Every once in a while I find myself with thoughts that cause me to wonder if someone has been praying for me. Sometimes it’s waking up with a song that seems to have come out of nowhere. On other occasions, I find myself with an awareness of God’s goodness or presence that seems to have come from beyond myself.
What surprises me about such moments is that they can leave me with mixed feelings. Part of me can be grateful at the thought of someone else’s intercession. Another part of me can be unnerved. If another person can affect my deepest thoughts by appealing to heaven in my behalf, I wonder how much of me is being shaped by the prayers of others?
The disquiet behind my question has reminded me of how inclined we are to lose sight of the interaction between our own choices and the prayers of others for us. According to the Bible . . .
Our spiritual health and growth don’t depend on us alone. The apostle Paul affirmed this when he told followers of Christ that he was praying that the Lord would open the eyes of their hearts so they could grow in their knowledge of God and see how much He loved them (Ephesians 3:14-21; Colossians 1:9-11).
Paul believed, as the rest of the Scriptures confirm, that spiritual growth can happen in us through the help of the prayers of others on our behalf—while still leaving us responsible for our own decisions.
Our spiritual health and growth depend also on how we respond when God answers the prayers of others for us. Although the mystery of how God answers these prayers might leave us wondering who’s in control of our lives, we don’t need to worry about that. Even if our awareness is altered as a result of the intercession of others, our choices remain our own.
Does this mean I’m at peace with the thought of intercessory prayer? I wish I could say so. But if praying for others is so important, I don’t like to think about how many times I’ve told others I would pray for them without following through. And when I have prayed repeatedly for those I really care about—with no apparent results—I wonder why I don’t seem to be able to touch the heart of God.
If our prayers for others don’t seem to be making a difference in their lives, does that mean we’re wasting our time? Here’s where I find answers.
According to the Bible, intercession is . . .
An opportunity to show our faith. When we don’t see the Lord responding to our prayers for others, we are faced with an important choice: give up on God or use the lack of visible response as a test of our confidence in the One who urges us to keep praying for one another.
God considers our faith more valuable than gold (1 Peter 1:7). His decision to not give us everything we ask for immediately, offers us an immeasurably important opportunity to trust Him.
A priority of love. Our concern for others sometimes leaves us feeling so helpless. We lament that all we can do is pray. But by regarding intercession as a last resort, we may be underestimating one of the most important ways of showing real love.
If we accept the New Testament view that prayer is a way of showing our affection (Colossians 4:12-13), then interceding for one another is one of the most urgent things we can do.
An engagement of our interdependence. When we pray for one another, we’re following the example of the apostle Paul. He asked the readers of his letters to pray for him (Romans 15:30-32), even as he asked the Father in heaven to open the spiritual eyes of those for whom he was praying (Ephesians 3:14-21).
A discipline of endurance. Praying for one another without visible results can wear us out and tempt us to throw in the towel. When we don’t see answers from God, we may be inclined to assume that if He were going to answer our prayers, He would have done so by now. But one of the most important dimensions of intercessory prayer is endurance. As we patiently pray that God would give those we care for the grace to wait on Him, we share together in the patience that builds depth and richness of heart in people of faith (Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 11:1-2,13-16).
It is by the discipline of patient intercession that we help one another continue to rely on God. By prayerful patience, we take our place with countless others who have already discovered that for those who wait on the Lord, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NKJV).
A sharing of hope. If we have had a taste of the goodness and wisdom of God, then intercession can be a way of helping one another rise together on wings of hope.
Few things are more important than experiencing, in the middle of trouble and in the passing of time, the confident anticipation that God will show that He is deserving of our trust.
Because such hope is one of the central themes of the Bible, the apostle Paul could write, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NKJV). Just as importantly, Paul went on to show that the God to whom we pray is the source of our hope. So he wrote, in the form of a prayer: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13 NKJV).
Father in heaven, by Your Word we acknowledge that Your Son and Spirit are already interceding for us (Romans 8:26; Hebrews 7:24-25). So now we ask for Your help to join Them in doing what You’ve invited us to do (1 Timothy 2:1). Please lift our hearts in anticipation of Your ability to help those who are in our hearts . . . even as we go to our knees for one another. —Mart De Haan