[Note: I shared this message at my church on June 29, 2008.]
I’m going to share a little of what God has taught me over the past few years about intercession. It’s not a complete instruction manual, by any means, but it’s three principles that God has worked into my own heart.
1) The first principle is that God hears and answers the prayers of the righteous.
1 Peter 3:12: FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.
James 5:16: The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
Well, that sure leaves me out — and the rest of you, too.
Romans 3:23: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
1 John 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
So if God hears the prayers of the righteous, and we’re all sinners, then what’s the point of praying? The point is that Jesus made us righteous when we received the forgiveness of the cross.
1 Corinthians 1:30: But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
So does that mean that once we receive Jesus into our hearts we can do any old thing we want, and God will still answer our prayers? As Paul would say, “God forbid!” No, there’s a key to maintaining our righteousness before God, and Jesus related it in a parable in Luke 18:9-14:
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
If we put a couple of the previous verses in context, they support this idea of confessing our sins.
1 John 1:8-10 says this: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
James 5:16: Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
We don’t keep our right standing before God by doing everything right, because we can’t. Our flesh is weak. We keep our right standing by confessing our sins. Now, our flesh doesn’t much like this idea, because confessing our sins is … well … humbling. It’s especially humbling if we confess to another person. I’m not suggesting we set up a booth like the Catholics do, but I do think we could be more honest with each other. Instead of trying to make ourselves look good, we should humble ourselves, which makes Jesus look good. And the more humble we are, the more glory goes to the Lord. The more humble we are, the more righteous we are. And God attunes His ear to the prayers of the righteous.
2) Another principle of intercession is sincerity. There are several verses in the Bible that talk about seeking God with a whole heart. Jeremiah 29:13 is one:
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
If we’re honest with each other, we’ll admit that some of our prayers are more heart-felt than others. Baby Lily, for instance, was easy to pray for. Whose heart isn’t touched by a little baby struggling for life? It’s a little harder to pray sincerely for the obnoxious drunk who kicks the dog and beats his wife. We might even have to confess to God that we hate this guy. We definitely have to forgive him before we can honestly pray for him.
Mark 11:25: And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.
Luke 6:28: bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
One example of this kind of prayer is found in Romans 9:1-3. Paul, who had been beaten and stoned and persecuted for years by other Jews, said this:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Sometimes we can’t offer sincere prayers because it might cost us something. A short time after Tom and I were married, we were in a Christian bookstore and he saw a book he felt led to get for me. It’s called, “Rees Howells, Intercessor” by Norman Grubb, and it’s one I treasure. It tells the story of a man who was one of the key players in the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. He later went on to be a missionary in Africa, and later still he started a Bible college. But the service to God that he loved best was intercession. Here’s one story that has always stayed with me.
When the tubercular woman died, she left four little children. It was such a test for her husband that he fell into bad habits through drink, and much neglected them. Mr. Howells one day was burdened about this. The Lord showed him plainly that something would have to be done for these children. The Lord asked Rees what He should do with them, but Mr. Howells gave Him no reply. The Spirit said, “Unless you give Me an answer, they will have to go to the workhouse.” Then He asked, “If anything happened to your brother or sister-in-law, would you allow their children to go there?” “Certainly I wouldn’t,” answered Mr. Howells. “Why do you answer Me so quickly about your own fold,” the Lord said, “yet you have nothing to say about these four little orphans?” “Well, of course, blood is thicker than water.” “Yes, but spirit is thicker than blood!”
After some more internal struggles and many prayers, Mr. Howells eventually found his heart overflowing with love for these children, to the point that he wanted to raise them as his own. Only after he reached that place did the Lord send them to stay with the mother’s sisters.
Too often, I think, we pray sincerely for God’s blessing on others as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. If God wants to use us to bring the blessing, we have a harder time.
James 2:14-24 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
3) The third principle I want to talk about is praying God’s will. Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread. He did not tell us to pray for a new BMW with a sunroof. James tells us this in chapter 4:1-3:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
I think the same principle applies when we’re praying for others.
I took a quick tour through the New Testament and looked at prayers of intercession. Here are some that jumped out at me.
John offered this prayer in 3rd John 1:2:
Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.
I think we’re pretty good around here about praying for good health and that people may prosper. I think we’re not so good about praying that their souls may prosper. Almost all the prayers that I found relate more to our spiritual condition that to our natural condition. I’m going to finish by sharing a few of them. Let us pray:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power; in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: Lord teach us to confess our sins, that, through the blood of Jesus Christ, we may be accounted righteous and humble before You, that our prayers may be effective. Pierce our hearts, Lord, that all our prayers may be sincere and honest, whether we pray for friends or enemies. And help us, Lord, to pray for Your will in all things, focusing more on the eternal soul, and less on the natural man. Through Jesus Christ, our glorious Lord and Savior, Amen.
 1 Peter 3:12
 James 5:16
 Romans 3:23
 1 John 1:8
 1 Corinthians 1:30
 Luke 18:9-14
 1 John 1:8-10
 James 5:16
 Jeremiah 29:13
 Mark 11:25
 Luke 6:28
 Romans 9:1-3
 “Rees Howells, Intercessor” by Norman Grubb, p.91, Christian Literature Crusade, Ft. Washington, PA
 James 2:14-24
 1 Thessalonians 5:23
 Colossians 1:9-12
 Ephesians 3:14-19
 Ephesians 1:15-19
 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
 Philemon 1:4-6
 Hebrews 13:20-21