HOW TO PRAY LIKE AN INTERCESSOR
ere are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, January 26, 2020.
SOMEONE PRAYED YOU HERE TODAY!
It may surprise you to know that you aren't here in church today by accident. No, you're here by prayer. Someone prayed you here today. It might have been a parent or a coworker or someone else who stood in the gap for you and cried out to God for you, "Lord, please work in their life this week and get them in church." And the Lord answered and here you are. Don't doubt it.
When we pray like that - talking to God on behalf of someone else - it is called intercession. Intercession is so important for all of us that I've focused this teaching on it. Today, I will show you how to pray as an intercessor.
Today, my two goals for this teaching are: 1) everyone here will grasp the vital importance of intercessory prayer, and 2) everyone listening will make room for intercessory prayer in their daily schedule. In order for that to happen, I need to show you the why, the how, and the who of intercessory prayer.
THE WHY OF INTERCESSION
Why should we all make intercessory prayer a daily priority? The answer is twofold:
GOD WILL NOT MOVE UNTIL WE PRAY. I know that sounds shocking but I'm not the first to say it. John Wesley, the 18th century church leader, is reputed to have said, "God will do nothing except in answer to believing prayer." God is all-powerful and sovereign, but he has chosen to coordinate his actions to our prayers.
I can show you this in an example found in the prophet Ezekiel. As you know, God's people had abandoned their faith and the Lord was not pleased. Then, we read this:
(Ezekiel 22:29-31) The Lord says: The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress. And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf half of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them.
God wanted to spare the people but no one repaired the wall or stood in the gap for them. Those are metaphors for intercession. No one interceded for the nation, so the Lord did not pour out mercy. That's a sobering realization: lack of prayer is harmful.
GOD WILL MOVE WHEN WE PRAY. If you think about it, this is an equally shocking insight. Who am I to move God to action? But the Bible has illustration after illustration of the great power of intercession. (e.g., Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 11:1-2; 14:12-20; 16:20-35; Deuteronomy 9:13-14, 14, 18-20, 25; 2 Samuel 24:17-25; 1 Kings 21:27-29; 2 Chronicles 12:5-8; Psalms 106:23; Jeremiah 26:19).
As the church in Jerusalem began to grow, King Herod Agrippa initiated a wave of persecution against the church leaders. He executed James and he jailed Peter. There's no doubt that Peter was the next to die, but in Acts 12 we read about his miraculous escape from prison. Verse 5 shows us why that miracle happened:
(Acts 12:5) So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying (ongoing, continual action) to God for him.
Intercession sets the captives free. Intercession results in miracles. Intercession moves God to action in the world for the sake of the church. It's as though God is unleashed through our prayers. He waits for us to pray before he does anything. That's the power of intercession. James wrote it best:
(James 5:16) The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
I have no doubt that the only reason I'm alive and well and standing here to teach today is because of intercessors who stand in the gap for me and my family. I strongly believe that church leaders and their loved ones have targets on their backs. We're in a spiritual battle and Satan wants to derail us. What keeps Satan from winning is the prayers of intercession that unleash God's power for us.
With the tremendous power of intercession in mind, we turn now to the HOW of intercession. How can we all develop a ministry of intercession that changes the world?
THE HOW OF INTERCESSION
The how is very important so I've included some practical steps for making intercession a routine part of life in the pages below. However, what I want us to focus on here and now is how we should approach God in intercessory prayer. Once again, I believe you'll find this quite surprising.
INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS INSISTENT AND PERSISTENT. When we pray, we should take full advantage of our access to the Lord. At the cross, Jesus made a way into the very holy of holies, the presence of God in heaven (see Hebrews 8-10). So we can approach him boldly, without fear:
(Hebrews 4:16) Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In Luke 18, Jesus told the parable of a widow who came to an unjust judge looking for justice. Eventually, because she was insistent and persistent in her arguments, the judge did what she asked. The parable is based on a lesser to greater comparison: if an unjust judge will eventually do what is right, how much more will God do what is right.
The context of the parable is important. Jesus had been talking about staying in faith through the trials of this present age because eventually Jesus will return and all will be put right. Broadly speaking, the parable is about persisting in prayers for God to carry out his good plans for the world. We can say that intercession is about the big stuff: faithfulness, protection from evil, spiritual power and anointing, moving the gospel forward, leading and building the church, and so on.
Jesus clarified the point of the parable in verse 7:
(Luke 18:7) And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?
How should we intercede for others? We should cry out day and night; that is, if it's important enough, we should stick to it. I don't know why we can't just shoot a quick text up to God and leave it at that, but that's not the way it works. Think about the church praying for Peter in Acts 12. I imagine that they cried out in prayer. They groaned. They got a grip on God and would not let go. They wouldn't quit. They pleaded every Bible promise and principle they could think of until God set Peter free.
Here are some other "hows" of intercessory prayer:
ACCEPT GOD'S CALL TO INTERCEDE. God has called and equipped (by his Spirit) all of us to pray for others:
(Ephesians 6:18) And pray in the Spirit (that's equipping) on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (that's the call). With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.
(1 Timothy 2:1) 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.” (NLT)
MAKE SPACE IN YOUR LIFE TO PRAY FOR OTHERS. We should follow Jesus who habitually withdrew to pray. He did this even although crowds of people needed him.
