The Power of Intercession and Prayer

By Joe LaGuardia

Some time ago I was anxious about issues related to church.  There were things on my mind that I had no control over, things that should not have worried me but did.  I was driving myself crazy, my wife crazy, and distracting my kids from family time.

It did not take long before the Holy Spirit woke me up early one morning.  There are few times I wake up earlier than 5:00 AM, and when the Holy Spirit wakes me up that early, I know I need to listen!  That kind of movement is qualitatively different, and there washes over me a particular–indescribable, really–spiritual manifestation that captures my attention and heart.

In that moment I dumped (for lack of a better word) everything before God.  It was a combination of robust prayer–of boldness, so to speak–and honesty.  I said in my spirit, “God, you handle this!  This is your church, your ministry.  My life is yours, and you’ve called me to this.  You deal with this.”

A few minutes later I fell back to sleep in a posture of rest and peace that I had not felt in a long time.

This event reminded me of the power of intercessory prayer.  It is a type of prayer we see in Isaiah 37, when one of God’s children had more than he can handle, and he needed to hand it over to God.

Isaiah 36 and 37 are chapters that come from a time when the Assyrian nation threatened the existence of Judah.  Assyria had conquered most of the Middle East; Israel and Egypt were next.  The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, threatened Judah’s King Hezekiah with a royal letter: “You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone.  They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way!”

Sennacherib went on to say that the gods of other nations did not come to the rescue, why should Hezekiah expect the God of Israel to be any different?

Upon receiving this letter, Hezekiah became anxious.  The threat against his nation was very real, and the Assyrians had threatened him personally!  But instead of running around wondering what to do, Hezekiah’s sought the Lord.  Scripture says that Hezekiah went to the Temple, spread the letter before the Lord, and interceded on behalf of the nation.

As a result, the Lord responded: “Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.”  God affirmed that Assyria was a mere pawn in a larger drama of salvation and that God would protect Israel.

We Christians must be mindful of the power of intercessory prayer.  We must spread our own letters of anxiety before the Lord and remember that the Lord promises to take care of us.  We need to rest assured that the Holy Spirit will pray with us just as much as the Spirit captures our hearts, and gives us boldness to bring everything before Him.

In a devotional based on Isaiah 37, F. B. Meyer states, “Let us more habitually hand over our anxieties and cares to God.  God calls us to enter his rest…to place Himself and his care between us and all that would hurt or annoy.”

Intercede on behalf of those loved ones in your life.  Affirm and ask God to protect you and keep you.  In all things, surrender unto God and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring a peace that surpasses understanding.  There is power in prayer and in intercession.

Lord, hear our prayers!

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Prayer words help focus heart and mind

One of the most challenging things to do in a fast-paced world is to pray.  We can go a whole week before we realize that the only time we prayed was at church or over a meal or two.  When St. Paul instructs us to “pray unceasingly,” we wonder whether he really meant it.

Perhaps it would help if we considered that there are different types and methods of prayer.

Take, for instance, the various forms of prayer.  The most common is intercessory prayer in which we pray for others.  Then there are prayers of gratitude: “God is great, God is good…”

A more difficult type of prayer is silent, reflective prayer, also known as centering prayer.  Centering prayer is simply a time to be with God and to give Him undivided attention.

Centering prayer, unlike the others, emphasizes method and form.  And, as mentioned before, it is rather difficult. Our society values noise, stimulation, and entertainment–we must always be busy!  Centering prayer promotes just the opposite–it is silent, restful, and (at times) boring.  In fact, it can feel like a total “waste of time.”

But it is not a waste of time.  Ever spent quiet time with a loved one and realize that being quiet was actually a valuable use of time?

Spiritual forefathers and foremothers in the Christian tradition have come up with certain techniques to encourage centering prayer.  One is to use a “prayer word.”  This is a word that helps focus one’s wandering, distracted mind back to God.

For example, when we are trying to pray, we may find ourselves thinking about that load of laundry we forgot in the washing machine.  You are no longer “centered” in prayer with God; you are distracted.  By saying your prayer word, you get back on track and focus your attention back on God.

A prayer word should come to mind easily and not create another set of distractions altogether.  Author and spiritual director, Cynthia Bourgeault, states that a prayer word should be “emotionally neutral.”  It does not intend to replace prayer or even be prayer.  According to Bourgeault, it acts like a yarn around your finger: it brings you back to God.

In scripture, we find that Jesus referred to God as “Abba” throughout his ministry.  Although it is a stretch to call this Jesus’ prayer word, we may use it as an example of how even our Lord used a consistent, albeit unique, grammar to begin prayer.

Throughout history, spiritual masters have come up with some interesting prayer words, including love, faith, listen, be still, abide, and so on.  Whatever your word is, it should be concise, no longer than one or two syllables.

Bourgeault also recommends using a prayer word over a long period of time.  The more you use it, the more it becomes a friend that helps you find your way back home to God.

I can affirm this from personal experience.  Recently, my mind was dizzy with thoughts after a long day of ministry.  I still had so much to do, and I was anxious about my daily agenda.

I knew that I needed to quiet my mind and turn to God.  I immediately shut my eyes, took a deep breath, and thought of my prayer word.  Since I have had the same prayer word for about three years now, it quickly helped me push those nutty thoughts aside and find a place of rest with God.

Although having a prayer word may be foreign to many Christians or denominations, I encourage you to develop a prayer life that utilizes this little technique.  It may make a difference and help you experience God in a whole new way.