And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18
Last week I wrote about petitions as prayer. Petitions are requests we make to God about our own needs and concerns. Intercessory petitions are appeals to God on behalf of the needs and concerns of other people. This is my topic this week.
I find it best when interceding on an ongoing basis for someone to determine first whether the Lord is calling me to undertake this ministry. I used to assume it was my responsibility to pray recurrently for someone if they asked me to do so. But I’ve reached the conclusion that the Lord does not want me to pray for a particular person or situation out of a sense of obligation. Instead, he wants me to pray because he is calling me to do so. Sometimes I forget that I am accountable only to God and not also to my often-overwrought sense of responsibility.
Therefore, the first step in attempting to intercede for someone in prayer, on an ongoing basis, is to ask the Lord if this is what he wants you to do. If you feel a sense of heaviness when you think about praying for that person, there is a chance God is not calling you to this ministry. Ask him first what that heaviness is all about. Possibly there is something in the way. Could there be an emotional or spiritual issue in your own life that needs to be addressed first? Maybe you have some underlying prejudice or resentment toward the person for whom you are attempting to intercede. Or, perhaps you are not being called to pray for him or her.
Although intercessory prayer is something every Christian is called to do we are not necessarily called to pray, on an ongoing basis, for every person who asks us for prayer. It may be that God prefers someone other than you to pray for a particular person. Perhaps he has someone else in mind for whom he wants you to intercede. However, if the Lord keeps placing that person on your heart, in a way that does not feel like an unpleasant burden, then he’s probably calling you to pray.
The next step is to ask the Holy Spirit to show you how and for what to pray. You may think the need is so obvious you don’t need to ask, however, it’s a good thing to ask for direction, anyway. Recently, while praying on someone’s behalf, exactly as she had asked, the Holy Spirit recalled to my mind a verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I had a sense I was to pray that verse for her and not for the specific request she had given me. And, every time now I pray for her, using that verse as a template, I feel a sense of joy. This tells me I’m following the Spirit’s direction.
If the Lord directs you to pray for someone, but you still find yourself at a loss for how to pray, the following suggestions may be of help to you:
- Ask the Lord to help you see the person for whom you are interceding through his eyes. As I mentioned several weeks ago in my post about confessing our standing before God, he sees us from the point of view of the end of time, when the good work he’s begun in us is brought to completion. In God’s eyes we are radiantly robed in his righteousness right now. When we view someone from this perspective, it sometimes changes how we pray for them.
- Visualize an outcome to the person’s need, or a solution to their problem, which is in keeping with God’s word. If it is for physical or emotional healing, imagine God’s hand on him or her healing their hurt or injury and pray accordingly. If it is for the restoration of a strained relationship, imagine him or her with an outstretched hand to the person from whom they are estranged.
- Pray phrases or verses from Scripture. For example, if you are praying for someone who needs discernment or direction, try this verse from Isaiah, which I’ve reworked for prayer: “Lord, whether ______ turns to the right or to the left, cause his/her ears to hear a voice behind him/her, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (30:21) I just love using Scripture verses in prayer. I keep a notebook full of my favorite verses for this purpose.
- Pray as Paul does in some of his letters – for blessings from the Holy Spirit. When Paul offers prayers for the recipients of his letters he sometimes prays for them to receive blessings from the Holy Spirit. We can take his prayers and make them our own, by asking for: God’s power, so that it will work in the person for whom we are interceding (Colossians 1:11, 29; Ephesians 1:19, 3:16); Knowledge of God’s will (Colossians 1:9); The gifts of wisdom and revelation so that he/ she may know God better (Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:10); God’s hope and spiritual riches (Ephesians 1:18); or, The power to grasp fully the love of Christ so that he/she may be filled with everything God has for him/her (Ephesians 3:14-19).
- Pray while singing a hymn or praise song. I do this sometimes during worship on Sunday mornings, if a particular verse or phrase inspires me.
- Pray without words. Simply envision the person in your mind and hold him/her up before God, who loves him/her unfailingly.
I suggest that your final step when praying for someone be the same as for when you pray for yourself: Anticipate God’s answer by thanking him for it and conclude by asking that God’s will be done, for his glory and for the good of the person for whom you are interceding.
Next week: The prayer of complaint or lament.