My interest in prayer did not develop until 1977. Once I saw that prayer is the work which must come before all other work, a number of sermons were prepared designed to inform and challenge believers to become prayer warriors.
The sermon was delivered at Immanuel Baptist Church, Newport News VA, on July 11, 1979.
Subject: What is Intercessory Praying?
Text: Luke 11:1-10
"And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And He said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. And He said unto them. Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek , and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
Intercessory prayer is the secret weapon of the church. It can be likened to an INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILE which God has placed in our hands. It can be fired to any spot on the face of the earth. It travels at the speed of thought. It always hits its target.
A great thing about this missile is that it can be armed with a delayed detonator. I can pray for something to happen years from now and it will come to pass. That is exactly what Jesus did in John 17. "I pray not only for these, but for all those who shall believe on Me through their witness/word"( John 17:20). Two thousand years ago Jesus was praying for each of us who believe today. Every time a person is born into the Kingdom of God, the prayer of Jesus is answered again. Jesus prayed a prayer that had a delayed detonation. We need to leave our children an inheritance of answered prayer. We may not leave them much more, but long after we're dead, God will be answering prayers we have prayed for our children. Wrap them up in blankets of intercessory prayer--God will remember.
Intercessory Prayer: The tremendous weapon of the church
What a tremendous weapon the church has. There is absolutely no defense against it. The devil has never invented an antiballistic missile to deter intercessory praying. A lost man is defenseless against intercessory praying. He has a defense against preaching--he can refuse to come. Some of you have invited lost people to church, they don't have to come. Even when they do come they don't have to listen. They can refuse to listen. They can count the lights in the ceiling, flip through the hymnal, stay awake by counting how many choir members are wearing glasses, refusing to listen.
We can give them a tract. They can throw it away and refuse to pay any attention to it. There is one thing--one weapon--there is no defense against--they cannot stop Jesus from knocking at the door of their heart.
Intercessory prayer: A ministry lies at the very heart of the gospel
In Isaiah 53:12 we are told Jesus came to make intercession for the transgressors.
"He was made to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" ( 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus came to do one thing--to make intercession for lost people. The present ministry in which Jesus Christ is engaged is a ministry of intercession. Would you like to know what Jesus is doing right now--at this very moment? He is praying for us. "He is able to save all them who come to God by Him seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 10:25). "Little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. But if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous and He IS [present tense] (not He WAS!) the propitiation (THE COVERING) for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2).
God's ideal is that we don't sin. But, what if we do sin? Confess it. We are not lost--we have not forfeited eternal life--WHY? Because we have an ADVOCATE--a fancy word for a defense attorney--a go between; someone who intercedes for us. We have an Advocate in the presence of the Father--ace to face--JESUS CHRIST the righteous One and He is praying for us. Every time we sin against God the Father, Jesus Christ stands before the bar of heaven--interceding for us.
Most lawyers plead their client's innocence in order to get them off free. Our Heavenly Defense Attorney pleads our guilt. "Everything the devil says about this believer is true--but I want you to forgive because 2,000 years ago I shed my blood on the cross for him. He's trusted in me and by the price of Calvary, the agony of Gethsemane, I want you to forgive his sins and let my blood continue to cover him from all unrighteousness. "Jesus, our heavenly defense attorney, is interceding. When the devil comes to accuse you--just refer him to your defense attorney. He handles all the problems. THAT IS THE MINISTRY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Jesus says "As the Father hath sent Me, even so SEND I YOU."
Intercessory praying: Practicing the priesthood of the believer
From the teaching of the Word of God, we know that the ministry of intercession lies at the very heart of the Gospel and at the very heart of Christianity. Jesus said we are a kingdom of priests. "Jesus loosed us from our sins in His own blood and has made us a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS" (Revelation 1:6); "We are a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD" (1 Peter 5:9).
What is the priesthood of believers? The priesthood of believers is a fundamental doctrine of the Word of God. Most of the time we explain it as the God-given ability to go into the very presence of God without a go-between man--IMMEDIATE ACCESS INTO THE PRESENCE OF GOD. That is true, but only one-half of it.
The Old Testament priests did not go into the presence of God simply for himself. When he went, he took the whole nation with him. That's a miracle. One man had the ability to take the whole nation with him into the very presence of God.
