Why do you pray for other people? If their prayer is fervent, and their attitude is right, won't God hear their prayer whether you pray for them or not? If they are NOT in a right attitude, or if they are not concerned enough to pray for themselves, is it going to do any GOOD for you to pray for them? Many of you are enduring a withered prayer life because you have not yet learned why you should pray for others. Here's how to put new life into your prayer life.
WE KNOW we are supposed to pray for one another. The Apostle Paul repeatedly called on the churches to pray for him and the ministers with him. Over and over again he affirmed that he was praying for them and exhorted them to pray for one another. It is clear that we are expected to intercede for others in prayer, but exactly why is not so clear. There are some lessons we need to learn about intercessory prayer.
Shortly before the birth of Isaac, Abraham sojourned for a time in a land called Gerar. One thing always worried Abraham when he moved into a new area — the beauty of Sarah, his wife. He feared that other men's lust for her could put his life in danger. So he asked her to say that she was his sister. It seemed harmless enough — she was his half-sister. But the king of Gerar — Abimelech — took Abraham's "sister" to be his wife, and immediately found himself in deep trouble. (Genesis 20:1-2.) God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and warned him that he was as good as dead because he had taken a married woman. Carnally, Abimelech was a God-fearing man and pleaded that he had done it ignorantly. God answered: "Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for 1 also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live" (Genesis 20:6-7). Now if Abimelech were really repentant and prayed and asked God to forgive him, wouldn't God have forgiven him without the prayers of Abraham? Apparently not. For if Abraham had not prayed for Abimelech, all the women of his house would have continued childless from that rime (see verses 17 and 18). But why couldn't Abimelech simply pray for himself? The answer is given in verse 7, where God said of Abraham: "For he is a prophet." Abimelech feared GOD, but he had to learn where God was working. He needed to know that Abraham was God's prophet.
Call for the Elders
Most of us have had to learn this same lesson at one time or another. In James 5:14, God tells us that if any of us are sick, we should call for the elders of the Church. The elders are to come and pray over us. It does not say that we can pray for ourselves and we will be healed. But some who have not understood James 5:14 may have prayed directly to God and may have been healed. Since God can heal a person without having them call on someone else, why does He require us to do it? The answer is that He wants us to learn where He is working — to recognize the authority in His Church. It is odd, but some Church members are afraid to go to their minister. They fear correction, or they feel guilty. Whatever the reason, there are brethren who would never go to a minister with their problems unless God required them to go when they were sick. God, in His wisdom, has seen to it that a person with this problem will be forced to seek the help that he so badly needs in spite of himself. When we are sick, it is because we have sinned. We need to be told this, and gently corrected by God's ministry. For this reason, God insists that the ministers intercede for the members of the Church for healing. The first lesson we need to learn from intercessory prayer, then, is the recognition of where God is working — the recognition of authority.
Do you remember what happened while Moses was up on the mountain for forty days and forty nights receiving the Ten Commandments? The people down below began to doubt whether Moses would ever come back. They called on Aaron to make them a golden calf and began to work themselves up into an orgiastic frenzy (Exodus 32). When God saw that: "The Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves... they have made them a golden calf and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto... I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of you a great nation" (Exodus 32:7-10). Here was one of the great turning points in history! God was not bluffing. He was fully prepared at that moment to obliterate every one of those people at the foot of the mountain and to start His plan all over again through Moses. What would you have done? The people were even at that moment engaged in abominable filth. They had stripped off their clothes, dancing stark naked around a fire. Even after having seen all the miracles of God coming out of Egypt, they had made themselves a golden calf and had called it God. Not only were they unrepentant, but they were still revelling in the sin. What would you have said to God at this moment? How could you have prayed for these people? Does it do any good to pray for a person who is unrepentant? Is there any point in praying for someone who is still deeply involved in sin? Read what Moses said: "Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?... turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people" (Exodus 32:11-12). Read Moses' entire prayer. You will find that he made no reference to the righteousness of the people. He made no reference to their repentance. He knew they deserved nothing, but he asked God to forgive them for the sake of God's own reputation. The result? "And the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people" (Exodus 32:14). This adds a new dimension to prayer. Many have wondered whether they can pray for their unconverted husband or wife, sister or brother. After all, they are still unrepentant. They don't deserve anything from God. Of course they don't. But then neither do you!
