What is intercessory prayer?

Question: "What is intercessory prayer?"

Quite simply, intercessory prayer is the act of praying on behalf of others. The role of mediator in prayer was prevalent in the Old Testament (as in Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Hezekiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.) But Christ is pictured in the New Testament as the ultimate intercessor; and because of this all Christian prayer becomes intercession since it is offered to God through and by Christ. Jesus closed the gap between us and God when He died on the cross. He was the greatest mediator (intercessor) that ever lived. Because of this we can now intercede in prayer on behalf of other Christians, or for the lost, asking God to grant them repentance according to His will. "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:34).

A wonderful model of intercessory prayer is found in Daniel 9 as he prayed for his people who had turned away from God. It has all the elements of true intercessory prayer. It is in response to the Word (v. 2); characterized by fervency (v. 3) and self-denial (v. 4); identified unselfishly with God’s people (v. 5); strengthened by confession (v. 5-15); dependent on God’s character (vv. 4,7,9,15); and has as its goal God’s glory (vv. 16-19). Like Daniel, Christians are to come to God on behalf others in a heartbroken and repentant posture, recognizing our own unworthiness and with a sense of self-denial. Daniel doesn’t come and say, "I have a right to demand this out of You, God, because I am one of your special, chosen intercessors." He comes and says, "I'm a sinner," and, in effect, he says, "I don't have a right to demand anything." True intercessory prayer seeks to not only know God’s will and see it fulfilled, but to see it fulfilled no matter whether it benefits us and no matter what it costs us. It seeks God’s glory, not our own.

The following is only a partial list of those for whom we are all to offer up intercessory prayers: all in authority (1 Timothy 2:2); ministers (Philippians 1:19); the Church (Psalm 122:6); friends (Job 42:8); fellow countrymen (Romans 10:1); the sick (James 5:14); enemies (Jeremiah 29:7); those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44); those who forsake us (2 Timothy 4:16); and all men (1 Timothy 2:1).

There is an erroneous idea in contemporary Christianity that those who offer up intercessory prayers for others are a special class of super-Christians, called by God to a ministry of intercession. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible is clear that all Christians are called to be intercessors. All Christians have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and, just as He intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27), we are to intercede for one another. This is not a privilege limited to an exclusive Christian elite; this is the command to all. In fact, not to offer up intercession for others is sin. “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).

Certainly Peter and Paul, when asking others to intercede for them, did not limit their request to those with a special calling to intercession. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). Notice it was the whole church that prayed for him, not just those with a gift of intercession. In Ephesians 6:16-18, Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers—all of them—on the fundamentals of the Christian life. “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Clearly, intercessory prayer is part of the Christian life for all believers.

Further, Paul sought the prayer of all the Roman believers on his behalf: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30). He also urged the Colossians to intercede for him: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 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 4:2-3). Nowhere in any biblical request for intercession is there any indication whatsoever that only a certain group of people could intercede. On the contrary, those who seek others to intercede for them can use all the help they can get! The idea that intercession is the privilege and calling of only some Christians is without biblical basis. Worse, it is a destructive idea that often leads to pride, a sense of entitlement, and Gnosticism.

What a wonderful and exalted privilege we have in being able to come boldly before the throne of Almighty God with our prayers and requests. Praise Him for His incredible mercy and love!

Recommended Resource: Prayer, The Great Adventure by David Jeremiah.

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What is intercessory prayer?