EPHESIANS 6:18, MARK 10:45, PHILIPPIANS 2:4
Sometimes it’s easy to focus all of our prayers on ourselves. We have situations unfolding in our life and we want to make sure God knows all about them. Our finances. Our relationships. Our health. Our temptations. Our fears. Our marriage. Our kids. There is a human tendency to put our wants and needs at the top of the list. If we are not careful, prayer can become all about us. Rather than enjoying divine intimacy with our Heavenly Father, we can subtly morph into a kid hopping up in Santa’s lap with his wish list. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. It is absolutely appropriate and fitting to come to God with all of your needs. He wants you to (see 1 Peter 5:7). But if your personal requests make up the largest slice of your personal “pie chart” of prayer, it’s a sign you have become unbalanced. So how do we re-train ourselves so that our name isn’t always in the subject line of all our “knee mails” to God? The answer—by becoming an INTERCESSOR.
The dictionary defines INTERCEDE as “to speak to someone in order to defend or help another person.” Simply put, when we intercede in prayer we are praying to God for the benefit of another person. Rather than praying for God to show His favor in my life, I am asking Him to do that in someone else’s life. Do you see how this crushes selfish-driven prayers? When I purposefully make others the focal point of my prayer life, I am connecting with the heart of Christ. Jesus said of himself that He “did not come to be served, but to serve others.” Paul admonished the Philippians: “don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” I am living out what the Gospel is all about when my faith exists for the benefit of others. Intercessory prayer is a mark of spiritual maturity.
But there is an even greater reason why we as believers need to become better intercessors. Men and women who thrive in interceding are the ones God Himself will hand pick for the “big assignments” of the kingdom. God takes note of those who are in the habit of praying for others. So it stands to reason that these are the believers God will speak to when there is a significant prayer need. When He needs someone to pray, do you think He asks those who only know how to pray for themselves? The answer is obvious. His Spirit will seek out mature believers who wish to serve, not only be served. With gentle nudges and whispers within, He will call them to the deep place of prayer where they look to the interests of others, not just their own interests.
In late August of 2003, my grandmother was awakened in the night several times over a period of about three weeks. From a deep sleep her eyes would pop open. The Holy Spirit was urging her to pray for her grandson (and my brother), Richie. Although Richie had been raised in the church, he had drifted away and was not in a good place spiritually. My grandmother wrestled in prayer for him, pleading with the Lord to grab a hold of his heart and bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After spending ample time praying, she would lay back down and go to sleep. A few nights later the same thing would happen all over again. During this three week period there was an incredible turnaround in the life of my brother. He began attending church again, asked my mom to buy him a Bible, and even began reading C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity. God was answering my grandmother’s late night prayers.
But to make this point even further, you have to understand what was so significant about the “three weeks” part of the story. It was at the end of those three weeks that my brother passed away unexpectedly in a car accident. The Lord had prompted my grandmother to pray because He knew Richie had very little time. He woke her up because He knew she would respond. She was a true intercessor.
I want to leave you with one more story I heard many years ago. I think it is a powerful illustration of everything I am striving to teach us in our time together today: 1) prayer needs to be focused on others, not only ourselves; 2) God has special assignments for those who excel in the art of intercessory prayer. Read the true story below and I believe you will be inspired to become an intercessor. It was originally shared by a medical missionary serving in a tribal region of Africa. While on furlough in the United States, he returned to his home church in Michigan where he was guest speaking. This is what he shared:
Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident. Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated.
He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, "Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But, just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 16 armed guards."
At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone out in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said "No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone."
At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day that this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story:
"On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?"
The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn't concerned with who they were—he was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 16.