I was recently asked this question: “Jim, what does “intercessory prayer” look like for you? Where does it fit in or does it?”
Here are my thoughts about it: I no longer subscribe to many of the premises that are associated with the idea of intercessory prayer, at least as I learned it. In a nutshell, I learned intercessory prayer as a request for divine intervention on behalf of another person. It’s asking God to intervene in a person’s circumstances, and to provide whatever is necessary to resolve their difficulty or dilemma. Intercessory prayer is often a request for God to intervene in another person’s life in the form of providing healing, guidance, strength, courage, wisdom, change of circumstances, protection, financial “blessing,” etc.
Intercessory prayer seems to operate on a model that involves three separate parties: the intercessor; God; and the person being prayed for. The idea is that the intercessor appeals to God, and God in turn intervenes accordingly, and the life of the person being prayed for is affected by God’s action.
In my view, dividing it out this way is reinforcing the falsehood of separation. A visual representation of this intercessory prayer idea might be something like this: the intercessor is sitting at home, God is up in the sky like a divine satellite dish, and the person in need is wherever they happen to be. The intercessor’s prayer goes up and pings the divine satellite. In response, the divine satellite turns toward the person in need and their particular situation, and miraculously supplies what was requested.
This model of intercessory prayer imagines a kind of separation that isn’t real. The intercessor, God, and the person being prayed for are not separate in the way this model implies. Further, the model assumes that the person who is being prayed for is separated from what they need or desire, namely peace, freedom, well-being, love, courage, guidance, strength, wisdom, etc. The model also implies that the answer or resolution to their circumstances or difficulty lies outside of their own ability to act or the possibilities present in the situation itself.
In some instances “intercessory prayer” can be magical thinking or encourage a lack of personal responsibility, if the situation involves a person who is not taking responsibility for their lives or not responding to situations as they require, and instead hoping or expecting God to miraculously swoop in and bail them out.
Christians sometimes share in this fallacy by living as if their peace, security, identity, worth, identity, purpose, contentment and fulfillment are determined by circumstances. The value of God is seen in His ability to influence life’s situations for the good or offer protection from adversity or misfortune. One of the most common forms of prayer is asking God to intervene and change our circumstances. We often equate God’s “blessing” with things going our way.
Jesus continuously pressed people to see that the source of their deepest desires was not outside themselves but inside them. Jesus announced that God’s kingdom had come. Listening bystanders began looking around befuddled. Jesus said they needed to look inside themselves to find this kingdom. Jesus taught that the same spirit within him that connected him to love, peace, freedom, wholeness and well-being is that same spirit within each of us. Paul discovered that this kingdom and divine presence within him was the secret to his contentment. He wrote in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Pretty amazing for a guy who often seemed “down on his luck”―imprisoned, beaten, hungry, and shipwrecked…three times!
In our human view, circumstances are classified as either “good” or “bad,” but this view falls short of the truth. No circumstance can strip you of the choice and power to: create an empowering context for yourself; make good on what really matters to you; have a breakthrough in transformation; give expression to your true Self; honor your highest truth; be authentic; and love. No circumstance can cut you off from the kingdom of heaven within you where true belonging, abundance, harmony and well-being are found. Even the worst of circumstances never threaten these inner realities.
My way of approaching “intercessory prayer” involves the following. I accept the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all things including God, of which I am a part. My desire for the liberation of all beings and humankind has been growing and intensifying over the years. As I walk and live along the everyday paths of life, I am mindful of wanting to think, do or be what aids the liberation of all beings. I accept that my own way of seeing and being in the world affects the whole, and impacts all humankind. So in this case, “intercessory prayer” for me is accepting that I am not separate from God or separate from peace, love, freedom, well-being, courage, wisdom, etc. I also accept that one of the most spiritual acts that I contribute to the whole is to take responsibility for my own life, address the root cause of my suffering, and learning to live skillfully by responding to the situations of my life as they require.
Intercessory prayer for me is also a willingness to involve myself in tangible ways to encourage, support, assist, and help those around me that I see in need, whether the person is my neighbor or someone on the other side of the world. Rather than tell someone “I’ll pray for you,” I consider what it might mean for me to be part of the answer through my own love, compassion, support, assistance, and generosity. For me, sometimes “intercessory prayer” is holding a deep and persistent desire for the liberation of another person, and the end of their suffering.
I think there are many different ways that people connect with God or the divine on behalf of the well-being of others. All that I’ve shared is simply how it has been evolving for me. I don’t think this is the prescribed way; this is just how things are working themselves out for me at this point with respect to intercessory prayer.
It's easy to find oneself caught up in trinkets and preoccupations, simply reacting or responding to this world from the habit energy of our ego. Most people live thinking only about their own personal, narrow circumstances connected with their desires.
The life that flows through each of us and through everything around us is actually all connected. This means that who I really am cannot be separated from all the things that surround me. In other words, all human beings have their existence and live within my life. This includes even the fate of all humankind - that, too, lies within me.
I find beneath my self-preoccupations a deep desire for the liberation of all. So I take up the cause of liberation for myself, and the very ways I hope for the liberation of humankind, I aim at as my own direction.
The fate of humanity itself lives within each of us.