When this writer first retired from fulltime pastoring—made necessary by my wife’s deteriorating health—she and I undertook intercession as our continuing ministry. Our daily agenda included (and some days was dominated by) prayer for others.
It pleased God to promote her to glory in 1996. With additional opportunity (much less time now spent on health care or personal tasks) my prayer ministry broadened and lengthened. I could report upon miraculous and life-changing answers to these intercessions (and will cite several in this article). But first, let us consider intercessory prayer as it—and its obligation upon all believers—applies—or should apply— to our discipleship. Let us also consider some practical suggestions concerning the carrying out of this Biblical directive.
First, intercessory prayer is a matter of obedience. John 14:15 and 15:14 (hard to forget these handy transposed reference locations) remind us that both our love for Christ and our friendship with Him may be evidenced by obeying the Savior. Those with military experience or knowledge will best grasp the importance of hearing and heeding the commandments of the Captain of their salvation. If Christ’s orders for us “always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1) were voiced only one time (instead of in a host of applicable Scriptures), we still should obey our Commander!
Then consider the matter of obligation. We should work at intercession (more on the “work” part below) because of the debt we owe. In sending the Twelve out to “the lost sheep of Israel,” Christ commanded, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:6, 8). Surely it would not be a misapplication to apply this precept to our obligation to pray freely for others’ needs, since so many of our needs have been freely met by our Lord.
Further, there is the truth of opportunity. While it is true that some (like those brands “[pulled] . . . out of the fire” [Jude 23]) may go to Heaven without having the opportunity to become intercessors, practically every believer is given the time and the task of praying for others. As I write this, I’m remembering some who have covered their negligence in this area with about the same success that Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with the fig leaf aprons—with excuses such as “I’ve no time; I’m already booked for almost every hour of my day.” I suggest that the first part of that alibi is true; we have no time. It is God’s time, every hour of every day, and we will answer to Christ for our works (1 Cor. 3:13).
Now, to the actual intercession—be very certain that among all the types and purposes of prayer, the intercessory prayer is work. There are kinds of praying (thanksgiving, communing, adoration, for example) that are surely not work. Rather, they are the kind of fellowshipping and spiritual refreshing we all need and—occasionally—enjoy. But for several reasons (mainly the truth found in Ephesians 6:12), when we undertake to be intercessors we had better be prepared to work at it. It is never easy; Satan doesn’t like it; the flesh naturally shrinks from it; but the results on earth and in Heaven do and shall continue to do far more than we could ever envision or imagine. Few benefits come to us without someone’s paying for them. While we rejoice in the truth that our eternal salvation is one hundred percent the gift of God’s grace and mercy, it is nonetheless still important for every child of God to recognize his responsibility to extend and expand his efforts to follow faithfully his Leader’s instructions on intercessory prayer. His Word exhorts us to “pray one for another” (James 5:16).
Let me conclude by briefly—surely not boastfully, but thankfully—testifying as to a little of God’s merciful bounty and mighty blessings concerning intercession and answers. I live alone (next door to my son and his wife, who love the Lord and love me, so I’m not abandoned). But I do have the privilege of setting my own agenda and schedule. I awaken fairly early; before I undertake the necessary daily tasks (showering, shaving, breakfast), I spend however much time is needed to work at intercessory prayer. I pray for my family: two sons, their wives and children, and now their grandchildren. I agonize over a prodigal who needs to come back and for another with grave physical problems.
I pray for schools, staffs, students (by name and needs). I pray for the local church, its pastor and people (again by name and need). I remember those who have great needs, students and suffering saints. Then there are now more than a hundred missionaries and missions for whom I’ve covenanted to pray (by name and need as I’m aware of them). Next for the evangelists who stand separated for the Truth (again by name and need).
My intercessions continue in behalf of the local churches to which I’ve been privileged to minister in recent years in supply or interim role (again by name and need as perceived). Then for the few schools I know to be straight, and for those that have slipped; for their staffs and students as known. Then I pray for relatives, some saved, many not yet.
This is of course an incomplete listing but is suggested as a possible guide to setting up a list of those in your life for whom intercession is needed.
To God be the glory! I have seen some for whom God burdened me to pray come to the Lord, including a man on his deathbed recently and also a nurse who attended to my sick wife, to mention two. I have rejoiced to see God’s hand—in answer to intercessory prayer—provide funding for a needed church building in Mexico. And I have thanked God for His deliverance to missionaries in Kenya, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere.
You may be thinking, “But what about the missionaries and other believers who have not been delivered?” My answer is that God never makes a mistake; and to ask you to consider whether things might have been different if there had been enough fervent, effectual, intercessory prayer.
May we rise above the almost hopeless, helpless level where we seem to see prayer as a last resort. May we realize and act upon the truth that intercession is God’s sovereignly chosen method of dealing with needs, opening doors of utterance (cf. Col. 4:3), and defeating the “darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12).
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
At the time of original publication, Charles J. Mellring was a retired pastor and freelance writer living in Guy Mills, Pennsylvania.
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)