How to Pray for Others

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Exodus 32:31-32

Christians are called to lives of service, to turn outward and help those in need around us. And of all the ways we can serve, the most powerful is through intercessory prayer.

Father Abraham, Moses, the prophet Elijah, the apostle Paul: what do these remarkable leaders from biblical times all have in common? Each is a man of towering greatness, to whom God appeared in a striking way. All were shapers of history who came to prominence at key points in the unfolding of God’s purpose. Each was noteworthy in faith and obedience to God.

But all of these were distinguished also by the marked way in which they prayed for others – sometimes for relatives, sometimes for new converts and fellow believers, sometimes for their nation or the wider church, sometimes for the unbelieving world. They prayed prodigiously for others; they were intercessors. That may have been the most significant factor in their leadership and lasting influence.

I want to single out one of them today, Moses, as a model for us in this ministry. How are we to pray for others? As this giant of a leader did; with concern for God’s name, with appeal to his promises and with self-commitment. It may well be that, like Moses, you and I will do more for God’s people and God’s cause in this world by our prayers than by any other means.

WITH CONCERN FOR GOD’S NAME

Moses prayed for his people as one devoted to God. That was the deepest motivation for his prayer. It was a time of trouble when God’s people had lapsed into idolatry and covered themselves with shame. They were ripe for judgment and the Lord had said to Moses,

I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.

Deuteronomy 9:13-14

How would Moses react to that stunning proposal? God spoke of destroying the children of Israel and beginning again with the descendants of Moses. All that Moses had to do was hold his peace, consent to this happening, and he himself would become the progenitor of the chosen people. God has said in effect, “Let me alone and this will happen.” Only Moses’ pleas on their behalf could possibly make a difference. What would he do?

Here is the prayer he prayed:

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”?

Exodus 32:11,12 nrsv

Do you catch the point of those questions? Why will God destroy the people he has led forth from bondage? What then will their former oppressors say?

The answer seemed plain to Moses. The Egyptians and the rest of the unbelieving world would say that God had only brought his people out of Egypt and into the wilderness to vent his wrath upon them. Their reprieve had been brief indeed. All would agree that Israel had been delivered from bondage only to be executed in the wasteland.

Now Moses could not bear the thought of that. If God wiped out the people whom he had redeemed, who would believe in his love and faithfulness, his saving purpose? Here is Moses, jealous for God’s reputation with a passion we can hardly imagine, “Don’t do it,” he seems to say, “lest your character be maligned and your name dishonored.” And this from a man who would have been personally secure in any event, and who would seem to gain eminence from Israel’s destruction. But what absorbs his interest is God’s great name.

In this, he is like many another leader of the Lord’s people. Think of Joshua when he and his armies tasted defeat at Ai. Joshua rent his clothes, fell to the earth on his face and cried in anguish,

“Ah, Lord God! Why have you brought this people across the Jordan at all, to hand us over to the Amorites so as to destroy us? . . . The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”

Joshua 7:7,9 nrsv

It’s the same concern, isn’t it? “Lord, don’t let your people go down to disaster and defeat. They are yours and the watching world knows it. What will they think of you, Lord? What will they say? Don’t let your name and fame be dishonored in the earth.” David, and others of the psalmists, prayed like that too. So did Elijah. So did Daniel. And supremely, so did our Lord. “Father, glorify Thy name” was the heart of all his praying. And he told his followers to make this their first petition, “Our Father who art in heaven, let your name be hallowed” (Matt. 6:9). That is, “Let your name be honored and praised, revealed as glorious.”

Apparently we love others best when we seek God’s glory first. We pray for others with the purest passion when what we prize most is that God should be praised.

If you want to be an intercessor then, begin as a believer. Trust in the God who has made himself known, who has revealed his name and glory, supremely in Jesus Christ. Commit your life to him. Respond to his love with your whole heart and then you will be ready to appeal to him for others.

WITH APPEAL TO GOD’S PROMISES

Secondly, when you pray for others, base your appeal on what God has promised. That’s what Moses did when he prayed for the people. Listen:

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”

Exodus 32:13 rsv

Here Moses is simply reciting back to God his own words. This is God’s pledge. Moses says, “Remember, Lord, your oath and covenant.”

That is powerful pleading. The saints of God have prayed like that in every age. When King David had received a promise that God would build a dynasty for him, he prayed this prayer:

“And now, O Lord God, confirm for ever the word which thou hast spoken concerning thy servant and concerning his house, and do as thou hast spoken; and thy name will be magnified for ever. . . .”