You are a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS, which simply means you have right to go into the very presence of God. You have RIGHT and OBLIGATION to take others with you into that presence.
The Latin word translated priest means "a bridge". That is very picturesque of a Christian. Christians are a bridge between lost man or needy Christians and the resources of an almighty God.
The priesthood of believers includes that I go to God on behalf of other people. It involves three people, the one praying, God, and the person for whom the prayer is prayed (a lost person, a saved person, a needy person, a church, a nation, a city, a government). That is intercessory praying.
The ministry of intercession is best illustrated in Exodus 17 when Moses and Joshua and all the people of Israel meet Amalek in the Valley of Rephidim. A very unusual thing happens. "And Moses said unto Joshua, choose us out men, and go out and fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand" (verse 9).
Joshua must have been a loyal follower because if I had been Joshua and Moses had come "this is the plan, I'm going upon the mountain with the rod of God--you go to the valley and meet Amalek and all the armies." "Moses, I've got a better plan. I'll go to the mountain with the rod of God and you go to the valley." Joshua knew what it meant to follow orders. "So he did as Moses had said unto him and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand that Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword." There is intercession--Joshua down in the valley meeting the enemy head on in a face to face confrontation--Moses on the mountain lifting up the ROD OF GOD. They discovered something. When they lifted high the rod of God, Joshua prevails. When they lowered the rod of God, Amalek prevails.
Now who is doing the fighting? What is the source of that victory? Here is the principle of intercession illustrated. What Moses was doing was interceding for Joshua as he was fighting the battle in the valley and the victory that day came not from Joshua's strength and not from Israel's armies but from the intercession of Moses.
I'm convinced that the reason so many of our Christians going out into the valleys today and meeting the Amaleks of this world and are being defeated is because many of us are not standing on the hill of intercession holding up the rod of God. You will find every church winning victory after victory--Christian homes knowing victories--individuals living victorious when people begin to practice the ministry of intercession.
Intercessory praying: The rod of God is the name of Jesus
You and I have a rod just like that. Do you know what the Christian's rod is? THE NAME OF JESUS. That rod of God was simply God's authority placed in a human hand. I have a rod of God. You have a rod of God. That is the name of Jesus. The authority of heaven and earth resides in that Name. He places that name in our hands. When we stand before the needs of a lost world and IN THE NAME OF JESUS we go to the Father, and He hears.
"If ye shall ask anything in my Name, I will do it." "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23). Did you know it is a sin to fail to practice intercession? If you are not praying for others you are sinning against God.
Intercession is Moses' going to the Father and praying that He forgive the people in spite of their idolatry, Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah, and Paul's prayers of intercession prayed from prison. All prayers of intercession--praying for others. "First of all I would that prayers and supplications and intercessions be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:2). "He commands us to pray for all the saints and me in particular" (Ephesians 6:18). "He said PRAY FOR HIM AS A PREACHER" (Colossians 4:2). Throughout the New Testament one cannot get away from it--the ministry of intercession lies at the very heart of the Gospel.
THE SADDEST THING ABOUT THE 20TH CENTURY CHURCH IS WE JUST ARE NOT INTERCEDING. We do not understand the first rule of intercession. Most of us who name the name of Christ today have never really entered into that ministry of intercession. What does it man to intercede? What kind of praying must we do if it is to be intercessory praying?
In the parable which Jesus gave us in Luke 11, there is a perfect picture of the ministry of intercession. "And He spake many things unto them in parables" (Matthew 13:3). A parable is: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a handle with which to carry a truth home with you, to throw or place side by side one thing with another for the purpose of comparison, a name given to a connected narrative--whether of events in human life or a process in nature by which some great spiritual truth is illustrated or enforced, a narrative true to nature or life used for the purpose of conveying spiritual truth to the mind of the hearer. Let us look at this parable (verses 5-8) and pick out the characteristics of INTERCESSORY PRAYING. There are three simple things about the ministry of intercession.
