Prayers of Intercession and Petition – Prayerful Tuesday

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Ephesians 3:16-19  16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul’s prayer to the readers of the Letter to the Ephesians is an intercessory or petition prayer to the Holy Spirit, offered by Paul on behalf of the believers of Ephesus.  This prayer strikes a deep cord within me today because I am often asked if praying for others is actually beneficial or just words.  According to some prayer does. Richard Schiffman, in a 2012 post on the religious page of Huffington Post[1], makes the case that those who pray are healthier. In fact he states “It doesn’t matter if you pray for yourself or for others, pray to heal an illness or for peace in the world, or simply sit in silence and quiet the mind — the effects appear to be the same.”  Now I’m not calling Mr. Schiffman the world’s best expert but from my own experience I have to agree with him, prayer does help me and does provide comfort for those I pray for.

So why is Paul’s prayer touching me today? Well because today I have been offering a number of prayers for people and so form of prayer is weighing large on my mind today. I offer prayers for others and I keep a prayer list with names of those who ask me to pray for them. However, and I try to be gentle with those who request prayer and let them know that intercessory prayers may have a downside to them, at least from my perspective.  If we expect G-d to answer our prayers the way we do when we order something on Amazon, then we have a deep problem.  A problem that can harm those we offer prayers for and ourselves.

There is an old hymn that says to “take it to God in prayer” and the implication is all will be made well if we pray.  Now I like that old hymn but I also know that God isn’t going to answer my prayers in any way I expect.  Yes, sometimes there is no answer and that is probably God saying “no” to my request, but, sometimes the answer comes in a way I don’t recognize or expect.  It may not be until long after the prayer I understand what the answer is.

Before we go any farther a word of caution, and I want to make this very clear, my experiences are mine, your experiences with pray are yours. The meanings I receive for my prayers will not mean the same thing to you.  So don’t expect what I learn from my prayers will fit neatly into your frame of reference.

That word of caution is what I am trying, in my inept way, to say. Intercessory pray can become wish list for things you want God to fill.  We all have done that, when I was 8 I prayed for a pony and needless to say I didn’t get one and was very disappointed, going in tears to my father asking why God wouldn’t give me a pony.  He words have stuck with me to this day: “God doesn’t give things we want, God gives us the things we need.  God also gives her gifts in her own time, not mine, God listens but picks the moment when what she offers will do the most good for my life with her. I won’t always recognize her gifts right away, but if I am listening and watching I will see them eventually.”  Now I have to admit I had no idea what he was talking about, all I knew was there wasn’t a pony at the end of my bed the next morning.  But I’ve remembered those words and at this stage of my life I am finally learning what he meant and how to offer a prayer of petition, or intercession, for myself and others.

Today I would like to offer Intercessory and Petition Prayers as today’s spiritual practice, it is an important one to learn not just for yourself, but for those you carry within your heart. How I pray may not work for you but I am sure you will find what works best for you. Unplanned prayers happen when there is a necessity for them.  I have offered a prayer at the bedside of someone who was ill or dying, or when something happens that touches me deeply and I feel the need to offer that prayer.  Those prayers are unplanned and speak from my heart.  I don’t know how to give you instructions for those except to listed for the words and they will come.

Most often I offer prayers of intercession and petition following my daily meditation when I am fully centered in God’s presence. For these Prayers or Intercession and Petition I use the following Celtic Circle Prayer[2], a form of prayer used by early Celtic Christians called the Caim or encircling prayer, which goes like this:

Pray for ourselves

Circle me, O God, encircle me with your presence.

Keep joy within, keep bitterness out;
Keep generosity within, keep greed out;
Keep love within, keep self-seeking out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Prayer for those on our heart

Circle, O God, (name the person(s) you are praying for), encircle them with your presence.

Keep wholeness within, keep sickness out;
Keep hope within, keep despair out;
Keep peace within, keep turmoil out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Prayer for Peacemakers

Circle, O God, those who work for peace (you may wish to specifically name people), encircle them with your presence.

Keep wisdom within, keep folly out;
Keep strength within, keep weariness out;
Keep hope within, keep despair out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

For those victims of violence and injustice

Circle, O God, (name people and places), encircle them with your presence.

Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep love within, keep hatred out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

For those who commit acts of violence and injustice

Circle, O Holy Spirit, (name people and places), encircle them with your presence.

Help them to see the truth and to turn away from falsehood;
Help them to learn compassion and leave hard-heartedness behind;
Help them find the courage to turn away from evil;
May they feel your love in a world filled with hate;
Help them to see your light in the darkness.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I don’t always use every one of these prayers at one time sometimes only one or two, but I find that I am less likely to petition God for selfish reasons when I use this prayer.  If these prayers are helpful for you please feel free to you them, but, you may also have or find a prayer that works better for you and that is just as much a blessing.

My prayer for all of you this day is:

Circle, O Holy Spirit all who read these words, encircle them with your presence.

Keep joy within, keep bitterness out;
Keep generosity within, keep greed out;
Keep love within, keep self-seeking out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©January 7, 2014


[1] Schiffman, Richard, Huffington Post, Religious Page, January 18, 2012
[2] Based on a Prayer from the Gethsemane Chapel, Wells Cathedral, Wells UK.

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