One of the ways that Christians engage in prayer is through the act of intercession – making requests of God on behalf of others. Since Christians, by grace, have been brought into relationship with God, it is both our privilege and our responsibility to plead the cause of others before the Lord. 1 Timothy 2:1 lists our involvement in this kind of prayer as being of first importance in the Christian life. James 5:16 promises that intercessory prayer can have a powerful effect on the lives of others. Ephesians 6:18 describes prayer on behalf of others as the Christian’s on-going assignment from God – an activity from which we must never cease. Paul considered the intercession of other Christians for him to be so vital to his spiritual success that he shamelessly pleaded with people to serve him in this way (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25). The prophet Samuel even considered it a sin to be able to intercede for others and yet neglect to do so (1 Samuel 12:23). Since both the Spirit (Rom. 8:26) and the Son (Rom. 8:34) are constantly interceding for us, our intercession for others is one of the most Spirit-anointed and Christ-like things we can do in this world.
How do we engage in intercessory prayer? In Deuteronomy 9:25-29 we find a vivid description of how it can be done. In this passage, Moses describes how he interceded for God to forgive and restore the children of Israel after they had sinned against the Lord by worshipping a golden calf.
In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Raymond Brown lists seven characteristics of Moses’ intercessory prayer:
- It was submissive. Moses reverently fell prostrate before God and addressed him as Lord (Adonai). He thus demonstrated the attitude of a humble servant submitting to the will of his master. Brown writes, “Genuine intercession for others begins by confessing God’s right to act as he wishes in the lives of those for whom we are praying. It does not attempt to order God about or tell him what is best in any particular situation.”
- It was persistent. This was no 30 second prayer whispered to God in middle of a busy day. Moses reports that he pleaded with God on behalf of the Israelites for “forty days and forty nights.” To be effective, our prayers for others often require a sustained commitment to intercession over a long period of time.
- It was sacrificial. Earlier in the chapter, Moses explains that during this season of prayer he engaged in constant fasting (v. 18). He sacrificed his own bodily comfort and nourishment to dedicate himself more attentively to prayer. Anyone who has ever seriously interceded for others knows that it is not done effortlessly. Serious prayer is genuine work.
- It was specific. Brown writes, “Although content to accept God’s will, Moses came to the Lord with a bold and definite request…. It was a definite request because he knew exactly what he was asking for. Here was no vague, uncertain prayer, hovering about in some pietistic world. He pleaded with God in precise terms, ‘do not destroy your people, your own inheritance (v. 26).’”
- It was compassionate. Moses might easily have raged against the people for having forsaken the Lord. Their act of rebellion was a rejection of his influence as a leader and was a direct source of grief in his life. Nevertheless, his heart went out to them in compassion. Brown notes, “This narrative is a reminder that we must not only intercede for people we like but also for people who disappoint us or make life difficult for us. Jesus said we should even intercede for those who oppose us (Mt. 5:44).”
- It was comprehensive. Moses offered a full-orbed, theologically rich prayer that based its request on fives aspects of God’s nature: his electing grace (vv. 26, 29); his redemptive work (v. 26); his “unchanging promise” (vv. 27-28); his “personal repute” (v. 28); and his “unrivalled power” (v. 29).
- It was effective. Writes Brown, “At the end of those six weeks of persistent intercession, the Lord renewed the covenant with his disobedient people…. The sin was pardoned, the relationship restored, the prayer answered. Thanks to a merciful God, the people were enabled to forget the past and begin again. What a good thing that, among such a vast array of unsubmissive rebels, there was a man like Moses to pray for them.”
Can God use you in this way? If you are in relationship with him through faith in his Son, he certainly can and desires to do so. The words of Raymond Brown state it well, “God is still looking for surrendered people to exercise that kind of intercessory ministry, even in a rebellious age like ours.”
Being used by God in this way, however, is not contingent on your ability to be a great prayer warrior like Moses was. More important than you being a great intercessor is the fact that you have a great Intercessor, Jesus, who continually prays to the Father for you (Rom. 8:34). Since he stands before the throne of heaven, interceding as a Priest for you, you can know that your prayers will be heard by God (Hebrews 4:14-16).