Intercession

I live in a small town that has a history of very active, civic involvement. It is not unusual to be approached and asked to sign a petition. Generally, I do not sign petitions. Often it is someone else’s issue and I’m not always clear what is being asked of me. By the same token, I am skeptical of democracy, except that everything else seems worse.

When it comes to prayer and someone asks me to pray for them – what, in fact, is being asked? Is someone asking me to sign a heavenly petition as though the will of God were based on democracy – the more votes the better the outcome? Of course this would be absurd.

But why do we pray for one another? Indeed, why is this a commandment in Scripture?

I have stated elsewhere that the purpose of all prayer is communion with God. If this is true, then what is being asked of me when I am requested to pray for someone?

On its simplest level intercessory prayer is exactly what it seems – I am praying to God on someone’s behalf. Of course, God already knows of the need, and His will is always for our salvation. We are not instructing God on how the universe should be. Nonetheless we pray – and we are commanded to pray.

In some American circles, Christ’s promises such as, “If you ask anything in my name it will be given you,” are extremely popular. This is a dangerous promise to put in the hands of a consumer-driven culture. The understanding of the statement will almost invariably be focused on the result (“If I do this, then I get this”) and the “in my name” will likely be misunderstood as the operating principle (like a magic formula). Of course, “in my name” is not a magic formula but an invitation to communion. To be “in the name of Jesus” is to be “in Jesus” Himself.

This brings us back to prayer as communion. It is perhaps easiest to understand prayer as communion if you are thinking only of yourself and God. In intercessory prayer there is a third or fourth or even greater element added. How do we understand these added elements within the context of communion?

The Elder Sophrony writes about what he calls “hypostatic prayer,” which, in translated terms would mean something like “personal prayer.” What he means by it, however, is not that we are merely “personally” doing the praying – but rather we are praying in a manner that is “properly” personal in the theological sense. That is, that as person, existing in the image of God, I am praying in a way that extends myself into communion with God and communion with others. This, of course, is simply the work of love within our heart.

Thus to pray in such a manner for someone is not merely to read a name from a list, but to extend oneself, in love, and in that communion of love, to enter into communion with God. One way St. Paul states this is to say, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). Or, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1Cor. 12:26).

It is not unusual to read in stories of great spiritual fathers of their awareness (almost on a conscious level and sometimes even conscious) of their spiritual children wherever they may be when they pray for them. This is a great gift from God and not common.

However, on the small scale of our lives, to pray for someone with attention, with a heart that seeks to extend itself in love, is to take our intercession to a deeper level – to seek to gather all of our petitions “into the name of Jesus.”

In my own experience I know that such prayer comes easily when it is on behalf of my wife or my children or a member of their family. It also comes in prayer for the members of my congregation (I am learning this slowly). It is to have as our model of intercession Christ Himself. We see this in His “High-Priestly” prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on behalf of His disciples and for those who would become His disciples through their word. And indeed we see it in His prayer from the Cross, “Father, forgive.”

Ephesians 1:9-11 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.

This is St. Paul’s great description of God’s eternal purpose. It is also a description of our prayer as we struggle in our meager way to lift our hearts before God.

9 Responses to “Intercession”

  1. Lucias Says:

    Wonderful thoughts as always. I find it easy to understand prayer as communion with God. What I find less easy to understand is understanding how prayer with God for another brings me into communion both with God and that person as a whole. Its a newer way of thinking for me. I find it intriguing and will contemplate it.

    You speak of prayer in the consumer culture. The name-it-claim-it view so to speak. I have often puzzled at the approach to prayer that seems more reminiscent of a child’s Christmas wish list to Santa. God help me get this, help me fix, give us victory here, heal that person there, etc. Particularly when two faithful are praying for the opposite. Recently I have begun praying “Father I wish for the following, if its your will for me please grant it, but if its not your will then please give me the peace, strength and courage to face the things you ask me to face”.

    Is prayer also a time where we are simply quiet in our words and thoughts and “listen” to what God might want to impress upon us ? There have been times, not so common where it felt like an answer came to me. Am I being presumptuous to assume that God speaks back to us in prayer ?

  2. shevaberakhot Says:

    One thing is certain, we enter into a state of communion with God and others by the narrow gate.

    Then, even ‘meagre’ (para. 12) is enough — whereas everyday fullness gets us absolutely nowhere if it is not “in Jesus” (para. 6) himself.

