Over the past few weeks, I have had to introduce myself to a large contingent of people. Without exception, these conversations have led to them asking me why I am out in Denver. Of course, this leads me to explain that I am doing an internship this summer at a church and will begin seminary this fall. All of this to say, I’m out here in Denver preparing to be a pastor. Many different responses to my answer have been fielded. Some people become quiet and reserved all of a sudden. Others seem to be very intrigued and continue a line of questioning. Some are supportive; others ask if I have thought of alternative occupations. But there seems to be a common thread woven through many of these responses: the request of prayer. Whether in jest or in all seriousness, many people ask pastors to pray for them (yes, I’m including myself in the realm of pastors). There remains a sense even in popular notions that there is something sacred about a pastor or a priest. Not that they necessarily have easier access to God or are my holy or anything of that nature, but rather, that people rely on pastors/priests to be liaisons of God’s grace, or mirrors of God’s grace, reflecting God’s shalom into the messiness of their lives. They ask pastors to pray because in a way, they are living through the faith of the pastor.
All this has hit me in the past couple of weeks. Pastors need to pray and pray fervently, not that people will join their church or give to their church or to become pastors or anything of that sort. But pastors need to pray for people because they care about their well-being. In praying for others, we begin to take their burdens as our own, not that we are having to carry it on our own, but we are now sharing the burdens with another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.” Bonhoeffer continues, “He who denies his neighbor the service of praying for him denies him the service of a Christian.” Bonhoeffer describes prayer as the receiving and appropriation of the Word in our particular context. When we pray for others, we are not only receiving the Word of Christ which transforms ourselves, but we are also making the Word of Christ tangible to those around us through our interactions.