Discussing the intercessory prayer

Wednesday, October 02, 2019 - Updated: 1:20 pm

QUESTION: When people experience some tragedy, I often hear priests and other religious people say: “I’ll pray for you.” I wonder if they say that because they don’t know what else to say. What do we mean when any of us say we will pray for someone else? Does one person’s prayer count more than others?

ANSWER: Questions about prayer are always challenging because they involve God in a unique way. This is especially true of what we call “intercessory prayer.” Nonetheless, the Scriptures contain numerous passages about this kind of prayer.

Some passages seem to indicate that intercessory prayer is unnecessary, for example: “...your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).

While other passages speak of the importance of such prayer, for example: “...pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16).

Still other passages speak of the prayer of the community, for example: “Again I tell you if two of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever it shall be granted you by my Father in heaven. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matt. 18:19-20).

While knowing that this type of prayer is in accord with the Scriptures, we still might ask about precisely how it works. Does one person’s prayer mean more than another?

Any answer to such questions has to begin with the realization that as human beings we will never completely understand the workings of an infinite God.

Secondly, because of our limited abilities to deal with issues of suffering, tragedy or illness, it is very natural to feel somewhat helpless to explain the reality that is shared. It is also natural to turn to God who we believe is the only one that holds the answer to such matters. To say “I’ll pray for you” is first an admission that I am not able understand or change much of life’s challenges. Secondly, it is a statement that somehow, I will take that concern to someone whom I believe can make a difference.

Therefore, intercessory prayer is primarily a response of love and faith. I love you enough to be deeply concerned. I believe in God enough to know that God’s love is even greater than mine.

Intercessory prayer is also an essential building block of community life. Especially for the Christian, one’s needs, burdens and sorrows are also part of those of the community. While we share our joys, we must also learn to share our burdens.

Perhaps this is the meaning of the Scripture which speaks of two or three gathering together. It is not that God only hears prayers if they are made by groups of believers. It might mean that our sharing of sorrows and challenges with one another awakens in us a keener awareness of other’s needs and concerns. In doing so, it may provide a means by which God will work through us. Too often we forget that God works through natural means as well as the extraordinary.

Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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