I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]
Those who deny their neighbors prayers of intercession deny them a service Christians are called to perform. … Intercessory prayer is a gift of God’s grace for every Christian community and for every Christian. Because God has made us such an immeasurably great offer here, we should accept it joyfully. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
Intercessory prayer simply is praying on behalf of others and we find it throughout Scripture. After Israel’s shameful behavior with the golden calf, for example, Moses interceded for a sinful people before an angry God who was ready to wipe them out. The man pled for mercy rather than condemnation. Later, he interceded for his sister Miriam when God struck her with leprosy after her opposition to Moses’ leadership. When the Israelites again rebelled, refused to enter Canaan, and talked of choosing another leader to take them back to Egypt, Moses again interceded for the Israelites.
Abraham prayed for Ishmael, Sodom and Abimelech; Samuel prayed for Saul and the people of Israel; Daniel prayed for Jerusalem; Job prayed for his family and friends; Stephen prayed for his executioners; Paul prayed for the churches at Corinth and Ephesus; and Jesus prayed not only for his disciples but also for the people who crucified Him. There was, however, nothing weak or wishy-washy about any of these prayers; they were specific, heartfelt and urgent pleas.
While reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about intercessory prayer in a recent Lenten devotion, I felt them convict me. I have a list of people for whom I regularly offer prayers. Unfortunately, unless there is an urgent need, my prayers are often more perfunctory than earnest and more superficial than thorough. I confess to thinking of praying for others as more of an obligation than a gift from God. Bonhoeffer’s words point out that we are part of a community and, therefore, are touched by everything that touches our brothers and sisters. When they hurt, we hurt; when they mourn, we mourn; when they hunger, we hunger; and when they are joyful, so are we. His words reminded me that we should approach intercessory prayer not as a duty but rather as a privilege, not half-heartedly but enthusiastically.
It is an honor to thank God for the people for whom we pray and to bring them into His presence with our prayers. There’s no need to worry about having the right words, the Holy Spirit will see to that, but we must offer our prayers with the faith, joy, fervor and love of a true member of the Christian family!