Please Pray For…...
Father Martin’s Monthly Letter
Every week on our pew sheet we have a section entitled ‘Please Pray For’ the section lists those who are sick, in remission or recovery, departed or whose years mind falls in this particular month. As a title I would hope that it is self explanatory and thus, that in your daily prayers you remember the people listed and do indeed pray for them.
At times the list seems to get quite long and full of names that few people, if anyone apart from me, seem to know, in itself this is not a problem indeed it can honestly be said it is a Christ like thing to do. However, when you ask for someone to be prayed for you are also meant to ensure that they themselves agree and that you keep me up-to-date with how they are doing. But sadly this is not always done and so the list frequently grows and can become out of date. Accordingly the Wardens and I have decided to revise the system, especially following several comments when for a couple of weeks I did not read out individual names because I felt the list was just too long (over 40 names) to be used at the main service of the day, especially when we have visitors amongst us. The names were though still being prayed for daily in the morning and evening offices.
What did concern me though was the hinted at suggestion that if I did not read out the names personally at the main Sunday service then they had not been prayed for. In many churches the prayers at the main service of the day are led by members of the congregation and not the priest or reader and no one would presume to say that that means those prayers are not valid, but more of that later on.
Before I explain the new system though I thought it might be useful to ask the question: "What is intercessory prayer?"
Quite simply, intercessory prayer is the act of praying on behalf of others. The role of mediator in prayer was prevalent in the Old Testament, in the cases of Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Hezekiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Christ is pictured in the New Testament as the ultimate intercessor, and because of this, all Christian prayer becomes intercession since it is offered to God through and by Christ. Jesus closed the gap between us and God when He died on the cross. Because of Jesus’ mediation, we can now intercede in prayer on behalf of other Christians or for the lost, asking God to grant their requests according to His will. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
A wonderful model of intercessory prayer is found in Daniel 9. It has all the elements of true intercessory prayer. It is in response to the Word (v. 2); characterized by fervency (v. 3) and self-denial (v. 4); identified unselfishly with God’s people (v. 5); strengthened by confession (v. 5-15); dependent on God’s character (vv. 4, 7, 9, 15); and has as its goal God’s glory (vv. 16-19). Like Daniel, Christians are to come to God on behalf of others in a heartbroken and repentant attitude, recognizing their own unworthiness and with a sense of self-denial. Daniel does not say, “I have a right to demand this out of You, God, because I am one of your special, chosen intercessors.” He says, “I'm a sinner,” and, in effect, “I do not have a right to demand anything.” True intercessory prayer seeks not only to know God’s will and see it fulfilled, but to see it fulfilled whether or not it benefits us and regardless of what it costs us. True intercessory prayer seeks God’s glory, not our own.
The following is only a partial list of those for whom we are to offer intercessory prayers: all in authority (1 Timothy 2:2); ministers (Philippians 1:19); the church (Psalm 122:6); friends (Job 42:8); fellow countrymen (Romans 10:1); the sick (James 5:14); enemies (Jeremiah 29:7); those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44); those who forsake us (2 Timothy 4:16); and all men (1 Timothy 2:1).
There is an erroneous idea in contemporary Christianity that those who offer up intercessory prayers are a special class of “super-Christians,” called by God to a specific ministry of intercession. The Bible is clear that all Christians are called to be intercessors. All Christians have the Holy Spirit in their hearts and, just as He intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27), we are to intercede for one another. This is not a privilege limited to an exclusive Christian elite; this is the command to all. In fact, not to intercede for others is sin. “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Certainly Peter and Paul, when asking others to intercede for them did not limit their request to those with a special calling to intercession. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). Notice it was the whole church that prayed for him, not just those with a gift of intercession. In Ephesians 6:16-18, Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers—all of them—on the fundamentals of the Christian life, which includes intercession “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Clearly, intercessory prayer is part of the Christian life for all believers.
Further, Paul sought prayer on his behalf from all the Roman believers in Romans 15:30. He also urged the Colossians to intercede for him in Colossians 4:2-3.
Nowhere in any biblical request for intercession is there any indication that only a certain group of people could intercede. On the contrary, those who seek others to intercede for them can use all the help they can get! The idea that intercession is the privilege and calling of only some Christians is without biblical basis. Worse, it is a destructive idea that often leads to pride and a sense of superiority.
God calls all Christians to be intercessors. It is God’s desire that every believer be active in intercessory prayer. What a wonderful and exalted privilege we have in being able to come boldly before the throne of Almighty God with our prayers and requests! But if prayer is to be of benefit it has to be relevant, hence my request to be kept fully informed on any developments concerning those on the sick or recovery / remission list.
For a long time now we have remembered the recently departed from the time that we are made aware of them until one week after the funeral and those on the Year’s mind list are remembered during the month of their anniversary. Note though that this should be the month in which they died NOT the month that the funeral took place in, where the two are different.
And so to the new system which takes effect from Easter Sunday. From that date all names currently on the ill and the recovery / remission lists will be removed unless I have received a new style prayer request form for them. Forms will be valid for four weeks after which the name will be removed unless a fresh form is submitted. I am quite prepared to accept an e-mail update asking for someone to remain on the list, the important thing is that there will be a hard copy request and that I will be being kept informed of how people are progressing. Please also note that you will also be asked to sign the form to say that you do have permission to place the person on the list.
You may not think this last point is necessary, but in an age where people sue each other at the drop of the proverbial hat for infringing on their privacy, the church cannot afford to take the risk. Additionally not everybody always tells their immediate family how sick they really are. Would you want to find out that someone you love is not well from a relative stranger or friend when the person themselves is only saying they are a bit under the weather?
I am sure that to start with you will all think it is a bit of a pain, but in time I hope you realise its value. It is distressing for me to find out that someone we are praying for has either passed away or recovered and no one has bothered to say anything.
God Bless You – Fr. Martin