This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, the account of Irina Ratushinskaia (a Christian poet imprisoned in the former Soviet Union until 1987) provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry (1 Timothy 1:12)
"I had the physical sense of being prayed for. Even when I knew nothing and received no letters. I felt warmth as if sitting near a fire. Sometimes this happened in punishment cells, which are very cold. It was like hearing someone pray for me and think about me. This supported me so much. It is difficult to explain... I felt and knew I was not forgotten. This was sufficient to make me resist the most difficult moments."
A moment of consideration: What impact do our prayers have? Are we confident that our prayers might be physically or spiritually sensed by those for whom we intercede? Such support can help prisoners to get through their day, widows to persist in life despite their loss, churches to carry on even though their cherished pastor has been killed, parents to persevere for year after year following their child’s kidnapping, etc. Our effectual and fervent prayers (as the apostle James describes) can have an impact on the endurance of the faithful.
We know that prayer does much to change us as intercessors; animosities, anger, distrust, spitefulness, criticism, and judgment all seem to fade a bit as our hardened hearts soften through prayer for someone. Earnest, honest prayers for others brings us divine release from coldness, and the warmth of acceptance with loving intercession. Forgiveness becomes possible; restoration of relationships can start to happen, and lives are changed. Yes, as Soren Kierkegaard once remarked, "Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." May we be open to being changed by our Maker, our Potter. Let there be peace on earth, Lord, and let it begin with us.
Our prayers have ramifications in others' lives as well. The apostle Paul asked that people pray for Him and his ministry. To the Thessalonian believers, he asked, "Brothers, pray for us." (1 Thessalonians 5:24) He asked the members of the church in Ephesus to remember him in prayer, "...that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." (Ephesians 6:19-20) He asked the Colossian Christians to "remember my chains" (Colossians 4:18) As Christian prisoners or those facing terroristic attacks, government raids, demands that Christians give up faith in Christ and return to their former faith, family members who violently disown their believing sister or brother, or son, daughter, parents or grandparents, or many other instances--these look to us and say, "It's me; it's me, standing in the need of prayer." What impact do our prayers have within lives of these dear sisters and brothers of the faith? Let us consider the following examples of answered prayer:
- Prayers answered as more than 50 churches allowed to reopen in Myanmar’s Shan State
- Answered prayer in Egypt -- police returned all confiscated equipment to the SAT-7 studio in Cairo.
- As more Christians pray, God answers in increasingly amazing ways -- persecutors of the Church, where former Taliban, former ISIS soldiers are coming to Christ.
- This is where we really see the Gospel advance, through people that really take the time to pray and ask the Lord to intervene.
These are but a few indicators of impactful praying. We intercessors could probably add many other evidentiary examples of the ways that "...the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16)
Do we wish to make our prayers effectual, fervent, and impactful? Remember these words:
- We are to pray continually, and with thanksgiving (Luke 18:1; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
- We are also instructed to pray with an emphasis on God's kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and not just for ourselves (James 4:3).
- Consider, too, that effective prayer is sincere and sensible (our prayers and petitions should be aligned with God’s will for our lives and in measure with what is needed).
- prayer is the affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ.
- effective prayers are prayed through the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit (The Holy Spirit is the indwelling of God within each of us. The Holy Spirit is our source of strength and inner guidance. He knows our prayers and even prays on our behalf when we cannot summon the words on our own. He equips and enables us to step forward in faith. So, we lean on the Holy Spirit in our prayers, calling upon His strength and assistance to find the right words, to pray the right prayers, and to bring forth the power of God in this world.)
- prayer should be done in faith and with submission to the will of God.
- prayer should not be selfish but should always be focused on the good of the Church and others, and
- prayer should be for such things as God has promised, according to His Word.
Our prayers should always be in line with the Word of God. An interesting contribution from Andrew Murray adds,
"Little of the Word with little prayer is death to the spiritual life. Much of the Word with little prayer gives a sickly life. Much prayer with little of the Word gives emotional life. But a full measure of both the Word and prayer each day gives a healthy and powerful life".
Consider and avoid impediments to prayer, such as:
- Unconfessed Sin (Isaiah 59:2 & Psalm 66:18)
- Selfish Motives (James 4:1-4)
- Lack of Forgiveness -- We cannot expect God to answer our prayers, particularly for relational forgiveness, if we ourselves are not willing to forgive;
- Unbelief (James 1:6-7).
- Marital Conflict Limits Prayer Effectiveness -- (1 Peter 3:7).
- Idols Stand in The Way of Effectual Prayer -- (Ezekiel 14:3). Lord, let us cast down our idols--anything that comes before You.
- Spiritual Warfare can Limit Impactful Prayer -- (Daniel 10) - One hindrance to prayer that is not a result of our sinful nature is spiritual warfare. Persistence, fasting, praying in the spirit, and praying in community are all ways to pray effectively in the midst of spiritual warfare.)
We are in the habit of prayer, and it is a good practice. As intercessors, we wish to pray effective prayers that are impactful and avail much; coming alongside the dear ones we pray for (Hebrews 13:3), our presence and our prayers can "warm" them and augment the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Though we seldom hear from Christians for whom we pray, to let them know we prayed for them, we trust that God will use our prayers in keeping with His perfect will. Let's keep praying, friends, and let’s take a bit of time to hone our prayer skills. Let prayer change us. You're worth the effort, and those we pray for are too!