Ezekiel 22:30 “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”
In the last couple months, I have had two experiences that have spoken deeply to me in my prayer life. On the morning of the Japan earthquake, I started my day as I try to start every Friday. I prayed Morning Prayer, finishing with the Great Litany. I was staying at my parents’ house and there were children playing downstairs. I was not feeling fully-engaged in my prayers, and prayed them with little feeling. I closed my Prayer Book and joined my family. The television was on, and images from the devastating earthquake were everywhere. Very quickly, I remembered the words from the Litany that I had just prayed: “From lighting and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.”
This Sunday night, I arrived home from youth group. It was late, and I had been at church almost all day. I decided to go through Evening Prayer fairly quickly. After the Collects, I added one general intercession and was done. Before going to bed, I opened up Internet Explorer to check on something, and an article about the death of Osama Bin Laden came up on screen. Again, I remembered some words from that final prayer: “Bless all in authority over us; and so rule their hearts and strengthen their hands, that they may punish wickedness and vice, and maintain thy true religion and virtue.”
In both of these moments, I realized that these prayers that I pray day by day or week by week corresponded to real events that I was not even aware of until after I had prayed. This is part of a growing realization of the need for general intercession.
When I was introduced to the disciplines of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, I loved them, but I saw them as daily devotions, reading and prayer largely designed as an opportunity to be built up by God’s Word and to bring to God those particular needs that were pressing to me personally. After reading the psalms and lessons, there were a few short prayers, three collects, and then an extended time to pray for whatever was on my mind. This has all changed over the last year as I have started to explore the historical Anglican Prayer Books. In them, the Daily Office is set up with the assumption that it will include general intercession, authorized prayers in the Prayer Book for all sorts of needs. The assumption is that the Office will include a prayer for the nation and its leaders, a prayer for the Clergy and People, and a general prayer covering most other needs, for “All Sorts and Conditions of Men”. On top of that, there are other prayers that may be added by discretion. These are usually omitted only if the Great Litany or the Eucharist will follow, as these contain even more detailed prayers. I started incorporating these intercessions into my own daily prayer.
The effect has been a growing realization that the Daily Office is not a brief break for my own personal spiritual rejuvenation. It accomplishes that, but it is fundamentally an act of intercession. Even the psalms are part of our intercessory work; they aren’t just read, they are prayed. We often find that they don’t relate to us personally, but we can broaden our understanding and see ourselves speaking in solidarity with God’s people around the world in their needs, sorrows, and joys. Through daily praying the psalms and offering our intercessory prayers, we are standing in the breach for the needs of the whole Church and the whole world. This includes own personal needs and those of our loved ones, but is not limited to them in the least. This is part of why it was historically mandatory that all Anglican priests pray Morning and Evening Prayer daily, even when on vacation! Prayer is part of our work, and that work of prayer is never to be neglected. The irony of this is that, by praying for all sorts of general needs that I often care little about, my heart is changing. The experience of watching the news becomes prayerful, and all the things I hear get caught up into the prayers offered, and through this God is slowly giving me His heart for the world.
One of my favorite evening hymns is “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended.” It includes these lines:
We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
What a comfort it is to know that, around the world, prayers for whatever challenges I may face are being offered at every moment. What a solemn responsibility it is to take our part in that unending watch. I can’t begin to sort out the exact influence of the prayers I prayed on the two days listed above, but I have no doubt that the constant, daily offering of such prayers that I am a small part of has brought infinite help and comfort to people around the world.