What is intercessory prayer? At first look this seems like some big, weird terminology for some fancy type of prayer. But in reality, you are most likely already doing intercessory prayer, even if you don’t realise it! So today I want to dig into what is intercessory prayer and why do we do it?
What is intercessory prayer?
Taken back to the bare bones, intercessory prayer is the act of praying for other people, interceding on their behalf, standing in the gap between them and God. This is our BIG prayers: an end to coronavirus, peace in Syria, a friend to be healed from a terminal illness, an infertile woman to conceive a child. But it’s also our day-to-day prayers (note that I didn’t say smaller prayers). It’s praying that a friend will have a good day at work, it’s praying that your child will have less tantrums today, it’s praying for the work your colleagues are doing.
So, why do we do intercessory prayer?
I think there are three main reasons why we intercede on behalf of the people around us. Or at least, they are reasons we should pray for other people!
Firstly, I think to some degree intercessory prayer is a natural response to loving other people and caring for their wellbeing. When something disastrous happens around the world, you will see everyone from church leaders to political leaders to your non-Christian friends tweeting that their “sending their thoughts and prayers” or #prayfor *insert place* will be trending everywhere. Personally, I think it naturally follows that when we see something so unexplainably awful as a natural disaster or terror attack, and there’s nothing we can do about it, then we turn to something that is bigger than ourselves – we turn to God in prayer.
The Bible tells us to
Honestly, the Bible tells us to pray other people quite a lot! There are times when we are directed to remember certain groups of people in our prayers, as well as the more general calls for us to pray for “all people”.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”1 Timothy 2:1-2
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”Jeremiah 29:7
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”James 5:14-16
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”Matthew 5:44
We can see from these passages in the Bible that intercessory prayer is something we are called to do. It is not something just for a special few who are somehow particularly good at prayer. If we look at many of Paul’s letters, we see him actively asking the churches he writes to to pray for him. He doesn’t just ask the leaders of the church, or a specific group, but the whole church.
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel”Ephesians 6:19
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”Colossians 4:3
Another key place in the Bible where we see this direction to intercessory prayer is in Luke 11, when Jesus introduces the disciples to the Lord’s Prayer.
“He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”Luke 11:2-4
This prayer is Jesus’ response to being asked to teach the disciples how to pray, so it is a wonderful resource for us to use.. This prayer includes a number of different types of prayer: we can see confession & asking for forgiveness, we can see prayers of petition asking for their individual needs, we can see prayers of praise to God. But the other thing we can see is the phrase “your kingdom come”. Praying for God’s kingdom to come across the Earth. This is a prayer for the whole world, an example of intercessory prayer.
Prayer changes things
The final reason that we choose to pray for others, and to intercede on their behalf through intercessory prayer, is because we know that prayer makes a difference. It changes things. It works. We know that God hears our prayers. We also know that with God, nothing is impossible. He is capable of far more than we could possibly imagine. Therefore any prayer that we could think of – none of them are too big, or too much, or too crazy.
I have heard so many stories of the power of intercessory prayer. I’ve seen my own prayers for other people answered in amazing ways. I know that praying makes a difference – so why wouldn’t I pray?
We also know that God wants us to bring our prayers for other people before him.
“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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14
I hope this blog post has helped to give you a good understanding of what intercessory prayer is. In a few weeks time I will be sharing my top tips for praying for other people. Be sure to keep an eye out for that post. Or subscribe to my email list to keep up to date with all of my content!