Intercession: Praying for others… and answering for God.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January 2017
INTERCESSION /ɪn.(t)ər'sɛs.ʃən/ n. The act of coming between one person and another, on the behalf of one (or both) of the parties.
2. The act of praying on behalf of another.
[Intercessor /'ɪn.(t)ər.sɛs.sər/ n., intercessory /ɪn.(t)ər'sɛs.(sə.)ri/ adj.]

Praying for rulers is one of the many forms of intercession, or the more redundant “intercessory prayer.” It’s when we try to help somebody out, by praying for or with ’em. Sometimes because they asked us to pray for them, but of course they don’t have to: We’re talking with God, they’re on our mind, we bring ’em up.

There are a number of Christians who’ve made intercession their particular ministry. They don’t go out and physically or financially help the needy: They pray for them. Sometimes for legitimate reasons: They can’t physically help, or haven’t the authority, or haven’t the finances. So prayer’s all they can do. True in a whole lot of cases.

Then there’s the illegitimate reason: They do have the means and ability, but they don’t wanna help in any of those other ways. And prayer costs them nothing. So it’s stinginess disguised as piety. Pretend faith, ’cause real faith is expressed by good deeds. Jm 2.14-17 I could go on, but that’d be its own article.

But it brings up another point: Intercession doesn’t begin and end with making other people’s requests known to God. It’s also a prophetic ministry. Y’see, God talks back.

Remember, the usual definition of intercession is when we come between one person and another. In prayer, we come between the person with the request, and the Almighty who can answer the request. You know, like any good priest does. But if we don’t listen for God’s answer—for his solution to the problem—that’s not intercession. What kind of intercessor only listens to one party?

So if you wanna be an intercessor, good for you! But if you think all an intercessor does is make prayer requests, you got another think coming. Intercession usually means you are part of the way God answers prayer.

It’s not about making some noise.

As you know, not everyone believes God talks back. Cessationists don’t, nor do Christians who lack faith. Most pagans don’t either. They believe prayer works only one direction, and the only way God answers is by giving ’em what they want… or not. These false beliefs have infected the culture—both pagan and Christian—in far too great a degree.

Hence many Christians are clueless when it comes to intercession. They don’t think of it—at all—as a way of getting God’s answer. They think of it as turning up the volume: If more people pray, God’s more likely to hear. Even though Jesus said it doesn’t work like that, Mt 6.7-8 they suspect it actually does. It’s why they misquote “When two or three are gathered in my name,” which is about church discipline, not prayer. The forget Elijah was only one man, but he got answered—decisively.

Or they think of it as getting better connections to the Man Upstairs. If you’re a “prayer warrior,” and they aren’t, you must know how to contact God, or get results, better than they. Or maybe you’re more devout; you walk with God more closely, so he likes you better, and is more likely to show you favor. It’s why Christians pray to saints: They figure God definitely loves his saints, so he’s definitely gonna listen to them. Jesus loves his mom, so throw up a little Hail Mary, win her to your side, and have her work on Jesus’s heartstrings a little.

It’s all based on a sneaking suspicion in a lot of people that God’s silence is because God disapproves—that because we’re dirty sinners, God doesn’t love us all that much. Or we’re too sinful for him to interact with us.

So when we function as intercessors, we’ve gotta rectify these seriously faulty beliefs. God does love us, does listen, does answer. Not always how we want, but he answers. Remind ’em we follow a living God; it’s only the dead ones or fake ones which don’t talk.

Now, when people come to us for prayer, and their concern is, “You gotta pray because I suck at prayer”—okay fine, they lack confidence. We can work with that. Never let ’em think, “I can’t pray correctly, therefore God won’t listen to me.” No; they can pray correctly, ’cause Jesus taught us how. Remind ’em God is gracious, and does indeed wanna hear from them. Remind ’em God does want us to bring him everything we worry about, because he cares. 1Pe 5.7

Then pray, and see what God says.

When they don’t like the answers.

The down side to intercession is, as you might’ve guessed, when God gives them an answer they don’t like. Or don’t wanna hear.

Sometimes they come around, like Nahamán of Aram (KJV “Naaman the Syrian” Lk 4.27 KJV) finally did. Initially he wanted God’s prophet to put on a show (kinda like the fake prophets he was used to in Aram; kinda like fake prophets nowadays) and when he didn’t get it, he was gonna go home. Fortunately his slaves weren’t as superficial: Who cares whether the prophet put on a show? The boss was gonna get cured!

2 Kings 5.9-14 KWL
9 Nahamán came with his chariot and horses, and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent an agent to tell him, “Go wash seven times in the Jordan.
Your flesh will return to you, and be clean.”
11 Nahamán was angry and left.
He said, “Look, I told myself, ‘He’ll come out, come out;
he’ll stand, he’ll call his LORD God’s name,
he’ll wave his hand over the infected place, he’ll cure the infection.’
12 Aren’t Damascus’s rivers—Barada and Awaj—better than all the water in Israel?
Can’t I wash in them and be clean?” Angrily, he turned to go.
13 Nahamán’s slaves approached and spoke to him.
They said, “Father, the prophet spoke a great word to you.
Why not do it? All he told you is, ‘Wash. Be clean.’”
14 Nahamán went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan,
following the God’s-man’s word.
His flesh returned, like flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

