What Is Intercessory Prayer? - Example and Meaning

The model of intercessory prayer is Christ’s ministry as a whole. He physically threw himself across the chasm that would have separated man and God forever. Intercessory prayer is not only a privilege but a command to “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2).

Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 17, 2020
What Is Intercessory Prayer? - Example and Meaning

Prayer is an essential part of a Christian’s walk with God. This is how we communicate with him, and one way he communicates with us. When the veil was torn, we were given intimate and immediate access to God, but he also assigns us the responsibility of praying for other people.

The Meaning of Intercession

The Hebrew “paga” means “to fell,” or “attack,” but also “meet” or “make supplication.” The Greek was translated as “petition” and “intercession.” Our English word “intercession” is derived from the Latin for “to come between,” which means both “obstruct” and “to interpose on behalf of” someone. Christ stands between us and the Father. That’s why we pray “in Jesus’ name” because it’s by His sacrifice that we are made righteous and can approach the throne of God.

A modern understanding of “intercession” can include “mediation” or “standing up to” someone. This understanding makes God sound like the playground bully. Christ would be the hero, defiant towards an unloving Father, not part of the Trinity fulfilling the Father’s plans for his people. But God is love, and Christ did not defy him. Christ is one with God (John 10:30).

Furthermore, mediation suggests compromise or middle ground. However, God is right, and we are sinful. He is Sovereign, we are his creation. We owe him everything and we deserve condemnation, but by his grace we are free. Believers are able, by this gift alone, to bring the needs of other people before God through Christ.

An Intercessory Prayer

Show us your mercy, O Lord, and give us your salvation. (Psalm 85:7)

Lord, save our rulers! Answer us in the day we call! (Psalm 20:9)

May your servants be clothed with righteousness. May your favored ones shout for joy. (Psalm 132:9)

Save your people, and bless the people that belong to you. Shepherd them, and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:9)

Give us peace in our time, For there is no one who fights for us but you, O Lord. (from 2 Chronicles 20:15)

Create in me a pure heart, O God. Renew an unwavering spirit within me...  (Psalm 51:10)

Source: Attributed to the Latin Church

Intercession in Scripture

Paul exhorted the church to pray that he would boldly declare the gospel (Ephesians 6:19). He told the church to pray for one another with “supplications […] and thanksgivings,” (1 Timothy 2:1), and he prayed for them too. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2). We all need intercession, even believers. Paul was moved and encouraged by prayer on his behalf.

Paul demonstrated that the most pressing needs and desires among God’s people start with God’s glory. Paul gives “thanks to God,” and finds hope “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He asks for prayer to do God’s will, not for an easy life.

Paul was following the standard set by Christ, who petitioned God for the sake of others even as he hung on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He spoke up for everyone: Believers who followed and then abandoned him; Pharisees, Roman soldiers, and spectators.

Doesn’t God Already Know What Everyone Needs?

God is always present in our lives and aware of our needs, but we must invite him into our struggles. Faith precedes this step, and where does it come from? Before believing in Christ for salvation, we see how others engage Jesus in their own lives. They listen to Christians talking to God. Even when believers choose to pray only in private, there is something different about those who develop a habit of heartfelt prayer.

God says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). Unbelievers mistrust this statement until they witness the results of deep faith in and love for God; a life organized from the top-down, where other people matter.

A faithful intercessor is like a human chain between the Father and his prodigals. “If we are going to have the right kind of fellowship and relationship with God in prayer, we have to understand that we are in His very presence.”

When intercession impacts us personally, its power and poignancy spread outward. Life lived fully in awareness of this closeness makes Jesus famous. The people on our prayer lists are attracted to the personal impact of his power. Paul is the very picture of this change, but he was not the last sinner to be radically reformed by Christ’s intercession.

Intercessory Model

The model of intercessory prayer is Christ’s ministry as a whole. He physically threw himself across the chasm that would have separated man and God forever, at the cross but also during his ministry. He stood between the Pharisees’ stones and the woman caught in adultery. Christ came between man and creation by calming the storm.

He restored unclean people to their communities and forgave sinners so they could be reconciled with God. Jesus invited the lost into communion with the Father, such as the tax collector and the Samaritan woman. Intercession is active and risky, and by Christ’s life, we know how intercessory prayer should look.

Christ “bore the sin of man and makes intercessions for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Christ was frequently rejected. We can pray, but not everyone wants to be prayed for. And when we pray for the abused, we might be abused along with them.

A need for intercession implies that someone is weak, but not Christ. We are strong in him; not impervious to harm physically and emotionally, but able to direct the gaze of sufferers to Christ by keeping our eyes fixed on him ourselves.

Even if those we stand up for reject our help, there is the chance their oppressors will see God at work in our lives and be changed. Matthew 8:5-13 describes the heart of a Centurion who, on another day, might have been among those to beat Christ and nail him to the cross. In Matthew’s account, he was drawn by Jesus’ willingness to help the weak by meeting their physical needs before offering what they really needed — forgiveness of sins.

Does Intercessory Prayer Work?

Nicky Gumble describes how God answered Hezekiah’s prayers for protection against the Assyrians. “The prophet Isaiah sent a message to Hezekiah saying that God had heard his prayer. He delivered the people from the threat of the Assyrians in answer to Hezekiah’s intercession.” God also answered the king’s prayer for healing. We see God working through effective missionary work around the world.

We hear accounts of people in financial trouble suddenly receiving precisely the amount they need from unexpected sources. Church-based after-school programs backed by teams of prayer warriors lead to lower rates of crime, violence, and hunger in certain communities. Men and women frequently pray for miracles, which do occur, including healed bodies, healed relationships, and loved ones coming to Christ.

We also see people praying and being told to wait, or they receive a solid “no” from the Lord. One must remember that prayer is not a magic spell any more than a cross is a good luck charm. What do we mean “does it work?” If we mean “do you get what you want?” the answer might be “no” or “yes” depending on whether our “want” aligns with God’s “want.”

Prayer will always “work” if it lines up with God’s will, his desires, as expressed in his word. If we are praying for other people to the glory of self rather than the glory of God, if we are living in the flesh rather than the Spirit, then our prayer has not achieved the purpose to which it was given us. As intercessors, we will not be heard by God.

We will actually form a faulty rope bridge. Anyone using that bridge to reach Christ might, in fact, put a foot through a frayed spot and become stuck, fearful of moving forward or back. Onlookers will witness a transactional relationship between God and his people one in which we are frequently let down, perhaps because we don’t measure up.

Intercessory prayer is effective when we remember what it is for: Begging God with “passion” to save the lost, even though our boldness is audacious. We don’t measure up, but Christ does, and through him, God hears us. We are “hidden in Christ with God,” co-heirs to everything a child of the King receives.

If we are grateful for this lavish gift, then our prayer lives are passionate; we understand “we have both privilege and power in prayer. It is not that prayer itself has the power, but that we have access to the One who has the power.”

Is Intercessory Prayer Necessary?

Intercessory prayer is not only a privilege but a command. “Continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2) is an “imperative.” “Persistence in prayer is not an option for the Christian” but “an order from the Lord Himself.”

Jesus “means for us to understand and take seriously the fact that our prayer is a major factor in advancing God’s kingdom in this world.” We aren’t necessary to God’s work but living life in the Spirit can and will inspire others to seek God.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/jacksharp_photography

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

This article is part of our prayer resources meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

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