    This is wonderful writing Father Stephen, I pray you are well on your way to making a complete recovery.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Lucias,

    There are certainly times for quiet. Time and experience, and a good spiritual director are useful in discerning God’s voice in our heart. I also know that if God needs me to know something, there are many ways to tell me.

  4. RaeDi Wherry Says:

    To My Dear Friends, Thank you for the heartfelt prayers and caring thoughts. They have meant a great deal to me. I really appreciate all the love and kindness that everyone has shown me. The worst is behind me, but as I see it “now” there is a long road ahead. I am sitting in the bleachers, my hope is soon I will be able to stand on the track, but it will be awhile before I am able to even take a walk around the track let alone jump the first hurdle. Nevertheless, I am very happy that I am where I am at this time and I have nowhere to go but forwards. With friends like you and your prayers, I have a hand up for quick healing and complete recovery.

    Romans 5:1-6 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

    Romans 8:37-39 May they be rooted and grounded in love, and comprehend with all saints what is the breath and length and heights and depth and know the love of Christ which passes knowledge that they be filled with all the fullness of God.

    I AM VERY BLESSED TO HAVE SUCH GENUINE AND SINCERE FRIENDS. EACH OF YOU IS EXCEPTIONAL IN YOUR DEVOTION OF YOUR FAITH AS WELL AS YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. YOUR DEVOUTNESS AND FAITHFULNESS WILL BRING EACH OF YOU MANY BLESSINGS, YOUR PIOUSNESS THAT TOUCHES EACH AND EVERYONE THAT COMES INTO EACH OF YOUR LIVES IS A TESTAMENT OF YOUR TRUE FAITH. SUCH LOVE AND GOODNESS COMES TO ONLY THOSE THAT BELIEVE IN OUR LORD, HAVE A DEEP COMMITMENT, AND DEDICATE THEIR LIVES TO HIM AND HIS WORD. I PRAISE AND GIVE GRATITUDE FOR THE WONDROUS OF SOULS WHO ARE A PART OF MY LIFE. MY APPRECIATION GOES OUT TO EACH ONE OF YOU AND MY PRAYERS INCLUDE EACH OF YOU AND HOPE THAT THE LORD BLESSES YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT, ENCOURAGEMENT, AND OUTPOURING OF LOVE IN HIS NAME AMEN….RAEDI

    Dear Father Stephens,

    I happened onto your site today, as well, this day I sent my love for those that lefted me up in prayer for my health. I find that when we pray as one that we are growing in His Spirit. The prayers bind us as one with our Lord. His will be done. I find this love in His spirit is most fulfilling and the combined faith as one brings union with our Lord. I am in thought of your remark about a good spiritual director as being useful in discerning God’s voice in our heart. I mean no disrespect, but it has given me pause to think about this statement. Is it that without spiritual direction from a spiritual director that I would not be able to discern God will in my heart? I am one that takes time in thinking and seeing things from different directions, and would like to have this explained to me – if you have the time. In His Name and His Peace, Amen ….RaeDi

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Raedi,

    None of us is the Church all by ourselves, the hand needs the foot, etc. Also in discerning God’s voice in our life, we need the experience and wisdom of others in guidance and in avoiding deception. Christianity was never meant to be individualized, but rather embedded in a community (the Church). It’s just wisdom to have others who help us be sure that what we hear is God and not some other voice, whether it is a formal spiritual director (a priest, etc.) or not.

  6. Pastor Chad Says:

    thank-you for these words, and this reminder. prayer is something that i continually struggle with, especially intercessory prayer. the little time that i seem to set aside always gets taken up with concerns for myself.

    it seems to me that a deeper communion with God requires a deeper communion with others. we are called into a community. it is this community that i often struggle with, and so i find it hard to pray.

    thanks for this reminder

  7. Jenn DiGiacomo Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for this, as I have always struggled with the act of praying on others’ behalf. Now, are we to look at praying to the saints and Mother Mary in the same light; that it brings us all into communion with God and we are simply asking the saints and Mary of that?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write down your thoughts on this matter. God bless you.

    Jenn

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    I think you have stated it very well. Asking the intercession of a saint should never make us feel more distant from God (or something is wrong). Rather it should draw us into the fullness of the communion that He extends to His Church and finally all creation.

    Think for a moment of Psalm 148. It is a chorus, calling not just saints and angels, but all of creation into the common song of praise for God. It is the sound of the end of the age spoken of in Romans 8.

    Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed. Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD!

  9. Prayer as love « Square Peg into a Round Hole Says:

    […] thought for today comes from a blog I’ve begun to read recently: Glory to God for All Things, written by an American Orthodox priest.  […]

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