After responding to our readings from the Bible, we come to our time for intercessory prayer. During the next weeks, I will address three issues which may be in our minds when we come to pray: why do we need to pray? what people/topics should we pray for? and how should we go about praying?
Throughout the Bible, prayer is not regarded as an optional extra for the super-spiritual, but as the mainstay of our daily walk with God. Paul expresses the need for prayer in his letter to the church in Colossae:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.Col. 4.2
We tend to take prayer for granted – we may have said simple prayers at our bedside as little children, and intercessory prayer is included in most church services. In spite of all this, many of us find engaging in prayer to be difficult. We find it hard to talk to an invisible God about the details of our lives. We may quietly nurse feelings of failure or hurt when we think about our lack of a strong prayer life. We may find it impossible to concentrate – and dread someone questioning the success of our prayers. In any case, we argue, surely God already knows our situation and can provide for our needs without needing to be told about them?
However, the Bible makes it clear that God responds to the prayers of humans, and things can change as a result of our prayers. One of the main reasons for prayer, is the realisation that we need help; in a time of crisis many people of little or no faith will cry out for help:
But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.Psalm 88.13
We pray because we wish to develop a closer walk with our Father, God. We could think that we can please God by doing good works – by caring for our families, by being engaged in volunteer work in the community… These things can be extremely beneficial, but if we do them with the purpose of pleasing God, we will be missing the mark. Rather, we should pray when we realise that our own efforts to please God in our own strength are ultimately futile and that we cannot satisfy him through personal sacrifice and hard effort:
The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.Prov 15.8
We are drawn to pray when when we recognise not only our own failings, but also those of the society in which we live. We are called to pray as a church or nation in response to the catastrophes that frequently occur in our broken world. Oh that we might respond together to the current challenges of pandemic, economic crisis and climate change, taking our lead from the words we find in scripture:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.2 Chr. 7.14
One of the difficulties we have in coming to prayer is the feeling that it won’t make any difference. Our experience of answers to previous prayers may seem inconsistent – and we may find it difficult to come with an expectation that God will answer us. Jesus makes it clear that our prayers will be answered, even if this is not always as quickly or in the form we would have wished or expected:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.Mark 11.24
The Bible encourages us to pray in all circumstances. We can pray for every detail of our lives, and we will think about the extent of opportunities for our praying next week:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Phil. 4.6