The deep peace of meditation isn’t an end in itself. It changes me and helps me be more open to God’s Spirit. Often after a time of meditation or listening prayer, my thoughts turn to the needs of others. I know I’m not alone in this, but I often emerge from meditation feeling more compassionate, desiring to love others and wanting to pray for them. Even with all my best intentions, I don’t know how. I see through a glass darkly, through my own grid and my sense of what’s best. Even if I know their situation, who am I to say how they most need prayer? This requires a different kind of listening to God, asking for guidance in how to pray. These prayers on others’ behalf are called intercession.
Intercessory prayer is a sacred privilege we share as people seeking to be formed in the image of Christ. We empathize with others in their struggles and long to meet their needs, but quickly see it’s beyond our reach. We long for them to know God’s peace and his power, but we are not their savior. We hurt along with them when they’re hurting and long for an end to their suffering. Out of love and on their behalf, we lift them up in prayer. It is priestly ministry, part of the privilege of belonging to the kingdom.
Some may think of it as putting ourselves in others’ places. Actually it’s more like trying to see them through God’s eyes, trying to listen for his intentions for the people we seek to love. Selfless intercession involves bringing the person or the circumstance that is weighing on us before God, and asking for a sense of his desires for them. We’re told in James that if any of us lack wisdom, all we need is to ask. We can ask even as we fumble for words, for we’re told his Spirit intercedes for us, with groanings too deep for words. Intercession lets us experience the compassion of God for someone else.
Intercessory prayer is one way we can join in the work of the kingdom, as we enter the fray in the spiritual realm. We have no idea the battles that are fought and won by unsung heroes in prayer closets around the world. Paul tells us that, “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) And Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John. 16:33)
Today’s prayer practice: Listening for God’s heart for others
Meditate on James 1:5 as it relates to prayer for others: “If any of you need wisdom, ask God and it will be given to you.” Take this as a promise as you sit in the quiet and listen. Think of those God bring to mind who are hurting or in need of help and healing. Who needs to know the love of God? A friend? A co-worker? A family member? How might he want you to pray for them today? Sit in stillness for a few moments as you speak each name and ask God for wisdom in knowing what to ask on their behalf.