I believe in the power of prayer. I believe prayer can change things, change trajectories, change lives. I can't know for sure, but I suspect a lot of people were praying for me on my road to Emmaus, before I recognized the Lord. Who knows where I would have been without their prayer?
I also believe there are no coincidences, no accidental meetings for no reason. That, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason, and people come into and out of our lives during certain seasons according to God's purposes. That sometimes we have the privilege of entertaining angels for a night.
I light a candle the night before Ash Wednesday and read some scripture...nothing prescribed, just what I feel led to read that night (tonight it was Psalm 39 and Acts 2). The Holy Spirit speaks in whispers, and so I need to be quiet and still sometimes to hear His voice.
I then set my timer for ten minutes. Sitting still is really hard for me, so I need this to make sure I don't get up or find some excuse to do something besides pray and listen. I say, "God, this 10 minutes is yours. Do with it what you will. Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:1-10).
After the ten minutes of prayer is over, I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me who I am called to pray for. I have a pen and a piece of paper, with 40 spaces from 1 to 40. As I turn over my consciousness to the Lord, names begin to materialize. As they come, I write them down...the first to come in space #1, the next in space #2, etc., trusting that this is the right person and the right time.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking, "nah, I don't want to pray for this person," or "this isn't right," but trust the process and write down who comes into my head at that time anyway. By the time I am finished I have forty names, some as random as "the heavy-set guy in the West Chester Wawa with the red sweatpants who walked slow and was buying a hoagie" to people as familiar as "mom."
After the time of prayerful inspiration is over and I have forty names on my paper in their respective spaces, I line up the numerical portion with the corresponding date...#1 = March 1st, #2 = March 2nd, etc. I then put that person's name in my calendar on my phone, one by one, on the appropriate date. I set an alarm for 5:30am for each day of Lent, and that is the person that is assigned for that time on that date. I get out of bed, and pray for them, for 10 minutes, and throughout the day--for their intentions, their well-being, that they may know and experience the love of God and his grace and mercy. If I am fasting or abstaining from meat on that particular day, I offer up any discomfort to the Lord for them.
I don't know at the time why someone came into my mind, and why, say, on March 27th I am to pray for so-and-so, but I trust that God has his reasons. Really, do we need an excuse to pray for someone? It might seem kind of gimmicky, but for me (as I've written about before on this blog)--unless I write it down, it doesn't really exist.
Why do I do this? Because people did it for me, prayed for me, intentionally. Because I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe that there are no accidental meetings. It's also self-serving in some ways--praying for others and offering sacrifices on their behalf gets me out of myself so that Lent does not become a self-improvement regime. And it is structured enough that it holds me accountable to intentional periods of prayer, even if it is only for ten minutes a day.
We are called to carry our brother and sister's burdens out of love, the way Simon carried Jesus' cross and Veronica wiped his face. Everyone can use prayer. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, some more than others. For me, this is one way to do it, even if I haven't seen the person on my "list" in years, and even if they don't know me at all.
Here's to a blessed Lenten season for all...whether we have met or not.