The Problem of Intercession (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

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coffee-prayerPrayer is hard work. Maybe that’s why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Or maybe Jesus just knew their models weren’t great (Matthew 6:5), so he showed them another way.

A dozen books on my bookshelves have titles about prayer; certainly as many others include sections about how to pray. It’s hard work, and we need help.

Years ago a man who was training me in how to follow Jesus (a process we call “discipling” or “discipleship”) showed me a way to organize what I would pray for. Back then—in the dark ages!—he was using a file box with 3×5 cards: he had dividers for each day of the week, Sunday through Saturday; other dividers for each day of the month, 1-31; and a section in the front for daily prayers. Each prayer request was written on a card and put in the appropriate section depending on whether he would pray daily, weekly, or monthly. When he prayed, he would go through all the cards in the daily section, then those in the section for “today” (Tuesday), and finally in the monthly section behind today’s date (6).

It’s a good, organized system and for the past few weeks I’ve gone back to that method using a tool in my Bible study program. Being computerized now is an advantage because I can easily add different frequencies like twice a week or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Here’s the challenge, though: if this becomes the primary way I pray, then it’s easy for me to slide away from relationship and begin treating God more like a vending machine.

Think of it this way: What if the bulk of what your kids said to you was centered around making requests? “Dad, can you help me study? Can you do something to make my day better? Can you give me some medicine to make me feel better?” None of those are bad requests; as a parent, we love to help our kids. And if they were asking for good things for their friends, we’d be okay with that, too.

But if this was all our kids said when they talked with us—or even mostly what they said—we’d get weary of it. We want to hear about their day, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. We want to know them, and be known by them. Frankly, we’d love it if they’d ask about us, too. We’d love to be listened to by our kids – for them to hear our hearts and minds.

And it’s not just kids and parents. We want to have heart-and-mind relationships with our friends, too.

The ten-dollar word for “prayer requests” is intercession; it means “going between” – when you pray, you are going between a person and God. It is good and right and necessary. Jesus taught, encouraged, and praised people who intercede for others. In fact, the Bible says that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are presently interceding for us. (See Romans 8:26-39, I Timothy 2:1, and Hebrews 7:25.)

But intercession is only one part of prayer, and maybe not even the most important part. We need to love God; and love is born and grown in relationship, talking to and with God, listening to Him, reading His Word. Have a cup of coffee with God.

So intercede for your friends and family. Pray for them, their needs, their hopes, their hurts. But when you find yourself just slipping prayer coins into the prayer vending machine, stop! Take a break from the prayer requests and just spend time with God. Talk to Him about Him. Praise Him for who He is. This is different, by the way, than thanking Him for what He’s done – try to focus on who God is; it’s harder than it sounds! (More helps on this kind of praying in another post at another time.)

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