The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Our goal through prayer must be to know God better, to experience the fullness of relationship with Him. If we are to model ourselves after Christ, we must be willing to give ourselves to prayer and fasting.

In his book, Prayer on Fire, Fred Hartley describes prayer as, “What we do. It is our initiative to meet God, whether we are asking for favors, singing in celebration, or crying out in distress. Regardless of what shape or size it comes in, prayer is our effort to engage God.” It can take many forms, including worship, confession, thanksgiving, praise, petition, waiting (silent listening), and warfare. And, the power of our relationship with God matures as we experience concentrated, prayerful devotion to others and their wellbeing. It is known as Intercessory Prayer when we spend focused time petitioning the Father for the needs of others. It may not come as a surprise to you, but the concepts of Intercession is mentioned more than 80 times in Scripture. The Hebrew word for “intercession” is paga, which means “to light upon.” The Greek equivalent, entygchano, refers to conversation with a king that involves supplication and intercession on behalf of another person. And, one of my favorites is the Greek word paracletos, which, when translated, refers to “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge” and is most closely linked to the idea of intercession as we understand it today.

Hebrews 9:15 states that “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant” and is seeking those who will intercede for others—those willing to stand in the gap. In Genesis 18:22–23, we read that Abraham stood before the Lord to intercede for Sodom. But the Masoretic Text says that the Lord stood before Abraham and asked him to intercede. According to tradition, servants stood in the presence of kings—not the other way around—so English translations of this passage often show Abraham standing before the Lord. This translation may be culturally accurate, but it prevents us from seeing the intercessory heart of our God. He is the One who stands in the gap, petitioning for mercy on behalf of humankind, despite our sin. In a sense, God is petitioning Himself on our behalf. The ultimate example of this is Jesus, who stood before God as our Intercessor when He gave Himself for us on the cross.

God also stood in the gap to intercede for the Ninevites. He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and teach those lost men and women the truth so that they could be saved from God’s judgment (Jonah 1:1–2). He wanted Jonah to be selfless and intercede for those who did not deserve it. God’s heart always seeks to intercede for us.

In the same way, we are to be imitators of the Divine Mediator. Ephesians 5:1–2 says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” As children of the living God, we must have God’s heart—a heart of mercy and perseverance. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can cry out to Him in intercession for others: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom 8:15). In Greek, Christ refers to the Father as “the sending me Father” that He might intercede on behalf of those who were doomed to perish.

Moses, Elijah, Samuel, and Nehemiah all interceded on behalf of Israel, and God heard them. One of the greatest examples of intercession took place when Moses stood before God on behalf of Israel. In Exodus 32:10, God said, “Leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them [the Israelites] and that I may destroy them.” But Moses did not give up. And because God had a relationship with Moses, He allowed Moses to state the case on behalf of the people. In Exodus 32:14, we read that “the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

The account doesn’t end there. Later, “Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written’” (Exod 32:31–32). What a model of intercession! Moses was willing to lose his eternal inheritance on behalf of his people. He was willing to die for them, despite their transgressions. King David referred to this event later in Psalm 106:23: "So [God] said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.” Like the Israelites, we deserve to die for our sin. But just as Moses interceded for them, so has Christ interceded for us.

Over and over again, God Himself seeks those who are willing to put themselves on the line on behalf of others, those who are willing to walk through the fire if needed. Isaiah 59:16 states, “He [the Lord] saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.” Similarly, Ezekiel 22:30 shows the Lord seeking an intercessor: “I looked for someone among them [the Israelites] who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

Intercessory prayer is more than simply praying a few words on behalf of someone and then moving on to other requests, never praying for that person or concern again. Intercession is pouring out our hearts for others, taking on the burden of those who are going through a trial.

[typography font="Cantarell" size="24" size_format="px"]Practicing Persistence[/typography]

First Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.” Christ gave us some great examples of this. As He was teaching His disciples to pray, He gave the following illustration:

Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within and say, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you anything”? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Luke 11:5–9, nkjv, emphasis added).

