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The Conundrum of Intercessory Prayer

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Just to be perfectly clear, I’m not addressing prayer of the sort where you talk/listen about your own stuff, nor about meditative prayer, nor praise… I’m strictly talking about intercessory prayer—where one person intercedes before God on behalf of another person so that they will a) move into good situations or b) move out of bad situations. I’ve really either never understood how it is supposed to work. I mean, I know the premise. I just don’t understand the rationale of the process. Isn’t it presuming that we know what is better for someone’s life more than God does?

Part I: The Spritual Side
Here’s the way I see it: In some cases, my prayer might actually go “against” the best will of God. For example, if a believer is going through a hard time, it might be, from God’s point of view, to help them learn patience, humility, peace, or whatever lesson is best learned in their situation. From my limited point of view, I might be inclined to pray for them to have a way “out of” whatever it is they are dealing with. Does God hear MY prayer, which is obviously spoken out of concern for my friend, and then He decides to take away their suffering, and at the same time their “lesson,” His greater will for them? Here’s the heart of the question: Does God affect situations, based on our prayers, at the expense of the greater lesson?

As far as praying for other believers, wouldn’t the best prayer for them always be that they would be able to see and understand and act upon God’s best will for them in any situation they are in? And if so, then why pray for healing, for help, for deliverance? Isn’t that getting too specific when we don’t know the larger context of God’s ultimate desire for this person?

An example of the above comes to mind: If I’d known Corrie Ten Boom as a friend back in WWII, I probably would have prayed that she not only avoid the concentration camps, but as a Christian who was actually helping Jews to hide, I think I would have assumed that it would make perfect sense that she be allowed to keep doing that very same good thing. Surely, THAT must be God’s best will! However, as we know now, on two accounts, I would have been praying “wrongly.” Her concentration camp presence probably did more good than hiding several individuals, and the account of her experiences in the camps have touched hundreds of thousands… far more than if she’d remained “safe.” As her friend, with no real view of eternity nor an understanding of God’s intricate ways, any answers to my prayers would have kept her right where she was…in a watch shop in Holland.

And for example, if someone is sick (a common theme in intercessory prayer), and if God wants them healed, won’t they be healed anyway? Is God going to let them languish just because no one prays for them? Does He heal “faster” if more people pray? Or if they pray longer? Or louder? Does He forget about difficult long-term situations just because people have quit praying about it? How many people are still praying for the Amish shooting victims’ families? Has God stopped dealing with that just because praying has slacked off?

As far as unbelievers go, I think it’s pretty much the same thing. Is there a point in praying for their relief from suffering, if that suffering might be the very thing that brings them to a realization of who Jesus is? If God is using suffering in a person’s life to break their reliance on themself, and I pray that their suffering is released, does God again, decide to answer MY prayer, rather than continue to work on the heart of this person?

So all you friends of mine out there, if I tell you that I’m going to pray for you, this is what will be offered to God from me on your behalf: Believing that God loves you more and desires the best things for you more than I ever could, I will pray that your heart is open to understand how whatever you’re going through is being used in your life to make you more like Jesus…even when it’s difficult and painful. Know that I do not enjoy seeing any of my friends having a hard time, but also know that I know that my sight and understanding is limited when it comes to the mysterious paths of life. Period. I hope you will pray the same for rme.

Part II: The Physical Side
If a friend of mine (and I suppose I should include my enemies in there as well :), are suffering, I will work to alleviate their suffering inasmuch as it’s in my power.

What?! Is this not a direct conflict with what I just said about the fact that that might be interfering with God’s teaching us things through/using suffering to make us more like Jesus. Well, it would seem to be on its surface, but I think the answer lies in somewhere in obedience.

While, to my knowledge the NT does not give specific directions about praying for others, Jesus does instruct us to feed the hungry, help the poor, take care of one another, i.e. relieve suffering. So even if I don’t understand how the whole thing works together for God’s best will to be done, it is not for me to understand, it is for me to be obedient to DO the things He has spoken about.

[A side note here: I know the Old Testament had intercessory pray-ers like Moses and the prophets, who were it seems constantly having to stand between the people and a God who was ready to wipe Israel off the map. Frankly, it really made Moses et al seem more merciful than God. And it made God appear a petulant deity who could be turned from destroying his people one moment into an exasperated being the next, going “Ooooh, okay. Alright, then. No destruction for you today!” I’m sure there’s more meat to it than all that, but that’s the “vibe” I get from that kind of intercession.]

So while someone may be sick, on the one hand, I will be praying for this person to see God’s best will in it somewhere; and on the other hand, I will be helping in any way I can to ease their suffering. I’ll let God figure out the paradox. I hope my friends will do the same for me. 🙂

In Jesus’s prayer, after His praise, His first request was that God’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That will only happen when we start being obedient and start relieving the suffering, helping the poor, comforting the grieving. Nothing miraculous…no God stepping in to drop manna on the hungry…nothing like that. It’s taking seriously His call to be the salt and light in the world. We can pray for peace all day long, but until we start being peaceful, nothing will change. We are the answered prayers.


Written by blogicalinks

October 24, 2006 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Seeking

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