Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
- Hebrews 10:19-22
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Two things struck me a couple of weeks ago, something that I said in Sunday school and editing our church’s prayer list. Each of them caused alarm bells to go off in my head. Editing the prayer list in that I did the typing and made abbreviations to make everything fit. Adding and deleting are above my station.
In Sunday school, we were talking about the apostles and how they prayed for ten days between the ascension and Pentecost. Someone brought up a prayer that had impressed them (and it was impressive), all about giving praise for each thing God had done each day, being specific. I brought up something that R. C. Sproul had said on a video, years ago. He mentioned A-C-T-S, prayer consisting of Adoration, Confession Thanksgiving, and Supplication. What Sproul said was that if you did the first three properly, you would never have time for Supplication. But then, that caused me to think whether you need to do the Supplication at all. You adore God, praising Him because He knows your every thought. You confess the thoughts and deeds that were not so nice, and you realize that what you already have is more than what you need and a lot more than you deserve, although God has already forgotten those sins you just confessed. You then thank God for the extra that you have or the adequacy if you have no extra.
Hmmm. If God knows our every thought and He has already been generous, why do we ask for more? Is there really a need for Supplication at all if we have a deep and abiding faith? Yes, God wants to hear from us. He knows our wants and needs, and as we go to Him in prayer, He wants to hear those things too. Supplication, in an odd way is praising God all over again, because we are acknowledging that He is the giver of good things. But it should never be the main focus.
But since most of the average person’s prayers are asking for things, what kind of a relationship do we really have with God? If we asked our best friend for favors continuously, and we never quite have the time to adore that friend or thank that friend, how long will it take before we must confess our lack of friendliness to that friend, or will they still be a friend? Don’t worry, God is faithful even when we are not.
All those thoughts flooded my brain when I spoke of R. C. Sproul’s comment on an old video. The alarm bells were going off so that I knew that I needed to review this whole prayer thing.
But then a day or so after the Sunday school class, I made a rough draft of the prayer list to be distributed to the prayer team, my monthly secretarial work. The list is several pages long and the team leader always has more call-in updates by mid-week when the list is finalized and distributed. It took me all day to get the draft ready. Then when the leader called and went through her updates that had been called in, it took most of another day to type it and edit it and read it through a couple of times. You may not believe this, but I make mistakes. I know. That is so hard to believe. Right?! Sorry, I guess I went too far there, and a few of the church’s prayer warriors are not shy in letting me know when I make mistakes.
But then, my thoughts from Sunday returned along with the comments of some past clergy who still receive the list. “The list is too long.” With what was called the “inner circle,” I had gotten instructions to shorten the list by a page, but the prayers of intercession were still four pages long or about 400 entries. Four hundred people to pray for by name every day, and even though it was intercession for others, it was all supplication. Yes, we have another page on the list for “Praise and Thanks” for those who survived surgery, got over their illness, or found a new job. The page also lists those that we have no means to update anymore and those who have passed to the Lord. So, less lines of Praise and Thanks compared to pages of intercessory supplication.
That is when the warning lights flashed, and the alarm bells of the previous Sunday started going off. It takes nearly an hour to read the names on the list, forget reading what disease they have or whatever their trouble is. And to put our heart and soul into urgent prayer for each? We might as well do nothing but pray all day.
So, then I read the Scripture above. Hebrews says that we should draw near to God with a sincere heart. Is spending an hour each day reading names that sincere? The Scripture from 1 Timothy says that we must intercede, but intercede in what part of life? The command to intercede is followed by a discussion of salvation, and that source of salvation being the key. We must intercede for the souls of others. We are not talking about those who are passed away. We need to pray for the souls of those who are still living.
Is this passing judgment? Not in the least. Too many people are afraid of violating the “do not judge” command that they fail to follow the greater commandment, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Or as I have heard some people say, if we have the secret to salvation and we keep it to ourselves, how much hatred is expressed in doing so, when we say nothing to those near us about the Love of God? It should flow from us without reservation, but for too many they would rather not be accused of “judging.” “Oops, you are already saved? My bad.” No, they would rather say nothing. How does that correspond with the greatest commandment, to love God and to love one another? We would rather have our neighbor go to hell than offend them?
Sorry, I cannot look upon a sea of faces, knowing they are on the road to hell, and not say something – not do something. And by all means, I can pray. That type of intercession makes sense to me.
When I get instructions to pray for complete healing, I wonder if God wants that person to not be totally cured. Paul asked three times to be relieved of an affliction and God did not grant his request. Paul’s problem may have helped Paul to focus on his ministry better or to remain humble or maybe it caused him to slow down as he walked from place to place. We are always in a hurry. We might miss souls that needed saving, but Paul may have been slowed by his affliction so that he got to have deeper conversations with folks along the way. And when it comes to deadly illness, do I pray for healing so that they might suffer for more years or a quick end that may not be as painful? Or do I simply pray for their soul, as they have little time to make that change left in their lives? When I get instructions to pray from something that is extremely specific (basically telling God what to do and not praying at all), I pray for the person and let God work out the details.
But it still bothers me. I keep wishing for a personal prayer to be answered – for me. I need wisdom. If I am to pray for someone with an illness or an addiction or marital problems, do I simply state the person’s name and ask that God sort it out, as He does with all of us, so that the outcome works for the good of those that love the Lord, even if it seems bad at that moment? God has already promised that, but in so asking for God’s promise, am I not adoring, praising, and thanking God in advance and praying for that person at the same time?
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.