I pray for them . . . . I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word. (John 17:9,20)
Jesus spoke these simple words on the night before he died. He was sharing a Passover meal with his disciples, and just before going out to the garden of Gethsemane, he turned to his Father in prayer.
On the face of it, there is nothing particularly striking about this. Jesus was constantly at prayer. He always stayed close to his Father, keeping himself open to his Father’s will and immersing himself in the love his Father had for him. But if we look a little deeper, we would find something very important in Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper. It’s not that he prayed; it’s how he prayed that is so striking. Jesus actually prayed for his disciples—and he prayed for each one of us!
We don’t often think about Jesus as praying prayers of intercession. After all, he and his Father are one. So why would he feel the need to pray for us? If he knew God’s mind so fully, why would he have to petition God for good things to happen to us?
This month, we want to explore the way of intercessory prayer. We want to see how our own prayers of petition can unite with Jesus’ prayers for us to release God’s blessings on the people we are praying for. We want to see how our prayers of intercession can become just as powerful and effective as Jesus’ prayers. And along the way, we want to get a closer look at Jesus’ own heart of love and concern for us.
As Little Children. If we want to see answers to our prayers of intercession, it is important that we come to God in the same way that little children bring their needs to their parents. Who among us, when we were small, didn’t go to our parents and tell them every problem? We told them about our scraped knees, our fights with our friends, and our troubles with homework. In the same way, Jesus invites us to bring all of our needs to our Father, confident that he will not give us a snake when we ask for a fish, or a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11:11-12).
It’s interesting, however, that as much as children run to their parents for help, they also try to resolve things on their own. After all, isn’t that the cause of so many playground fights or brother-and-sister spats? As parents, we know that if they rely on their own too much, they will miss out on good solutions, and that’s why we intervene. At the same time, we know that if our children become too dependent on us, they won’t learn how to take responsibility for themselves, and they won’t learn how to become peacemakers with their friends.
Again, the similarity in our relationship with the Lord is clear. God gave us the gifts of intelligence and intuition so that we could grow and learn how to help ourselves and make this world a better place. He wants us to work hard to try to resolve the challenges we face in life. But at the same time, our heavenly Father wants us to bring these same issues to him so that he can offer us his help and guidance. Sometimes he will make everything right again. At other times he will let us work through the problem so that we can grow and mature.
Most of the time, however, the solution is a mixture of both our human work and God’s divine help. For instance, if we need a new job, we should ask God for help. But we still have to do the work of filling out job applications, putting together our résumés, and going on job interviews. The notion that I have to do it all and God can’t or won’t help me is wrong. But so is the notion that all we have to do is pray and then see what God gives us.
Our Great High Priest. In ancient Israel, it was the role of the priest to intercede for the people. His calling was to stand in, or to intervene, before God on behalf of the people. The priest performed his duties by offering the blood of sacrificial animals as a means of atonement and intercession.
Then, in the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be.” It tells us that Jesus “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11,12). Jesus fulfilled the work of the Old Testament priests, and now he sits at the right hand of God, where he “lives forever to make intercession” for us (7:25).
How blessed we are to have Jesus as our mediator! He brings us, with all of our sins and needs, before our holy and perfect Father. With Jesus as our advocate, we can approach the throne of God with confidence and pour out our hearts. Because of who Jesus is, because of the redemption he won for us, all of us can now “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:16).
Praying in Confidence. Intercessory prayer is one of the most effective ways that we can address the worries, problems, and challenges that we face in our lives. But there is more to intercession than simply stating our needs and waiting for God to work. As the above passage from Hebrews tells us, we need confidence and trust. We need to believe that the One we are praying to is all-loving and all-?powerful. We need to believe that God is our Father and that he hears all of our requests. In short, we need faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Faith means that we believe that God has the power to answer all of our prayers in his wisdom and by his love and providence. It means that we believe that God wants to give us good things—in every form and in every way. It means that we trust that our Father would never forget his children.
Of course, there are reasons why we may not see our prayers answered in the way we want. But we need to be clear that indifference, unfaithfulness, or lack of love on God’s part have nothing to do with it. God always wants to give us good things, but sometimes the “good” we are looking for is not the “good” that God knows we need.
Praying in Faith. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, she was at a stage in her life when her faith was at a very low point. Some people in her parish offered to pray with her, and as they did, they reinforced some simple, basic truths of our faith: God is alive, he loves us, and he knows what is going on in our lives. All the love and prayers she received from her brothers and sisters in Christ helped Susan’s faith to grow stronger. Every week, as people prayed with her, Susan grew stronger. Today, ten years later, Susan is still battling cancer. In fact, it has gone away and returned twice. But in all these ups and downs, one thing remains constant: Her faith continues to grow and remains stronger than her fears and anxieties. And it all started when a few people reached out to her ten years ago.
If we want to see answers to our prayers, we need to use all the faith we have. This doesn’t mean that we have to have heroic faith, and it doesn’t mean that only those with heroic faith will be heard. What it does mean is this: Each of us has a certain degree of faith. It may be deep and mature, or it may be more shallow and new. When we pray in intercession, it is vital that we use all the faith we have—no matter how much that is. A halfhearted effort is simply not enough. We need to seek the Lord with everything we have, according to the full level of our faith.
Each of us can choose faith over worry, doubt, and fear. Why? Because faith is a gift from God; it’s not something that we have to conjure up ourselves. It’s a powerful grace that helps us hold the ground when the difficulties of life—sickness, loss of job, family problems—come at us. So bring your prayers of intercession to the Lord with complete trust in him. And as you do, ask him to increase your faith.
Let’s Get Started. Intercessory prayer is not meant to be reserved for the toughest problems we face. Rather, we should be interceding every day. We should feel free to pray for our spouse and family every day. We should pray for the needs of the world every day. We should pray for our friends and neighbors, even our enemies, every day. This is what Jesus told us to do when he taught us to pray for our daily bread and to be delivered from all evil. So let’s begin today. Let’s put together a list of intercessory prayers. Let’s persistently pray for these intercessions every day. There is no petition that is too small or too unworthy. n