In the course of most days I receive requests for intercessory prayer. Most of them are suitable for the public domain and are added to the list of names and intentions used in public worship. It is not unusual to receive requests that are confidential and necessarily private. Over the years I have learned from others and developed practices of my own which help me to be as faithful as I can in bearing one someone else’s burden in prayer. There are fewer feelings more disheartening than when one remembers a forgotten request for prayer. It is a breaking of trust and a powerful reminder of a wooden response to a request for Christian charity.
The first way of responding to a request is to offer a prayer immediately: to turn that need over to the Lord in heart and mind. This overcomes a common peccadillo in the practice of intercession, which is the tendency to store biddings up for a ‘proper prayer time’. At the time of a request it is vital to pray, not to remember to add it to an intercessions list for the next time one has a specific time to pray. A good way to make an instant response is to use a short prayer as a vehicle: the Hail Mary, the Jesus Prayer or the Our Father are the ones that I use.
The second way is to ‘attach’ that request for prayer to a particular part of that day. Sometimes I make an effort to offer that need to God during the process of some routine household task such as washing up or hanging out the washing. In the same way I will dedicate a journey as a means for intercession, using the journey time as an opportunity to focus prayer for a person or situation.
Thirdly, is the use of fasting. There is nothing like hunger to focus the mind. If there is a very urgent request for prayer, or a need for prayer at a time of crisis, I will miss a meal and let my stomach remind me why. Fasting does not necessarily mean food. A deliberate omission of any part of a daily routine (a television programme for example) can create an opportunity for a meaningful offering of heart, mind and will.
Fourthly, there are written lists. The most difficult aspect of written lists for intercessions is keeping them up to date. If any reader can suggest simple and effective methods of maintaining useful prayer lists I would love to know! Mine become confused and confusing all too quickly!
Finally, it helps to remember that prayer is hard work. Work (the laws of physics tells us) is when resistance is overcome. Intercessory prayer has to overcome a natural pull to self-interest, as well as the testing of faith in the claim that ‘prayer can make a difference’. If one expects intercession to be easy, one’s enthusiasm for it will soon evaporate. Prayer of this kind where one bears another’s burdens (as St Paul teaches) ‘fulfils the law of Christ’). That being the case it can be a way of entering into a closer fellowship with the Lord. The marvellous thing about intercession that anyone can partake in this wonderful apostolic ministry any time or any place.