Intercessory prayer allows us to lift up fellow members in need
by Greg Feulner · Apr 20, 2022
Intercessory prayer is simply praying for others, and it is at the heart of Samaritan Ministries.
When we receive information about another member’s Need, we have the privilege of lifting up a brother or sister before the Lord in a challenging time. It is an act of faith, and it can only be brought about by the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
I learned of the tremendous blessing that comes through intercessory prayer in one of the hardest times of my life. I came close to dying in my 20s from a body weakened by the effects of two different diseases, one following the other. Within weeks, I had lost over 30 pounds, hardly being able to keep food down. Every night I had severe abdominal pain and was making five to eight trips to the bathroom, and, because of internal bleeding, I was losing blood every time. Critically anemic, malnourished, and without sleep, my health continued to spiral out of control.
I would be up for hours most nights because of the intense pain. Not wanting to wake my wife, I could be found lying on the couch in the living room, sometimes sobbing, sometimes staring off into the nothingness of the night, turning over the same thoughts again and again, asking, “Is this it, God? Is this how it all ends?”
I began to pray for my family more and for members of our church and community, especially those who were suffering.
Here, in those dark hours of the night, I learned to pray. For months after thinking of nothing but my plight, God lovingly broke me where I needed to be broken. God, in His mercy, gave me a tremendous gift of warmth and light in the darkness: Himself. I walked with God during those times down paths I’d never known. I was shaped and formed into the person I am today. Confession, prayer, and simple reflection on His Word brought my meager faith into a greater richness and depth of vitality. God taught me to look beyond myself and my suffering to His eternal throne. “My grace is sufficient for you” became more than sentimental words. I clung to them for dear life. In time, the Spirit gave me strength and in this I grew to think less of myself and more of God. And the more I did that, the more He put others on my heart.
Instead of only praying for my body, I began to pray more and more that God would bring me nearer to Himself. As I grew in my longing for closeness to Him above all else, my heart yearned to see God work in the lives of others. I began to pray for my family more and for members of our church and community, especially those who were suffering. This, I came to see, is the proper disposition of intercessory prayer. When we pray, it is an expression of our absolute surrender to God as the provider of all things. Our prayers and petitions for one another are motivated by a love for His name and affection for His people.
Love for the saints
As members of Samaritan Ministries, we do not pray for one another as strangers, but as brothers and sisters united in the family of God. We are the Body of Christ, who is our Head, built into a temple of God’s dwelling, united by the eternal bond of the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder then, that, in the greatest of recorded intercessory prayers, Jesus prays for His people to be united in truth (John 17:11,17-19,22-23).
Intercessory prayer springs from love for the members of this Body. “Owe no one anything,” Paul says, “except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Are we mindful of this in our prayers? Do we feel the weight of the charge to love one another as a debt owed? Are we burdened in our prayers by the suffering of a brother or sister? The same Spirit that unites us speaks through Paul to the church in Galatia when He says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
One element of intercessory prayer that does not always get the attention it deserves is this element of struggle. As Epaphras struggled in his prayers for the saints in Colossae (Colossians 4:12), we ought to struggle in our prayers on behalf of others, because we believe prayer is God’s means to change things (2 Corinthians 1:11, Philippians 1:19, 1 Timothy 4:4-5, James 5:15-18) and we, out of love and aligned with His will, desire to see Him glorified in His servants. Consider the struggle behind Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4). We will fight for those we love. Why would it be any different in prayer?
Through intercessory prayer, the Holy Spirit develops in us a greater compassion for others. If I am praying for a specific person with a specific health condition or trial, I am forced to think through what that must be like for that person. I am moved to compassion like the compassion Christ has for His people. If I am angry with someone and I go before the throne of God in prayer, I see myself in the brilliant and awesome majesty of the eternal God and I am humbled by my own sin and my own desperate need of mercy. My anger toward my brother or sister turns into a desire that he or she know the Lord more deeply. This in turn compels me to show kindness and so fulfill the law of Christ by loving my neighbor.
But what if I don’t know how to pray for someone specifically? I have a friend who just lost his son this past year. How can I possibly understand something so painful when I have not experienced it myself? While we seek to empathize with others, we don’t need to (nor can we always) understand the plight of a brother or sister. The Spirit intercedes for us to the Father (Romans 8:26-27). God hears our prayers, and He understands the plight of His children with absolute perfection.
What we pray for ultimately is for God’s glory and for Him to manifest Himself to His children. We can trust that it is better to pray than to not pray. God will take care of the rest.
Greg Feulner is Assistant Editor of the Samaritan Ministries newsletter.