From Donald Whitney:
Over and over I’ve seen one simple question open people’s hearts to hear the gospel. Until I asked this question, they showed no interest in spiritual matters. But then after six words—only seventeen letters in English—I’ve seen people suddenly begin to weep and their resistance fall. The question is, “How can I pray for you?” …
This question is similar to one that Jesus Himself sometimes asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). For what we are really asking is, “What do you want me to ask Jesus to do for you?” And by means of this question, we can show the love of Christ to people and open hearts previously closed to the gospel.
I had tried to talk about the things of God many times to a business-hardened, retired executive who lived next door. He was a pro at hiding his feelings and keeping conversations at a superficial level. But the day we stood between our homes and I asked, “How can I pray for you?” his eyes filled with tears as his façade of self-sufficiency melted. For the first time in seven years he let me speak with him about Jesus.
It’s a short, easily remembered question. You can use it with longtime friends or with people you’ve just met. It doesn’t seem too personal or pushy for those who’d rather give you a shallow answer just now, and yet it often leads to a full hearing of the gospel. You can ask it of people nearly every time you speak with them and it doesn’t get old. Just simply and sincerely ask, “How can I pray for you?” You’ll be surprised at the results.