Grace and Peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Over the last two months we looked at the first two ways we respond to the word in the service of worship. These are a prayer of thanksgiving and a profession of faith (especially the Apostles’ Creed). All of the ways that we respond to the word within the order of worship are opportunities for us to respond to God with gratitude – not just the prayer of thanksgiving. This includes a third reply: the intercessory prayers of the people. To intercede just means to make a plea on behalf of someone else. This is an act of thanksgiving because we are grateful that Jesus intercedes for us.
Prayers of intercession are practices for character formation. Indeed, a consistent practice of prayer is essential for the development of a Christian character. However, it is not uncommon for many to only pray when things are going wrong in their own life or the lives of those close to them. The prayers of the people train us, without us even thinking about it, to expand our prayer horizon beyond self. It also is not an accident that they come after prayers of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving in the overall liturgy of the church service. The order of said prayers helps us remember that prayer is more than simply asking for things.
Yet the prayers of the people do something even more important. It is fairly common, especially among teens and young adults who have grown up in the church in America, to think that suffering comes because you need more faith or you have some hidden sin that needs to be confessed. However, the prayers of the people make it obvious that suffering is normal for Christians and sometimes suffering is even the consequence of being
faithful.1 Thus Christians often suffer not because they need more faith but because they have great faith. So the prayers of the people help us to see suffering in a different light—reflecting Christ on the cross.
Now unfortunately, it is much easier to pray for physical healing than it is to pray for the Christian in the midst of his or her suffering. Physical healing may not even be that Christian’s greatest need. When we only pray for physical healing this can also have the tragic consequence of leading us to become disillusioned with the faith whenever such physical healing does not happen in this life. Consider when someone pleads with God
consistently only for physical healing for a dear friend or family member for a long time and then that loved one passes away, this can lead some to questions and doubts. However, prayers that actually minister to the sick and the dying and their families will lead everyone to long for the new heavens and earth and inspire everyone who
sees their witness in the midst of suffering. We have only scratched the surface on this topic, but the point is to pray not only for the body but pray for more and both you and the person for whom you are praying will benefit.
Indeed, intercessory prayer not only encourages you to die to yourself as you watch and pray for the sick and dying to willingly take up their crosses, but it can even shape your desire for God in such a way that you come to love your enemies. The practice of praying for politicians in positions of power (especially those whom you do not support) and praying for those who persecute Christians will go a long ways in forming a Christ-like
character.2 No doubt these are some of the reasons Scripture tells us to pray for them.