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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Tuesday, November 17

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
—1 Timothy 2:1-2

“We know that we are being upheld, surrounded, encompassed by your steady intercession,” a good friend wrote not long ago. This note, like the many others she had sent, was addressed not just to me, but also to the multitude of people who had been praying for her son for months.

It is clear to me that these collective prayers helped my friend and her family. While no one could truly go through their experience with them, they knew that they were not alone. They knew that they were loved by many in their community and that the love of God was enfolding them. This is no small thing.

How, then, do we deal with the inevitable question: Does intercessory prayer really work? And if so, how?

For starters, we’d need to determine what we mean when we say that something works. In the case of prayer, it typically implies physical or emotional healing, guidance or clarity on a particular issue, the resolution of conflict, an easing of grief, or the lessening of some burden, such as guilt or financial debt. When we receive the hoped-for result, we usually believe that our prayer has “worked.”

So what about those times when it doesn’t? What about those situations when, in spite of our diligent prayers, our loved one dies, or the crops fail, or the war goes on and on? Have we not prayed hard enough? Or worse, does God not care?

I can’t pretend to have the answers here, so rather than offer some glib response, I’ll just share what experience tells me—that God is good, that in praying for others I’m somehow participating in God’s renewal of the world, that in praying I’m also allowing God to change me. This doesn’t begin to explain the mystery of intercessory prayer, but it’s enough to give me cause to do it.

O God, when I worry about the effectiveness of my prayers, when I become frustrated and impatient, remind me of your trustworthiness, and give me peace.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.