READ : Luke 11:3-8
And when you pray for other people, you’re inclined in all kinds of quiet ways to express love for them.
You know what intercession means. It’s simply praying for someone else. What a holy art this is! For myself, one of my great ambitions in life is to be a true and faithful intercessor. And for you who hear my voice today, I crave this. I think if just this body of believers who are touched by this broadcast today would become lifelong intercessors, the effects for God’s kingdom would be enormous. All hell would be shaken, and all heaven would celebrate.
I want to say several things about intercession today. It’s obeying God’s call. It’s fellowship with Jesus Christ. It’s a costly commitment. It nudges us toward other kinds of ministry. It’s a beautiful expression of love. It’s love saying its prayers.
OBEYING GOD’S CALL
All right, first, intercession is obeying God’s call. When Jesus teaches us to pray and gives us this marvelous prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer, he doesn’t say, “Give me my daily bread” or “Forgive me” or “Don’t lead me into temptation.” But it’s always, “Give us. Forgive us. Do not lead us into temptation.” Jesus teaches that we cannot ask for ourselves a blessing we do not want for others as well. We always pray as part of a community.
Remember that parable of the persistent knocker who’s seeking bread? He goes out at midnight to knock on someone’s door and try to get some food because a friend of his has arrived and he has nothing to set before him. And at first the man inside says:
Don’t bother me. The door is shut. My children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.
But Jesus says,
Truly I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
Now it’s a parable about persistence (that we’ll talk about a little later in this series), but it’s also a story about praying for someone else. The man goes out to seek bread not for himself but for his friend. That’s our calling too.
We’re called to pray for all people, for all rulers. Remember how Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says:
I exhort that supplications, prayer, intercessions, giving of thanks be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in authority so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Now note the effects of that. Prayer for rulers, for presidents, for kings and queens, for prime ministers, for dictators, has effect in enabling the people who live under those regimes to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. In other words, far-reaching effects arise from praying for our leaders. We’re called to have a heart as wide as the world.
And then remember how Paul in Ephesians 6 calls us to pray for all saints, for all believers throughout the world, and for those who proclaim the gospel that they may do it clearly and boldly and faithfully. Again you hear believers saying what Paul says when he writes to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” So the call comes from the Lord himself, from the word of the gospel, from our brothers and sisters who appeal to us, that we are to be an interceding people. It’s God’s call.
FELLOWSHIP WITH JESUS
The second thing I want you to note about praying for others is that it involves fellowship with Jesus. He is the true intercessor. Remember how he prayed for his followers all night, the night before he chose the twelve? We can only imagine how much of that night’s prayer was devoted to praying for these men who would be his special ambassadors.
We hear how he says to Peter when Peter is about to have his great life collapse:
Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you that he might sift you as wheat but I’ve prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
He’s always praying for these his followers, aware of their vulnerability, aware of their weakness, pleading for them that even when they go down they won’t stay down.
And we hear him in his great high priestly prayer praying for these whom the Father has given him out of the world and then praying for all of us who will believe in him through their Word.
He prays on the cross for the very people who torment and torture him, “Father, forgive them.”
And the Scriptures tell us that now risen, exalted, reigning on the throne of the universe, he ever lives to intercede for his people. So when we are intercessors, when we are truly praying people, we are entering into the ministry of Jesus.
Charles Whiston has a wonderful book on prayer. In it he pictures himself as coming before God, coming before the great exalted figure of Jesus Christ. Here is the towering Lord looking out over the world, and this small believer draws near. Then the Lord takes him by the shoulders and turns him around so that he’s facing that world. And as he looks out on the world of people in all their aching need and lostness, in all their sin and distress, he hears behind him the words of Jesus praying for them. As he listens and as he hears, he begins to sense that passion and echo that prayer. He enters into the heart and intercession of Jesus Christ.
