Pray without ceasing.
It was F.B. Meyer who said, “The great tragety of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” As believers we have this tremendous opportunity to pray for others, most commonly called “intercession”.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Christ stands between us, and we can only get in touch with our neighbors through Him.” It is very often, not so much the neighbor who is changed, but we ourselves. Something happens when I purposely bring others into God’s presence. Often it is my attitude toward them which is ultimately changed.
Phillip Yancey, in his excellent book Prayer, comments on this: “I pray for the neighbor who is always trying to sneak out of paying his neighborhood share of assessments and begin not to see him as a conniver but as a friendless man who lives with constant financial worries. I pray for my drug-addicted relative and see past the irresponsible behavior to a wounded, desperate soul.”
In short, prayer allows me to see others as God sees them (and me): as uniquely flavored and uniquely gifted bearers of God’s image. I begin seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, as beloved children whom the Father longs to embrace. I know that God wants their marriages to grow stronger and their children to stay out of trouble; God wants them healthy and strong to resist temptation, capable of reaching out to others in need. I bring those prayers to God because I know God wills the very same thing. What I desire in the people I pray for, God desires all the more.
Once I catch a glimpse of another person through the eyes of God, I feel a prod to respond as part of Christ’s body—God’s incarnate presence—on earth. And, of course, what changes me does change the other person. I begin to teat my neighbor and relative in a different way, tinged by God’s grace. I write my troubled friends notes of encouragment and ask how I can help. I pray for those in other countries who work with prostitutes, prisoners, and orphans and find myself digging deeper to send financial help.
Nothing spurs compassion in me like prayer.