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Intercession may be the ultimate ministry in God's plan of salvation. Jesus forever lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7:25). He lived a simple life in Nazareth for thirty years and had a public ministry for three years. And now He has been interceding for us for almost two thousand years. That may tell us something of the inestimable importance of intercession.
The Church teaches that the intercession of the saints in heaven is "their most exalted service to God's plan" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2683) no matter how great was their work on earth. St. Dominic taught on his death bed: "Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life" (CCC, 956).
One of many kinds of prayer is the prayer of petition. Intercession is a form of petition (CCC, 2634). It is petitioning God in the place of another person (see Ez 22:30, 13:5; Ps 106:23; CCC, 2741). Intercession implies that a person is unable or unwilling to petition God on his own behalf (Rm 8:26) and that the Lord sometimes permits us to substitute for others in prayer. Because God has given us authority (Gn 1:28) that He will not usurp, and because He will not usually impose His blessings on us, intercession makes a great difference. We don't receive because we don't ask (Jas 4:3). Intercession often is the difference between life and death, war and peace, healing or sickness, success or failure.
Protestants, Catholics, evangelicals, and charismatics all agree that intercession is God's urgent call to His people at this moment in history. Some maintain that Jesus' mother Mary has been repeatedly sent during this century to encourage us to intercede. We may be on the threshold of a golden age of intercession. Let us intercede to the maximum.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength" (Dt 6:5; Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30; Lk 10:27; our translation).
Intercession is not a matter of saying the right words but of having the right heart. If we love the Lord with all our heart, we have the right heart.
Furthermore, if Jesus is our Lord, we can hear Him (Jn 8:47; 18:37). The Lord will baptize us in the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8), Who will teach us everything, remind us, and guide us to all truth (Jn 14:26; 16:13). Under Jesus' lordship, Jesus either originates every event or makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Rm 8:28). Under these circumstances, every happening, phone call, meeting, or conversation is a call to intercede. Under Jesus' lordship, His callings to intercede are self-evident.
Thou shalt have God choose each member of an intercessory prayer group.
We want to motivate you to set up an intercessory prayer group. A good intercessory prayer group can be more used of God than some governments, corporations, or churches. An intercessory prayer group can direct the course of world events, prevent wars, change elections, and transform the world. Because intercessory prayer groups can be extremely powerful, they are a great threat to the devil, who will try to hinder their development. Therefore, we must have God form the group by handpicking each participant. Although all Christians are called to intercede, not all are called to be members of any intercessory prayer group. The group is usually small. Unity in this group is crucial so that the participants will be of one mind (Mt 18:19). The Lord often limits the number of participants in any intercessory prayer group, as He decreased the number of soldiers in Gideon's army (Jgs 7:4) and put the people out of the room before raising Jairus' daughter (Mk 5:40). However, there should be enough people in the group so as to have several gifts of the Spirit active in the group.
Thou shalt not intercede without first hearing God.
When we petition God, we do not inform or persuade Him. He already knows what we need (Mt 6:8, 32), and He loves us much more than we love ourselves. When we intercede, it is God Who persuades and informs us. We're not putting words in His mouth; He's putting them in ours.
To help you hear God, begin an intercessory prayer time with praise. Pray in the Spirit. As you pray in another language, God may give you His word for your intercession. Fix your eyes on the Lord and let Him clear the air of your own preoccupations. Be slow to speak but quick to hear (Jas 1:19). "Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well" (Prv 10:19). Don't be afraid to be quiet or even bored. Occasionally, you may not intercede at all because you do not know God's will. Let the Lord speak to you through His word and seek prophecy above all else (see 1 Cor 14:1). Intercession is lip-reading Jesus, the great Intercessor and eternal High Priest. (See our pamphlet, Hearing God.)
Thou shalt be as specific as possible.
It is often good to write down our intercessions. This may force us to be more specific. We should keep asking God questions about our prayer intention in order to get all the specifics He wants to reveal. For example, it's usually not wise merely to pray for God to "bless" someone. Specifically, what blessing does God want to give at this time? We should not pray for people in general, but for certain people. If God tells us, we should mention the people by name. Let's not pray for intercessions to be fulfilled "in God's time," but let's find out what God's time is. "Will not God then do justice to His chosen who call out to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them, do your suppose?" (Lk 18:7) Often God does not want us to pray generically for "His will to be done." Let's ask Him what His will is, and then pray for that. If we're too lazy or spiritually deaf to find out God's will, we should not try to live with this or adapt our prayer to this situation by praying in generalities. We should challenge ourselves to grow in hearing God. This is His will for us. For example, a good intercessory prayer may be: "I intercede for Sally to forgive Tom for what he did last Monday. Lord, may Sally repent and forgive before 3 PM this afternoon." Of course, sometimes we don't know the details of our intercessory prayer because God isn't telling us. It isn't because we're not listening. However, most of the time we can be more specific.
Many times our intercessions are so general there is no way to recognize the answer to our prayer. Especially at the early stages of intercessory ministry, it is important to see the connection between our intercessions and the unfolding of events.
Thou shalt have expectant faith.
