Intercessory prayer is a ministry we exercise when we’re apart from one another. The Apostle Paul, who always longed to see his brothers and sisters in Christ face to face, begins his letters with a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession. These prayers are a written testimony of his daily intercession for the churches: “we have not ceased to pray for you.” (Colossians 1:9) The ministry of intercession is a daily commitment and reminder of our spiritual union in Christ. I’m writing this note as a call to intercessory prayer in this season of separation.
The ministry of intercession is commanded in Scripture: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18) God’s commands express his character. They have their source and their end in God himself. Intercession is a ministry of the Triune God and his command for us to intercede is a call to participate in his ministry of intercession. In Romans 8, as Paul searches the depths of God’s presence and work in the groaning of this fallen world, he discovers the intercessory ministry of both the Spirit and the Son in their eternal communion and communication with the Father:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)
The writer of Hebrews goes on to add, concerning the ministry of the Son:
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
When we draw near to the throne of grace and offer prayers of intercession, we are entering the eternal communion and conversation of the Father, Son, and Spirit. As we make our feeble requests on behalf of others, we join the divine intercession of the Son and the Spirit.
Yes, we are commanded to intercede for one another, but what a gracious and awesome privilege it is to approach the throne of grace and participate in the intercession of the Son and the Spirit. It is this divine privilege and grace that makes intercession so vital to the fellowship of believers. How can our enmity or division or bitterness or anger survive such blessed communion with the Son and the Spirit before the Father? How can I continue to hate my brother when I bring him before the throne of grace in prayer, knowing that God’s Spirit is interceding on our behalf? How can I continue to remain at enmity with my sister when I bring her before the throne of grace in prayer, knowing that the Son is our advocate, who says to us, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16) and holds forth his hands, which were pierced for our transgressions, to the Father?
The command to intercede is grounded in the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Triune God. This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
“there is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter everyday.” (Life Together, p.86)
For the sake of the unity and sanctity of the church, I exhort us to daily engage this ministry of intercession.
Intercessory prayer is scriptural and specific. We learn the language of intercessory prayer from Scripture, where we hear the voice of the Spirit and the Son, who are interceding for us. Pray with your Bible open. Pray for one another according to God’s Word: “Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word!” (Psalm 119:169). Intercession is also specific. Pray specific words of Scripture for specific names and specific needs. Scripture, names, and needs are the basic content of intercessory prayer.
During this time of separation and uncertainty, let’s remember Paul’s greeting from Epaphras to the Colossians: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Col 4:12) Yes, as servants of Christ Jesus, let us always struggle in the ministry of intercession, that we may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.