Intercessory prayer and a relationship with God

Eclexia writes with insight and honesty on Prayer wanderings and wonderings. I am glad that she found helpful the following comment which I wrote on another blog, and which I repeat here for the record:

Intercessory prayer is hard to reconcile with any systematic theology. That is because we come to these matters with what Charles Simeon called “proud reason”, setting up theological systems which end up contradicting the Bible.

To take this further, I would say that we need real humility in our prayer. Certainly we should not try to manipulate God into doing what we want. We should not claim that we understand what prayer is all about. Rather, we pray because God tells us to, and our hearts tell us to. And our intercessory prayer needs to be firmly grounded in a close relationship with God, one where we can pour out our own hearts to him and also connect with his heart for us.

In fact I share many of Eclexia’s difficulties with prayer. But I feel that God is slowly bringing me through them. For me, one of the keys is that I will pray only for things which God has really put on my heart. I avoid praying through lists, at least in any mechanical way, because I can’t have faith for everything on a list someone else has written. I won’t waste time praying for something I don’t have faith for. For the same reason I have difficulties with prayers in church and others’ prayers in prayer meetings. But I can have faith that if God prompts me to pray for something he intends to answer my prayers. So I tend to pray only as he prompts me. And as I have been doing that more I am hearing more of his prompting, sometimes even during those long lists of requests read out in church.

And now I pray, not just because Bloglines has come up with this prayer request but because God is prompting me to, that he will open up a way for Eclexia and her family to stay in the house which seems so suitable for them. I pray that the money will become available for this house and its owners so that the family can stay there, and grow in him as they see him continuing to answer their prayers and meet their needs. Amen.

9 thoughts on “Intercessory prayer and a relationship with God

  1. It’s probably too close to an explanation, but I like Margaret Silf’s description of intercessory prayer as drawing people and situations into the circle of God’s love.

    It seems to me that prayer and faith[1] are actually inextricably bound together. Which is why prayer is so important. Theory: Practicing prayer is practicing faith. (?)

    [1] I mean ‘Calling to God in time of need and having faith that he hears you’ faith, not ‘acceptance of doctrine’ faith.

  2. In my regular prayer and study group, I’ve been wrestling with myself about whether I should engage in a conversation with a fellow who usually speaks his prayers in terms of “we.” As in, “Father, we ask you that …”

    My concern is that some in our group might not have on their heart the same concern or prayer and his use of “we” could be setting up stumbling blocks for them.

    But I have not figured out how to begin such a conversation with him.

  3. Aaaaahhhh! I lost my comment, because I forgot to enter the spam word. Mainly what I was trying to say is that your interaction with my post has been helpful.

    I am thankful for the peace God is giving me, not only about my housing situation, but about the process of prayer–that even though there is much I don’t understand, I know I can rest in my relationship with God, trusting Him with my heart’s cries. I can rest, knowing that he hears, makes sense of my prayers and responds in ways that are good and right, even though I still can’t reconcile or understand theologically how that happens. I can rest, knowing that it is good to connect to God through prayer.

    Pam, the semantic “faith” distinction you made helps.

  4. I also struggle quite a bit in group prayer situations when I don’t quite agree with what is being requested.

    Your post reminds me of Jonathan Edwards 29th resolution, which is very challenging:

    29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

  5. Have you ever experienced or experimented with “liquid liturgies” and prayer labyrinths and so on? Offering people a varied choose it yourself route through various themed prayer stations, and (for at least some) still bringing them together for certain key points can be quite an eye- and soul- opener for some people.
    I am also reminded about a comment of Abp Michael Ramsey when he was asked how much time he spent in personal prayer (i.e. as well as daily morning and evening prayer and eucharist according to the liturgy). He said: “About a minute, but usually takes me twenty-nine to get there”

  6. Doug, this sounds interesting, but not the sort of thing we do at my church. Ramsey’s comment is a helpful one.

    Thanks also, Eclexia, John and Sam. I was at a prayer meeting this afternoon when a lady (who watches far too much God TV) was praying about how we should prepare for being raptured within the next few weeks and about what would happen to those left behind. Not believing in this kind of rapture, and mindful of Jonathan Edwards’ principle, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Amen”.

  7. The Jonathan Edwards quote is great! Very challenging.

    In response to your post and your comment on my blog, I would suggest that you contemplate the exact nature of ‘reason’ within the Christian Faith. ‘Proud reason’ isn’t the only reason out there. There’s a chastised reason that knows its limits. Indeed it was reason which helped you come to this recognition of its own limitation in the first place. As Scott Roberts said in a comment on another post of mine: Reason “encourages us to keep our relative answers in relative perspective, precisely because we know we are fallen.” He comments that God is both love and logos, and as such using our reason can be spiritual work. I think you’d appreciate my two programmatic statements on the nature of reason in theology here.
    I’ve also reponded to your comment on my blog. Thanks for the thoughts!

  8. Phil, I didn’t mean to imply that all reason is “proud reason”. But I’m not sure that theology can be systematised without “proud reason”. Scott clearly recognises the issue, as do you with your comment

    The academy needs people who take this ‘on your knees’ approach to study.

    I’m not sure what the results would be of following this approach consistently, but I don’t think they would look like a traditional systematic theology.

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