Intercession and Prayer
During the congregational prayer in the worship service, we pray for particular people. Their needs are brought before the Lord, and a petition goes out to Him to provide specific help. Often the prayer of the whole congregation is requested for members of the congregation who suffer from a severe illness. Such a prayer can be addressed to God both in the worship services and at the homes. We will briefly consider this important aspect of our worship.
Prayer belongs to the ongoing conversation between the Lord, our God, and us. Over the course of many centuries, God has spoken many words to people living in this world. He spoke to old people (Moses) and to young people (Samuel), to kings (David) and farmers (Amos). What was important for later generations was recorded in the Bible. Through this book, God tells us every day who He is and how we should live in obedience to Him.
God does not want to have a one-sided relationship with his people, He also wants to hear from us. He created us not only with ears to listen to Him but also with tongues to speak to Him. People should not be silently holding out their hands to God to receive some good gift from Him. He wants us to interact with Him, to respond and to cry out to Him. The Psalms show many ways in which we can approach God in our prayers.
Intercession is part of this ongoing interaction between God and us. It has a specific character, for in these prayers we do not ask something for ourselves, but rather for other people.
We intercede, we plead to God to grant something to them. Often this request is very specific. We know what these people need and we pray that God will grant this to them.
God provides a wide range of possibilities for our prayers. Just as the command to love is not limited to the family circle, but extends beyond that, so intercession reaches out from the people around us to all kinds of people. The Lord Jesus taught us to even pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). God wants our prayers to be as comprehensive as his care for this world. 1 Intercession is an important aspect of this.
Intercession in the Bible
The very first prayer recorded in the Bible is an intercessory prayer. 2 Abraham prayed it when God came to visit him. The Lord made known to him that He would destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sins.
Abraham responded with the prayer: “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 fifty righteous people in it?” (Genesis 18:24). Although it might have made it easier for Abraham to live in Canaan when these two cities were destroyed, yet Abraham interceded for the righteous people living there. In this instance, God heard Abraham’s prayer only partly. He did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, although He saved Abraham’s relatives, Lot and his family.
Another instance of intercession took place when Israel was camping in the desert, after they had seen God’s mighty work in leading them out of Egypt. Israel made a golden calf, a blatant sin against the second commandment. God had threatened to destroy this stubborn people, when Moses interceded for them (Exodus 32:11f.). In this case, God listened to Moses’ prayer and did not summarily execute those people. Moses’ intercession saved their lives. There are several other prayers recorded in Scripture in which God is asked to spare his obstinate people.
There are more occasions for intercession. To mention some, there are prayers for the government. Psalm 72 is such a prayer for the government, in which God is asked to make the king rule with justice. This prayer should not be limited to God-fearing governments. The apostle Paul commands the preachers to pray and make intercession for kings and other people in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). Most of those, if not all, would have been worshipers of other gods, but that should not cause Christians to skip praying for the government. We are also taught to pray for the peace of God’s people (Psalm 128:6). We should also pray for the continuation of the preaching of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 5:26; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). We are commanded in general to keep on praying for the saints (Ephesians 6:18). Prayers are said for the sick, as well. A specific Old Testament example is the prayer for Miriam when she was punished with leprosy (Numbers 11:2, see also 14:13ff), and a New Testament instruction is given in James 5:16.
The Bible does not particularly single out health and healing as the most important topic for intercession. This does not mean that we should not remember those who are ill in our prayers. It does indicate, however, that such a prayer should not be the only concern, or the most important part of intercessory prayers. When we pray we ask for God’s comprehensive care for this world and the people living in it. Within that larger context, the prayer for the sick has its own important place. The church has recognized this for a long time, and a good example of prayer for the sick within the larger context of intercession can be found in the Book of Praise. 3
Intercession and Gratitude
When people in the congregation have been seriously ill and God has granted restoration of health, they are thankful. They thank the doctors and nurses for their care. They are grateful to the members of the congregation for their moral support and for all the things done for them during their illness. Above all, they will thank God, for it is He who has given his blessing to the treatment. Under God’s providence, they were restored to good health.
But what about those who have prayed for them? Do they add gratitude to intercession? They have not themselves experienced the illness. For them, this hardship stayed on the outside. Neither did they experience that God granted health. It is easy for them to go on with their business, without thinking of the healing that took place under God’s control.
Yet, we should not merely intercede for others. When God grants restoration of health we should also thank God for this. Intercession and gratitude go together. Intercession without gratitude takes away from the uprightness of the prayer, and means slighting God. It means thinking of God when we need Him without honouring Him when He hears our prayer.
In a society dominated by our technical achievements, there is little attention for God’s government of our lives. As Christians, we know that God is in control. We regularly pray for ourselves and intercede for others. We should be Christian all the way, and not stop halfway. We should not only go to Him in prayer when we need Him, but also by thanking Him when He gives.