The great work of the Holy Spirit, friends, is to bring us into this vital union with Jesus so that his life, his power, and his love flow through us. His prayers begin to be prayed in us and through us. So it’s God’s call to us. It’s fellowship with Jesus Christ.
A COSTLY COMMITMENT
And the third thing I want you to see is that praying for others is a costly kind of commitment. Like all prayer, it first requires repentance. The psalmist says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.” Peter tells us that if a husband doesn’t treat his wife considerately his prayers will be hindered. And we’re told that if we don’t have a forgiving spirit, we short-circuit our own prayers for God’s pardon.
But intercession also involves a promise and a risk. The promise is that if we pray for someone else, we will do all that we can to see that prayer answered. And the risk is that the task may be something difficult, even dangerous, and sacrificial on our part. In other words, when we pray for people, we put our lives on the line.
Now you can see how that must be so. How can I pray for the hungry of the world with any integrity if I’m not willing to share some of my own bread? How can I pray for my neighbor to become a believer if I make no effort to share the gospel with such persons to invite them to church or to put Christian literature in their hands? In other words, when I pray, I throw my life into the breach and offer myself to God to be a part of his answer in any way that he chooses. So it is a costly commitment. As you see in Moses, he’s ready to go down with all the people and not save himself. Paul can express the fact that he would be willing somehow to be accursed from Christ if others could be won. But for those people it was only saying or promising the ultimate commitment. For Jesus himself, it was praying for us to be saved and then offering himself to die so that could be possible. What a costly commitment!
NUDGES US TOWARD MINISTRY
And then think of how intercession nudges us toward ministry. It’s a key to many other good things. For example, when you pray for enemies, people you have trouble liking, you begin to see them through new eyes, don’t you? Feeling follows action. If we injure someone, we dislike them even more. If we help them, we tend to care about them more than we did before. Intercession, praying for other people, stirs us up to good works.
I can remember many occasions when praying for another person has inclined me to write a note to them, make a phone call, perhaps give an apology, pay a visit, send a gift. It’s like every other form of prayer: praise, thanks, confession, commitment, praying for God’s name, kingdom and will. We do it for his sake. But in the process we’re transformed. When we praise we become more God-centered people. When we thank God, we become more grateful, happy people. When we offer ourselves to the Lord, we become a more dedicated people. And when we pray for other people, we’re inclined in all kinds of quiet ways to express love for them.
LOVE SAYING ITS PRAYERS
And that’s the final thing I want to say about intercession. It is love saying its prayers, maybe the greatest service you ever render to others. I was in a prayer conference a while ago where intercession was one of the subjects to be considered. Someone said, “No, I’m not going to that seminar. That’s not my gift.” Well, maybe they’re saying they don’t have a special kind of inclination toward this, but it’s almost like saying “Love is not my gift” because praying for others is simply an expression of love.
It’s hidden but it’s powerful. “The effectual fervent prayer of God’s people avails much” (James 5:16). Think of the power that’s given to you as a believer in Jesus Christ to be a channel through which the blessing of God touches other people. To be a kind of usher – you’re not a very significant person in yourself but one who brings others into the presence of the Lord to be touched by his grace, to receive his blessing. This truly is love saying its prayers.
Remember that verse in the Proverbs, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do it” (Prov. 3:27). We all are obligated to do what good we can to people when we have the opportunity. This is supremely true of prayer. I love these familiar words: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. 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.” (Alfred Lord Tennyson, Morte D’Arthur)
Now this is a call, friends, to commitment because every time you hear the word, it’s not something just to entertain you or leave you saying, “Isn’t this interesting?” Truth is in order to godliness. The Word of God is a summons to action, to some commitment. John Wesley, the busiest man, I suppose, of his time, used to take a half hour late every afternoon just for intercession. You can start where you are. Just give five or ten minutes a day and you’re on the way. Your interceding will grow like a muscle. Your heart will expand, and your love will grow. You’ll become more and more an intercessor. And all your lifetime you’ll embody this: “love saying its prayers.”