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.
Today I want to share one last post on discoveries concerning intercessory prayer, praying for others. I have only one discovery from Steve remaining to share, but it is a practical one with more application options.
The Management of Prayer
That may seem like an awkward discovery to make, but Steve points out that “the mystery and magnitude of prayer can overwhelm us if we are not careful.” Going through a lengthy list on a daily basis can become stale or seem needlessly redundant. That sounds awful to say, but I’m willing to bet that most people have felt that way and, of course, felt guilty about feeling that way.
But practical organization is okay, and maybe even to be preferred. Steve tells us that “John Wesley divided his intercessions over a seven-day cycle.” He had a focus for each day—virtues to cultivate and persons or situations for which to pray.
Steve reports his own pattern for years: “to use a weekly cycle with people and topics recurring once a week.” In addition to this, he includes a monthly prayer list for people and ministries to lift up in prayer.
Also, prayer guides can be helpful. Different Christian traditions have different approaches that can be used to structure one’s praying. The Book of Common Prayer is a good example, as is Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours series of prayer books. Steve reports using various resources from Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, adding, “I do this as a way of ensuring that I am praying with the whole church, not just my preferred part of it” (p. 97).
Scripture itself is a rich resource for intercessory prayer. “Weaving its way throughout my intercession is my growing comfort in praying the scriptures back to God. …Sometimes I find that praying the Word gives me a perspective on my intercession that I would not have if I had limited my praying to my own words.”
Most important is developing a heart for intercessory prayer. “I believe it is an expression of God’s heart for the world,” Steve writes. And intercession can be our point of contact with God’s heart that moves us to action. The missionary Frank Laubach “began each day praying, ‘God, what are you doing in the world today that I can help you with?’” (p. 98). That is a prayer that seeks how God may want to use us as an answer to intercessory prayer—our prayers, or others’.
Finally, Steve reminds us that whatever the difficulties we might have understanding intercessory prayer, “it is not the most difficult to practice. …Here’s a suggestion: use the time you might normally spend trying to figure out intercessory prayer to pray for others.”