“Intercessory prayer” is one of those terms we never (usually) use, but is something hopefully all of us practice. Every time we pray for someone else—when we bring the needs of another before the Lord, whether “serious” or “simple”, we are interceding on behalf of that person. We are praying for them. This, at the most basic level, is what intercessory prayer is.
And everyone said, duh.
Now, we get this (but we kind of don’t). Or maybe it’s just me. After all, the moment I feel the most conviction and conflict is when the following words come out of my mouth or from my keyboard: “I will pray for you.” Conviction because I know it matters, and I want to do it. Conflict because I know there’s a good chance I’ll fail to do it unless I am disciplined. (Surely I can’t be alone in this.)
This is why, as I wrote before, I try to pray right away. If someone asks me to pray for them, I want to do it at that moment so I can have a clear conscience, and more importantly, so that I actually do pray for that person. And it matters to me, not just because I have a tender conscience, but because it’s one of the ways I can actually show love to someone else. I can pray for them because I know God hears and answers. And if I know God hears and answers, why would I not?
If I take seriously the command to love my neighbor as myself, then I can’t not intercede. It is my duty, even as it is my privilege. This is something George Whitefield understood well, when he said,
…if we are all commanded to “love our neighbor (that is every man) even as ourselves,” nay to “lay down our lives for the brethren;” then, it is the duty of all to pray for their neighbors as much as for themselves, and by all possible acts and expressions of love and affection towards them, at all times, to show their readiness even to lay down their lives for them, if ever it should please God to call them to it.1
Notice the duty: It’s everyone. It’s all people. Our friends, yes, but also the neighbor we don’t like. The politician we didn’t vote for. The coworker we’re pretty sure is gunning for our job. The neighborhood kid who’s a bad influence on our kids.
But it’s also our delight—or at least it can be. Intercessory prayer can lead us to grow in our love for others, especially those we might not have an affinity for. It changes us. It challenges us to care in greater degrees for those we might otherwise overlook. In a sense, it calls us to lay down our lives for the sake of those we, perhaps, don’t really like that much.
Or at least, it calls us to lay down our pride. And that’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?