(Luke 5:15-16) The news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Get in the habit of going to specific place at a specific time every day (if possible) to intercede. Write down how and when God answers your prayers.
USE BIBLE PRAYERS AS GUIDES. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them a simple intercessory prayer, the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:6-9. The psalms are also very helpful examples of intercession. Paul's prayers in his letters to churches are model prayers and very useful.
USE THE CORNERSTONE'S MONTHLY "INTERCEDE" SHEET. This is included in our Sunday program at the beginning of every month and also at the Welcome & information center.
CREATE A PRAYER JOURNAL. A prayer journal is a useful tool for intercessors. You can include all kinds of prayer resources to help you: Bible passages, insights from writers, lists of people and needs, examples of intercessory prayers and so on.
USE PRAYER APPS ON YOUR PHONE. I discovered four apps that seem helpful:
The Daily Prayer app follows the Anglican book of prayer.
The Tony Evans Prayer app has guided prayers, prayer scriptures, and a journal for notes.
The Operation World prayer app guides prayer for a specific people group every day.
The Open Doors prayer app guides pray for persecuted Christians around the world.
Let's turn to our final insight: the WHO of intercession.
THE WHO OF INTERCESSION
On the one hand, the simple answer to the who of intercession is: EVERYONE! Intercession isn't the special reserve of spiritual giants, but the privilege of every Jesus-follower. We can all pray because in Jesus, we all have access to the throne room of God. It doesn't matter how spiritual you are, how long you've been following Jesus, how dedicated you feel, you can pray for someone else. That's totally amazing.
On the other hand, I do believe that, based on years of watching how all this works, that some folks are specifically called to a deeper, more committed, level of intercession. I call these people "The Intercessors." Professor Peter Wagner (in his book, Prayer Shield) believes that this kind of intercession is a spiritual gift - an anointing from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he is correct.
"The Intercessors" share two qualities in common:
THE INTERCESSORS FEEL THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF THEIR PRAYERS. Intercessors are absolutely certain, without a doubt, that their prayers are needed to unleash God into specific situations; it might be, for example, intercession for their pastor, or for an outreach effort that will advance the gospel.
The most graphic example of this principle is found in Exodus 17 which describes Joshua leading Israel's army into battle. Joshua, however, was not the key to victory. The real battle was fought and won by Moses on the hilltop. As long as his arms were raised in intercession, Joshua and his soldiers prevailed.
(Exodus 17:11-13) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Moses knew the strategic importance of his prayers and that's why he had Aaron and Hur hold his arms up. In my experience, intercessors have an extremely strong conviction that their prayers are strategic and needed. They are convinced that God isn't going to move until they pray because they are sure that their prayers "release" (so to speak) God's power and will on earth.
THE INTERCESSORS FEEL THE BURDEN OF THEIR PRAYERS. Intercessors are intense people because they feel the weight of their prayer ministry. They feel called by God to stand in the gap. They don't pray casual, popcorn, prayers, instead they groan, travail, and go to war in prayer. Intercessors won't quit until God releases them.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he interceded so intensely for himself and for our salvation that great sweat drops of blood spilled from his forehead.
(Luke 22:41-44) 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
The Bible says that he "prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44). Why such deep, groaning prayer? Because he bore the burden of the salvation of the world. He felt the weight of a tremendous conviction to stand in the gap for us.
Two women were important intercessors for the apostle Paul. In Philippians 4, he describes their ministry:
(Philippians 4:2-3) I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have CONTENDED at my side in the cause of the gospel.
"Contended" illustrates the conviction felt by intercessors. It's a serious as going to war. Peter Wagner (in his book, Prayer Shield) argues that these women waged spiritual warfare on Paul's behalf. Paul's ministry of the gospel moved forward by means of intercession, and knowing that, these two prayer warriors felt a heavy burden to stand in the gap for him.
I believe the surest sign of an intercessor is this sense of burden. You either have it or you don't. It's not something you create. The Holy Spirit creates the burden and makes it unmistakeable and unavoidable. The burden wakes prayer warriors at 2 AM and drives them to their knees. It makes them very focused and intense people. They aren't messing around.
CALLING ALL INTERCESSORS
Today, I call all of us to pray for each other. Let's be a church of intercessors who call on the Lord to move in power here and around the world for his glory. The church is not built on programs, but on God's power. That power is only released when we intercede for each other and for the world. Everyone, please pray for our church leaders and staff. We are in an unseen but very real war with the principalities and powers. Satan wants to derail and destroy us. He wants to hurt our families and to sow chaos in the church. Only your prayers and God's power will stop him. Also, make sure and pray through our monthly Intercede sheet. These are our priority prayers.
Let me say a final word to "the intercessors." You know who you are. The burden to pray is especially heavy in your life. God shows you things and he speaks to you about situations and you get down and pray. You have spent sleepless nights with your grip on God as you contend and stand in the gap for someone. And you have seen the power of God unleashed in answer to your intercessions. I thank God for you.
Intercessors, we need you to keep doing what you do. In fact, we need you to do it more and more. The Holy Spirit has given some of you a special burden to pray for our Cornerstone leaders and their families. Please let me know if that's your focus in prayer. I'd like to know who you are and to know what the Lord has put on your heart to pray. A huge thank you to all who intercede for me. I need your prayers. God hears and answers you. It's the only way I'm standing here today.