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What Exactly Is Intercessory Prayer?

What Exactly Is Intercessory Prayer?

The phrase “intercessory prayer” may be unfamiliar to some Christians. Others think this kind of prayer is only for a select few who are specially anointed. But the truth is that all believers are called to intercede as part of a strong prayer and faith life.

Jesus Himself showed us how to do this. His prayer for the Disciples in John 17 is one of the most powerful examples of intercession in the Bible.

“‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one … While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me … My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one’” (John 17:11-12, 15).

What Is Intercessory Prayer?

Intercessory prayer, sometimes called "standing in the gap," is essentially lifting up the needs and concerns of others to God. And it is an expression of agape, or selfless, love.

The Merriam Webster definition of intercession reads, “prayer, petition, or entreaty in favor of another.” The root word is intercede, which means to mediate between parties.

Again, we can look to Jesus to see this in action. Not only did He pray for His followers during His life on Earth, but He continues now to petition before the Father on our behalf.

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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” (Romans 8:34).

What Is the Difference Between Regular and Intercessory Prayer?

Many people use the words “prayer” and “intercession” interchangeably. And though they both have things in common, they are not exactly the same thing.

Prayer, simply put, is talking to God. We can give Him praise, we can cry out to Him, we can ask Him questions and lift up our cares. Praying to our Heavenly Father grows our understanding of and strengthens our relationship with Him.

Intercession happens when we reach beyond ourselves and our needs in prayer. When we feel a burden for someone else, we can be encouraged to bring that to the Lord, stand on their behalf, and seek His Will for their lives.

Is Intercessory Prayer Biblical?

Scripture clearly teaches that intercessory prayer is valuable and impacts the world for good. Righteous people in the Old Testament turned to the Lord on behalf of people, cities, and even whole nations.

In Genesis 18, Abraham heard about the Lord’s plan to destroy the city of Sodom, and immediately lifted up a heartfelt petition for any believers there.

“The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’” (Genesis 18:22-25).

When Moses faced the anger of God against the Israelites because of their lack of faith, he boldly asked for the Lord's mercy. His words were echoed by other writers of Scripture.

“‘Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now’” (Numbers 14:17-19).

The prophet Samuel dealt with both a king and a people who had strayed from God. But he stayed faithful to pray for them, hoping for their repentance.

“‘As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right’” (1 Samuel 12:23).

In his letters, the Apostle Paul often asked for prayers from the churches he planted and visited. He gave thanks for their support, and testimony about how effective it was in his ministry.

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19).

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Verses about Intercessory Prayer

“My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8).

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels’” (Psalm 122:6-7)

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

“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 Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5).

How Do You Pray an Intercessory Prayer?

Intercessory prayers include the same elements as regular prayer: a declaration of who God is, a submission to His authority, and praises for His goodness. Each of those show a respect and awe of The Lord, and set our hearts right.

Then, we can move into petition, asking our Father to work in someone else’s life. Sometimes we’ll have a clear idea of that persons’ need - other times we may just have a general sense of their circumstances. Either way, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in how to pray.

An example of this type of prayer might be:

Lord God,

You are mighty yet merciful. I have seen You answer my prayers, and work in my life to bring about good. I am so grateful for Your grace. So in trust, I come before You now on behalf of my friend. She is struggling with finances, and trying to raise two kids on her own. She feels alone and overwhelmed. She needs You, Father.

Please, Lord, meet her needs - the spiritual, emotional and practical. Give her times of good rest and refreshment. Let her feel Your presence in a strong way, for that will encourage her. And may Your Will be done in her situation and, more importantly, in her heart.

I pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Apostle Paul gave an instruction to his fellow worker Timothy, and it still applies to all believers: Every day we have the opportunity to help others through the act of lifting up intercessory prayers. And as we do, our lives, and theirs, will be blessed.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

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Photo credit: Unsplash/Jack Sharp

Heather Adams 1200x1200Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby!