Intercessory Prayer

Prepared by Colette Williams

Intercession is praying for another person or situation.  It can be as broad as praying for the needs of a friend or praying to change the spiritual climate of our nation.  Author Jack Hayford states that “prayer is essentially a partnership of the redeemed child of God working hand in hand with God toward the realisation of his redemptive purposes on earth.”

The Bible builds up a picture of us as intermediaries between God and other people, praying for them, ‘standing in the gap’ for them[i], and representing them before God.  This is part of our priestly role[ii] – an amazing privilege of working in partnership with God for the sake of his people.

God wants us to ask…

God, as sovereign, can do anything he wants, but it seems that he requires us to ask.  The most direct reference is from James, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”[iii] And even when we know what God wants to do, he still requires us to ask.  In the Lord’s Prayer we are instructed to pray, “…your kingdom come”, even though that is obviously the desire of God’s heart.  Jesus told his followers to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field”[iv].  This is without doubt crucial to the spreading of the gospel and Jesus’ ongoing mission through us, but he still wants us to ask.  John Wesley boldly states that “God does nothing on the earth save in answer to believing prayer.”  If we get complacent and forget to pray, our relationship with God and our mission to his people are seriously compromised.

So how can we pray effectively for the needs God places on our heart?  Scripture is full of guidelines to help us.

–          We must pray in faith.[v] Jesus’ extravagant claim about moving mountains into the sea (a metaphor for overcoming great difficulties) was based on faith.  When Jesus says that we need faith like a mustard seed, he is making a point, not about its size, but its potential for growth.  Our faith grows as we meditate on God’s word until it takes root in our heart.[vi] It also grows as we see God in action and learn that he can be trusted.  Sometimes we just know that we don’t have sufficient faith to believe for what we’re asking.  Rosalind Rinker[vii] talks about ‘faith-sized requests’, e.g. if we are praying for the salvation of our neighbour, we might ask God to provide an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.  Then, when God answers that faith-sized prayer it gives us confidence to ask and believe for bigger things.  Ultimately, Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith”[viii] so let’s ask him to make our faith grow.

–          The amazing promises of Jesus about answered prayer are for those who are “in Christ”, and for those who ask in his name.[ix] When we are in close relationship with God through Jesus’ work on the Cross and the Holy Spirit lives within us, using the name of Jesus gives us authority to come before God[x] with our requests, and to pray according to his nature and will.   And only within that relationship can we hope to have the growing faith necessary for answered prayer.

–          Another important factor to remember is that sin separates us from God, so we need to make sure that there is no unconfessed sin blocking our communication.[xi] Part of ensuring that we have a clean slate before God, is forgiving people who may have hurt us.  Jesus makes the connection between prayer and forgiving others as he teaches us, “…when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him…”[xii]

–          Jesus also teaches the need for persistence in prayer. In the parable of the friend at midnight[xiii], the caller is rewarded because of his persistence.  “Ask, and it will be given to you” can be translated as “ask, and keep on asking”.   How many times do our prayers go unanswered because we give up too soon?  If our faith is strong we will keep on praying, regardless of how outward circumstances appear.

–          Praise is an often overlooked factor when thinking about prayer. When the disciples were forbidden to talk about Jesus, they went immediately to prayer[xiv].  But they began with praise to God, asserting his majesty and power, and only then did they bring their request.  This simple act of praise reinforces our faith, and gladdens God’s heart.

–          Another big factor is praying according to God’s will. But how can we know God’s will?

One of the major ways is to know what scripture says, and so we all need to be lifelong students of the Bible.  If we know that what we are asking is within God’s will, we can pray with faith and diligence.  We can pray with perfect confidence for the salvation of our loved ones, knowing that Jesus’ mission was to seek and save the lost, which hasn’t changed.  We can also pray with confidence for healing – “by his wounds you have been healed”[xv].  When Jesus ministered to the sick, he healed them all,[xvi] and there is no record of any discrimination.  This is of no comfort to people who have prayed for loved ones who eventually died, and many questions remain.  Apart from there being “a time to be born, and a time to die”[xvii] perhaps some of the other factors mentioned earlier might come into play here.  We also need to remember that we are holistic beings, and sometimes there are spiritual or emotional problems that need to be addressed and healed before we can deal with the physical problem.

We are encouraged to pray in the Spirit at all times,[xviii] and this is very helpful when we don’t know how to pray.  The Holy Spirit can guide our prayers when we ask him, so they become what God wants and not what we want.  People with the gift of tongues as a prayer language find it very helpful in such situations.  The Holy Spirit prays through them, so they know they are praying God’s will.  And the Holy Spirit can “intercede for us with groans that words cannot express”[xix] When all else fails, we can simply and sincerely pray that God’s will be done.

In praying for the salvation of others there is always an element of spiritual conflict, because we are trying to rescue people from the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of light.[xx] But we needn’t be afraid of this, because Satan is a defeated enemy.  So, “don’t be afraid…  Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”[xxi]

Finally we are encouraged to intercede for the spiritual wellbeing of our nation and our neighbourhood, and for our mission to these people.  God tells us that, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”[xxii] This responsibility belongs to us, as God’s people, not the ones for whom we are praying.  Our new practice of prayer walking will help to change the spiritual climate of our neighbourhood and enhance our mission.

In Paul’s letters to the churches, he assures them of his ongoing prayers for the work they are doing, and solicits their prayers for his ministry.  So prayer for Christian leaders and workers, and for those in mission, should be part of our regular lifestyle.

Thus we have a whole smorgasbord of exciting opportunities to partner with God in bringing his will to fruition in the lives of many people.  Prayer is a ministry for which we will never grow too old or too frail.  So let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, and watch God at work!

[i]  Ezekiel 22:30,31
[ii] 1 Peter 2:5
[iii] James 4:2
[iv] Matthew 9:38
[v] Mark 11:22-24, James 1:6
[vi] Romans 10:17
[vii] Prayer, Conversing with God by Rosalind Rinker
[viii] Hebrews 12:2
[ix] John 15:7, 16:23,24
[x] Hebrews 4:16
[xi] Psalm 66:18, James 5:16b
[xii] Mark 11:25
[xiii] Luke 11:5-10
[xiv] Acts 4:18-31
[xv] 1 Peter 2:24, James 5:14-16
[xvi] Matthew 4:23,24 & 8:16,17
[xvii] Ecclesiastes 3:2
[xviii] Ephesians 6:18
[xix] Romans 8:26,27
[xx] Colossians 1:13
[xxi] Nehemiah 4:14
[xxii] 2 Chronicles 7:14