“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayers and supplication… keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me…” (Ephesians 6:18-19a RSV).
St Paul here is asking the group of believers at Ephesus to pray; to pray constantly and with perseverance for each other and for him. If we are truly members (intrinsic “parts”, not just like “members of a club”) of Christ’s Body (1 Cor 12:27), we are united to him through our baptisms. And since he “always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25), our calling is likewise to be intercessors for one another.
What’s “intercession”? The dictionary says it is “intervening on behalf of another; mediation”. Jesus Christ, the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5), deigns to share his work with us who are members – parts – of him. Being “in Christ” (Eph 2:10, 1 Cor 6:17, etc), incorporated into him, our faithful, persevering, loving prayers for each other are efficacious because they unite us to his intercession. Kind of mind-blowing, actually, to think about.
This doesn’t, of course, mean that whatever we pray for will automatically be accomplished in the way and time-frame that we imagine; we’re only limited human beings after all, and must learn to relinquish our own ideas of what’s best and defer to the superior wisdom of God. But in undertaking this ministry, we are drawn more deeply into the merciful, generous Heart of Jesus; we participate with him as his prayers become ours. As we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we grow in our trust of his goodness, and let go of our need to have things go the way we think they should.
In addition, when we are interceding for someone who needs our prayers (whether they request them or not, whether they’re aware of them or not), we think about them often as we go about our day. We’re drawn to closeness to them, even if we’re separated by time and space. We “carry” them in our hearts via our ongoing, persistent prayers, and our own hearts are changed, knitted more tightly to theirs. We can even have our hardened hearts transformed completely when we pray for our enemies, as Jesus commanded us to do (Mt 5:44).
Sometimes our praying causes us to weep on their behalf, and we experience genuine grief; this can be heavy and difficult. When that happens, we are participating in the “thirst”, the longing, of Jesus: “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). Tragically, many refuse him; we grieve for our loved ones and must unite our heart’s suffering with his. Yet prayer is always good, always right, and hope can grow in us as we labor in it for the sake of Love.