I had a recent death in my household, so I can really understand that you might be troubled, fearing perhaps that something went wrong when a Christian pleads for prayers while dying. After all, aren’t we taught that true saints die in joyful anticipation? Well, not necessarily. And it doesn’t mean that the saint is not a saint, either.
Suppose you were selected to ride the Space Shuttle, wouldn’t you ask for your friends to pray for a safe journey? Dying is just a departure to another place, but it is a one-way trip and we can’t see the airplane before we board, or the airport before we land. It’s like going over the top of the roller coaster and not being able to see the track ahead—of course his heart was in his throat! I think anyone would be anxious and ask for prayers. Dying is the ultimate test of faith, even for saints.
It is a very common phenomenon for the dying to ask for prayers. It is also common for people to see visions or have dreams of loved ones who have recently died, in which the loved ones ask for prayer.
It is appropriate to pray for someone who is dying, no matter how saintly or sinful they are. We pray for people when they are born, when they are baptized, when they get married, when they are pregnant, when they go away on trips, when they enter into the ministry—why not when they depart this life for the next? And if you say, well, a person’s spiritual fate is fixed upon death, then I say, isn’t God eternal? Can’t God answer tomorrow’s prayer yesterday? And even though the destination is certain, can’t we pray for a smooth transition?
Saints are more likely to be troubled by last-minute revelations of sin, which apparently happen at death. Remember, only righteous people feel guilty. You can’t be righteous without repenting, and you can’t repent unless you feel guilty. People who don’t feel guilty are called ‘criminals.’ So if Christians are troubled as they lie dying, it only means that they are taking out the spiritual garbage before they go. It is appropriate and loving to administer prayer to ease their spiritual pain, just as it appropriate and loving to administer medication to ease their physical pain.
If a dying Christian begs you for prayer, I recommend that you pray, thanking God for them and asking Jesus to guide them. Tell Jesus all your anxieties and ask Jesus to convey your love to them, so that they can be comforted and so they won’t feel guilty about leaving you behind. Tell Jesus how you forgive any sins they may have committed against you, and ask Jesus to forgive them for any sins they may have committed against God.
The prayers may be superfluous, but they will bring you some relief in your grief. If your prayers are theologically in bad form, Jesus will understand and will see your love and devotion rather than your bad form. Don’t worry too much about prayer etiquette. If we laugh at Adam and Eve for trying to hide their nakedness from an omniscient God, why would we put on a fig leaf to pray? Why shouldn’t we be honest in our prayers, submitting all our troubles and anxieties to God?
Pray as the dying ask, and continue to pray—good, honest prayer, exposing all your doubts, anger, misgivings, and perplexities to the Lord, and He will give you peace.