“Ask, and it will be given to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you” [Matthew 7:7]
What? How can this be? All of us have experienced unanswered prayers, lost treasures, and closed doors. Surely, God is not Santa Claus doling out presents for good children who behave. Furthermore, I can’t believe we need prayers to convince God to take action or to inform God of our needs. God knows and acts and loves, without our prompting. So, why practice intercessory prayer? What good does it do?
I’ve had several experiences in recent years that have made me, once skeptical of this spiritual discipline, a regular practitioner.
First, an experience of asking for prayers. Several years ago, parishioner Brett Johnson asked if he might pray for my family. At his request, every few months, I send an email sharing specific joys and concerns of our family. Crafting this email is a centering and rewarding work. It forces me to think carefully about those I love. What do they need? What would help them grow? What blessings have they received recently? This task refocuses me on the most important issues in our life -- those experiences of grace that draw us into the abundant life Jesus promises and those experiences of suffering that hold within them the hope of resurrection. Asking for prayers transforms me. I wonder, how would our Parish be changed if each of us asked a fellow parishioner to share his/her deepest prayers with us?
Second, an experience of offering prayers. For the last four years, I have had the privilege of helping to lead the prayer list team at Epiphany. Every week, one of us reaches out to members of our community who have asked us for prayers, either for themselves or those they love. We write to assure them of our prayers and to inquire about how their loved ones are faring. It’s deeply humbling work. I know how much trust and courage it takes to ask for prayers. When I write these emails, I’m filled with gratitude, humility, and connection. It’s one of those moments when I am sure that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Offering to pray for others transforms me. I wonder, how would our Parish be changed if more of us asked to place the names of those we love on our weekly prayer list?
Finally, an experience of praying in community: Every Tuesday night, five to twelve of us gather in the Chapel at 6:00pm. We sit in a circle and recite the names of those who are on our prayer list. It’s a short, contemplative service. To be honest, there are weeks when my brain is racing through the first fifteen minutes. In these moments, I often imagine God smiling gently, waiting for me to return to the present. And I look around at the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also know that there are others who will receive the prayer list via email and have promised to lift up these needs to God. I feel inspired by their faith and welcomed by their love. Praying in community transforms me. I wonder, how would our Parish be changed if you (yes, YOU) joined us in person, or prayed with us at home on Tuesday night.
And so, what good does intercessory prayer? Well, for me, it helps me return to the Good News of Christ Jesus - the promise that we are made for love, that we are called to deep connection with all of creation, and that we are never, never alone.