We are the “body” of Christ, in one metaphor. The Biblical precedent (using the OT here, since I don’t buy a lot of the NT) is that praying on behalf of someone else is done only for their healing (God, heal them), or as a part of the group (Lord, help us, give us something). I haven’t read anything that says, the group went around and shared prayer requests. And each person prayed for the person on his left. And God looked down and granted their requests.
“Pray for me.”
Ok, so we’re a family. God is daddy, and my churchmates are my brothers and sisters. When do I ever ask my brother to go talk to Daddy for me? When I did something wrong and I think Daddy will be mad, I send him to give him the news. But God already knows. When I think my brother will be able to get a more favorable response, I send him. But will God fall for that? It might be trying to be selfless, like “I am not worthy to come before the throne and ask God for what I really want / need”? Real relationships don’t work like that.
When I am out of the country and can’t call my dad because he doesn’t have internet and I don’t have a phone, I email my brother to call my dad to send him a message. But we all have the Holy Spirit praying within us. We are all connected to God.
There is a psychological benefit of praying by sharing prayer requests; we share deeper things about us: our struggles, goals, desires, and pain. So, we are forced to grow closer as a group, when we know more about each other. We can work, in this world, through connections and abilities of the group, to provide comfort and support, and sometimes solutions (like, my bike broke. Hey, Mike can fix it! Or, I need a good lawyer. Susan can help!). Then, putting out the prayer request answers the prayer.
But there are also really bad detriments: to our feelings of confidence before God. I can’t pray for myself, I can’t talk to Him myself, I’m not worthy. Or, when people come up with really stupid prayer requests. We’ve all heard them. They may sound super-religious, like for humility or spiritual growth or more love. Or it may be the person who asks for the tenth time for good grades on a test, or the one who babbles in spiritual gobbledygook that’s all but speaking in tongues. They don’t focus on God, but on things that make us unhappy here, or on making themselves look good. It’s prayer that drips with privilege, praying for First World Problems. Yes, they are annoying problems to have. But isn’t there something more to do? If you’re a Christian and you’re not involved with anything bigger than yourself in a tiny world, something is wrong. Even if you just became a Christian, if we truly believe the Bible, shouldn’t we care that billions of people don’t believe, or that somebody a block away is hurt, or that my mom is really, really sick, or that there is bullying in the school, or that oppression on the basis of skin color is still a thing in many places, or that someone is hungry? I don’t mean to judge or shame. If you don’t feel that, take some time to fall in love with God. You walk at your speed when you’re walking with God. But the apostles didn’t keep themselves locked up praying forever. They went out, preaching, ministering to the sick and widows and orphans. They did real work, not just feel good work or self-help work. (Of course, if you’re super-missional, remember to be grounded in prayer. The constant presence and direction of God is your driving force to work.)
So, it’s weird. When we pray, are we family, or One in the Spirit? Why do we act as though there is a greater effect when We pray for you rather than just You pray for you?
At the close of each Bible study, and the start of every meal with a Christian, I’m practically forced to pray. I had a dinner once where we were sitting down to eat, and one girl prompted me, “Will you say grace?” I said, “No” and she was shocked. Like, you don’t do that. But it’s so weird to me, to even be asked, “Sister, will you talk to Daddy in front of us?” Like, this is really weird. It might kind of be like going as a group to God, and selecting one spokesman to do the honors of saying Thanks. But this is a bad analogy. We all know God very well. Why is it so formal? Something needs to be said, but this method impinges on how I naturally talk to God. Can’t my relationship with God be private? How can I be expected to be called out to pray, or to have a ‘turn’ to pray? (To escape this, I have a rote prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest / and let these gifts, to us be blessed. / Amen.” I still get looks sometimes when I say it, like I’m cheating.)
Interceding is a little bit like tattling. And you know those passive-aggressive prayer lists? *skin crawl*
In my experience, we routinely pray in groups. Method: chat about the week, share prayer requests, then pray about them. Like, maybe it “works” for some good with certain kinds of people. When in the Bible does anyone ever pray like this? Yes, prophets prayed for people. Kings asked prophets to pray for them. Hannah, in the temple, was approached by Eli the priest. He said, at most, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” He blessed her prayer, but she prayed (silently). Other examples:
Prayer from the prophet on behalf of the people:
“And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.” Numbers 21:7
Prayer on behalf of the larger group:
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7
Prayer for healing:
“And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” Numbers 12:13.
There are no “prayer request boxes” or the like to be seen. There are no church groups that sit around and pray for other people. No one seeks God on behalf of another. If someone has a real problem, it is conceivable that a group must support them, and that can include intercession. But the person prays for herself, too, and the group must provide more support than simply prayer, if at all possible (and it will always be possible. If someone is sick, you can’t heal them, but you can help them with chores, bring them food, spend time with them, etc.).
Two more bugs in religion:
Why testify? Give testimony, is like telling family stories? This is what God has done in my life. This is who I am in Christ. These can be really cool, and/or scary, or just weird.
People who say: God doesn’t exist, that’s stuuupid! but my horoscopes / ghosts / heaven / something does, for no reason.
Conclusion: I don’t understand prayer. The way my church likes to pray is neither logical nor Biblically based. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to pray?