As a guide for exploring and reflecting on intercessory prayer, I recommend “Pray for Me”: The power in praying for others by Kenneth H. Carter Jr.
To me, prayer fundamentally is a mysterious experience. There is no way to explain it to someone who does not pray, or who thinks prayer is unnecessary. Prayer is something that has to be experienced. As for intercessory prayer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes intercession simply as “thinking of someone or something in the presence of God.”
Over the years I have heard a wide range of questions about prayer from non-religious people: If God knows everything, why would God need you to pray for someone who is sick?; if God knows best, won’t God either heal or not heal, according to God’s own wishes?; why would God listen to one person’s prayer but not another’s? After reading “Pray for Me,” I feel better equipped to answer these questions—even though some of the answers remain very open-ended, grounded in mystery.
I agree with Carter that prayer is not asking God to fulfill wishes. Rather, prayer offers a path for growing in love for one another, for deepening our compassion, for learning to trust the outcomes to God and trust in God’s grace. If I say I will pray for someone, I am agreeing to enter into their pain or suffering, to stand with them, to cultivate a larger heart. On the spiritual path we are called to live in community and care for one another. Prayer can help us remember our interconnectedness. Ultimately, prayer is not for God, but a way of reminding ourselves to put God at the center, and to put the needs of others before our own needs.
As I read this helpful book, I kept hearing a lyric from U2’s “One”: “We get to carry each other.” It is the short answer to why I gladly will pray for others. May we grow in love for one another, and not lose heart.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book gratis from Upper Room Books.