As a priest, I should not be surprised at how often sometimes perfect strangers ask me to pray for them. Sometimes it is related to a specific difficulty or crisis – more often than not people understandably take comfort from the reality of being prayed for.
Intercession, prayer that is to ask God for something or somebody, is a very complex reality and problem. Intercessory prayer centres on prayers of asking, but God is not insensitive, deaf or unyielding, and we need to be careful not to try and twist God’s arm. One wonders whether God answers prayer, or, indeed, how boring it must be to hear the stream of intercessions that flow from earth to heaven! This image and the presuppositions that lie behind it raise another set of questions for another day. But, let’s remind ourselves of what this balance of thanks and praise, pointing up local events and world events, might be about.
We place all in the palm of God’s hand, letting go of our control and waiting to discern, in trust, how God will take and shape situations with us. This means we have to be sensitive and alert, to discern and respond with action and commitment to the shaping that God gives us. Bearing up a situation faithfully before God is as important as being an agent of change for Christ in that situation.
But God does not need reminding that we need to offer certain of our hopes and feelings to him. We do not need to be too long in our asking, but need to try and pick up what is deeply felt by others. My daily prayer is enriched by the needs and concerns that are shared by such diverse number of people in various places and situations.
So prayer is about being in close attention with God and growing into God’s presence in a self-forgetful way. But in our praying we ought to search out and grasp some measure of integrity and balance. There are always two sides to a story and we should try to achieve that balance in the words we choose for prayer. I wonder what petitions have been offered in and around the present complex situation in Iraq? Praying for both sides and for common understanding in a dispute, strife or war enlarges our humanity.
So today, I thank God for all those people who ask me to pray and I offer the following list as a challenge to deepen our intercession which is no less than:
Standing before God
Longing for God’s grace
Asking for those in need
Naming those needs before God
Hoping for grace and love.
And so, in the standing, longing, asking, naming and hoping we pray that we might be changed as the Kingdom of God is proclaimed.