God-aware: In the context of prayer, how can I tune in to what God wants for this prayer time and what is His will among us?

6. Become God-engaged: How can I trust, obey, and engage God in a way that pleases and honors Him and draws others into this time of prayer?

Jesus’ Relational Wisdom

Now let’s look at how Jesus applied these principles when He prayed.

When Jesus was at the tomb of Lazarus, He was a great example of practicing relational wisdom. (You can read the entire account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11.) Let’s consider how Jesus did this:

1. Jesus was others-aware when He noticed their grief. He was others-engaged when He listened, shared, wept, and prayed with the audience in mind: short and loud.

2. Jesus was self-aware when He tuned in to His own emotions and outwardly wept! He was self-engaged because Jesus wasn’t offended when Lazarus’ family expressed disappointment that He hadn’t arrived sooner.

3. What is most important is how Jesus was tuned in to His Heavenly Father. He was God-aware in that He already knew God’s intention for that event was a resurrection, not a healing — that God’s priority wasn’t Mary’s comfort, but God’s glory. Jesus was God-engaged by praying in advance of His arrival at the home of Mary and Martha, listening to God’s timing (not other people’s or even His own), and engaging God boldly at the site of the tomb.

What great modeling Jesus provides for us in this powerful scene!

How relational wisdom plays out in specific acts of prayer is limitless, but applying these six skills will help both make you a better prayer and level the praying field for others.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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