A friend told me this morning that he'd been praying for me. I was touched by his generosity with his time, and encouraged that someone was talking to God about me (in a positive way!)
Which brought to mind the question of what our prayers accomplish. Again, as we talk about prayer we're discussing how we talk to a Being who already knows more about the situation than we can tell him, about a friend or family member he already loves infinitely more than we do. So as we pray, are we convincing God to do something good for this person for whom Jesus has already died?
My best understanding, as of May 27 2008, is that prayer for the good of someone else does several important things:
--Reminds me to love that person, since God already does
--Keeps that person in my mind during the week, rather than simply saying that I care about him or her, but forgetting all about their needs later
--Allows God to bring to mind things that I can do for that person, over and above prayer
--Encourages that person, when he or she learns how many people are praying and concerned about their needs
--Shows me my un-Christlike attitudes about another person.
There are probably more, but those are pretty powerful already.
When I actually wrestle with God in prayer over the needs of a friend or family member, I have to work through some of those parts of my thinking that aren't like God. Praying through those things is like taking the flour and other ingredients from the cabinet and working them slowly into the dough that will be good bread; in this case, finding places in the Bible that help me see the mind of God, especially as revealed through his son Jesus, and working that into my thinking to replace the selfish ideas and motivations.
Jesus said "the Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33). That works on the macro-level (that is, all through the world) and the micro-level (all through me).
Good prayer, like good bread, takes work. But it's worth every second. Why don't you give it a try? And let me know how it comes out.