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.
We pick up today where we left off in the last post on intercessory prayer, or praying for others. When we wonder about intercessory prayer—how it works and whether we are making a difference—we make several discoveries when we ask our questions as earnest seekers rather than cynics. In the last post, we once again acknowledged mystery. Here are some more discoveries when we investigate intercessory prayer.
The Need to Be Absolutely Honest With Your Questions
Steve shares a helpful tool for assessing how honest we are before God. Imagine the pain chart at the doctor’s office or hospital room with the words “no pain” under a smiley face and “worst possible pain” under a contorted face. When a patient is asked where they are on the chart, they must be honest. Their responses determine the treatment. “Likewise, in prayer, if we lose honestly with ourselves and our situation, we determine who much assistance we are willing to receive from the Great Physician. …Nothing good comes from… denial” (p. 91).
Realizing That Intercession Has Been the Consistent Practice of God’s People
“The saints prayed for others, and they did so believing they were doing something that pleased God and had meaning” (p. 92). They did so in good times and bad, in encouraging conditions or discouraging situations. Further, not only was Jesus a constant intercessor in his earthly ministry (even praying for his crucifiers from the cross!), Hebrews 7:25 teaches that he continues his ministry of intercession at the right hand of God.
So why not learn about intercession from the many that practiced it faithfully? “We want to learn from the best examples [the saints], not the worst ones [the skeptics]. Why should prayer be any different?” Look to church history for solid examples. Renovare’s Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics collections are a great resource here.
Learning to Pray Your Heart’s Desire
When we don’t know what to pray for in a given situation, perhaps because we’re not confident about what we should pray for, it is okay to simply pray what we desire and entrust the situation or the person to God’s wisdom and care. Instead of getting bogged down in what we don’t know and haven’t figured out, just act on what we do know. Honestly praying for our heart’s desire and trusting God for the best outcome—physical healing, some kind of provision, etc—is a good way to pray. “Such intercession puts prayer in the right arrangement,” Steve reminds us. “Our part is to pray; God’s part is to weave everything into the tapestry of the divine will” (p. 95).