Intercessory praying must be daring praying
Everything about this parable breathes boldness, audacity and daring. Here is a man who at MIDNIGHT goes to see a friend. This was not a hot-spot of the earth back then. They rolled up sidewalks at dark and everybody went to bed early. They didn't stay up until midnight watching television. This man had been in bed and asleep for a long time. He woke him up. "I can't get up. My children are in bed with me." Many times in the homes there was only one bed. The father would pack all the children around him in bed. We put a baby in the bed with us in an effort to get them to sleep. You don't breathe. You don't move. You're not about to wake them up. What would you think about a fellow at midnight--after you had been in bed asleep for hours--banging on the door? "I can't get up. My children are in bed. You'll disrupt the whole family." He just keeps on banging. "I don't care I need some bread. I have a friend who in his journeying has come to me and I have nothing to set before him." That is audacious/bold/daring praying.
As we study prayers in the Bible we read of men who were bold in praying. I'm afraid a great many of us today come to God in prayer like a beggar coming to the back door. Half-hearted, half-apologetic, as though we have no claim on God. This is not what God said. Don''t come to the back door like a beggar asking for a handout--God wants us to come as a son. He is our Father. We have family rights. In John 14:14 the Greek word translated ASK could very well be translated DEMAND. "Whatsoever ye shall DEMAND in my name....that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you shall DEMAND anything in my name, I will do it".
When one realizes that he is an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ (sharing equally in all that Jesus is and all that Jesus has) and everything the Father has is his by birth and he is to Him as a Son then he stands upon his rights with boldness and daring. If the ministry of intercession is to be successful in our lifeâ€”we must pray this way.
1. Daring is the SIZE of the request. He asked for how many loaves? Three! Did you know that in Israel one loaf of bread was a day's supply? He came at MIDNIGHT asking for THREE LOAVES of bread. Some are afraid to pray specifically for certain things because it seems too much to ask. It just seems too hard for God to do.
"Thou are coming to a King
Large petitions with thee bring
For His grace and power are such
You can never ask too much."
God is honored when we bring Him large petitions.
I've read a great many books on prayer. A lot of people say that it is a low and vulgar idea of prayer to go to God to get something. That the whole purpose and premise and profit of prayer is the spiritual good that it does you. It helps you to grow. It makes you feel better. The communion you have with God is what you ought to look for in prayer and you're being very childish and very selfish if you go to God simply looking for God to give you things. Now, doesn't that sound lofty? Yes, but it is not scriptural. The challenge would be to search out every prayer promise that the Bible gives. In every one it tells us to EXPECT TO GET SOMETHING FROM GOD. Every encouragement that God gives us to pray is based on this--YOU COME AND GOD IS GOING TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING REALLY BIG. "Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3). "Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given--seek--knock". Every prayer promise of Jesus is if you will pray you will get something and you will get something big. Be daring in the size of your praying. Are some of us afraid to pray for a lost friend because he is such a hardened sinner? Or for a financial need because it just seems too large? Then we are blaspheming the Word of God. We need to be DARING IN THE SIZE.
2. We must be daring in the stubbornness of that request. He just kept on knocking/banging on that door. "I tell you though he is his friend he will not rise and give him." FRIENDSHIP DOESN'T COUNT IN INTERCESSORY PRAYING. Friendship would count in some kinds of praying. But INTERCESSORY PRAYING IS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER KIND OF PRAYING. Not because of friendship but because of his importunity, persistence, stubborn to the point of having no shame about it. Do you ever pray like that? It is attitude that gets hold of God and says I am going to hang on until you bless me.
Why do we have to be stubborn and persistence in our praying? Because the enemy always opposes the answer to our praying. Therefore, we must be stubborn (Daniel 10:10). A good illustration is when Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord. The sun came up and the angel of the Lord said "Let me go." I can't perceive of a man being stronger than an angel. Something is really not right about that incident. If that angel wanted to be loosed, he could have been. Do you believe that Jacob was stronger than the angel? I don't. I believe the FIGHT WAS FIXED. I believe the angel was saying "let me go" and under his breath saying "I hope you don't because if you hang on a little bit longer, I'm going to bless you." God wants us to come with the attitude "Father, I'm coming in the name of Jesus. I have this burden on my heart. I want to see revival in my home. I want my children to be right with you. I want this person to be saved. I'm not leaving your presence until you give me the answer." DARING! STUBBORN!