And sometimes they don’t come around, like the Judahi revolutionaries who came to Jeremiah wanting to know what the LORD would have ’em do next, swearing up and down they’d do whatever the LORD said. Jr 42.1-6 God’s answer was to stay in Israel and not go to Egypt like they were planning, or they’d be destroyed. Jr 42.9-22 (He was really detailed about the destruction, too. This wasn’t just “no,” it was “Absolutely not; you’re gonna die horribly; NO.”) Their response:

Jeremiah 43.2-4 KWL
2 Azaría ben Hošaya, Jochanan ben Qareakh, and all the proud men,
told, told Jeremiah, “You speak lies.
Our LORD God didn’t send you to say, ‘Don’t go to Egypt and stay there’!
3 Barúkh ben Neriya got you to screw us over, so he could put us in the Iraqis’ hands,
and they’d kill or exile us to Babylon.”
4 Neither Jochanan ben Qareakh, nor any of the great princes, nor any of the people,
would listen to the LORD’s voice and stay in the land of Judah.

Not only did they head off to Egypt despite God’s dire warnings: They dragged Jeremiah off to Egypt with them. Jr 43.4-7 According to tradition, killed him along the way, too.

Hate to tell you, but this comes with the job. Plenty of people come to intercessors only because they want God to rubber-stamp their endeavors. All they care to hear are “Yes” and “Amen.” They want God to follow them, not the other way round. Same as those folks who came to Jeremiah.

So intercessors frequently have to put up with people who refuse “no” for an answer. Heck, some Christians believe we should never take “no” for an answer from God, but keep banging on his door, like the widow in Jesus’s story of the unjust judge. Lk 18.1-8 If they want it bad enough, people psyche themselves into thinking they’re righteous, their cause is righteous, and God should give ’em a yes. This isn’t what Jesus taught, but try telling them that: They’ll just call us liars and false prophets, just as they did with Jeremiah.

Intercessors will get hassled when we won’t play yes-men. Not may get hassled: Will get hassled. The sort of person who insists on a yes-man, is guaranteed to make trouble when they don’t get their way. I’ve seen intercessors slandered, personally abused, fired or removed from their ministries, even driven out of their churches altogether. And lest we get unwittingly sucked into any smear campaign against an uncompromising prophet, let’s pay attention to the character and fruit of those people who lead the charge. Like Jesus said, that’s how you’ll know them. Mt 7.15-20

Just a word of advice: If you discern they really want a yes, but God says it’s a no, give God’s answer in private. ’Cause they might find the “no” humiliating. (Especially if they’ve been bragging they have so much faith, they gotta hear yes from God.) So don’t humiliate them if you can help it; we’re trying to be kind. Prophecy should encourage, not embarrass; if you’ve embarrassed anyone, you’re doing it wrong.

(I know; some folks point to bible stories where the prophet publicly embarrassed someone. Well, they did it wrong. Not every prophet’s behavior in the scriptures is exemplary.)

Sometimes you’re the answer.

I mentioned people who get into intercession as a ministry ’cause they don’t really wanna help people in any way that costs them personally. Man are they in for a rough awakening: Often that’s precisely what God orders us to do.

An obvious example would be someone who tells you, “Could you pray for me? I’m short this month for rent.” And God’s immediate answer to you is, “Pay their rent.”

Or “Give them a ride to work,” or “Fix their furnace,” or “Buy them shoes,” or “Buy their groceries.” Happens all the time. So if you’re stingy, or don’t trust God to pay you back, or don’t otherwise wanna get involved, man are you in the wrong ministry. So how do such people wind up in this ministry anyway? Simple: Like the faithless, they never expect God to answer them, and ignore him when he does.

Well, that’s not gonna cut it. God works through obedient followers. That includes intercessors. So if you join a prayer ministry, expect to get involved in a lot of charity work. At the very least, your prayer ministry should be able to connect people with many of the charities in the area, any government social services, any crisis centers or hotlines, or anyone who offers any help. People are coming to you for God’s help; you get to be the route God helps them. Follow his lead.

Of course, some actions don’t even require an answer from God:

  • If someone threatens suicide, of course you call the suicide hotline.
  • If someone needs medical aid, call an ambulance. (And pray for a miracle, ’cause doctors and EMTs need to see them too.)
  • If someone tells you, “Please pray for me; my husband beats me,” call the police.
  • If someone tells you, “Pray for me; one of the pastors is molesting me,” call the police!

’Cause unless you’re a Catholic priest, sworn to keep all confessions secret, you never swore any such thing. You go get law enforcement involved. Now.

“But what if God has another course of action?” Then God’ll interrupt you. He can do that, you know. If he can stop Abraham from killing Isaac at the last minute, Ge 22.10-12 he can easily stop you from doing something which looks right but isn’t. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. If anyone’s getting hurt, get the police involved. Don’t worry about who might be embarrassed, or whether it’ll cause trouble. That’s not your call. The cops are experts at sorting that stuff out. Call them.

But extreme circumstances aside: Intercessors find ourselves regularly helping people out. It’s not a ministry you want to take up lightly. It’s a big deal. When it’s done right, it’s the most important ministry in any church. So if you wanna get involved in it, by all means do.