2 Samuel 7:25,26 rsv

Did you hear that? “Do as you have spoken.”
To pray effectively for others, we need a promise. It is good that we should care for people, noble that we should wish them well. But what assurance does that bring that our prayers for them will be answered? Does our wanting something make it so? Does our wish shape the universe? Obviously not. It is only when we can appeal to God’s revealed character, only when we can base our faith on what he has pledged himself to do, that our prayers become mighty and prevailing.

How can I pray with assurance, for example, for the spiritual welfare, the final blessedness of my children? Naturally I want the best for them. They’re my offspring. But what is infinitely more significant is the promise of God to be a God to me and to my children. It is because he has promised to pour out his Spirit upon our seed, his blessing upon our descendants that we can pray for them with joyous confidence, “Oh God, do as you have spoken. . . . Remember your promise and touch the hearts of our sons and daughters!”

How can I pray with real heart and hope for a friend who doesn’t know Christ? Because I believe God himself has placed that concern within me, and because I read in his Word that he is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Here we meet one of the distinctive marks of biblical religion. It is anchored in a revealed word. The prophets and apostles are not in doubt about God’s character. Though he is the sovereign Lord, his will is never arbitrary. He does not rule by whim. He keeps covenant. He can be counted on to fulfill his promises. We bring the needs of others to him with deep trust because he has made himself known as a compassionate Lord. When we pray for God to seek and save lost ones, to keep and bless his own, we’re appealing to a Father’s heart. And when we say, “Remember the word you have spoken,” we are certain of being heard.

Search the Scriptures then to know God’s heart and what he has committed himself to do for people. Then base your prayers for them on his word. That’s how to pray for others, pleading God’s promise.

WITH SELF-COMMITMENT

Now for the third element, a vital one. To pray with integrity for other people we must commit ourselves on their behalf. Listen to this crowning prayer of Moses for wayward Israel:

Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.

Exodus 32:31, nrsv

Here, in effect, was Moses’ answer to what God had proposed: “Oh, God, forgive them. Oh, God, restore them. God, have mercy on them. And if not, if not, let there be no special treatment for me. They are my people to live with and die with. If their names are to be erased from your book, Oh Lord, then blot out mine too.” Here’s a poignant glimpse of what intercession really means: identification with those for whom we pray. Moses was ready if it had to be so, to sacrifice himself on behalf of the people.

It is a sacred, awesome thing to pray for others as Moses did. For him the prayer was also a kind of vow. He gave himself to God on behalf of the people to be instrumental in his prayer being answered, even if it cost him his life. Do you think about that when you pray for others? Do I? That, after all, is what gives a prayer genuineness. How can I pray sincerely for starving people unless I offer of my own resources for them to be fed? How can I pray for my children to grow in the knowledge of the Lord if I make no effort to see that they are taught in the things of God? And how can I pray with my whole heart that some other person may know Christ if I am not ready and available to be God’s instrument in winning them? In every genuine prayer for someone else, we say in effect, “Here I am, Lord, make me a part of the answer. Lord, enrich them, no matter what it may cost me.”

Moses, the intercessor for Israel, points us to Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and men. His giving of himself for the rebellious Israelites points us to the Lord’s total offering for the sins of the world. Jesus is the intercessor to whom all others bear witness. He is the one consumed with zeal for the Father’s name, who glorifies him on the earth. He is the one who lives by faith, who pleads the Father’s promises for all his own. And, to save those for whom he prays, he gives himself up to death. Now, crucified and risen and exalted to the Father’s right hand, he makes prayer for others his crowning work. As the writer to the Hebrews bears witness, he “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). When you and I give ourselves to pray for others, we not only march in a great company; we have fellowship with our living Lord.

You’ve heard these words of Tennyson perhaps many times, “More things are wrought by prayer that this world dreams of.” But have you pondered what follows? “Wherefore let thy voice rise like a fountain for me night and day. For what are men better than sheep or goats, that nourish a blind life within the brain, if knowing God, they lift not hands in prayer, both for themselves and for those who call them friend?” For the poet, prayer to the living God is not only secretly and wondrously effective; it is also the badge of our humanness. To lift our hands and hearts to God for one another is to fulfill our destiny as loving human beings and to show our family likeness to the incarnate Son. Lord, make us intercessors! Show us how to pray for a lifetime for others!