On the Wings of a Stranger’s Prayers
by Shelly Esser
A number of years ago I went through a very dark period in my life -- one of those dark night of the soul experiences. Having always processed difficulties through writing, I sat down at the computer and wrote a very candid article about my struggles. Thinking it might help someone else; I sent it off to be published. To my surprise, it was accepted.
In the weeks that followed, I was inundated with letters and phone calls from all over the country. One of those letters came from an elderly nun named Sister George Towle. She wrote me a heartfelt letter expressing her commitment to pray for me daily. I was touched, but unbelievingly tossed the letter aside. She and many others had said, “I’ll pray for you.” I often wondered how many of those people actually kept their promise. Too often it seems we use that phrase so casually that it just becomes mere words of comfort. How many would not only dare pray for someone they don’t know, but do so daily?
One day while collecting the mail some five years later, I was astonished to discover another letter from Sister George Towle. “My dear Shelly,” she wrote, “I am just taking a chance in God’s providence and love for us that you will get this letter. Remember back in 1995, I wrote to you after reading your article. I wanted you to know that I pray for you every day of my life! And I have often wondered how you are and what has happened to you, and lately the inspiration to write and ask you has become so strong that I felt it God urging me to write to you. My heart, prayers, and love still go out to you, Sister George.” God had put it on a stranger’s heart, for reasons I don’t understand, to pray for me. Looking back, there is no doubt that one of the reasons I made it through those difficult years was because I was carried on the wings of a stranger’s prayers.
Sister George and I continued to correspond until her death at age 90 two summers ago. She was one of the greatest sources of encouragement and prayer support that I have ever known, and I felt a great loss when she died feeling like I had lost my most powerful prayer warrior.
This whole experience has gotten me thinking about how many people out there are dependent on our prayers. We have no idea what the people God may be putting on our hearts are going through and how our prayers may be His vehicle to carry them through.
There were months when the only prayers I could pray were deep groans and sobs. How comforting to know God had enlisted a stranger to fill those gaps and pray for me in ways I couldn’t myself. Not only has this experience changed my view about prayer, it’s enlarged my view of God.
To think that God loves us so much that He will put us on the heart of someone we don’t even know to carry us in prayer for years is just a small example of how personal God is. This gesture of God showed His amazing intimacy with me. I’m thankful for that kind of God, and I’m thankful for the kind of servant who obediently followed through when God laid a stranger on her heart. Even in the dark places of our lives, God manages to reveal Himself in the most unexpected ways to remind us that we are never forgotten, no matter how dark it feels.
When Jesus, the greatest intercessor, taught His disciples how to pray, He not only instructed them on how to pray for themselves, but how to reach out and pray for others as well. Intercessory prayer is simply seeking the presence and audience of God for another. We are to carry one another’s burdens as Gal 6:2 says. Interceding for one another is one of the most valuable things we can do for each other.
Scripture admonishes us to pray, and much of this praying we are to do for strangers. 1 Tim. 2:1 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…” We’re to pray for those in authority, the lost, the brokenhearted, the poor, etc. How much of my praying is for the stranger? God places people along the paths of our lives for a purpose. Many times that purpose is to intercede on their behalf.
We may be the only person praying for them, but do we? How regularly are we really standing in the gap for others, particularly those we don’t know? I wonder where I’d be today if Sister George hadn’t held me up in prayer daily through the darkest night of my soul.
The kind of intercession that Sister George engaged in for me and that you and I are called to is a laying down of our lives for others. It is a sacrificing of our time for those in need. It is essentially a ministry of outreach.
It means following through when we promise to pray for someone. John Calvin said, “To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them.” God chose to have a stranger love me through intercession, and it changed my life. Who needs to be carried on the wings of your prayers?