“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…” From the first letter to St. Timothy.
This week we continue reading the first letter to St. Timothy, in the second chapter. This bit is a teaching from St. Paul on prayer.
The tradition handed down to us by the Church of England is contained in the Book of Common Prayer. The first prayer book was published in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, and an updated version was produced in 1552. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the one that edited the book, and wrote most of the prayers in it.
The latest version, still in use by the English Church was published in 1662. Yes, that version is still the official book in the Church of England. Traditional Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians have incorporated many of the prayers into their own prayer books.
Some time ago, when I was involved in a weekly prayer meeting, I was chastised for reading a prayer out of the book. To some Christians, your faith is not authentic if you don’t pray from the Spirit. I had to explain to them the difference between liturgical prayer and personal prayer.
I was once with a priest I knew in Wisconsin at a prayer vigil. A fellow pastor said, “Perhaps Fr. Cunningham could pray one of his written prayers.” Fr. Cunningham smiled and said, “Yes, I could. It’s written in the Bible. It goes like this: Our Father, who art in heaven…”
One thing St. Paul knew for sure is that prayer should bring God’s people together. He wrote to St. Timothy, “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.” Prayer can bring peace to those experiencing pain or illness. Prayer can also be said on behalf of others.
Prayer can be for healing and for reconciliation. Prayer can offered anywhere, not just in church on Sunday morning. Sometimes, when someone asks for your prayers, you could try praying with them, right then and there.
Prayer is another one of those things that can be pushed aside by the cares of this world. It’s easy to think prayer is just for Sunday mornings, but it is meant to be an every day activity. Prayer is the key to a closer relationship with our Lord. If you are seeking a more peaceful and rewarding life, despite all of the chaos that is going on around us, try prayer.
St. James wrote in the letter that bears his name, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
As a member of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC), I have made a vow to uphold a certain rule of life with my brother priests and bishops. As a weekly devotion, we read the Prayer of the Lord Jesus from the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 17. It begins like this:
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”
This is known among commentators as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. Here he prays to the Father that his will be done, and it ends with this prophecy:
Jesus said, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Today this reminded me of a favorite hymn, #662 in our hymnal:
Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Just as the Lord prayed for us, he also wants us to pray for each other, and has told us that whatever we ask in his Name will be done. The question then is what does one say during intercessory prayer?
If you know someone who is ill, or who is facing surgery, or is just going through a rough patch, you can intercede for them, simply asking the Father to heal them, or to strengthen them.
If we don’t know what to say, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26,27.
I found these seven steps to intercessory prayer that I believe are very helpful.
1. Since it is the prayer of the righteous that is powerful and effective (James 5:16), examine your conscience before you pray, and repent of any sin or harsh feelings you may have against other people.
2. Spend a few minutes in silence, to quiet your mind and come into God’s presence.
3. During this time, ask the Lord to give you a sense of the things He wants you to pray for. Put aside your own agenda, concerns, and desires and unite yourself to The Lord’s heart. You may want to write down the things that God places on your heart.
4. Briefly reflect on what you wrote down. What do you think God is leading you to pray for?
5. Pray for the things on God’s heart—for those who have no faith; for those who have fallen away from the Lord; for renewal and unity in all the Christian churches; for respect for all life; for all the lost, abandoned, or forgotten children of the world; for those under the power of addictions or bound by depression, anxiety, or bitterness; and for prisoners and service men and women. And, of course, pray for your own intentions and those of your loved ones.
6. As you pray, take confidence in God’s power to overcome any obstacle. Stand firm in faith, and wait to see God work in power.
7. Use a prayer journal to keep a record of what you prayed for, and of the ways God answered those prayers. Thank him and praise for all the ways he has worked through your prayer.
The Lord said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” Being faithful in prayer for the small things in your life will lead to larger things being answered.
I hope that your prayer life will flourish as you ask for guidance. Don’t underestimate the power of your prayers, because God hears them and will act on them, often in ways that you don’t expect. Keep your eyes and your hearts open, and be ready to accept the Lord’s will in all situations. Amen.