Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 19, 2012


To pray well for others we must learn to listen to God


            One day our friend Sara walked in the front door of our home. She brought food but the food was incidental. She had come to pray for my wife Dean who was just home from the hospital

            The three of us held hands as Sara prayed. What she asked from the Lord was exactly what we needed. The doctor had “shocked” Dean’s heart to restore its normal rhythm. Sara asked the Lord to “seal what the doctor had done so that Dean’s heart will continue to beat normally.” She asked the Lord to strengthen Dean and continue to make her a blessing to others. It was a beautiful moment. We were strangely aware that Christ was present with us, keeping his promise to be present “when two or three gather in his name.”

            When Sara drove away our hearts were filled with joy. A friend had come and prayed for us, reminding us what a powerful difference it makes when someone takes the time to pray for you.

Learning to pray is not easy.  It is a lifelong challenge. We never really graduate from the “school” of prayer. But as our faith matures we do learn how to pray more effectively. Slowly we can move from selfish, childish prayers to prayers of submission and surrender to the will of God.  Eventually we may learn how to pray for others. The church calls that “intercessory prayer.”  The one who prays for another is called an “intercessor.”

There are many intercessors in the Bible. One is the prophet Daniel. Daniel knew how to pray. He  prayed for his nation and he was confident that God heard his prayers.

            The spirit in which Daniel prayed is impressive. He included himself in the sins of his people. Observe his words, “We have sinned and done wrong.” Like the prophet Isaiah, Daniel felt the shame of his own sins as well as those of fellow Israelites. Isaiah’s vision of God caused him to confess, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”  

            Daniel used striking imagery to make a passionate plea for God’s mercy. He invited God to demonstrate his forgiveness by letting his “face shine upon” the people. This idea calls to mind the words of Moses: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

            What a beautiful picture! A child experiences great joy when looking upon the smiling face of an approving father or mother. On the other hand angry disapproval on the face of disappointed parents can cause excruciating pain.  Imagine what joy Jesus felt when he heard his Father say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

We are all created with a need for affirmation, especially that of our heavenly Father. Daniel was wise. He knew that the shining face of the Lord, beaming with affirming love, would bless the people as nothing else could.

Richard Foster can help us improve our praying.  In his acclaimed book, Celebration of Discipline, he observes that “the work of prayer involves a learning process.” He explains, “One of the most critical aspects in learning to pray for others is to get in contact with God so that his life and power can flow through us into others.”

            How do we do that? By listening to God Foster says. “Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession.” Before we can know how to pray for others, we must learn to “listen for guidance” from the Lord.

            Asked to explain his success as a preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “My people pray for me.” Foster writes, “Your pastor and the services of worship need to be bathed in prayer.” Miracles happen when people fill the church with prayers.

Foster quotes Frank Laubach saying to his audiences, “I am very sensitive and know whether you are praying for me. If one of you lets me down, I feel it. When you are praying for me, I feel a strange power. When every person in a congregation prays intensely while the pastor is preaching, a miracle happens.” Miracles do happen in church, and outside the church, when people are praying.

            We live busy lives so we may think we have little time for intercessory prayer; perhaps this is a ministry mostly for retired people. But Foster will not let us off the hook. Intercessory prayer, he says, “is not prayer in addition to work but prayer simultaneous with work” so that “prayer and action become wedded.” He calls upon the saintly Thomas Kelly to back up this claim with these words:

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

            Foster cautions us not to make prayer “too complicated.” This is a good word. We are prone to think of prayer as an exercise for professional prophets and priests, monks and nuns. Not so. Foster reminds us that Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. He says wisely, “Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father. The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.”

Our friend Sara could come to our home and pray for us because she was listening to God. She has learned to tune out other voices long enough to hear what God is saying and then obey him.  I need to do that too. + + +