The article on the blog today first appeared in the April-June 2017 issue of PrayerConnect magazine. Chaplain Dorothy Bayles and the child intercessors at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, in Oklahoma City, continue to inspire my praying life. Although written to encourage intercession for anyone facing painful or uncertain circumstances, these children will encourage you, regardless of your current circumstances.
The Gospel echoes down every hall of the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, OK. The words of Jesus resound, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).
Gretchen* is one of the children hospitalized at the Children’s Center. She once played the violin and ran outside like any active little girl. Now, because of disease, she’s trapped inside her body, unable to speak. She remembers what her life was like before.
For eight years, Dorothy Bayles has served as chaplain to patients and staff at this facility where children like Gretchen receive care. According to Dorothy, 99% of the children do not verbalize. They communicate by looking to the right or left, or by blinking to signify yes or no. The staff uses pictures to communicate with the children.
Despite physical limitations, their connection with Jesus can go deep. During one encounter with Gretchen, Dorothy told her the story of Jesus. Before Dorothy left Gretchen’s bedside, she whispered, “God loves you and I love you.”
Later, in a therapy class, Gretchen refused to work. The therapist realized Gretchen wanted to see the chaplain. Gretchen’s question to Dorothy: How do I know God?
Many of the patients at the Children’s Center deal with loss, leading to guilt and depression. These feelings are especially true for those who remember their lives before injury or disease robbed them of the ability to move and communicate with the outside world.
So Dorothy told Gretchen, “You can put your guilt, disease, disappointment, and depression on Christ’s body or you can carry them on yours.” Gretchen chose to give her burdens to Jesus.
Gretchen’s countenance displays evidence of her life changing experience. When Dorothy tells visitors about Gretchen’s relationship with Jesus, tears of joy flow down Gretchen’s face. When asked how Jesus changed her life, Gretchen communicates: I dream about Jesus a lot.
Intercession in Difficult Seasons
Gretchen is also an intercessor. She represents many children at this hospital who have embraced prayer as a balm for their spirits and an opportunity to move beyond their limited boundaries to touch other people. These children provide special motivation for anyone experiencing illness, desperate circumstances or prolonged periods of uncertainty.
When we ourselves experience a difficult season, we can ask God to increase our desire to intercede on behalf of other people. Intercession accomplishes something powerful in the life of the intercessor. It unites our heart with God’s heart, enabling us to grow in compassion and love for others.
Intercession also provides the opportunity to actively participate in God’s Kingdom. Prayer moves beyond limitations of geography, time, and circumstances, affording us the privilege of making eternal deposits for others.
The following suggestions can help those in challenging situations to navigate meaningful intercession:
- View this season as a calling from God. He may be presenting special opportunities to you.
- Recognize that intercession doesn’t have to be long-winded or tiring. Intercession can even consist of thinking of people and asking that they experience God’s presence.
- Set aside a specific time for intercession. We can pray anytime and anywhere but designating a time to pray, accelerates our commitment to pray.
- Pray with and for people who come to visit. Your prayers together bring mutual encouragement.
- Remember that praying with others can be a phone call away. If you can, connect with people by phone and offer to pray for them. That simple act will minister to both of you!
- Consider writing a personal note to people for whom you pray. A written note allows the person to read your prayer, a Scripture verse, or a word of encouragement whenever they need strength.
My mother experienced considerable limitations during the last years of her life. From the corner of the sofa in her home, she continued to pray for her family, and for others God brought into her life, including missionaries serving around the world. Although she was sometimes homebound, her prayers carried global reach and eternal significance.
Shifting Focus from Self to Others
Dorothy describes the children she ministers to as furnaces of prayer. They operate in the priestly ministry of go-between. They stand between heaven and a need on earth to petition for a breakthrough. Intercession brings them pleasure and gives them a sense of purpose.
Dorothy leads the children to pray for themselves, their families, their friends, the facility, the chapel, and the world. These child-intercessors take their high calling seriously.
One young man, Patrick, has lived in the facility his entire life. He didn’t think God loved him, but when Dorothy asked him to pray for the hospital administration, her invitation excited him. Praying for the staff helped shift his focus from himself to others—and ultimately to God’s goodness and love.
Through the ministry of intercession, we invest in another person’s life. Intercessory prayer draws us beyond the horizons of our trouble and pain. Our investment in other people enriches us and accelerates God’s purposes on earth.
