Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scriptural Examples of Praying for Others

In Bryn Athyn College chapel today Rev. Stephen Cole discussed whether praying for other people can actually help them at all.

In his discussion he cited two examples from the Word where people pray for others. The first was from Genesis 20. This is the first time that prayer is mentioned in the Word. In the story Abimelech is told in a dream to give Sarai back to Abram and is told, “[Abram] will pray for you and you shall live” (20:7). Interestingly, Arcana Coelestia 2535 (discussed in the last 2 posts) is an explanation of what this verse means.

The other example of praying for others that he gave was Matthew 19:13-15 in which “little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray....”

Stephen Cole's conclusion was that praying for other people can help them. We cannot make people's choices for them or ever take away their spiritual freedom but, just as parents can certainly affect the natural lives of their children by nurturing or neglecting them, we can also have an effect on people's spiritual lives. Angels and associate spirits affect people's spiritual lives; why can't we through prayer?


Anonymous said...

Those two do not seem convincing at all. The story from Genesis is surely not to emulated, as almost none of those stories are, as they are all, as you point out, about a deeper meaning, and in this case not intercessory prayer.

The part in Matthew talks about Jesus praying with children. I would also argue that parents should pray with their children, but that is different form praying for them. This leaves aside the fact that Jesus, as the Lord, can do things we cannot, and His prayers are of a very different nature than ours.

If prayer is communication with God, than how can we communicate with God for someone else? We cannot. Praying for others really means talking to God about others. We cannot have the Lord effect change in the natural world through our prayers, except in as much as it changes ourselves.

Malcolm said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm still trying to figure out what I think about the usefulness of praying for another person (for that other person) and so I appreciate the points you bring up.

I agree that, in themselves, those two stories do not provide a particularly solid foundation for an argument for praying for other people (we are neither prophets nor the Lord). I think his argument, however, did not rely on them. I think his argument is “If we can affect people at all spiritually then surely our prayers can affect people.” I don't know if he would push it so far as to say that our prayers for someone could affect whether they get better from a disease or not. I'm not particularly comfortable with that idea myself.

I picked up a pamphlet written by Rev. Jeremy Simons about prayer for others and it has a similar explanation to Rev. Stephen Cole's and some references. Let me know what you think of it.

Angels are able to “communicate to another the goodness, blessedness and bliss that they themselves have received” (Arcana Coelestia 6478). Delight and happiness in heaven are thus “communicated from one to many by means of a real transferring that is remarkable” (Arcana Coelestia 1392). This communication happens by means of the spheres that surround everyone, both in heaven and on earth (Arcana Coelestia 8794e, 10130:3), for a person's sphere “inwardly affects their companions” (True Christian Religion 433:2).

When a person prays to the Lord from genuine love and faith on behalf of another, the “hope, consolation and inward joy” (Arcana Coelestia 2535) given by the Lord may be communicated in remarkable ways to those for whom they pray.

The communication of love has tremendous power, whether it is expressed in tangible or intangible ways, for love carries all good fortune, success and healing within it. Most essential, however, is the recognition that all good comes from the Lord—for without Him we can do nothing. Our continual prayer must therefore always be “Thy will be done.”

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in the prayer study article on


Alethea said...

I am interested in the concept of prayer for others. I know that the "stock" New Church answer is usually that prayer only helps the pray-er. But intuitively, I like to think that praying for others may be able to influence the associate spirits available to them.

Of course, anyone can choose their own associate spirits based on what they're doing/thinking, but I hope that when I pray for someone who I may not know very well (like a sick child of a coworker, for example) that I am able to "recruit" associate spirits that could provide peace for both the child and the coworker. Because in this example, I myself don't really need anything, I can help out with meals, or rides, but I don't need internal peace or insight, but I want peace and insight for the people I am praying for.

I wasn't at this talk, alas, but I'm glad to hear that someone else in the church at least entertains this idea!

Mac said...

I think the most interesting reference to prayer for others is from the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:44, the Lord commanded prayer for others when He said, "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you".

I've really enjoyed all the prayer stuff on this blog, by the way. And the blog in general. Keep up the good work!

Mac said...

And now I see that this quote is referenced in two other places on this site, including in reference to one of my own sermons. :)