I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone. (1 Timothy 2:1)
Paul made this request for his young friend Timothy, who was leading the church in Ephesus. Paul knew how critical it was that Timothy keep asking for God’s grace, both for himself and for the people he was ministering to. And so he encouraged Timothy to bring the needs of the people to God, “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
At the heart of intercessory prayer is the conviction that the God who “wills everyone to be saved” asks us to join him in his plan of salvation by bringing our prayers before him. He loves it when we tell him what is on our hearts: large-scale needs, such as protection and peace in the world, and more immediate needs, such as the protection and peace of the people around us. He wants us to come to him confident that he is a good God who wants to help us.
So let’s never miss another day of praying for our family and friends. But let’s also cast our nets wider to include our neighbors, our Church, our city, and our world. Just as Jesus asked his Father at the Last Supper to guide us and protect us, let us also ask for God’s guidance and protection today and every day.
Be Persistent. He told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. (Luke 18:1)
What was the parable that Jesus told? It was the story of a widow who persistently asked a dishonest judge to rule in her favor. Ultimately, the widow prevailed, not because the judge finally became just, but because the woman’s persistence wore him down. If a corrupt judge will finally give in, Jesus said, how much more will God, who is perfectly just and merciful, hear and answer us! “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7).
Another time Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. . . . Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:5-8, 9-10).
These parables couldn’t be more clear. Our God is not a dishonest judge. Nor is he a fair-weather friend who doesn’t want to be inconvenienced. He is our heavenly Father. He is just and kind and compassionate. He welcomes us when we seek him out, and he is touched when we persist in our prayers of intercession.
This can be a bit confusing. If God loves us and if he is committed to doing all he can to help us, why should we bother praying? He doesn’t need our prayers, does he? Obviously, parents are always trying to help their children, and it’s not always because their children come and ask for help. But when the children do come and ask, it’s a marvelous opportunity for their parents to continue to teach and form them.
We can’t answer this question fully. We know that we have guardian angels protecting us. We know our Father also looks out for us. But in these parables, Jesus is actively telling us to bring our needs and petitions to our Father. He is saying our prayers can release extra grace that otherwise might not come to us.
When Do We Stop? Francis and Judith MacNutt have forty years of experience praying for people and teaching them to intercede on their own. In the course of their work, they have seen many dramatic healings and conversions. They often talk about Judith’s father, Joe. On more than one occasion, Joe became critically ill and was on the verge of death. But each time after Francis and Judith prayed for him, he would recover. This pattern continued for nearly ten years before Joe finally succumbed to illness and died.
Francis is convinced that Joe lived much longer because of their persistent prayer for him. This, as well as many other experiences like it, helped the MacNutts learn that we should never give up praying for someone until that final moment when God brings the person to be with him forever. You never know whether an eleventh-hour healing might prolong someone’s life.
There’s also the story of Bob, who has been struggling with heart trouble for decades. About twenty years ago, friends from church offered one Sunday after Mass to pray with Bob for healing. He agreed, and they placed their hands on his shoulders and prayed. The prayer lasted only about five minutes, but the effect was amazing. Bob felt a sense of love flowing from his friends, and he began to feel better right away. Encouraged by what happened, they decided to meet for a few moments every week after Mass to keep praying for Bob. He is still hanging on, and his doctors are amazed at the improvement.
If you are praying for a particular intention, whether it’s for a friend’s healing, for an end to abortion, or for a job for yourself, don’t stop until you know that God has answered you. Don’t think that your prayers are unimportant or misplaced. Keep it up, and see how God acts. He may not give you exactly what you want, but watch and see. He will give you something very, very good.
Bargaining with God. In the Book of Genesis, there is a story about Abraham trying to bargain with God (18:16-33). God came to visit Abraham and revealed his plan to destroy Sodom because of the wickedness of the people. Trying to turn away the Lord’s hand, Abraham asked, “Suppose there were fifty righteous people in the city; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it?” (18:24). In effect, Abraham was interceding for the people of Sodom. God agreed to spare the city for the sake of the fifty. Abraham persisted: what about forty people? Thirty? Finally, he settled on ten, and with that, the Lord left him.
God did not answer Abraham’s prayer in precisely the way Abraham asked, but he did spare Abraham’s nephew Lot and his children—all innocent people. Genesis tells us, in fact, that God “remembered Abraham and sent Lot away from the upheaval” (19:29). This story tells us that we may not always get the answer we pray for, but that God still hears our prayers and keeps us in his mind as he unfolds his plan.
So don’t be afraid to bargain with the Lord. Many a soldier in battle has told God, “Keep me alive, and I will never miss Mass again for the rest of my life.” And they have kept their promise. Or think of the New York police officer who was on duty during the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. He told God, “Let me live through this catastrophe, and I promise I will serve you.” Today he runs the RCIA program in his parish and volunteers at the local food bank. Did these bargains really work? We may never know. But we do know that they prayed, God answered, and their lives were spared.
No Petition Is Too Small. We should feel free to ask God for anything, at any time, in any situation. Our prayers can transcend geographical, cultural, and political barriers. They can bring the healing touch of the Lord into countless lives and situations. Through intercessory prayer, we can reach the men and women who are fighting in war as well as the victims of war. We can reach vulnerable children in the womb as well as those who disregard a child’s right to life. We can help our children and care for our elderly parents. We can change the climate in a home and the relationship between alienated friends—all through intercessory prayer.
As we pray, let’s take up the attitude of watchmen, the “sentinels” described in the Book of Isaiah. In fact, let’s paraphrase this passage and apply it to us: “Upon our Catholic Church walls, the Lord has asked us to be watchmen. Never, by day or by night, should you be silent in your intercessions. No, keep reminding the Lord. Take no time to rest for yourself, and don’t give God any rest either. Keep praying until the Lord answers all your prayers and makes his Church the pride of the earth” (See Isaiah 62:6-7).