Intercessory Prayer

Intercessory Prayer: Jesus’ Prayer Jn 17.1-26

The dear old Church of England drives me slightly nuts at times. Especially when it uses words that mean little or nothing to the wider world.Its even worse when the word is used wrongly in Church!

Today we have a prime example. In our series of sermons on prayer we have come to intercessory prayer. Its that word intercessory….

What does it mean?

Intercessory prayer is prayer that is said for others.

Inadvertently hiding what it means doesn’t make it any more effective than calling it prayer for others.

Just to confuse things, we often call the prayers in our services intercessions even though, rightly, they usually include prayers for us as well as others.

Still with me?! I better move on.

What does intercessory prayer look like?

That long reading we have just heard shows us a great example.

Jesus was praying for himself. But, and here is the intercession bit, he also prayed at length for the Disciples and for all who would believe in God because of what they would say and do. The importance of prayer for others is clear. at Jesus made time for it at the 11th hour.

Let me give some context.

It comes at the end of several chapters, which we didn’t hear, in which in their final time together before the crucifixion he warns his Disciples that he will be arrested, crucified, and rise from the dead. He warns them that things will be tough for them.

After his prayer he and the Disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was arrested.

Look at Jesus’s prayer.

He opened his heart and mind to God by setting out the situation, and commenting on God’s character.

Then asked:

• That the Disciples might be one, as, in that mysteriously true way, Jesus and God the Father are one.

 

Not that they should all be clones of each other and never disagree. But that they should be united in their determination to spread the message of God’s love as revealed in the words and actions of Jesus in his earthly ministry.

• That the Disciples joy might be complete.

 

That they would get deep satisfaction and happiness from walking the way of Jesus and working for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. Rather than finding spreading the news of Jesus a chore that leaves them exhausted and miserable. Something we need to guard against!

• That the Disciples might be kept safe.

 

Not that life would always be smooth going for them. Not that they should somehow be wrapped in cotton wool and avoid the realities and knocks of life. Existing as some sort of isolated and exclusive club.

But that God might give them courage to hold to the truth, and cope when times got tough. Knowing that he was with them always, guiding and supporting them.

• That the Disciples might be sanctified.

 

Another Churchy word! Blessed by God might be better.

That they might be full of the extreme love that Jesus revealed to the world, and that it would overflow from them to others.

  • That at the end the Disciples might be with Jesus in heaven.

 

That they would be at rest and peace with God at the end of their earthly life.

And we can be confident that his prayer worked.

That great example of prayer for others doesn’t mean that our prayer for others always has to be that long or contain all those elements. At times it might be very brief.

Why would we want to pray for others?

There are 2 quick answers.

First, Jesus did, so as his followers we should too.

Secondly, it works. As we know from the Bible and our experience and that of others.

But there are more.

Those first Disciples were there when Jesus prayed out loud for them. Imagine how hearing his prayer must have given them courage and strength when the going got tough.

Think how encouraged you have felt if someone has ever told you they are praying for you. Think how encouraged others are when we tell them we are praying for them.

Think how encouraged you can feel this morning as we take notice that in that reading Jesus was praying for us too – his Disciples of the 21st century, who believe because of those first Disciples. Even better, we heard in the first reading that the Holy Spirit prays (intercedes!) for us now, and elsewhere the Bible tells us that Jesus does too.

How good does that make you feel?

Look at those you share your life with, and others around the world. There are plenty who need your prayers in all sorts of ways (Venezuelans, Syrian refugees, victims of our broken benefit system etc) to cope with life, and, hopefully, come to enjoy it too. So why wouldn’t we pray for them?

That all fits in well with a definition of prayer that I quoted in the first sermon in this series.

Prayer is opening ourselves to our unchanging God so that he can work in us, change us and through us change the world.

Mind-blowing but true. Prayer for others changes us for the better as well as those people and situations that we pray for, often in unexpected ways.

You might be thinking…

But who can do it?

Anyone can. You can. It doesn’t need an especially holy person, whatever that means, or special words. Open your heart and mind to God and the words will come.

In a short while, as we come to his baptism, you, Arthur’s parents and godparents will, I hope, declare boldly WE WILL when I ask if you will pray for him.

A little later in the service we will all pray for him.

Perhaps not obviously, he will be buoyed up by all of our prayers, here this morning and beyond as you continue to pray for him. And as you encourage him to walk in the way of faith, including to pray.

Praying for others, intercessions (!), can often sound like a shopping list as we pray for this and that person. Yet through our praying for them God will not only meet the needs of others, but can and will lift our hearts and souls if we let him.

Go on. Smile. Jesus loves you enough to pray for you.

Let’s follow his example and pray for others…even people we don’t like.