There are several types of prayer. Praise, confession, thanksgiving… But I’m going to focus on intercessory prayer here. That’s when we pray on behalf of another person — when we intercede for them.
I’m a believer in prayer.
I’ve prayed about things before and seen miraculous responses. Several years ago, I was on a bus with a group and decided to spend some time in prayer. I felt compelled to pray for a friend who was at the back of the bus. Specifically, I started thinking about something he had done several years earlier and was still carrying a lot of shame from. We hadn’t talked about it in months, but I knew it was still lingering for him. So I prayed about it.
He and I were driving home together later that night, and he said, “Hey, remember [that thing I did that I was really ashamed about (details omitted here)]? While we were on the bus tonight, I got this sense that it was okay to let it go. I feel like I can finally get past that now.”
It’s times like that when I’m reminded that prayer actually has power.
Or there was the time I took a camp group on a prayer walk in the middle of the night. We walked to about eight sites — some typical, some a bit unusual — and prayed over them. Then we walked back and went back to sleep. It was wholly unspectacular. To be honest, I was tired and would have preferred to sleep.
But the next day, another camper — one who had no idea that our group had done this — shared that the night before, he had seen angels. This camper wasn’t the kind to make up things like this, or the kind who regularly had these sorts of “visions.” But he said that he had last night. And the places where he had seen the angels were precisely the same places we had prayed. Some typical, major sites at the camp, but some a bit unusual… He’d seen all of these a couple hours before we went on our prayer walk.
And yes, this introduces a whole new element — whether you believe in angels, people seeing them, etc. I don’t want to sidetrack this too much, so I’ll leave that where it is here. The short message is that again in this situation, I saw a direct response to prayer. And the response came in advance of the prayers, for that matter.
I could share several more stories, but I’ll stop here. To be sure, there have also been a number of people and things I’ve prayed about where I could point to no direct response. It’s not as though I see miraculous direct responses every time I pray.
I don’t believe in prayer
When I talk theoretically about prayer, I absolutely believe in its power. I believe God hears our prayers, and moreover, I believe there are times that he responds to them in a very direct, tangible way.
But I also end up being a skeptic. When I hear about answered prayer, I’m all too quick to chalk it up to nice coincidence or to someone stretching things a bit to believe that their prayers were answered.
Perhaps most telling, if I really believed in prayer, I would pray more. After seeing and experiencing some of the things that I have, it would make sense for me to pray seriously and to pray often. Yet I find that my prayers are commonly half-hearted and sporadic.
The time we’re taking on sabbatical in Spain — and especially the people we’re working with here — has compelled me to again take prayer more seriously. Part of that is intercessory. I’ve been trying to spend more time praying for people.
Weekly Challenge #1
I’ve wanted to invite you to join me in some weekly challenges. These will be small practices. Probably no shocking or revolutionary ideas here. But they’re small practices that have made big changes in me. If you’re not a believer — in the practice itself, or even in Christ — I hope you might take me up on these challenges anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?
This week’s challenge: choose one person to pray for every day this week. Pray a blessing over him or her for these five things, according to the acronym BLESS:
- Body — health, physical needs, energy
- Labor — work, income, job satisfaction
- Emotional — inner life, joy, peace
- Social — family relationships, friends
- Spiritual — awareness of God’s presence and love, repentance, faith, holiness
[This acronym isn’t mine. I’ve seen it several other places. I don’t have an original source to cite.]
If you want to, and if it’s appropriate, tell them you’re praying for them and ask for any specific requests.
In addition to praying for a blessing, do something to bless them. A word, a gift, or a favor. Perhaps it’s sending a note (hand-written is best, e-mail is better than nothing) of appreciation. Perhaps it’s sending them a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
Oh, and please don’t choose someone that you want something from right now. No one you want to date, no one you’re hoping to get a business favor from. Let’s avoid ulterior motives here…
A bit deeper
I wanted to do something a bit more challenging, but I’d rather you do something than be overwhelmed by what I’m asking and do nothing. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, though, let me suggest a bit more: choose two people to do this for. And make one of those two people someone that you’ve had some negative feelings toward.
Tell me about it
I’d love to hear about your experience. Was there anything good or unexpected that came from it? Let me know at the end of the week with a quick e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.