Friday, April 18, 2014

Intercessory Prayer

  • The chief end of prayer is just being with God.
  • Intercessory prayer is predicated on the belief that God answers prayer.
  • The Holy Spirit is the summum donum, the supreme gift.
  • The first thing to understand about prayer is that it doesn’t depend on whether or not you think you are acceptable.

We are in the Schola Christi, the School of Christ

Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The yoke, from the viewpoint of the rabbis, was the rabbinic school. Jesus is inviting us to come to school and learn from him. The following passage is the last of three school lessons from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: The Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, and now, How to Pray.

The Schola Christi had no stationary classroom, but Jesus taught his disciples in many different locations ranging from the Galilee to Judah; often repeating the same teaching in various places. The result is that we find different forms of his teaching on prayer in the Gospel of Luke and in the Gospel of Matthew.

Luke 11:1 “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 

The passage forms a single teaching on the nature of prayer.

Luke 11:2 And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation."

In the Gospel of Matthew we find five of the main categories of prayer.

Matthew 6:9   9 Pray then like this: Adoration: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Surrender: 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  11 Intercession: Give us this day our daily bread, 12 Penitence: and forgive us [Forgive: afiami –to let go] our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Affirmation: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

In the Book of Common Prayer, we begin with Penitence, move to Adoration in the Venite and the Canticles, and then to Affirmation in the Apostles Creed. In the Prayers we move to Surrender in the Suffrages, and then  the prayers of Intercession in the Collects, and in our own intercessions before a final Affirmation of the Grace of Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all our prayers are answered.

Do you keep a list of your intercessory prayers? If you do, not only will you be able to check some of them off as fulfilled over time, but you also will recognize that there are other intercessions you have been praying for, for a considerable length of time. One reason for this is that God, in his infinite love and wisdom will not cancel out the will, or willfulness, of those for whom we pray. He first, by prevenient grace, must bring them to a place of willingness.  When is someone willing? When they are willing to be willing, and not before. I recognize that some for whom I pray the answer to my prayers takes both my persistence and a passage of time, but,

A Quaker, Douglas Steere, points out, “Before we begin to pray, we may know that the love of the One who is actively concerned in awakening each life to its true center is already lapping at the shores of that life.  Such prayer is only cooperation with God’s active love in besieging the life or new areas of the life of another, or of a situation” (Douglas Steere, ed. Foster, Devotional Classics, p. 89). 

In the Schola Christi in the Gospel of Luke we find the following teaching about persistence in prayer.

Luke 11:5-13
 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; 7 and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 

11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

After all the ‘ask, seek, and knock’ the ultimate intercession is for the empowering by the Holy Spirit; Who is  himself the essence of the power of prayer.

The Book of Psalms was the Prayer Book of Israel, and it was the Prayer Book of Jesus. It is also a central part of the Book of Common Prayer, comprising 224 pages, almost a quarter of the 1001 pages of The Book of Common Prayer. It is also the backbone of St. Benedict’s understanding of Prayer in The Rule. The following verses stress the importance of surrender, trust, and patience in prayer.

Psalm 37: 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 40: 1I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
Wait: qavah {kaw-vaw'}  Meaning:  1) to wait, look for, hope, expect 1a) (Qal) waiting (participle) 1b) (Piel) 1b1) to wait or look eagerly for 1b2) to lie in wait for 1b3) to wait for, linger for 2) to collect, bind together 2a) (Niphal) to be collected.

1 John 5: 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

An underlying principle of intercessory prayer is that the action of God undergirds the action of his people. " Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" [Philippians 2:12-13]. There may something you need to do yourself for the fulfillment of some intercessory prayers. While God, in his infinite freedom and grace, does operate apart from our action, his method of choice seems to be to operate in response to our prayers and action. For us to pray and do nothing is not God's favourite way of answering prayer.

On the other what you may need to do, is get your hands off something, and trust the Lord instead of working compulsively to get something done. There is a principle of evangelism that says, “Give a man a word from God; and leave him with it for a considerable length of time.

A Benedictine viewpoint is that "Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace." [Rule Ch. 20]. While there may be "tears of compunction," emotionality is not necessary. Whether or not we stamp about, or even with poetical angst try to get the prayer phrased properly, is more a matter of heritage, culture, and where we fall into the perspective of the four humors, Melancholic, Choleric, Phlegmatic, Sanguine, than anything else. 

As a matter of poetical angst, and as a very minor poet, I often go back and try to get it right when I am writing a poem. Doing so, I don't always make the poem better. Prayer is conversation, often open ended, sometimes sloppy and imprecise, but the very nature of Divine Accommodation is that that God stoops to our level. His listening and answering of our prayer is an Incarnational act. 

A question raised by the Psalmist in Psalm 73 is, “Why do the wicked prosper”, but the Psalmist has only a very partial answer.  Experience teaches us that God has many possible answers to prayer: "No. Not yet. Wait? Yes." There is always the issue of timing. One Greek word for time is "kairos" which means "the right time."

Remember the frog under the lily pad principle.  When we pray we are like a frog under a lily pad. A shadow flits by overhead and we do not know what it is. If we climb up onto the top of the lily pad we might recognize that the shadow is a bird flying overhead. Suddenly a cow comes down over the hill and drinks at the edge of the pond. We don't know where the cow came from and we have no idea what is over the hill. God sees the frog, sees bird, sees the cow at the edge of the pond, and sees no only what is over the hill, but He sees everything that might be impacted or will need to be adjusted for Him to answer our prayer. To us it is incomprehensible, but to Him it is just part of his continuing creation.

Our prayer is therefore enfolded in that creative process of God, and yes, He does answer, but according to His infinite knowledge and compassion. Sam Kinison, a tent preacher, who became a loud, abrasive and offensive comedian died in a car accident in 1992. His last recorded words was his side of a dialogue with God, "Immediately after the crash, witnesses say that Sam looked normal enough and he would pull through.  He said, "I don't want to die.  I don't want to die."   Then Sam was heard having some sort of conversation... "But why?  'Okay, okay, okay."  The last okay was apparently said very softly and comfortably, like he was talking to someone he loved."

I don't understand why some are healed and some aren't, but I do know from experience, that if I pray the odds are much better, than if I don't pray. This is probably why John says, "This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him" [1 John 5:14-15].  

Prayer “is a primal urge in us like a baby bird calling with its mouth gaping open” [Kirby Atkins].  The reason that is so is because the chief end of prayer is just being with God.

Rising Early  R. Penman Smith

Rising very early in the morning
while it was still dark, he departed
and went out to a desolate place
and there he prayed. ~ Mark 1:35

To be with You in the midnight hours
When all is dark within, without.
To be with You in perfect peace
My resting place, my heaven, my all right place,
My shelter in the midst of storm.
Life in the daylight hours spins around
With dizzying pace, sun rise, sun set,
And you are here with me within, without.
How small, how petty all the daily trials
When at night I rest myself in Thee,
My heaven on earth,
My heaven in the midst of life,
My heavenly Lover and my King,
My resting place in the midst of storm.