In Genesis 18, when the Lord determined that He would go down and see whether the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had “done altogether according to the outcry against it” (verse 21), Abraham stood still before the Lord and petitioned Him repeatedly on behalf of his nephew Lot, not wanting to see the righteous destroyed with the wicked. His petitions to the Lord are an example of an intercession – a petition or pleading on behalf of others. They were spoken to God in humility yet with persistence.
Christians need to be reminded to include intercessions – petitions on behalf of others – in prayers. Consider with me a few Bible instructions.
We ought to be praying for civil leaders: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We may feel helpless to personally effect any changes civilly, but what we can do is pray for our leaders with the goal that we can continue to live peaceably in godliness and reverence.
We should be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for both their spiritual and physical well-being: “praying with all supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). A supplication involves a petition for specific needs, and Paul directs we petition for all the saints. This may include praying for others’ health: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). Paul prayed for the Philippian saints’ spiritual growth, including their being “filled with the fruits of righteousness” (Philippians 1:9-11). Our prayer may be an intercession like the prayer Paul requested from the saints in Rome, “that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you” (Romans 15:31-32). We should be like Paul and in humility ask for the intercessions of our brethren.
Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, those who are against us: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). Petitioning God on behalf of those who persecute you and do you harm may be counter-culture, but it is the way of the Lord. Do you pray for those who hurt you?
Paul’s example teaches us to pray for the lost: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). We should pray that opportunity be given for the lost to hear the gospel, as they cannot be saved apart from hearing it, believing it, and obeying it. And we can pray that the Lord use us some way in that effort.
It’s possible for our prayers to become self-centered as we have on our minds our own needs. Let us not forget to be making intercessions to God for others. Like Abraham, we want to be praying humbly and persistently on behalf of others.