Intercessory prayer is, quite simply, the prayer of one person for someone else. It’s one of the most powerful ways to both gain and share encouragement and peace with others.
My favorite Bible story of intercessory prayer is in Acts 12. Peter was in prison, and the new church was gathered in prayer for him. An angel miraculously set Peter free, and the story picks up here.
…he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
Acts 12:12-16 NIV
This story always makes me laugh. I can picture myself doing just what Rhoda did. I wonder if she really didn’t believe her prayers for Peter would be answered. When the answer hit her in the face, her excitement overwhelmed her sense of reason, and she left poor Peter outside, still knocking!
I know the prayers of one person are very powerful, both from my own experience and from what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20 NIV: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” But there is something to be said for the power of intercessory prayer. It blesses both the one praying and the one receiving.
When I am asked to pray for someone, I usually stop and pray for them right there, or write it down immediately so I don’t forget. If I see a prayer request in a Facebook feed, I immediately pause and pray. I learned this from Dr. Charles Stanley, who said he always prays right on the spot when he receives requests.
If it’s an ongoing prayer request, I keep it in a journal and refer back to it often. I make sure this journal is in a safe place, away from prying eyes.
I like this quote by Corrie Ten Boom:
“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”
Intercessory prayer is a time commitment. It can be heart-wrenching, if the prayer request is painful. But it can also be an enormous blessing, because you are playing a role in God’s work in another’s life.
What if you’re the one who needs prayer? I have a few suggestions.
- Ask God who you should ask to pray for you. You need someone you can trust with your private information. Ask God to show you who will pray fervently and confidentially on your behalf.
- Share in a private way. Face-to-face is best, then text or call. I sometimes choose email or Facebook private messaging, and I do belong to a couple private Facebook groups where we share prayer requests. Choose the method which is least likely to be read, seen, or heard by someone who doesn’t need to know.
- Be prepared for differences in opinion. Not everyone is a fan of intercessory prayer, even though it’s biblical. It may be wise to keep the fact you are asking for prayer private so you don’t receive unwanted advice, like I did in the past.
In recent years, two family members warned me about sharing my prayer requests with my Bible study friends. I included them on the email list to my friends, and I didn’t use the blind carbon copy option (now I’ve learned my lesson well).
I understand that these family members didn’t want me to get hurt by people they didn’t know. They didn’t want “strangers” knowing my private struggles. However, I knew these women, trusted their character, and desperately needed their encouragement during my past trials. These family members are extremely private in nature, but I share my feelings and thoughts more freely (obviously, I blog!).
I don’t regret sharing my prayer requests with my Bible study friends. I followed God’s leading to ask, and I was blessed beyond measure knowing others were praying for me in times of crisis.
Join me next Wednesday for a guest post by my friend Leslie on the power of continuous prayer.
Questions for reflection:
How do you incorporate prayer for others into your regular prayer habits?
How has prayer from others given you peace and encouragement in a difficult time?
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