Intercessors need the spiritual gift of faith to move mountains (1 Cor 12:9; Mt 17:20). When some use the term "expectant faith," they often just mean better faith or a faith one step up from doubt. By "expectant faith," we mean international, world-vision faith. "The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: 'for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions' for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel' " (CCC, 2636). Intercessory prayer groups should expect to deal in international affairs, affect the election of world leaders, and affect the course of world events. After interceding for John's mother-in-law and the car to be repaired, it is not unusual for us to be led by the Lord from the local to the international. Intercessory prayer groups can be called to intercede for China, the Muslim nations, Russia, the World Bank, etc. Just think: possibly two elderly ladies sitting in the back of a church in Iowa may be "calling the shots" for world affairs. "God chose those whom the world considers absurd to shame the wise; He singled out the weak of this world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27).
Thou shalt love thy enemies.
Although we need faith to intercede, love may be even more important. When we intercede, we take another person's place. Sometimes people don't take their own places in prayer because we all have our human limitations. At other times, we sin and are unfaithful in our prayer responsibilities. Intercessors fill the gap (Ez 22:30) and suffer because of others' weaknesses or sinful lack of responsibility. Intercessors naturally get tired of doing other people's jobs. We have enough to do without having to make up for others' lack of prayer. Intercessors are often unjustly burdened. Consequently, there's a fine line between interceding and cursing the persons for whom we're interceding (Nm 11:14; Jer 15:11, 15). Those for whom we intercede can easily become our enemies. We take their places but are usually not appreciated. Sometimes we are even persecuted by the persons whose burdens we carry in intercession. To be great intercessors, we must love our enemies, or we will refuse some of our most important intercessory opportunities. "In intercession he who prays looks 'not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,' even to the point of praying for those who do him harm" (CCC, 2635).
Thou shalt expect spiritual warfare.
Because intercession is so powerful and of international and eternal significance, it is a tremendous threat to the devil. The devil will even contest your reading of this teaching. Only by God's grace have you been able to read this far. Great intercessors need some kind of intercessory prayer group not only for the power that comes with the use of more spiritual gifts, but also for protection from the evil one. An intercessory prayer group is a major offensive against the evil one. We must be ready to fight, rally the troops, and not be foolish enough to go it alone.
Furthermore, we must repent of sin so as not to give the devil an opportunity to infiltrate our lives and sabotage the movement of the Spirit in our intercession. We owe it to God, ourselves, the body of Christ, and those who will be affected by our intercession to go to Confession at least monthly. Because of our sinfulness, we will have casualties in the ministry of intercession, but these will be minimized by Christian community life and repentance from sin.
Thou shalt commit thyself to intercede for a set period of time.
Because intercession often entails heavy-duty spiritual warfare, we will feel like quitting. This will prevent us from fully devoting ourselves to the work of intercession. Furthermore, it sometimes takes years for an intercessory prayer group to grow in unity, prophecy, and faith so as to be a world- force. In the military, soldiers usually commit themselves for four years. Intercessory prayer warriors need to commit themselves for a set time to an intercessory prayer group. We're not fit for the kingdom if we keep looking back after having put our hand to the plow of intercession (Lk 9:62).
In addition to long-term commitment, intercessors need to specify certain times each day for intercession. Traditionally, morning and evening have been used as special intercessory times. We intercede repeatedly throughout the day and even during the night, but we need set aside certain times to focus on intercessory needs.
Thou shalt change thy life-style.
Intercession involves work, pain, and spiritual warfare. It is not an avocation but a vocation. Intercessors are "on call" twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with no retirement. Because of these demands, intercessors find they have to simplify their life-style (see 1 Pt 2:11), crucify their flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24), and follow the Spirit's lead in opposing the flesh (Gal 5:17).
The life-style of a widow seems to be especially appropriate for the intercessory ministry (1 Tm 5:5). Also, those homebound, sick, or elderly often have a good opportunity to devote themselves to intercession. Jobs which include mundane tasks (e.g., factory work or truck driving) often leave workers free to intercede. Intercession is such an important ministry that some choose to be celibate or to take a lower paying job to have a life-style more appropriate to their ministry of intercession. Whether a person is willing to make life-style decisions often makes the difference between a mediocre or a great intercessory ministry.
Thou shalt not be too rigid about some of these guidelines.
What we have shared in this pamphlet is based on the Holy Spirit's wisdom expressed in God's word. It is confirmed by the experiences of many intercessors. Therefore, we ask you to take seriously these "ten commandments." However, while some of these guidelines are absolute (e.g., the first and sixth commandments), others admit of exceptions. For example, sometimes God calls for general prayers, spiritual warfare is not so intense, or a fast-talker is a good intercessor. However, these are exceptions. Let the Holy Spirit be your Guide (Jn 16:13). "The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us" (Rm 8:26).
Jesus said: "I solemnly assure you, the man who has faith in Me will do the works I do, and greater far than these. Why? Because I go to the Father, and whatever you ask in My name I will do" (Jn 14:12-13). Evagrius Ponticus has taught: "Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you" (CCC, 2737). One of our greatest privileges and responsibilities is to share in Jesus' intercessory ministry. In this pamphlet we seek to motivate all believers to intercede to the maximum. We encourage the formation of intercessory prayer groups, and we wish to help such groups persevere in intercession until Jesus' final coming. Finally, ask God for permission to intercede that this pamphlet bear a hundredfold harvest.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert L. Hagedorn, March 1, 1999.
Imprimatur: Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, March 3, 1999.
The Nihil obstat and Imprimatur are a declaration that a book or pamphlet is considered to be free from doctrinal or moral error. It is not implied that those who have granted the Nihil obstat and Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.
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