interceding in prayer

©2020 michael martin | ask@lifefellowship.org

defining intercession

definition of “intercede”

To intervene on behalf of another.

Synonyms include mediate, negotiate, arbitrate, etc.

A lawyer’s job is to intercede for his/her client, representing the client when coming before the judge. In this role, the lawyer will speak on behalf of the client with the goal of attaining the best physical outcome for the client.

interceding in prayer

Not unlike an attorney, we are told in Scripture to intercede for others by way of prayer. But unlike an attorney, who intercedes for his client based upon the client’s merits, (or the lack of evidence against the client) we, as sinful humans, have already been found guilty by the Righteous Judge.

No case can be made for any of us based upon our merits, and the evidence against us is staggering. For all of us, the “guilty” verdict has already been rendered.

So, what does that leave for us? How can we possibly speak for ourselves, much less intercede for others?

by the grace of God...

By the grace of God, humanity has always had the ability to pray to the Righteous Judge. God listens to us because, despite our guilt, He loves us. And so, those who earnestly seek God will find Him.

We can talk to God!

In this study, we will explore this concept, especially as it pertains to interceding and praying for others.

my notes:

intercession for the temporal

As sinful humans, we’re awfully short-sighted. It’s difficult for us to think much beyond our current circumstances. As a result, perhaps the main thing that most people pray for is comfort, both for ourselves and for others.

praying for relief and comfort for others

Think about it. When someone is sick, we pray for healing. When someone is out of work, we pray for a job. That’s great, and we certainly see examples of this in Scripture:

1 kings 13:4-6

When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. 5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the Lord.

6 Then the king said to the man of God, “Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” So the man of God interceded with the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.

my notes:

1 samuel 7:7-11

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.

In both of these cases, God responded to the prayers of His prophets, resulting in deliverance from things that brought discomfort. But we should ask, was comfort the end goal?

my notes:

should we pray for comfort?

Sure, but that’s not the primary thing we should pray for–either for ourselves or for others.

In the Scripture passages we just examined, man’s comfort was actually only a side effect of the primary goal for prayer. The real goal was to display God’s power for the benefit of those who witnessed it.

Comfort, then, was not the goal. God’s glory and man’s welfare were the goals, as we will also see in this next famous example:

exodus 32:30-32

The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

When Israel sinned against God by making and worshiping a golden calf, Moses interceded with God to not destroy them. This was not simply to get the sinful Israelites off the hook. It was to serve the best interests of bringing God glory among the onlooking nations. And for the Israelites who sinned, it was a painful but gracious reminder to honor the Lord. Comfort wasn’t the main goal. God’s glory and Israel’s welfare were the goals.

comfort isn’t always the best thing

If a young child puts his hand on a hot stovetop, should we pray that he doesn’t feel the pain?

If this child doesn’t feel the pain, he won’t realize that his hand is burning. But if he feels the pain, unpleasant as it is, he will realize his need to remove his hand from the stovetop.

Our prayers, then, should not merely be to take away the pain and discomfort felt by other people, but rather for them to respond to their pain to draw them closer to God.

The relationship with God must be the primary thing that we pray for, with comfort being a secondary concern. In fact, true comfort (certainly for eternity and often here on earth) will come as a result of a better relationship with God!

james 5:17-18

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

In this example, Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain in order to cause Israel to reckon their sin and their need to turn back to God. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was beneficial.

When the people of Israel finally prostrated themselves and acknowledged God as the One True God, Elijah prayed for the skies to be opened, which not only brought comfort, but also further displayed God’s power.

do we pray for others so we can be comfortable?

Praying for other people is a good thing. But, it’s not always as good of a thing as it should be. When we pray for something or someone, we should always consider our motives:

james 4:2-3

You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

As we intercede for other people, our motives must be examined. Are we truly praying for others for their benefit, or just so that our lives will get better?

the wrong motives for intercession

Q. Do we intercede for others in the hopes that they will treat us better?

Q. Do we pray for others just so we can say we prayed for them?

Q. Do we pray for others just so we won’t feel guilty?

Of course, God can (and does) answer prayers that are uttered for the wrong reasons, because His will is far above us. But as we pray for ourselves and for others, we should always keep at the forefront of our hearts and minds the real reason we should pray. Let’s examine that now.

my notes:

intercession for the eternal

the real reason we need to pray for others

No one likes fire and brimstone, but here’s the thing. Hell awaits everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Do we want anyone to be separated from God in this way?

revelation 20:10-11

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

revelation 20:13-15

13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

see also:

Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich man and Lazarus)

And for believers, shouldn’t we desire that they have the closest walk with God? Jesus certainly did...

my notes:

john 17:20-26

“My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

And so, we should pray toward those ends, that God will work in each person’s life, whether through comfort or through pain, to bring them into the closest alignment with Christ.

Earthly comfort, however desirable, is only temporarily beneficial. A right relationship with God is eternally beneficial, and brings comforts and pleasures evermore!

psalm 16:11

You have made known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

my notes:

why we’re able to intercede

We’ve already discussed how a lawyer intercedes for his or her client. We’ve also seen some examples of how certain men of God, or prophets, were able to intercede with God on man’s behalf, because the Spirit of God was upon them.

