May 10, 2008

Praying for Others

Do not set your heart on what seems good to you but rather what is pleasing to God when you pray. This will free you from disturbance and leave you occupied with thanksgiving in your prayer.
- Evagrius of Pontus

As someone who was a part of evangelical circles for several decades, I was always instructed to be specific in my prayers for others. This ended up being a great frustration to me over the years, because I didn't know what specifically to pray for people. How could I know what would be best for them? How could I know all the details of their situation? There was always the attempt to get as much information as possible from those who requested prayer, so that "more effective prayers" could be offered on their behalf. This practice frequently resulted in an hour of "sharing" and no time to pray!

But even when I possessed a great quantity of background about that individual and what was going on, I still didn't trust my own conclusions on what God should do in the situation. My prayers ended up being "Lord, if it is your will..." do this or that. Why was it necessary to verbalize a variety of possible outcomes to the situation in my prayers? How could I hope to pray for another's situation when the events in my own life rarely made sense!

I have found tremendous freedom in the Eastern Church as we petition God on behalf of others. We ask for God to glorify himself and that his kingdom would be established here on earth as it is in heaven. I am not required to be the spiritual guide for everyone who asks me to pray for them. I need only bring that person's needs before the Father and ask for his mercy and blessing upon him/her. My focus is on the Godhead and the power and mercy and love that is shown toward us. I plead on another's behalf, as I do for myself. God's answers are too varied, too marvelous and too complex for me to even fathom them in my mind. As Mary, the mother of Jesus, was known to do, she saw others' needs and took them to her Son. Remember the wedding at Cana? Mary didn't presume to tell Jesus what he should do. She merely presented the situation to him. As I hear a person's request or see his/her situation, my responsibility is to lift them to the Father. Those who have gone before us also pray for us, and we can ask them to join us in our prayers to the Father.

There is this constant flow from us and the saints to the throne of God and back - a continual "conversation". The Trinity is working in marvelous ways each and every day, throughout the world, and we are a part of that heavenly stream of faith, hope and love. May we not become entangled in what we should request or how it should be presented. May our focus be on pleasing you.

No comments: