Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Prayer


I have been thinking about the importance of intercessory prayer. There are always little articles flying around the internet about prayer. Some of the articles are campy. Some are full-blown studies on the effectiveness of prayer. It is all very interesting.

However, I am thinking about something else. I am thinking about the resistance to public intercessory prayer. During my time in parish ministry, I have had countless people ask me to pray for them. If appropriate, I usually ask if a person would like to be included on the parish prayer list. Often, the person will thankfully agree, but not always. Sometimes, a person will ask to be in my prayers, but not in the Prayers of the People.

There are probably many reasons that exist for not wanting to be prayed for at a Sunday service. Some don’t want to answer questions. Some are just more private.

My interior struggle has to do with the nature of the Church. Can’t we be a community of celebration and support? It is hard to feel vulnerable; I understand that. Yet, real community and trust depend on our willingness to be open with one another.

Offering prayer for another is important and transformative. Asking for prayer is at the very heart of our faith.


7 comments:

Country Parson said...

We have developed a vigorous public intercessory prayer life in our congregation, not entirely to my credit. A good part of it was in place on my arrival a good may years ago. Our Sunday prayers are by first name only. A few have wanted to know more, especially about what was wrong with so-and-so. We've deliberately steered away from that to minimize the hunger for gossip, which is especially important in small town. The thing I keep asking God is "Exactly how does prayer work?" God keeps telling me just to stay in the conversation and not worry about details. I've countered, "But hey, I'm a priest, I'm supposed to know about these things." God keeps answering that he's not impressed.

Chris+ said...

CP,

You are right about gossip as a concern. I guess I am wondering how we move beyond that to being communities of real concern and connection? One of the real strengths of 12 step programs is that they often seem to move beyond superficial interest to genuine depth. I wish more of this existed upstairs, rather than the meeting in the basement.

Chris+

Country Parson said...

For a long time, until they got tired, we had a bunch of people who knitted prayer shawls as they prayed, Each shawl was tagged with a prayer card, and delivered by clergy or lay ministers to those in serious distress. It was the single most important thing we did and I regret that it ended. Our lay pastoral care group meets once a month to review with clergy all those who are not able to attend church and sees that they regularly receive visits and Holy Communion. We have two retired priests who participate, and when my replacement has had enough time to feel comfortable, I will join them.

Country Parson said...

12 step programs are brought together by a common need that exists at a very basic level to human well being. That commonality does not seem to exist among those in great need of intercessory prayer, but the depth of which you speak does seem within reach of one-on-one pastoral ministry, and, over long time, we have seen it surface in our men's breakfast group and Wednesday night bible study. They are not closed groups, but turnover is slow and there is lots of time to build up trust. My wife says that also happens in her Renovare groups, which are small groups agreeing to stick together for at least one academic year and study the same spiritual lessons together. Again, it seems to be a matter of the time and space needed to build up trust. My friend down the street is a big believer in the Saddleback model and has dozens of small groups, but they seem to hold together about as well as Jello on a hot summer day.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Your post re Intercessory Prayer is a provocative one for me - and btw - I don't generally pray for people I receive through a forwarded e-mail or through articles on the internet about prayer...I'm still suspicious of the offers those prayers are supposed to bring to me??? Me - what happened to the recipient of the prayer, well anyway...

Small groups, events, quiet days, retreats, bible studies, forums.....so much work often for so few people. In my life as an Episcopalian (and even before the big E), these were the places where I formed fellowship - enough fellowship that now I can share my heart and concerns more openly with total strangers - and by total strangers, I mean those persons who may actually come to church weekly, sit in the same place, pass the peace, and leave, seemingly not wishing to share anything with anybody.
If I'm lucky enough, I find these ts and offer them God's love and friendship even if they pretend they don't need it. I consider part of God's love to be sometimes throwing those ts right into the middle of my intercessory prayers. I don't tell them its God's love, I hope sometime they figure that out. Even it wasn't God's love, why would I bother - I have enough friends, acquaintances, contacts, chores, volunteer jobs, etc. nothing other than God could really talk me into intercessory prayer for persons who decide they don't need intercessory prayer.
It seems to me that you can only preach it, teach it, make the offer and then if they deny your suggestion of public intercessory prayer, go with your personal prayers for them - including a prayer that "somebody" will find them and inadvertently teach them through example that God does love them in the midst of the crowd and if the truth be known there are many in the congregation that would be saddened to know they wouldn't share their burden to be borne by all. Whew - was that one long run on sentence or what! Thanks for listening. Oh, wouldn't you know, one more thing.....it took me years to feel comfortable ASKING other people to pray for me, so there you go!

Anonymous said...

When in need of prayer, I have found that I feel my most vulnerable and isolated. I have always prayed for those in need and loved ones, as well as those I don't like, hoping to resolve some oh, so human dilemas within myself. I was told a long time ago that it is hard to keep your enemies at arms length when praying for them. But when I look back to when I needed prayer, as I do now, I feel that to admit that to others shows vulnerablilty and imperfection in a world that stesses perfection. It is hard to admit to yourself that you are in need. In addition, what to do if anyone asks what's wrong? Be honest? Avoid the question? Be deceitful? Sometimes it just feels a whole lot less complicated not to ask and remain in isolation, however dismal that may feel.

Sunrise Sister said...

Well, I don't know you and don't need to know you - vulnerable, imperfect -
I don't need to know what's wrong but you will be in my prayers tonight and in the a.m.

Trust someone or maybe only God - don't remain in isolation, there are too many of us that are willing to give our best shot to prayer on your behalf. "Pew-sitter"