Today, all believers in Christ Jesus have the ability to make intercession through prayer, but it is important for us to understand why we are able to do this:

hebrews 1:1-3

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Unlike an attorney, whose primary interests are for the comfort of their client (and their own comfort in being paid for their services), Jesus doesn’t attempt to argue that we are innocent or that our crimes are not deserving of severe consequences. Instead, Jesus agrees with His Father about our guilt, but offers Himself as having already served our sentence.

When we intercede for others in prayer, our intercession must always be in this context. We ourselves are being represented before God by Jesus, and our prayers should be to draw others to Christ, who is the only One who can truly intercede for the guilty.

my notes:

1 samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the Lord’s people. 25 If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.

When we sin against another human, God may mediate for them. But here’s the rub. When we sin against another human, we’ve sinned. And all sin, whomever it is against, is also sin against God. And who can intercede for us?

only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can directly intercede for the eternal

While God loves all of us, we are sinful. Before our Righteous Judge, no sinful human is in any position to make a defense or speak on behalf of another sinful human.

That’s why we must trust in Jesus, who served our death sentence for us and who can now stand before His Father and say that He has taken away our sin and guilt.

Throughout history, God has listened to man’s intercessory prayers, not because of man’s actual righteousness, but because of righteousness that was credited to them by God for believing and trusting in Him (the Promise of a Messiah in the Old Testament, and in Jesus, who is the fulfillment of that promise now).

Only Jesus makes that possible, so that He and the Holy Spirit can intercede before God for us and for others.

my notes:

1 timothy 2:5-6

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.

romans 8:26-27

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

hebrews 7:23-28

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

isaiah 53:12

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

romans 8:33-35

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

luke 23:34

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit, we have no power or authority to intercede

So then, the only way we are able to intercede in prayer is in the Name and the power and the righteousness of Jesus. He is our voice.

That’s why we should pray in Jesus’ Name. Our own names have no power or authority. God is not ours to command. Rather, He is our Master, and the Name of Jesus has all power and authority. And so, when we pray, we appeal to the Master in the Name of the One who has all authority to intercede:

in Jesus’ Name...

john 14:12-13

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

according to God’s will...

While it’s clear that our prayers only have authority because of the authority of Jesus, we must also remember that His authority dictates how He answers our prayers. When Jesus says that He will do whatever we ask in His Name, He is quick to add that the purpose of our prayers (and His answers) is to bring glory to the Father. And so, as we pray. it should not only be by the Name of Jesus, but also according to His will:

1 john 5:14-15

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

As we pray, it is important to remember that God’s will is not always what we want. Rather, His will is to bring glory to the Father. This can sometimes be accomplished by answering our simple prayers for our own comfort, but often, God is glorified even through the disobedience of man, as God uses these circumstances for the purpose of drawing other people to Him.

by His Name, for His glory...

As we’ve seen, we can intercede for others by praying to God in the name of Jesus and according to the will of God. These are not magical secrets for making God answer your prayers. Rather, they are reminders that all of the power and authority of prayer come from God.

The goal of our prayers should be primarily for God’s glory and for the eternal benefit of others. In that context, we can pray also for the temporal comfort of others. Yet, the prime goal is to bring glory to God through the drawing of souls near to Him:

my notes:

colossians 1:9-12

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

the prayer of a righteous man...

With all of this in mind, we can better understand what James means when he says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective:

james 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

A righteous man doesn’t gain special, magical prayer powers. Rather, a righteous man reckons and repents of his own sin. He understands and acknowledges that his righteousness comes only from Jesus, and therefore he is in closer harmony with his Savior.

It is this relationship with Christ that makes the prayers of a righteous man powerful and effective. In other words, the added power and effectiveness of his prayers come not from his “righteousness,” but from God, whom the righteous man walks with closely and humbly.

my notes:

how to intercede for both the temporal and the eternal

In light of all we’ve seen here, one might ask the question, “If God already knows what people need, why must we ask?”

The simple answer is, because He told us to...

1 thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

prayer = worship

Think about it. When you ask somebody for something, you’re acknowledging that you believe they have the power to do it for you.

When we pray to God, He does indeed know what we’re going to pray, and He knows how He is going to answer. Yet, the act of prayer itself glorifies God as an act of worship. Even as a prayer is uttered, God is glorified by the fact that a human is seeking God to some degree.

Constant prayer demonstrates our belief and our faith that God is above us and is able to hear and answer our prayers. And when our prayers are focused on others, there is the added benefit of obeying God’s command to love, expressing love and concern for other people.

and so, we should pray continually...

ephesians 6:18

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.

colossians 4:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

for others...

philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

romans 12:9-10

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

including friends and enemies...

1 timothy 1:18-2:6

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.

matthew 5:44

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

luke 6:27-28

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

with thanksgiving and praise...

philippians 4:4-8

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

ephesians 5:19-20

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

primarily for their spiritual welfare...

romans 10:1

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.

1 timothy 2:1-4

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

then for their comfort...

james 5:13-16

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

3 john 1:2

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

with right motives...

philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

my notes:

colossians 3:12-14

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

in the name of Jesus...

john 14:12-14

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

according to God’s will...

1 john 5:14-15

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

for God’s glory.

john 14:12-13

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.