Sometime later, Jesus told His disciples the following parable:

“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:2–8, emphasis added)

In Matthew 15:21–28, a Canaanite woman who pleaded with Jesus on behalf of her daughter exemplified this kind of intercession. After Jesus had begun to turn away from her after her first cry because she was not an Israelite, she persisted, kneeling before Him and saying, “Lord, help me!” (Matt 15:25). When Jesus responded by stating, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” she did not give up, but said “Yes it is, Lord … even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt 15:26–27). And her persistence paid off; Matthew 15:28 records, “Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Matt 15:21–28).

These passages demonstrate the perseverance of those who interceded for others. Those who carried the burden of intercession did not give up. They petitioned with great passion and expectation for results. They had faith and were willing to go the distance.

If you are praying for an issue in your life, do you just say one prayer and then move on without giving it another thought? I doubt it. Your burdens are very real to you. You want answers. You want results. So you are passionate about seeking resolution. But E.M. Bounds notes that impatience is often a cause of unanswered prayer. He states, “I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God. They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them. Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s door-bell, and then running away as fast as he can go.”

When I heard that a brother in Christ with three small children at home had just been laid off from his job, I knew he was praying as he had never prayed before. He must have felt scared, vulnerable, and weak. He was right where God needed him to be—dependent on Him for answers. When we are truly broken, God can reveal Himself and do what we could never do on our own. The problem is that when we get what we want, we often forget to give Him the glory for the answer—just like the people who did not return to thank Jesus after He had healed them.

[typography font="Cantarell" size="24" size_format="px"]Aligning Our Requests to God’s Will[/typography]

My wife and I have five children. With three girls and two boys, I spend a lot of time in prayer. In addition to keeping our lives busy, they keep me in humble petition constantly. My wife has also been battling cancer for 16 years. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1997, but it wasn’t identified until it had spread beyond the thyroid and into her blood. The cancer metastasized into forms of blood cancer and was also found in her lungs and cervix. The outcome looked hopeless. During that time, I began praying as I had never prayed before.

Sadly, it is often only when tragedy strikes that we turn to the one who has been knocking on the door of our hearts the whole time. To this day, our family is still praying for my wife’s healing and waiting for God to answer, but we have never given up hope. We also recognize that my wife is in a no-lose situation: either I get to keep her and spend the rest of my life on earth with her, or she gets to start eternity with the Father earlier than I will. My prayers began to change as I started spending more time with God.

We often do not receive what we want because we do not ask; and when we ask, far too often we ask outside of God’s will (Jas 4:2–3). And so we need to learn how to pray according to God’s will. What does He want in every difficult situation? The only way to find out is to spend time with Him.

My intercession for my wife changed from just seeking her physical healing to asking God for His help to raise children who will bring honor to Him—children who will pass on a legacy of faith and be a light to the many generations to come. Now my desire is that the Lord would enable my wife and me to set a new standard for our family heritage. We did not inherit a legacy of faith from our families, but I want more than ever to pass a baton to our five children that will become a memorial, standing stone for them and their children (Deut 6; Psa 78).

Our family has matured in our relationship with the Lord through this battle with cancer, and for that I am grateful. The Scriptures remind us that we will experience hardships (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim 2:3; 4:5; Heb 11:12:7), but does that mean God turns a deaf ear to our petitions? Absolutely not! He often allows us to go through trials to refine our faith and bring us closer to Him.

If you are praying for a neighbor, a friend, a child, or even a stranger, the Holy Spirit will guide you in your intercession to focus on the areas that really need His intervention. Sometimes the need is crystal clear, but often there are other deep-rooted issues that need to be addressed by the great physician—God. We often focus on the symptoms and not on the issue causing the pain. This is where God does His greatest work in both the person praying and the individual being prayed for. When Moses prayed for Israel, I believe that God was working on him as much as He was working on Israel.

[typography font="Cantarell" size="24" size_format="px"]He Hears[/typography]

At the National Day of Prayer Task Force, we truly believe that God hears the prayers of His people and stays His holy hand of judgment on our nation, even if it means diminished punishment in contrast to what we know we deserve. We believe the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

God hears His people and responds. But here is the kicker: you may not see the answer to your prayers in your lifetime. Abraham waited 20 years (until he was around 100 years old) for the birth of Isaac in fulfillment of God’s promise. The prophets declared the coming of the Messiah, but they did not see Him with their own eyes before they died.

Remember, God is not limited to space and time. He hears our every word and knows the right time to respond. But we have to be diligent in the battle as we pray on the front lines. As James states, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16).