Praying for Others
There is a cartoon of a little boy who seems out of sorts with the Almighty kneeling in prayer. In his prayer, he says, “Aunt Stella isn’t married yet, Uncle Hubert doesn’t have a job yet, and Daddy’s hair is still falling out. I’m tired of saying prayers for this family without getting any results.”
The current issue of “The Christian Century” magazine has a report about a new social survey that was funded by the National Science Foundation. Supposedly, this multi-million-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American Society – including religion. One of the things the study shows is that since 2012, the United States has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion. Another result of the study, for my purpose today, is that “More Americans Say They Never Pray.” The percentage who say they never pray rose from 10 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2014. Evidently, like the boy in the cartoon, a growing number of Americans are tired of saying prayers without getting any results.
On the other hand, the Apostle Paul has gone through some kind of terrible experience in Ephesus and has been miraculously delivered. Without any doubt, Paul believes that his deliverance is in answer to prayer – the prayers of others. So, of course, he asked those others to continue to pray for him, even as he will continue to pray for them.
My subject today is intercessory prayer! Does it do any good to pray for others? Admittedly, there is much about intercessory prayer that we do not understand. Why are some prayers answered one way and others not remains a mystery. But like numerous Old Testament characters, plus Jesus and Paul, I believe in intercessory prayer.
Intercessory prayer is beneficial for the one who prays! Many times we feel so helpless – that loved one is beyond our reach, somebody is gravely ill, some situation is out of hand – but we can always pray. Not only is praying for others our privilege and in some sense our duty, at times it is our own salvation. When we pray for others something happens in us.
Praying for others has a transforming effect on our minds. Often it changes our attitude toward people or causes.
Years ago I felt somebody had wronged me. I said to my wife, “Well, I love em’ but I don’t like ‘em.” My wife said, “Let’s just pray that God will change our attitude toward them.” I said, “But you don't understand, I didn’t do that.” She said, “Let’s just pray that God will change our attitude.” Suffice it to say, we did and God did.
And then praying for others has a noble effect on our wills. We simply cannot authentically pray for others without being compelled to act in their behalf. As we sincerely and persistently hold others before God, sooner rather than later we will be moved to ask. “What will you have me to do? How will you have me become the answer to this prayer?” So, bottom line, intercessory prayer increases our awareness and grants assurance that we will no longer be among the spectators.
Intercessory prayer is beneficial for the ones prayed for! When the great reformer, Martin Luther, felt particularly strong and happy he would exclaim, “I feel as if I were being prayed for.” To know that you are being prayed for is a heartening experience. While criticism tends to push us down, to know that there is someone praying for us is a source of sustaining strength. It helps every one of us to know that somebody is praying for us.
But what of those who do not know that somebody is praying for them? Does praying for those people do any good?
Speaking of his own practice of intercessory prayer, all that the late William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury would say was this, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I do not, they don’t.”
Now I know that all kinds of questions present themselves here. Why is one person healed and another is not? Why is one person protected from danger and another is not? The only answer to these questions and others like them is that we don't know the answer. At least, I don’t know the answer nor do I know anybody who does.
We simply pray believing that God does hear and answer our prayers. We pray believing that God is love and desires the best for all of us. We pray believing that our little prayers are backed and reinforced by the Eternal Intercessor. We pray believing that prayer can overcome all barriers in a person’s life or circumstances. And we pray believing that something beneficial or good will happen for those who are prayed for. How it happens we don’t know. That’s not for us to speculate about. Faith simply believes and prays!
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.