Our church journeyed through January with a focus on prayer. Our preaching series was “Questions of Prayer,” which aimed to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
Chapter 7 is titled, “Praying for Others,” and deals with intercessory prayer. Here there are plenty of questions. The most obvious and plainly stated is this: What difference does it make? Since the connection between intercession and answer is not as predictable as we would like, this is a reasonable question.
But our motive in asking it is critical. Are we asking as cynics, always questioning but never praying (honest frustration is not the same as cynicism)? Or are we genuinely interested in growing as pray-ers? The latter motive is clearly the healthier stance. Approached from this angle, there are several discoveries to be made. We’ll begin looking at them here, and finish looking at them in the next post or two.
We Find Mystery
This is a truth we’ve been acknowledging steadily through this book, but it’s worth saying again. But Steve helpfully points out that he lives with mystery in lots of areas of life: “We operate machinery, use technology, travel…, do business, and form relationships without understanding how everything works. But we press on” (pp. 88-89). The same is true in intercessory prayer. We don’t understand how everything works, but we press on, hopefully. Admitting that some people struggle harder than others with unanswered prayers, Steve confesses, “I must tell you that intercessory prayer was saved for me when I realized that I did not have to understand it in order to practice it” (p. 89). That strikes me as just the sort of obvious and useful point that we need to hear when we wrestle with the question, “What difference does it make?”
Here’s a final admission about the mystery of intercessory prayer that I found convicting and helpful. Steve writes: “I had to come to the place where I could acknowledge that faith I can understand is actually faith in myself, not in God. One of the prerequisites for intercession is an ‘unknowing’ that takes me out of the center of things and allows God to dwell there” (p. 89).