If you are a prayer leader in your church or organization, ask God to open your eyes to recognize intercessors in unexpected places. You might find them on prayer request lists. They might be homebound or in nursing homes. They might be people who have withdrawn from life as a result of tragedy or loss.
You can mentor them in prayer, strategically developing a ministry that not only encourages those with challenging illness and pain but also helps them recognize their value to the Body of Christ. Much like the children in the rehabilitation facility, a specific prayer assignment can turn a time of isolation and loneliness into a season of fruitful intercession. My friend, Beulah—now in her eighties—is a role model in prayer. She has always been an intercessor. But after her husband died suddenly, she made a life-changing decision to move from her home in South Carolina, to a small town in Georgia, near the campus of a small college.
She answered God’s call to pray for the school and for every student and faculty member. She prays for each one by name every day. Instead of allowing a season of loss to define her, she made the choice to increase her investment in others through prayer.
Embracing the Secret Place
Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:6 NKJV, emphasis mine).
The children at the rehabilitation hospital understand this truth better than we do. They live in the secret place of the shut door. Physical limitations severely limit their outward interaction, but their inner lives are rich in prayer. They are trapped in their bodies, but the Father “who is in the secret place,” dwells there with them.
Before I learned about the child intercessors in the rehabilitation center, I overlooked the promise in the middle of this verse. I recognized my responsibility to enter the secret place and shut the door, but I missed the assurance Jesus gives us. “Your Father…is in the secret place” (emphasis mine).
No matter how desperate our circumstances, we can rest in the promise of the secret place. When we shut the door, we don’t have to wonder if we will experience God’s presence. He is already there.
This is good news for everyone, but especially for those isolated because of illness. They can seize this time of decreased activity, and fewer distractions, as a time to grow closer to God. Intimacy with Him is a special gift available to all who seek Him. By His presence with us, He replaces loneliness with the privilege of partnering with Him in prayer.
His presence also gives us the assurance that we do not pray alone. When we ask God to strengthen, heal, bless, and transform, His Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Jesus—prays through us. He guides our prayers.
The Apostle Paul writes of this strength in weakness in his letter to the Romans:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with the will of God (8:26-27).
Identifying with Pain
Most of the children at the Children’s Center live with debilitating pain. Dorothy leaned over the bed of Meagan, a young girl who was obviously suffering. Praying for God to soothe Meagan’s pain and give her peace, Dorothy heard the child repeating the same words over and over: “Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me.” Meagan’s words spoke declaration, comfort, and hope over her pain.
The physical and emotional pain the children experience heightens their sensitivity to pain in others. Little Dorita cried quietly for several days. Then another girl, Michelle, prayed for her and Dorita got better. In child-like innocence, Michelle said to Dorothy, “I helped her today. Aren’t you going to say thank you to Jesus?”
If you are experiencing painful illness or injury, consider devoting a portion of your day to praying for those who are also suffering. Your place of personal difficulty allows you to intercede from a position of deep understanding and sensitivity. Pray with faith, knowing God is all-powerful and loves you—and the people you are praying for. Pray with joy and thanksgiving that God hears your prayers.
Intercessory prayer reflects God’s character of love and mercy. As we release mercy and love to others through prayer, mercy and love multiply within us. Intercession helps us reach beyond ourselves and grow in compassion for others.
Dorothy impacts the children’s lives, but they also touch hers. She says, “God invites us to a broader life. If I hurt, I pray that God will use it for his glory. Whatever pain I experience, I pray for God to help me focus my attention on prayer for others.”
Paul wrote, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). These children model this verse and inspire anyone afflicted with physical pain or painful circumstances.
Moving Beyond Limitations
Douglas, a young man living at the Children’s Center several years ago, was completely paralyzed, but verbal. A visiting chaplain, making his rounds through the halls of the Children’s Center, asked Douglas about his spiritual life.
“Do you want to know my favorite Bible verse?” Douglas replied. He then quoted: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
These children are role models of courage. Their zeal for Jesus challenges us. Their ardor for prayer convicts us. In their limitations, they teach us to look beyond the borders of our circumstances and embrace unlimited opportunities in Christ.
They model a truth that whatever season of life we are in, God’s Spirit always empowers us to partner with Him as transforming agents of intercession. Truly, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
*Some names have been changed in this article.
How are you inspired to pray?