“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
Growing up, my family sang the same prayer before every dinner. “For health and strength and daily bread, we give you thanks, O Lord.” I used to drag out the beginning (often a few keys too low) Fooooorrrr health and strength… But it wasn’t always that way. The switch to this sung family prayer was a response to curb undesirable behavior: competitive prayer. My sisters and I used to take turns praying before meals, and each time we would try to out-pray the other, and our pre-meal prayers became longer and longer. It often dissolved into a game of holy eye-spy while our food got cold: “Thank you God for our food…thank you God for…the lights. Thank you God for…the chair. Thank you God for…” you can see where this was going; hence, the song.
There are many ways to pray: extemporaneously, formulaic, contemplatively, ceaselessly, movement, stillness, litanies, and more. When a disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus offered a structure that has become central to our faith: The Lord’s Prayer. In worship, a diverse community becomes united as our voices lift this ancient prayer to God. At the end of meetings, this prayer offers the work we do back to God. At the hospital bedside, this quiet prayer becomes the bedrock of hope. The structure of the Lord’s Prayer provides a spiritual landing for us to connect to God while living in a volatile world.
Likewise, the Prayers of Intercession provide a structure that expands our concerns beyond what is right in front of us. There are innumerous needs in the world. While we cannot pray for every need in worship each week, we do follow a pattern suggested by the ELW worship book:
- for the church universal, its ministry, and the mission of the gospel;
- for the well-being of creation;
- for peace and justice in the world, the nations and those in authority, the
- for the poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved, lonely;
- for all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit,
- for the congregation and for special concerns
- for the saints and those who are bereaved
Reminding ourselves of these many needs for prayer prevents the intercessions from being too inwardly focused. We certainly pray for the specific needs of our community, but our praying also “reflects the wideness of God’s mercy for the whole world” (ELW p. 105). Structure and the petitions provide a framework so our prayers, hearts, and minds may become as expansive of God’s love. Let us pray.
Yours in Christ,
Check out this article from ELCA worship resources on Intercessory Prayer.