The Spies Return
Take a look at another example. The spies had returned from spying out the land of Canaan and had reported that the cities were walled up to heaven. They were like grasshoppers compared to the giants of that land. The people revolted against Moses and were ready to return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb stood up to plead with the people to not turn back but to continue and to be strong in faith, but the congregation was ready to stone them to death. (Numbers 14:10.) Again, God intervened and said: "How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of you a greater nation and mightier than they" (Numbers 14:11-12). Again, God was ready to blot them out. And again Moses interceded. Read his prayer in the following verses. Notice especially verse 18 where Moses gets to the real reason why he could intercede for these rebellious, hardheaded, stubborn, stiffnecked people: "The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty... Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of THY mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now" (verses 18-19). Notice again that Moses does not mention the goodness of the people. He doesn't even say that they are sorry for what they had done — they weren't. Only one thing does he ask — that God would remember His own mercy. God's reply? "I have pardoned according to thy word" (verse 20). Nevertheless, God decreed that all that rebellious generation would have to die off in forty years of wilderness wanderings. He mercifully did not obliterate them, but would allow only their children to enter the promised land. A penalty was paid, but God's great wrath was turned away.
Merciful God in Old Testament TOO
What ever gave people the idea that the God of the Old Testament was harsh, unyielding, unforgiving? They certainly didn't get it from the Bible. Yet many of us have gone on for months and even years after sins have been completely forgiven by God, suffering pangs of guilt because of them. We've left ourselves fair game for unclean spirits who put thoughts into our minds, accusing God of being unforgiving. If we would spend more time in our prayers interceding for others who themselves do not deserve to be forgiven, perhaps we would better understand God's longsuffering and mercy toward us. Perhaps some of us would be able to get rid of our own heavy burden of guilt and realize that God's mercy is great enough to forgive what we've done as well. Remember the words of Christ as He hung suspended between heaven and earth: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34.) Of course, God's mercy will sometimes involve chastisement. Notice how David prayed for his enemies: "So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord." (Some have not understood why David prayed that God would chastise his enemies. Here is the answer! The purpose was that they would come to understand and know God.) David continued: "Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea let them be put to shame, and perish: that men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Psalm 83:15-18).
Put Others First
One of the chief reasons for unanswered prayer is pure selfishness. James expresses it this way: "You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss that you may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). So many of us never get beyond the self in our prayers. But there seems to be a law of prayer that one person praying for another carries more weight with God than one man praying for himself. Look a little further in James and see what he says in chapter 5:16: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for mother, that ye may be healed." Notice that he did not say, "Pray for yourself that you may be healed." He said, "Pray one for another." It seems clear enough that one man praying for another carries a little more weight than a man praying for himself. It's no coincidence that this same passage of scripture is the one that says: "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (verse 14).
Think of Others
Let's look at it another way. How often do you remember to ask God to "give us this day our daily bread"? Chances are there are many days that pass when it doesn't even occur to you to mention it. Why? Because you already have your daily bread! Few of us in God's Church these days come anywhere near doing without food. But if this is the case with you, you have demonstrated your selfishness. Notice the scripture does not say, "Give me this day my daily bread." It says, "Give us..." There are members of God's Church scattered around this world who do not have enough to eat. There are some others who are Co-workers who are in the same predicament — but they are still supporting this Work. But many of us, in our complacency, never think about anybody else who might be hungry. We have our daily bread and so it doesn't occur to us to pray for someone else — maybe even in our own local church! Christ also said: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Most of us would have a hard time finding anyone who has sinned against us. For that reason, we modify our prayer at that point and don't mention the part about somebody sinning against us. For many of us, finding an enemy would be a difficult task indeed. But for others, this scripture is full of meaning. They desperately need God's help to have a forgiving attitude because of persecution of wives, employers, etc. We need to be interceding for our brethren who may be tempted not to forgive. Christ went on to say: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Day after day many members of God's Church are wrestling with serious temptations. For some, advanced age and other factors keep them from being severely tempted by certain things. But in the world their brethren day and night are having to fight horrible battles with themselves, with demons, with wicked spirits in high places. They need intercessory prayers of other brethren in God's Church.
Don't Be Selfish
But one of the strangest things about this is that selfishness — coupled with far-sightedness — should lead us to pray for others first and self second. Recall the example of Job. Was Job healed when he prayed for himself? Do you think Job never got around to mentioning his own problems any time in his prayers until we get to chapter 42? No, Job had prayed for himself time after time after time; but he had not been healed. The key to Job's healing lay elsewhere. Take a look at Job 42. Beginning in verse 7, the Eternal speaks to Job's three friends and tells them that His wrath is kindled against them because of the things that they had said. He then told them to take an offering and to go to Job and offer a burnt offering for themselves: "And my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept." God would not accept these individuals. If Job had not interceded for them at this time they would have remained cut off! So the men did as God commanded them and: "The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." Job had to pray for his friends before God healed him. Could this explain why some of your prayers remain unanswered?
