“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, pray for everyone you know.” 1 Timothy 2: 1a (The Message)
What place does prayer have in your life? What’s your response to Paul’s instruction to young Timothy to pray? The directness and simplicity of Paul’s words are wonderfully encouraging. It’s not a how to pray, but a however you pray – keep at it. Paul’s words point to the primal, God given capacity that we have to pray. They’re also suggestive that each of us have a thread and a history of practicing prayer that has grown and evolved over time. Depending on one’s family background this may include bed time prayers as small children. As a delay tactic to “lights out,” I think my brothers and I were somehow taking Paul literally, “pray for everyone you know!”
Prayer may happen in fits and starts, continually jostling with the demands of life. However challenged or imperfect it is, it’s precious to God. Paul’s words remind us that anytime can be prayer time, and we pray as we can: a single word, a cry for help, thanksgiving, opening our heart to God wordlessly in grief or joy. There’s an immediacy and an accessibility to God through prayer. This is because God has placed within us a capacity and an impulse to relate to him, and he exists in the closest possible proximity to us and the lives we live (Acts 17:28).
Paul’s words also speak to the importance of intercessory prayer. We’re to pray for one another. The reach of our intercession is to include our government and our world (1 Tim 2:2). For those of us who by God’s grace have been drawn to the practice of contemplative prayer in which we seek an interior silence and a receptive posture before God, we may ask, how do we integrate intercessory prayer into this practice? Professor and spiritual director Martin Laird describes the practice of some of his directees in this regard:
“For some, they set aside part of their prayer time explicitly for remembering people who have asked to be remembered in prayer and then they later move to silent prayer. For others it is enough for them to call to mind a need or a request and take it with them into the silence of the heart, without gunning the engines of ‘now I’d-like-to-pray-for-so-and so.’ There is an intercessory dimension intrinsic to interior silence; for interior silence and compassionate solidarity are of a piece, like spokes leading to the hub of a wheel” (‘A Sunlit Absence,’ page 157).
This co-existence of interior silence and intercession is illustrated in an image from the Old Testament. In Exodus 28:29 Moses brother Aaron is described as entering the holy place in elaborate high priestly garb, bearing “the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, for a memorial before the Lord continually”. As Aaron symbolically and wordlessly bore the names of the children of Israel on his heart before God, so we may continually bear loved ones in our hearts before him. In contemplative prayer we relinquish our agenda and defer to God and his movements within us. In intercessory prayer, we may similarly defer to God, knowing that the true needs and circumstances of those for whom we intercede are beyond us. In contemplative prayer we seek the calming grace of the awareness of God’s presence. We can appropriate this same grace as we intercede for loved ones, growing in an assurance that God’s watchful and caring presence is with them as well.
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For reflection and prayer:
1. Reflect on your practice of intercessory prayer. How have you felt encouraged? What further grace do you seek from God in this practice?
2. Can you identify with either of the practices of Martin Laird’s directees, setting aside time for intercessory prayer or interceding in the flow of contemplative prayer?
3. What kinds of inner promptings or external circumstances do you experience that lead you to pray more often and continuously?
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18.
Father, we ask for your grace to live joyfully, prayerfully and thankfully. May we fulfill your command to love one another through practical service and prayer, Amen.