Praying for others: for how long?


Ishtar gate detail, Babylon.

What happens when human prayer meets God’s established plan? (part 1)
Meditations on the book of Habakkuk the prophet

In order to have an overview of the book we start with an outline of its first section.

1. A matter of social injustice
The prophet complains (1.2-4): Are you going to do something about the social injustice, Lord?
The Lord replies (1.5-11): Yes, I will do. Just watch the Chaldeans!

2. A matter of fairness
The prophet complains (1.12-17): Punishing the unjust by the means of some less just is not fair, is it?
The Lord delays the answer (2.1)
The Lord replies (2.2-4)

Many bad things happen in our world, but the criminals get away with it because there is not enough evidence to incriminate them. Hence, the need for a ‘Big Brother’ state, a state in which everything is recorded and used as evidence against the perpetrators. Evidence does not seem to be the sufficient and necessary condition anymore, since the same piece of evidence can have various and even contradictory interpretations. What really counts is a good lawyer and few supportive headlines in the papers. This is not so with God. He has both the evidence and the right interpretation of all the evidence, as well as the willingness to carry on the verdict.

People bring in prayer all sorts of things: things they do not understand, things they are scared of, things they think pose a hazard potential, things that can become a benefit, things too big or big enough, things needed or useful, things they wish they could do or can’t do without, so on and so forth. Does prayer betray the weakness and the mediocrity of the one praying? That may be true if one prays for things within one’s grasp, but commodity and disinterest prevail over any intention to do something about acquiring it. That may be true if one prays selfishly for things that are of limited use.

There are other prayer types, though. The prayer we hear the prophet pray here reflects his concern for the social justice that went lacking in his country. He prays for things that are out of his reach, things that cannot be undone within any conceivable time limit just by human input. It appears that the human subjects responsible for ensuring a just society lack any willingness to fulfil their duties. A similar situation can be found in any country with a strong autocratic, antidemocratic leadership having the appearance of a strong, rock solid and fair society. What can the believer do in times like that, other than pray? When the society seems to decompose, and its members become out of control, oppressing the needy, it is time to pray, it is time for intercession.

When we pray, we profess our belief in God’s ability to do all things, His authority to do the way He chooses, and we admit our limits as God’s creatures, dependent on Him. Praying for others opens our heart for other people. Insisting in prayer for other people gets us to love them. Many things happen around us independent of our will and without us being able to do anything about them. The least we can do in such a circumstance is to pray. This is why the apostle advises the church in Thessalonikki:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thes 5.14-22)

If the intercessory prayer takes place in such a context, God’s reply should not surprise us. God always has a solution, even when it seems that He is disinterested or passive. His solution is swift, exemplary, well balanced, in one word – perfect. As He had used the Israelites to punish the Canaanites long time ago, He used the Babylonians, a new rising military power to punish the peoples of the Ancient Near East, Israel included. This new force, as any God’s tool, cannot be stopped, deterred, blackmailed, let alone defeated. They have no other god than their military prowess. They live in order to kill. God’s hammer strikes with all the power of hell and there is no escape.

Therefore, when we mediate for others we should be aware that God has a potential beyond our wildest imagination and we should fear the worst. We should not pray for the unleashing of His furry, but for a fair resolution to the problems of the world, expecting in all honesty that we could be asked to be part of the solution. In a similar situation, Lord Jesus himself preached for his disciples not asking great things on their behalf but to be protected from the evil one (John 17.15).

We should learn again what intercession really means. By virtue of my calling as Christian I am a mediator. Therefore, I am not allowed to say “May your will be done with them!” but “May your will be done with ME!” When I pray on behalf of others I should rather call upon His mercy: “Lord, have mercy on them!” As Abraham has done unsuccessfully for Sodom and Gomorrha. As Moses has done for Israel converging with God’s desire to delay the punishment of those redeemed from the Egyptian bondage. Accepting the will of God for me is a sign of maturity but figthing in prayer over others’ blessing is a sign of greatness.

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