Emerging Spirituality: Questions about the Practices of Prayer

A while back I posted on the GBOD worship website an article responding to the findings of the largest "controlled" study on the effects of intercessory prayer. Among the findings of that study was that a specific set of cardiac patients who were known to have been prayed for by first name and last initial with a petition to have positive outcomes of surgery appear to have had somewhat worse outcomes (a higher rate of complications) than those who were not. The study raised a lot of questions, and frankly conflicts with findings of other studies to some degree. You can see my article exploring these issues here, if you're interested.

At the base of scientific studies of prayer as therapy is an assumption that prayer itself does something-- that it is performative in some way in the world.

Part of what I wonder is whether or how we see prayer in that way. Do we pray in order to achieve some particular outcomes, or do we pray to connect with or communicate with God? Or is something else going on here as well?

Let me share what I understand to be our biblical calling to prayer as church. We are called to be intercessors for the sake of the salvation of the world. I understand "salvation" in this sense very broadly-- not simply as "rescue from disaster" or "going to heaven," but rather in the sense of experiencing and participating fully in all the goodness God may intend. And I understand the world to be all the cosmos, really, but especially the earth and all that is and lives here (since we're here, after all!). Okay, I may be a tad terracentric!

It's fine to talk about being intercessors, or even agree we SHOULD engage this ministry as churches. But what does that mean, actually? What does one DO (mentally and physically) in intercession? How does a congregation practice/embody intercession? What's the body posture (sitting, standing, kneeling, running, prostrate?). How are the people (not just the person up front saying stuff) supposed to focus their thoughts/minds/spirits? Is this something you're teaching where you are? Or perhaps learning about in new ways?

What does intercession look like for the emerging, missional church? What does it look like in your congregation? What might it look like? And how might you get from where you are now to somewhere closer to where you might be?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards