“Hello Father. Will you pray for me?” In Springfield where I used to serve, that was a greeting I received sometimes as a priest. Roman Catholics are taught to ask the priest to pray for them and, although not a Roman Catholic, I was always happy to oblige. I usually responded with a question of my own, which was “What is your name?” That helped me when, later on, I would recall the person and offer a prayer for them.
The word for when we pray for others is “Intercessions”. You are praying to God on behalf of someone else – you intercede for them. It’s one of the things we do for one another and part of the work of building up the kingdom of God. Having a direct line to God is a freedom that needs to be exercised as often as possible! When you pray for someone you are plugging into a network of love which connects you to the person and to God at the same time.
The Book of Common Prayer has a section called “Prayers of the People” which includes prayers for ourselves and for others. There is an order to the prayer, usually beginning with the Church, bishops and other Church leaders, the Church’s mission and the world, the President and Governor, the church community, the sick and needy, and finally there are prayers for the departed. Sometimes there is space to add extra prayers; silence is another option. Prayers need time, and that is one of the demands prayer makes of us.
Prayer makes other demands too. To pray is to remember – a face, an event, an intractable problem. We bring the past to bear in our present situation, in order to influence a future outcome. Prayer works in and around time in a mysterious way, but the main thing is simply to pray. Painful memories are easier to bear when you pray – prayer is an avenue of healing.
Prayer doesn’t always get you the result you want, which makes some people doubt that prayer works. The Lord’s Prayer has the words “Thy will be done”. In prayer we submit to God’s will, trusting in him to answer our prayer in the way that will be to our greatest benefit and to the benefit of those for whom we pray. The fact is we don’t always know what is best for us, but God does, (thank God!) which is why the answer to prayer can surprise us. God can be relied on, whenever we pray in humility and faith.
Our intercessions for others can be specific: prayer at a hospital bedside, for example, when we ask for healing, can help both the patient and the petitioner. Prayer is meant to connect us, to God and to the person being prayed for, which is why it is better if we know the person’s name. At St Barnabas on Sunday we pray for people by name, but usually only the first name. That is well and good when the person is called Peregrine or Maude, but not so helpful when they are called John or Janet. Which John am I praying for? When praying, I find it helpful to hold the person in my heart, which is why I like to hear their full name. Some people prefer to be anonymous, which is fine, but if I am going to hospital for an operation, I want you to know about it and to pray for me.
For this reason I want to encourage us to pray for each other knowing our full names. Soon there will be a book at the back of church in which you will be able to write the names of loved ones and those who are in need of prayer. Please write in the full name of the person being prayed for, if you know it. Every Sunday the book will be carried up and placed on the altar to form part of our offering. We will pray for those in the book for a month, unless their names are re-entered. That way, the number of people to be prayed for will be manageable.
Prayer is the heartbeat of any church – when its prayer is strong, the church is healthy, even if there is a small congregation. For those of you who intercede already, may God bless you and continue to strengthen your prayer. If you are a novice at prayer, then follow Jesus’ advice – it is beautifully simple – “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Amen to that!
With every blessing