Sunday, 15 March 2015
TEACH US TO PRAY 3: INTERCESSION
We had our 3rd Lent Course session in the week, and thought about Intercession, aka praying for others. It is perhaps the type of prayer most commonly held to be 'proper' prayer - if people know you are a praying person, they might ask for prayer in the knowledge that praying for other people is very likely exactly the thing prayer is for.
In the Old Testament the word 'paga' is used to describe intercession, and means 'a meeting with an outcome'. It is also used to describe a boundary, a violent meeting and begging. The boundary idea suggests that in intercession we go as far as we can with God and leave the results in his hands. In Genesis 32 Jacob's wrestling in prayer was something of a violent meeting and cost him a dislocated hip. Similarly we do not wrestle in prayer for something and remain unchanged. Finally the Old Testament heroine, Ruth, asked her mother in law not to beg ('paga') her to turn back from going with her into the new life of faith in God. Begging suggests the strongest desire being employed in prayer.
In the clip we watched from The Prayer Course*, a helpful sentence from Pascale's Pensees was quoted: 'God has instituted prayer to bestow upon his creatures the dignity of causality'. In other words, we're not entirely at sea in our requests - what we pray can actually make a difference in what happens or doesn't happen, though we can't always see the immediate temporal connection between our prayers and their outcomes, and shouldn't expect God to dance to our tune.
Someone from our group spoke of 'getting indignant' with God - of speaking loudly to God in prayer, over and over, until something changes. Getting indignant is a great phrase with which the psalmist would have a lot of sympathy. Some things we want so much we find ourselves saying 'come on God, what are you doing about this?' Ironically, the passion we have for this thing we're begging for is almost certainly put there by God in the first place. Which only goes to show that prayer is a God/human relationship which is, for want of a better term, almost symbiotic. God prays in and through us. We're in on the game.
There's a delicate balance between having the faith to believe God will act, and the humility to wait on his timing, though. We don't see the big picture sometimes. In the early days of ordained ministry, I had one prayer for the church here, which was really a thinly veiled panic, as I looked out on the largely empty pews and wondered where we were going. It was 'Lord, we need more people'. For a while absolutely nothing happened. Over time the prayer became modified to something a bit more faith filled: 'Lord, send us the people we need' - more specific, and acknowledging that it's not primarily about numbers, but about the vocations of the people of God. Quite soon after this a small number of new people began coming to the church. It's made a big difference. At the moment, the prayer is morphing into something further: 'Lord, send us the people we need, and those who need us.' With God's guidance and the Spirit's movement, it seems God is graciously answering this prayer too.
*From the Prayer 24/7 movement