3. Most of all it must be daring in its sacrifice. The most significant part of this parable is that the man identified himself with the other man's need. This man wasn't hungry. He didn't have bread because they had eaten it. They had exhausted the day's supply. He was full--satisfied--not hungry. Yet, a friend of his drops by on his way to another place and he hasn't had anything to eat. Most of us would have said "You're the one who is hungry, you go knock on doors. You go out making neighbors mad at you. You go begging bread. You're the one that's hungry." But notice what this man did. He sacrificed his own feelings, his own leisure, his own comfort because HE IDENTIFIED HIMSELF WITH HIS FRIEND'S PROBLEM.
A man who was not hungry went begging bread. THIS IS INTERCESSORY PRAYING!
It is the man who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior in his life that goes before God in intercessory prayer.
John Knox praying--"God give me Scotland, or I'll die."
David Brainerd praying in snow up to his waist, using up his life, burning up his life before age 30.
Praying Hyde praying all day and all night that God would give him souls in India...acting as though his own salvation depended upon it.
This man identified himself with his friend's needs. Right here is where so many people drop out of intercessory praying. The essence of intercession is identification. If I am to intercede, it means I AM TO IDENTIFY MYSELF WITH THIS PERSON'S NEED just as this man identified himself with his friend's need for bread. You would have thought he was the one who was starving. "He was numbered with the transgressors." What did Jesus do? Why was He baptized of John in Jordan? When John saw Jesus coming and Jesus said "John, I want you to baptize me." John said "No Lord, I need to be baptized by you." Why did John react that way? Because when a person came to be baptized by John he was confessing he was sinful. It was obvious to John that JESUS HAD NO SIN TO CONFESS--therefore, he said "No, I need to be baptized of you." Jesus said "No, I want you to baptize me." What was the significance of the baptism of Jesus? Jesus identified Himself with sinners. That is intercession.
Listen to one of the most marvelous prayers prayed by a man named Moses: "And Moses returned unto the Lord and said, 'O this people have sinned a great sin and have made them gods of gold, yet now if you wilt forgive their sin and if not [notice this] blot me I pray thee out of Thy book which Thou hast written'" (Exodus 32:31). What was Moses doing? He was interceding. Do you know why? HE WAS IDENTIFYING HIMSELF WITH HIS PEOPLE. "God I want you to forgive this people of their sin, but if you cannot forgive them, I want you to blot me out with them. I want you to take my name out of the book which you have written." I just cannot understand COMPASSION and INTERCESSION like that, but that is exactly what intercession is.
Paul says the same thing and we need to take him seriously. He is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So what he writes is the truth. "I say the truth in Christ. I lie not. My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. That I have great heaviness and continual [sacrifice] sorrow in my heart for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren--my kinsmen--according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1). THAT IS INTERCESSION. Identifying.
The law of spiritual harvest is: "If a grain of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it brings forth much fruit; if it doesn't die it abideth alone" (John 12). Christians are you abiding alone as far as your spiritual harvest is concerned? You have no harvest of lost souls to present to the Father. You're the seed, but you're abiding alone. Are you abiding alone? If you are, it is because you haven't died. IF IT DOESN'T DIE, IT ABIDETH ALONE. BUT IF IT DIES, IT BRINGETH FORTH MUCH FRUIT. Right there is the law of spiritual harvest. Paul said the same thing: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our body for we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake [NOW NOTICE] that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our mortal flesh" (II Corinthians 4:10-12). Look at verse 12 the capstone "And so then death worketh in us, but life in you." Don't miss that. That is the law of spiritual harvest. Paul says that "death is working in us so that the life of Jesus might be manifested in you so then death all the time is working in me but life in you."
Every time somebody is saved, it is because somebody somewhere has died to themselves--their ambitions, luxuries, leisure time, and their fleshly interests. WHEN ZION TRAVAILS, SHE BRINGS FORTH A CHILD. So when some boy or girl, some man or woman, walks down an aisle and confesses faith in Christ, somebody died for that. It may be a mother somewhere, a grandparent--even years ago. Death worketh in us so that life worketh in you. The law of spiritual harvest--hear and listen--GOD SAYS THERE'LL BE NO LIFE UNTIL THERE'S DEATH. God never changes His rules, they are fixed and they are firm.
