Intercessory prayer is the label applied to a special type of prayer experience. It is focused on a particular issue, person or persons. The purpose of intercessory prayer is to “pray until something happens.” God provides the answer in His own way and with His own timing.
What is intercession?
Intercession is a word that means to ask in favor of another. Intercession is related to words like plea and supplication.
- The subject of intercessory prayer is not yourself but someone or something else. You might pray for a friend by name who needs to get off drugs. You might pray for a specific problem to be resolved. If you pray that your friend will somehow get a car so she can take her baby to the doctor — that’s an intercessory prayer! If you pray for a car for yourself, that’s a personal prayer request, not an intercessory prayer.
What does the Bible say about intercessory prayer?
The Bible gives us instructions about intercessory prayer. When we humans pray an intercessory prayer, we do the best we know how. Here’s what happens next:
- The Holy Spirit takes our intercessory prayers and presents them to the Father: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
- James 5:16 tells us that those who pray an intercessory prayer must do so with a certain attitude and depth of spirituality: “. . . Pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Here’s a biblical example of intercessory prayer:
- Abraham offered an intercessory prayer in an attempt to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. He suggested a quota of “righteous people” in the city that the Lord would accept. He persisted – “pray until something happens” – and lowered the quota each time he got an affirmative answer from the Lord. Finally, Abraham’s quota got reduced to just 10 people in the cities. He could only find four – all relatives of his. Nevertheless, the Lord still answered Abraham’s intercessory prayer and saved those four. Genesis 18 and 19.
How to intercede
Intercessory prayer is a wholehearted petition to the Lord about something or someone.
- You don’t have to be “perfect” to pray an intercessory prayer, but the Bible indicates that the Lord listens to the “fervent prayer of a righteous person,” and that prayer “avails much” (James 5:16).
- A prayer partnership is particularly effective when praying for a long-term request or complex problem. When one intercessor grows weary, another can encourage the other and help shoulder more of the burden.
- Some make intercessory prayer almost a kind of magical formula. According to them, if you intercede for someone, God must answer the prayer in the way you expect. That is not correct.
- Some have the idea that if a priest, for instance, prays for someone, God will work a miracle because God must obey the priest. That is also not true.
Who should intercede?
General prayer for everyone is more like a general supplication or a petition. It is not really an intercessory prayer.
- The Bible has some instructions about the process of general prayer: “. . . praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
Nevertheless, sometimes we do find ourselves in a crisis situation where a lot of people are involved. In this case, intercessory prayer may take in more than one specific person or situation.
Who should we intercede for?
For instance, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “intercede” for rulers on behalf of often-persecuted Christians:
- “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).
What does all this have to do with me?
- You can offer intercessory prayers for your friends or family members.
- You can join an intercessory prayer group that is praying for specific people or some specific issue.
- You can form an intercessory prayer group with your children in your home and at the same time teach them how to pray.
- You can participate, individually or with a group, in what is called a “prayer walk ministry.” This group walks around a chosen part of a town or neighborhood and offers intercessory prayers for the residents and prays that doors will open for Bible studies and religious conversations.