Summary: The Spirit's intercession for us mirrors Jesus' intercession for us.
I remember when I was training to be a pastor and working as a chaplain in a hospital as part of my requirement. My “congregation” was one floor in the hospital, and that consisted of the Intermediate Care Unit where the folks who weren’t sick enough for ICU but still needed more care than a regular room were cared for. On that floor was a gentleman whose heart was failing. He had been in the hospital for several months awaiting a transplant. I had visited him several times over the course of my training, and I won’t forget the second to the last visit I had with him.
After our conversation, I asked him if there was anything he would like me to pray for, and he responded, “I really am not trying to be selfish, but I would like for you to pray that I receive a new heart.” I gladly prayed for such a thing. In less than 24 hours, he did indeed receive a new heart.
I spoke with my supervisor, a seminary professor about this event, and he pointedly asked me, “Do you think that your prayer worked to get him a new heart?”
I paused before my response. Whenever you deal with seminary professors, there is oftentimes the answer you want to say, the answer that the professor wants to hear, and several variations of that. At this particular time, I wanted to make sure that I gave the answer the professor wanted to hear because I was in no mood for a long theological discussion. The deepest part of me wanted to answer, “Yes, indeed my prayer made a difference.” But I was quite sure that the conversation that followed would not be fun. And so I said, “I don’t know.” I figured that was the safest bet, and indeed it was. We moved on from there rather quickly.
But as I reflect upon this scenario, I can faithfully say: I hope that my prayer was not responsible for this gentleman receiving that heart. You may scratch your heads in wonder that I am saying that, but hear me out. For you see, in order for that patient to receive his heart, a local husband and father lost his life on I-35 in a tragic car accident. Would any of you like to think that your prayer caused someone to lose his life so that someone else could benefit and live? Would you like it on your conscience that your prayer caused a wife to lose her husband and children to lose their father? I don’t. Not in the least.
And yet, yet wasn’t it the compassionate thing to pray for the patient to receive a heart? What do you do? How do you pray for such a thing? What if you are thrust into a situation where someone needs a kidney, heart, or lung transplant and someone must die for the other person to live? How do you pray? What do you pray for? Sometimes, prayer is a difficult prospect, and we need help understanding it and practicing it.
Let us now pray. Heavenly Father, you have called your people to be people of prayer. Jesus prayed. Jesus taught His disciples to pray. But what do we do when faced with such difficulties? What do we do when words fail us? If we are to be your disciples, teach us indeed how to pray. Amen.
Prayer is one of those interesting subjects that even science has dabbled in. They have set up studies to see if prayer “works.” They have set aside two sets of subjects–who as best as they can are similar, and have one set prayed for while the other not prayed for. Setting aside the ethics of the matter–I mean what do you say, “Oh, we are praying for you and not for you. If you die, too bad.”–the end game is to study the results; to see if somehow prayer brings about healing or what have you. I can remember when I first started out in my trek to become a pastor that some of the studies that had been done showed that prayer was indeed effective. However, since that time, there have been other studies which showed that prayer was not effective, and in some cases, those who were prayed for had worse outcomes than those who were not prayed for.
Fundamentally, these studies miss the mark because they treat prayer as some sort of giant, cosmic, candy machine. You put the prayer in. You hope you use the right amount of currency. You kick, shake, and rattle the machine, and you hope that something comes out. Of course, you might get one of those plastic balls that when you open it up has a little piece of paper in it that says either yes, no, or you’ve got to be kidding me. This is not the purpose or reason for prayer.