One of the most powerful gifts we can give one another is the gift of a blessing. This, I think, is at the heart of the common request for prayer.

But it’s difficult to bless someone, especially because we’re often unsure as to whether they deserve that blessing. We are afraid that if we bless them it will endorse their lifestyle as a whole and potentially ignore their sin.

This is especially true when we are unsure if the people we’re blessing would even consider themselves Christians. And yet, as servants of Christ, we take seriously his instruction to bring good news. Likewise, we hold to the teachings of the apostle Paul that remind us we are called to reconcile the world to God.

With these considerations in mind, here’s my advice on how to meaningfully bless others in prayer.

First off, don’t give yourself permission to criticize. Don’t brainstorm likely sins. Leave chastisement, correction, and rebuke for the Holy Spirit. Your job is not to condemn. Your job is to bless.

Second, always thank God for the good things happening in the life of this person. Thank God that a “request for prayer” is an indicator that they want to take the next step with him in their spiritual journey.

Third, always bless the person for the fact that they want to be blessed and encourage them to grow in virtue. Bless them with an increased desire for courage, harmony, perseverance, love, risk-taking, and self-sacrifice.

Finally, don’t ask God to bless them with results but with development. Meaning, don’t ask God to give them stuff (money, possessions, rewards) or outcomes (successful interviews, call-backs, promotions). Instead, bless them with increased nobility and an ambition for godliness that—over the long run—will produce those outcomes naturally.