How does prayer help in a disaster?

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
If you’ve heard it once in the last several days of Hurricane/Flood coverage, you’ve heard it a thousand times.  But have you ever stopped to wonder why we say that? Is it because we feel helpless that we can’t do anything else? Or is it because we believe, as St. James writes, that, “the prayers of the faithful are powerful and effective?” What does praying for others really do?
Praying for other, or “intercession” as it is often called is probably second only to praying for our own needs (petition) in terms of what comes most readily to mind when most of the faithful think of prayer. Like petition, intercession comes naturally to most. But, it also seems to run counter to much of what we think we know about God.  Why should we pray for others? Doesn’t God already know that they need? What makes our prayers any more important than theirs? Does God keep tally of the number of folks who pray and only answer the prayers of the popular?
Sadly, all of these questions miss the point entirely. Like all types of prayer, intercession is less about the words or the formulae or the intention than it is about the relationships that are formed. I am still working on a longer series on prayer. But let me sum it up here: prayer is relationship, not communication. The difference among different “types” of prayer is the nature and quality of the relationship formed. At the end of the day it has almost nothing to do with telling or even asking God for anything.
Unlike petition (and confession and thanksgiving and adoration) intercession is not strictly about our relationship with God. It is, rather, about our relationship with the person or people that we are praying for.  When we pray “for” someone else, we are not praying “in their stead”, neither are we informing God about something that he doesn’t already know a lot about. God is intimately interested in everything having to do with his most treasured creation.
When we pray for someone else, we put them forward in our minds and hearts. We lift them before God, renewing and reinforcing our own relationship with them, grafting them and us deeper into the community of faith. When combined with our own petitions (our prayers of relationship with God) and theirs (representing their own relationship with God), prayers of intercession complete the web of community that binds all the faithful together with their God. Intercession is most certainly a beautiful thing.
So, by all means, pray for the victims of this hurricane and for all folks, as we say in the church according to their need.” Don’t, for a minute, doubt that God is already working with them, in and for their lives. But even more than simply pray, consider reaching out in some other tangible way: call, donate, advocate. Realize the relationship that prayer begins. Let those you pray for know that you’re praying for them.
And Stay Dry.

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