Until you and I are willing to take on ourselves VOLUNTARY DEATH to our own amusements, ambitions, plans, our own will--God cannot give us spiritual harvest. If we are willing to die to financial advantage, to worldly pleasures, to something that means a great deal to us--just die to ourselves and our own interests then we have the right to CLAIM AND RECEIVE THE HARVEST OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
The following story is a good illustration of this point. In a revival at First Baptist Church, Bowlegs OK one night a young woman walked down the aisle. Obviously she had been crying much that day. Her eyes were red and swollen. "For years I have been praying for my father and nothing has happened. He has never been saved. He has never been touched. His heart is still hard. Today I was washing dishes and praying 'Lord, save my father. Lord, whatever it takes, save my father.' The Lord said 'would you be willing to die physically for the salvation of your father? Would you be willing to give your life?'" That young lady was walking down the aisle to say she had told God whatever it took if her life--to get her dad saved--if her funeral would break his heart--she had told God that she was willing to die. BEFORE THE WEEK WAS OVER, THE FATHER WAS SAVED. Nobody had told her that was intercession but that is intercession.
We should long for God to show us this more and more. It is still somewhat a mystery about which many know little--but there is that area of Christian ministry--the ministry of intercession--that we can voluntarily take the position of intercessor--IDENTIFY WITH THAT PERSON FOR WHOM WE ARE PRAYING AND COME TO THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE--WILLING TO DIE TO SELF. Whatever God lays upon the heart in order to claim and receive spiritual harvest. Once we do that we have the right to BOLDLY DEMAND GOD TO GIVE THE HARVEST, BECAUSE HE KEEPS HIS WORD.
Intercessory praying must be definite praying
Most of us do not have our prayers answered because we are not definite and specific. We pray vaguely, generally. Vague prayers are not answered because it is an indication of FAITHLESSNESS. It doesn't take any faith to pray vaguely. For instance, in an evangelistic campaign we pray "Lord, save the lost", and if anybody is saved that week we say "God answered my prayer." Are we afraid to say "Lord, I want you to do something in the live of so and so (name)", that takes more faith. If we pray in this manner then we will know if God answered. Praying ought to be definite, specific. You spell out exactly what you want God to do
Intercessory praying must be desperate praying
Intercessory prayer must have a sense of urgency. This entire parable breathes of a sense of urgency. This man had to have bread NOW. He wouldn't take "no" for an answer. The ministry of intercession comes upon those that are desperate. Praying, Lord, it must happen; I must have this soul; I must see this deliverance; God, I'm desperate--that's urgency. When you get to the point of desperation, that is when God can move.
In the closing verses of this parable there are three reasons why we ought to be desperate.
1. Because of our inescapable responsibility. "A friend of mine in his journey HAS COME TO ME." It was the custom in those days if a fellow came to your door you had to take care of him. You were obliged to take care of him. My inescapable responsibility. This fellow had come to ME!
Now there are a great many Christians who are trying to shift their responsibility. There are some parents who are not providing the right spiritual atmosphere in their homes and they are shifting the responsibility to the church. God has given the child to the parents--not to the church--not to a pastor. The child is theirs and their responsibility.
You often hear "Would you go visit, God has laid this person on my heart." If God has given you the burden, it is your responsibility. That is the reason that the burden was placed on your heart. You go. The needs of your children, extended families, and neighbors ought to make you desperate in prayer.
2. Because of our inadequate resources. "And I have nothing to set before him." This is certainly a picture of most of us. "Lord, I have nothing to set before them. Desperate. I don't know what to do about my teenage boy, he is my responsibility, but I'm inadequate. I have nothing to set before him. I see he's drifting into the world and I've done everything I know to do. Lord, I'm desperate." Inadequate resources.
3. Because of His inevitable reward. "He will arise and give him AS MANY AS HE NEEDED." To know we can come to God in a desperate situation and lay before God our inescapable responsibility and our inadequate resources and be assured of His inevitable reward--that should make us want to pray. He will give us everything we need.
Why should we go away from God empty-handed? He has it all and He wants to share it with us--if we are willing to take the place of intercession. Are we willing? Are we willing to say LORD, I WANT YOU TO POUR OUT UPON ME THE SPIRIT OF INTERCESSION. I'm willing to let you love somebody through my heart. I'm willing for you to bring someone on their journey of life to me. I will accept them as my inescapable responsibility. I will identify myself with their needs. I'll be stubborn and persistent in prayer until the answer comes.