When the Lord is Mindful of His Friends: The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Heaven and Hell
I met Ruth when I worked with a refugee resettlement project some years ago. This is the story she told:

“We lived in a village in Central Africa. Our family was Christian, but our village was not. My father was a merchant. He was fair in his prices and kept his word. He was respected in the village. One evening he came home to tell us that we must leave our village as soon as it was dark. Someone had come to him that day to warn him that tonight men were coming to burn the houses of Christians in our village. We must escape into the jungle before they came.

My father had a plan. My mother, older sister, and two youngest brothers were to go to visit someone on one end of the village. My older brothers were to slip into the darkness by another path. My younger sister and I were to go with my father to visit someone in yet a different direction. We left the house at different times as dusk came. As the village grew dark we slipped into the darker darkness beyond the village.

I had never been in the jungle in the night. It was terrifying. We met at an agreed upon spot and began walking together toward a Christian village two days journey away. My father told me later he was afraid as we finally approached that village. He had never been there and was afraid they would not welcome us. We could put them in danger. He went by himself into the village. We waited, scared, tired, and very hungry. It seemed like a very long time before he came back. He was smiling. He said to us, ‘Yes, we are welcome. They said they had heard of burnings and had been praying for us. We are proof God has heard their prayers.’

We stayed there several days before being helped to another village and another until finally we reached a refugee camp.”

Today’s readings tell of Lot’s family’s escape from danger as Sodom and Gomorrah were covered with sulphurous fire raining from the sky—probably a meteor shower.

The story is enhanced if we also consider what has happened in Genesis since the reading of the first part of chapter 18 in the readings last Saturday. In that reading, three men visited Abraham and told him Sarah would have a child within the next year. Between that reading and today, Genesis 18: 16 through Genesis 19: 14 tells of two interesting stories that give more meaning to today’s events.

In the latter part of chapter 18 God and Abraham have a dialogue. God tells Abraham what he intends to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads with God, “Are you going to destroy the just man with the sinner? Would you do this if you found 50…or 40…or 30…or even 10 innocent men?” God tells Abraham he would not destroy Sodom if he could find even 10 innocent men. Abraham, satisfied, returns to his home in the hills above the plain.

Meanwhile two of the men who had visited Abraham and predicted Isaac’s birth went into Sodom. Lot saw them coming as night fell. He welcomed them into his home, but others in the city formed a mob outside Lot’s house and demanded that he throw the men out to them so they could abuse them. Lot went out to plead for the men’s safety and put himself in danger. The men, who were really angels, pulled Lot back in the house and made the people blind so they could not see the door to break it down as they were threatening to do.

By this time it is almost dawn. We hear what happens in the readings of today. Lot doesn’t want to leave, but the two men (angels) pulled him, his wife, and two daughters out of Sodom. Then they told him, “Run for you life.” Lot believed them, but did not believe he could make it to the hills. He persuaded God to let him go to a small village. And God did. Then God rained the sulphurous fire onto Sodom, Gomorrah, and the plain.

Meanwhile, as dawn broke, Abraham went back to the place where God had spoken to him. He looked down and saw “dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace.” Then comes the line of scripture which drew me today: “Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain, he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.”

God must have found one innocent man, Lot. He destroyed the cities, but he saved him. God “was mindful” of Abraham. Abraham interceded for the cities and for Lot. God attended to his request.

In the Gospel, from Matthew, we have another situation of danger: Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when suddenly a storm comes up. The boat is tossing; the disciples are afraid. Jesus is asleep. When the disciples wake Jesus, “he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” (We heard this same story from Mark on Sunday, June 21) Jesus interceded for them all. God the Father was mindful of him and calmed the storm.

God is mindful of his friends. The Jerusalem Bible translates this as “God kept Abraham in mind.” He took the request of this just man into account. He took Jesus’ rebuke of the storm into account. It made a difference.

How does intercessory prayer work? It is a mystery to me. I don’t know HOW intercessory prayer works, but I know that IT DOES WORK. Sometimes God uses us to help answer those prayers, as He used the Christians in the neighboring village who helped Ruth and her family. Sometimes God sends someone else to be an angel of answer, as He did in the story of Lot and Abraham. Sometimes He just fixes things Himself, as He did in the story of Jesus, the disciples, and the storm.

However God works, He works again and again every day. As He did with Abraham and Jesus and Ruth’s family in the jungle, He walks in the middle of trouble, mindful of his friends. He takes their concerns into account. He WORKS through their prayers.

The Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy are powerful intercessory prayers we can say when someone we know is in trouble.

Or simply pour out your heart to God.

Let God be mindful of you. Let your friendship with God be a way to help your other friends. Let God work through you.

About the Author

Mary Ortwein lives in Frankfort, Kentucky in the US. Her time is divided between volunteer work at her home parish, Good Shepherd, and supervision in a non-profit mental health agency. In her writing Mary combines learning from her study of prayer and theology and learning from her practical work experience. At different times in her life Mary has been an elementary and college teacher, a full-time wife and mother, founder of prolife service agencies, an in-home family therapist, and a writer of relationship and mental health curriculum. The mental health agency Mary currently directs focuses on training young professionals and providing mental health services to those who otherwise might not have access to them. In her parish Mary works in Respect Life, ministry to the homebound and elderly, evangelization, and is a member of a very active prayer group. A convert to Catholicism in 1969, Mary has not always been strong in the practice of her faith. After a re-conversion in 2010 she earned a theology degree from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2015. She now looks for ways to foster her own faith and the faith of others.

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