How long do you think the apostle Paul’s prayer list was? He prayed for churches by name. He prayed for the Jewish people. He must have prayed for his co-workers, his enemies, the emperor, and on and on. No wonder he wrote that we should pray without ceasing. Paul prayed and asked for prayer because he knew the importance of something called intercession.
Intercession is praying with a purpose and with some passion for others. (This blog focuses on praying for people as opposed to entities such as a nation or a church or a school system.) Intercession is a privilege and an opportunity. More, it builds that community which is so important in the kingdom of God.
OK, if you and I already believe in and practice prayer for others, why this blog? Could it be that we can get into a habit of simply praying, “Lord, bless so and so today”?
Imagine for a moment how you would answer God if, when we asked Him to bless somebody, He answered, “What do you want Me to do? What do they need?” Would we be able to answer? Would we take the easy way out and ask God to act according to His will? That sounds good, but it often reflects an ignorance on our part—an ignorance of what the person needs, what she or he is going through, feeling, or even how the person is praying for himself or herself.
Certainly God knows what folks need, but intercession is privilege of praying for them. It encourages us to consider what the person wants and how God might want to work in his or her life. When we ask, “How may I pray for you?” we aren’t being nosy. People may be reluctant to talk about their situation and we want to respect their privacy, but we need some guidance only they can give. For instance, when someone asks us to pray that God would heal their family, what do they want from God? What person, relationship, or need in the family needs God’s touch?
Besides praying with knowledge and godly wisdom, sometimes the Spirit may show us how to be part of the answer to prayer. We may have resources we can use to help. We may have had experiences God leads us to share. For instance, when we discover a person needs a job, we may have contacts that will let us be part of God’s answer. Or, we may know very well what it feels like to be unemployed and so are able to pray for the discouragement, even fear, that rises in the heart.
We are not automatically the answer to another person’s prayer. Often, despite conversations with others, we still don’t know exactly how to pray in a given situation. We are able, though, to pray more deeply, more lovingly for and with the person. We are able to lay out before God our desire and theirs in specific terms, always leaving open the option that God may have a different goal and method. God’s way and purposes are always better—that’s the reason we pray for God’s will to be done—after we have shared our best thoughts and desires with Him. For example, while we want to pray for physical healing when a friend is ill, the experience of illness can bring them to a level of humility that everyday life does not teach.
Intercession is not new or complicated. It is a privilege you and I have enjoyed as we have prayed for others and as we have asked folks to pray for us. That privilege is part of the community God intends for us to enjoy here and on into eternity. What could bring us together more now as brothers and sisters in Christ than coming before the Lord together in prayer?