Thank you C Jill Reed for this photo of Praying Hands: a 30 ton 60 ft tall bronze statue at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The praying hands are just so huge that they make our own hands puny in comparison. Surely these are the hands of Christ, through whom our prayers are heard and minded by God. He is the great High Priest whose love blesses the universe.
All Christians are called to be intercessors with responsibilities to pray for our enemies as well as our friends.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the importance of intercessory prayer in Life Together:
A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed.
I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they case me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others.
As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.
The Church’s Lectionary prompts us to read two passages which talk about table manners. The passage from Hebrews (13:1-8) reminds us to entertain strangers (“for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”) and to remember those in prison (“as though you were in prison with them”). The Gospel passage (Luke 14:7-14) Jesus turns the tables on our normal manners by telling us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” when giving a banquet, rather than friends, family and people who do us good.
These are extraordinary and good table manners. What we are supposed to do at our tables we are also supposed to do in our prayers. In our prayers we are entertaining people in our hearts and minds. And we have to stretch our minds and hearts so that we pray for those who are at the margins of our consciousness – we prepare a place for the stranger, the poor, the prisoner.
In praying for them we bring them centre stage in an act of remembrance, as if we were in prison with them. We pray for those for whom life has gone wrong, for those who don’t know what peace is, or family is. We pray for the unlovely and the lost as if we are unlovely and lost with them. This is a sympathetic (or empathic) position, but it is not about identification, because, as Oswald Chambers reminds us, intercession also puts us in God’s place. He writes: “People describe intercession by saying, “It is putting yourself in someone else’s place.” That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having his mind and his perspective.”
These are deeply healing processes. When we pray for others we are at the very least remedying neglect and overcoming fears and divisions. And we are, at the very most, putting ourselves “in God’s place” of overcoming evil with far better table manners and prayer.