Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese
“I will pray for you.”
I believe all Christians are familiar with this sentence. It is the most common response we receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we share our troubles with them.
But do prayers of intercession really work? I used to doubt it. If intercession really helps, why are my non-believing relatives still resisting God? If intercession is really effective, why have the sick still not recovered? If intercession is really powerful, why are Christians around the world still being persecuted?
Moreover, isn’t God omniscient? So even if we do not pray on behalf of others, God would still know their needs, right?
Not long ago, I opened the Bible, desiring to find out more about the role and importance of intercession. The time I spent with the Word taught me five lessons. These lessons have been a tremendous encouragement to me and they urge me to reexamine my doubts towards praying for others. If you’re experiencing the same doubts as I do, I pray that the points below will help you see the importance of prayers of intercession.
1. Prayers of intercession please God
In Isaiah 59, God was astonished and displeased, for there wasn’t anyone who would help or pray and intercede for Israel. Isaiah writes, “He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:16).
If we want to please God, we ought to love others by praying for them. For example, we can attend the church’s weekly prayer meeting to pray for the needs of the church.
On a personal level, I feel disappointed with the politics and law in my country and am unhappy about some policies that are set in place. Seeing the state of my country, it is easy to just give up praying for my country. However, God used this episode in the Bible to remind me to persevere in prayer, for my prayers please Him.
2. Prayers of intercession were done by Jesus and His followers
Jesus taught us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He Himself served as an example when He prayed to the Father to forgive the people who persecuted Him. It would be easy for Jesus to curse the people who crucified Him on the cross. Instead, Jesus chose to intercede on their behalf (Luke 23:34). Jesus sets the example for us, showing us that it is possible for us to do the same.
We can also take comfort in the fact that Jesus cares for those who intercede for others. In Jesus’ three years of ministry, He answered many prayers of intercession. For example, the centurion who pleaded for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13), the synagogue leader who pleaded for his severely ill daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), the father who pleaded for his possessed son (Mark 9:14-29), and many more. Can we also follow these examples and pray for someone we know?
I have a list of people I pray for frequently. These people include my family who has yet to come to know Jesus, friends whose faith are stagnant, and children whom I support from the World Vision. And what encouraged me was to see how God answered prayers—one of my friends who has depression, started to interact with people and smile more. I was very thankful for that.
3. Prayers of intercession bring us closer to the heart of God
God has a plan in every decision He makes. The sin of the city of Sodom was so great and grievous that in His anger, God wanted to destroy the whole city (Genesis 18).
Abraham interceded for Sodom and even negotiated with God, asking God not to destroy the city if there were even 10 righteous people in it. God was not displeased with Abraham’s plea. In fact, God patiently answered him.
Perhaps, God was pleased by Abraham’s request because it showed how much he loves and treasures lives. I believe Abraham slowly began to understand that God loved man more than he does, and that as long as there is one righteous man in the city, God would spare the city.
Eventually, God sent angels to rescue Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family, before the city of Sodom was destroyed. God showed His compassion and love once again. Therefore, when we continue to pray, we will gradually understand what the heart of God is like.
4. Prayers of intercession increase our empathy for the people we pray for
When we feel helpless and inadequate to help others overcome their difficulties, do not forget that as Christians, we have the power of prayer. We may not fully understand what a person is going through, but as we pray for them continually, we learn to put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with them.
When I pray for missionaries, I can imagine how hard it is for them to be away from home, to be alone overseas. When I pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters, I can feel their pain.
On top of that, others are encouraged to persevere in the faith when they know someone is praying for them. When we empathize with others, we demonstrate God’s love, and comfort them in their difficult times.
5. Prayers of intercession help us share each other’s burdens
Problems may not be resolved immediately after we pray for others. But the Holy Spirit can strengthen and comfort those we pray for.
When I was overseas pursuing my Masters’ degree, I was overwhelmed by the heavy load of assignments. I did not want to share my stress with my family, as I was afraid that they would worry about me. But being alone in another country, I did not have friends to talk to either. It came to a point where I wanted to give up and return to my country.
Shouldering the weight of all my burdens alone, I went to a church prayer meeting where a group of sisters prayed for me. As they prayed for me, tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably, and I could feel the weight of my burdens lifting.
I am now pursuing my Ph.D. Although my workload is still just as heavy and at times I feel like giving up, I know many others are praying for me and that I can always regain strength from God.
When we pray for others, we move from a self-centered focus to a love for God and people.
As our friends share their troubles with us, has it become a habit to just say “I will pray for you”, without taking any action? Has it become a convenient way to brush someone aside? We ought to treat our prayers for others seriously. Instead of saying “I will pray for you”, let us say, “Let me pray for you now”, and then immediately pray together with them!
Perhaps you have been praying for a long time and things still remain unchanged. But do not lose heart. As long as we are willing to spend time praying, it will not be in vain. May we learn to pray like Jesus did in Luke 22:42, asking for God’s will to be done and not ours.