What is intercessory prayer? Let’s break this down. To intercede for someone means to “intervene on behalf of another.” Prayer is communication with God. Intercessory prayer, therefore, is communicating with God on behalf of another. Why does this matter?
The Importance of Intercessory Prayer
I confess: I have an easy time praying for myself, and a much more difficult time laboring in prayer for others. It’s not that I don’t pray for others. I do. Often. It’s just that, because of my sinful nature, I’d much rather pray for myself and exert a lot of energy praying for my needs before I bring up the needs of others in prayer. Intercessory prayer is something I need to grow in, too.
I once heard of a couple of guys who started an intercessory prayer ministry at their church. Not sure if it lasted long, but they gave it a shot. During the church service — the worship, the sermon, etc. — they would go into a room in the church and pray on behalf of the preacher and the congregants and guest attendees that day. They petitioned to God on behalf of others which I think lasted the entire service (or at least a chunk of it). Praying for others — this is the heart of intercessory prayer.
When we talk about praying for others, we usually do so because they have some sort of need (health issue, medical issue, etc.). These sorts of prayer often dominate when “prayer requests” are brought up at small groups and other church-sponsored events. We are almost always inclined to pray for people we love.
But what about your enemies? What about the people who annoy you? Do you pray for them?
My Experience with Intercessory Prayer
I wish I was quicker to forgive than I am. I understand that in Christ all of my sins are forgiven — past, present, and future — and that I am called to forgive others. But this is not always easy.
Years ago, I had some small relational frustrations with a few people. Perhaps they sinned against me, but it was only moderate. It wasn’t a big deal. But I made it one. I had a hard time forgiving them. I read a book on conflict. It was helpful, but not enough. I talked to others about it. This was beneficial. I tried a lot of things to get past this slight frustration, but the one thing that helped me more than anything was prayer.
In particular, the one thing that helped me more than anything was praying for the persons who offended me. Over time — by God’s grace — I was healed. Prayer played a huge part in this. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”
As sinners who are called to live deeply in community, we’re going to hurt one another. One of the best ways to get past slight grievances when living in a Christian community is to pray for the person who offended you.
I’m not talking here about major offenses like sexual harassment and racism. Instead, I’m talking about those little annoyances in life that we all experience as a result of living in community. I’m talking about the times where you don’t have to call the police, alert the elders, and take serious action. In the moments when someone commits a minor offense against you (and they may not even know it), you can talk to them, overlook it (Proverbs 19:11), talk to others, and read about it. These are all helpful options. But none is more powerful than prayer. Intercessory Prayer is a powerful tool in the church today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Intercessory Prayer
I finished Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s excellent book, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community for the second time recently. In the book he discusses intercessory prayer:
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face . . . may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory Prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise that it will gain its goal.”
He adds, “To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in his mercy.”
Are You Willing to Intercede for Others?
Gossip and slander . . . these are things that can divide the church. They are big sins. But it usually doesn’t start this way. Typically, it starts with a small offense that one is not able to forgive. And over time, it becomes a big offense that destroys the church.
Are you holding a grudge toward a brother or sister for whom Christ died? Is there someone in your midst who you try to avoid when they’re around? Pray for them. Take it to the throne of grace. Ask God to change your heart and seek to love that difficult person. After all, you too are one of them.
Intercessory Prayer is not just about praying for the latest medical and financial needs in your community. It’s also about praying for people you don’t like, people who bother you. Jesus tells you that you will have enemies and you should pray for them (Matthew 5:44). So the next time someone in your church annoys you, will you be willing to intercede on their behalf?
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