I’M PRAYING FOR YOU
by Hugh Farquhar
The Gospel Reading in the Lectionary for next Sunday is John 17:5-19. I focus on verse 9. Jesus said, “I am asking on their behalf . . . on behalf of those whom you gave me.”
I remember visiting a woman nearing ninety who had been hospitalized and was confined to bed. She had been a productive person: a homemaker, teacher, artist, poet, and friend to so many over the years. I had inquired if, being bed-ridden, she was finding the time long. “Not really,” she replied, “I keep my mind busy. I recall things from my treasure-house of memories, I see how much poetry I can remember by heart, and I pray. Every morning when I wake up, I pray for the doctors and nurses and other staff coming on duty that they will be given compassion and strength for the day.” Her comment brings us face to face with the mystery of “intercessory prayer” – praying for others.
This Reading describes Jesus praying for his friends in the Upper Room. He prayed with touching affection for the well-being of his friends and committed them into God’s hands. One can only imagine what effect it must have had on them to be prayed for by their Teacher.
This is my starting point in pondering intercessory prayer – the fact that Jesus did it. I don’t understand it. I know to some it looks like talking to nothing. I recognize the questions it raises. But I take note that the One whose spirituality impresses me most prayed for others, and there is planted deep within me an inclination to want to do the same.
We have this incredible human capacity to say to someone, “I’m praying for you.” It is a way of saying, “I’m caring for you at a distance.” We can send flashes of love and energy to whomever we want whenever we want.
Praying for others affects us. It makes us more sensitive, compassionate, and ready to be present to the needs of others. If we identify and hold in prayer an individual or group of individuals, we are working the ground of our own hearts in such a way that we come away from our prayers more thoughtful and caring.
But does anything happen to them? I cannot think that Jesus would have prayed for others if there was nothing in it for them. I pray believing it makes a difference. Sometimes that difference is observable, sometimes it’s not. Their problem may not be solved. Their illness may not be cured. Their burden may not be lifted. Nevertheless, to know that they are being prayed for is energizing and strengthening! Many people attest to that!
One of the most uttered sentences I heard as I took leave of ill or troubled persons over the years is “Remember me in your prayers.”
There is a way down deep inside sense that another’s prayer is a source of blessing, and when someone is praying for us, we are not inclined to respond by saying “So what!” Throughout my ministry, I have met so many people, walking in the shadowlands and knowing that they were being prayed for, who felt that they were being buoyed up by those prayers.
All Christians are called to pray for others. It doesn’t require special training or status. It’s a sacred privilege that all of us have, and we can do it even from the confines of a hospital bed.
Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB and teaches Biblical Studies at Atlantic School of Theology.