My Brother's Keeper
In this dog-eat-dog world we become quickly conditioned to letting the other man take care of himself. If he's negligent, malicious, or hateful, everyone is willing to let him suffer fully the results of his own actions. Do we have a sense of responsibility for others or do we just not want to get involved? One of the most serious examples of rebellion recorded in the Old Testament is the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. (Numbers 16.) Having challenged Moses' and Aaron's positions as the spiritual and civil leaders of the people, some of these men were incinerated in front of the Tabernacle for their presumptuousness. As for the rest, Moses told the people that if these men were challenging God, they wouldn't die the death of all men, but that the earth would open up her mouth and swallow them. As soon as Moses had finished speaking, there was a great groaning and rumbling in the earth beneath and a roar as the earth snapped open, and those men, their tents, and everything that they owned disappeared into the fissure in the earth's surface. The earth closed on them, and there was nothing left but dust in the air. The next day the rest of the children of Israel "murmured against Moses and against Aaron saying: You have killed the people of the Lord" (Numbers 16:41). This was entirely too much! God spoke to Moses saying: "Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment." What would you do in a case like this? Step aside as in the mood of the twentieth century and say, "Give it to them — they've got it coming"? Did Moses and Aaron feel a Sense of responsibility for these people?
Sense of Urgency
Beginning in verse 46 we see their reaction: "And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun." Moses knew that if they didn't act quickly, many more thousands of people were going to die for this rebellion. Aaron was moved with a sense of urgency and leaped to do as Moses said. He put the incense and the coals of fire in a censer and ran into the midst of the congregation, Speed was essential because the plague had already begun. In verses 48 and 49, we read: "And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. NOW they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred...." What would have happened if Aaron had delayed another five minutes? In all probability, it had only taken him five minutes from the time he was warned that the plague had begun until he actually arrived in the midst of the people. Nearly fifteen thousand had died in that short time and the plague spread like a pyramid through the congregation. In the next five minutes, thirty thousand people might have died from that plague. If Aaron and Moses had not recognized their responsibility — had not acted quickly and decisively — thousands more would have died. Aaron realized that as High Priest he was responsible for the people and leaped to action to fulfill that responsibility.
"Pray for us"
But what about your responsibility? If a brother in the Church is sick or in trouble, do you have any sense of responsibility for him or do you simply close your eyes and ears? Take a look at another lesson in I Samuel. When the Israelites came fully to realize their sin in rejecting God's rulership and asking for a king, the people said to Samuel: "Pray for your servants unto the Lord your God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king" (I Samuel 12:19). They could have prayed for themselves, but they realized that they needed an intercessor. Samuel exhorted them to serve God with all their hearts and not turn aside from following after Him. He told them that God would not forsake His people. Samuel went on to say: "Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (I Samuel 12:23). For many people, a request for prayer is just so many words. It sounds spiritual and they suppose they're supposed to say it, but few really do much about it. Samuel, however, realized that he had a responsibility to respond to a request for prayer. He realized that he was his brother's keeper after all, and that it wouldn't do for him to step aside, refuse to get involved and say "Pray for yourself." We need to learn that we have a responsibility to intercede for our brothers, our friends, our enemies, civil rulers, and God's Work. God forbid that we should sin against the Eternal in ceasing to fulfill that responsibility.
There is another, more sobering lesson that we must learn from intercessory prayer. There does come a time when we are no longer able to pray for some people. In I John 5:16, John writes: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." It must be understood that there does come a time when men have gone so far in sin and iniquity that God will not hear our prayers for them. We've got to realize this, talk to God about it, and be sensitive enough to recognize when God tells us it's time to stop praying about it. There came a time in Israel's history — a time which is to be exactly paralleled very soon now — when their sins and their iniquities had gone so far and they had hardened themselves so much that God told Jeremiah: "Therefore pray not for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for 1 will not hear you" (Jeremiah 7:16). Man cannot always walk over God's laws with impunity. If man presumes upon God's mercy, the time will come when God will eventually not only cut him off, but will even refuse to allow His servants to make intercession for him. When we have begun to learn the lessons of intercessory prayer, we will no longer find ourselves with nothing to say after the first ten to fifteen minutes of prayer. After we have prayed for the Work, the brethren, God's ministers, the Co-workers, and even for some unconverted relatives, and then dealt with our own problems, we are not going to find we have any problem "getting in enough time" in prayer. Can we begin to realize how important it is to pray for others now while there is still time? Jesus Christ, our High Priest, sits at the right hand of God, making intercession for us. If we are going to have the mind of Christ, it's time for us to learn to intercede for others as well.