Praying for you, Part 2
Praying for you, part 2
I want to pick up the theme of intercession now and I to look at two things. First, to try to answer the question - why, when God is sovereign over all things, do we need to pray? And second, to give some very practical ideas about how we can go about praying for other people.
A thousand times over the bible says things like this - which is from 1 Chronicles - "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” It is a foundation of our faith that God the Father, who created the heavens and the earth, rules over all things. So why do we need to pray? Why would we bother if God already has it all sorted?
There are three strands to the answer.
The first is - that’s how God, in His sovereignty, has decided things should be. The bible certainly tells the story of God’s sovereign reign over creation - but it also tells the story of God’s partnership with people.
Think of Moses stretching out his hand over the Red Sea and praying that it might part. Or think of Peter, locked in prison with the church praying for him, set free as the doors miraculously open. Or the thief on the cross, crucified next to Jesus who prays for forgiveness and is told he will soon be in Paradise. In every one of these - and a thousand other biblical passages - things happen because someone prays.
Pete Greig, the writer and pastor said this ‘It is God’s will to use our free will to co-create reality with Him’. Our prayers are, mysteriously and wonderfully, part of the way God has designed the world to work. And this is Rowan Williams on the subject ‘If it is God’s will to bring something about, some act of healing or reconciliation, some change for the better in the world, he has chosen that your prayer is going to be part of the set of causes that makes it happen’
Whether that emboldens us or terrifies us - and it should probably do both - that is how God has set things up.
The first answer as to why God needs us to pray is - because He has designed it that way.
Here’s the second answer. We know that, on the cross, Jesus won the ultimate battle over the forces of evil, sin and death, and that he now rules over the Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth. It is done. We know that and we believe it.
But we also know that His kingdom is resisted. That the world is not how it is meant to be. That’s why we pray Thy kingdom come. The kingdom is here. …and the kingdom is still to come. God’s rule and reign is here….but there are still forces that resist His lordship. Some of those forces are obvious - but some of them are harder to pin down.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. That all sounds rather disturbing - and perhaps a bit weird - but it’s true. This is how writer Richard Foster puts it; 'Behind absentee landlords of ghetto flats are the spiritual forces of greed and avarice. Behind unreasoned and excessive resistance to the gospel message are demonic forces of disobedience and distraction. Underneath the organised structures of injustice and oppression are principalities of privilege and status. Aiding and abetting sexual violence and child abuse are diabolical powers of destruction and brutality.'
We like to think that the world is just made up of the stuff that we can touch and taste and see. We like the think that the world is a rational and mechanical place - where what you see is what you get. But it isn’t. There are forces of good and evil lying behind ‘this world’. The kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. And the darkness wants to prevent the light from growing - and every time a life is limited by poverty, or ill health, every time a child is abused or a nation goes to war, every time a depression cannot be lifted or a grudge is born, the malign forces of darkness celebrate.
And our intercessions, our prayers, are a part of the struggle for the light.
That’s the second reason we need to pray - because there is still work to be done for God’s Kingdom to come.
Those first two answers tell us that the world needs us to pray. But there’s a third answer as well. Why do we need to pray? Because we need to pray. Intercessory prayer is not a matter of getting God to say ‘amen’ to our will. It is us learning to say Amen to God’s will.
If, when we pray, we are actually invited into the very heart of God - if we are being invited to step into the constant love of Father for Son and Son for Father, and to join their action to bring love, mercy and justice to the world, we cannot remain unchanged by that. Intercession isn’t trying to persuade God to listen to us, or to be nice to someone, it is opening our lives so that Jesus can work, act and love in us and therefore through us. When we pray - we should expect the world to change, but we should also expect that we will be changed. Prayer is a dangerous thing, because we might just find that we are being asked to be the change that we are longing God to make ‘out there’.
We might pray - ‘Please Lord, heal my friend’ while sat at home, and realise we need to go round to see them, to offer practical help and to offer to pray with them then and there.
We might pray - ‘Please Lord, make my community a happier place’ and realise we need to be involved with Connect or something similar.
We might pray - ‘Please Lord, make my neighbour apologise’, and realise we need to apologise first for our part in the conflict.
If we’re going to be bold enough to join Jesus before the throne of the Father, we had better expect to hear the truth, and we should not expect to leave unchanged.
Three reasons why God needs us to pray:
Because he has chosen to involve us in the exercise of His will
Because there are forces that we are called to stand against
Because God wants to change us, so that we can change the world.
So how do we actually pray like this? How, practically, do we intercede for the needs of the world? You’ve set some time aside to pray for others - what are you actually going to do?
And I should say that, if you’d like to go deeper into this, we’ll be running another Introduction to Prayer day in September.
First, remember that it’s the Holy Spirit who prays in and through us when we pray. Your job isn’t to produce beautiful poetry when you pray - your job is to turn up and to be open to the Holy Spirit working in you.
When Jesus showed his disciples how to pray, he suggested they start by saying Our Father in heaven. He starts by acknowledging that God is like an Father - that He is Abba, which is like the word Daddy. He is present and loving and listening. And then, hallowed be your name - He is in heaven and His name is hallowed - which means Holy, or set apart, or ‘Other’. Jesus starts by acknowledging who God is - Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. And it might well help to actually try to say this stuff - speak to God about the ways in which He is like a Father to you, and then the ways in which He is holy and wonderful. Tell Him these things - because it helps you step away from the cares of the world and into a space where you can start to see God working in you.
Then let the people and places that are on your heart rise up. It might help to picture them in your imagination, or to see their name resting in Jesus hands. You might see yourself walking alongside them to the Father, or imagine Jesus coming and sitting with them. And see what emerges. Maybe the need they have asked you to pray for - maybe something else.
Hold them in God’s presence and let God speak.
If you hear or sense something, you may need to act on it then and there - you need to focus your prayer on something very specific. Maybe you sense something pushing against God’s will for that person - and if so, pray firmly against it. Or maybe there’s something you need to do later, or something you need to say to them. If so, make note of it.
And if nothing in particular happens, that’s ok, simply let the person be there, with you, in the presence of Jesus and the Father.
And when it seems right to finish, let that person go and ask Jesus if there’s anyone else, or any other situation that you need to pray for. If someone else rises up within you, bring them before the Father. If not, thank God for what you have been shown and finish.
So there we are. Called to intercede for the world - it is a mighty and holy calling. None of us are good enough or expert enough. And that’s fine.
Prayer at its core, in the words of Rowan Williams is your promise and pledge to be there for the God who is there for you.
Prayer is your promise and pledge to be there for the God who is there for you.
Let’s be there for Him, as He is there for us. And may Thy Kingdom Come Lord, Thy kingdom come.