FIRST: Intercessory Prayer
“Can you pray for me?”
I’ve always taken this request seriously. I’ve never thrown out the words “I’ll pray for that” or “I’ll be praying for you” without taking them to heart. Sometimes in my humanity I may forget for a while, but I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit more often than not holds me to that commitment. I find that the request, the person, the moment will soon rise again into my awareness.
For much of my life, I merely repeated the words or the request of the person as they gave it to me. I’ve always done this from the understanding that God will answer the desires of our hearts and because we ”know” that all things work together for good for those that love God. So as one that loves God who has just heard the desires of another’s heart, I have prayed for whatever they have asked for.
The thing is that both of those aspects of understanding, “the desires of our hearts” and “all things work together” are bigger and deeper than I ever imagined. After years of prayer, of estimating myself to be quite “good” at prayer, I’ve learned that I am but a beginner within the divine conversation. Like a child blubbering through lips I doesn’t know how to use and muttering meaningless sounds.
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
I might read these verses and my heart might protest, “No, Paul… I DO know how to pray…” and my immaturity is emphasized all the more. But if I sit in these verses and accept the words I’m left silent, holding this image of the Holy Spirit constantly praying from my deepest places, places where I don’t even have words. And God, who knows the mind of the Spirit, is present with me in those wordless depths. This isn’t on my bad days, or when “I need prayer.” It’s constant. An eternal flow from my deepest places to God.
Julian of Norwich wrote about intercessory prayer in this way, “I look at God, I look at you, and I keep looking at God.”
True intercessory prayer has so little to do with the concerns, requests, demands and struggles that we are willing to speak about and everything to do with presence, with an alignment of our lives and wills to the life and will of the Father. There will never be any condemnation or criticism for praying for the prayer requests that come up, but if we are to truly intercede for others in the way that Jesus did, and that the Holy Spirit does, we will do so “according to the will of God” and not to our own, or to theirs.
When I pray for people now, I listen. First, I listen to God. Then, I listen to them. There are times that the voices clash and my first prayer is one for unity between the voices. I listen for the sighs too deep for words, the prayer behind the prayer, the unspoken need beneath the spoken one and I pray for that.
Often entire periods of prayer go by and all I’ve done with words is whisper their name. Occasionally, I can’t even muster that much. I can only picture them in my mind and hold them up to God.
What I’ve learned through Intercessory Prayer is that my words don’t have to be enough. I don’t have to get them right. I don’t have to feel the pressure to say the right thing or bear the weight of getting it wrong. God is fully aware of and present in every one of their struggles, and in my own. He has always been and always will be.
When I agree to pray for you, what I’m really doing is choosing to sit in our humanity together for a while and to learn to hear God’s prayer for us, not ours for Him.
“To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service than any human being ever performs for another.”
Douglas V. Steere, Gleanings: A Random Harvest