I sat across the table from my friend Susan, searching her pain-filled eyes and wondering how I could help. Her situation was outside my realm of influence: She had suffered an unexpected personal attack from former friends within the congregation her husband pastored. And I had no words to right the wrongs or ease her aching heart. "I'm sorry," I attempted weakly. She half-smiled, then asked me to pray for her.
Unable to offer anything else, I promised I'd join her in making Mondays a day of fasting and prayer for her and her church. But after leaving our lunch and resuming my crazy schedule, would I actually keep my promise?
Entering the Interior
Too often when I encounter someone's desperate need, I offer a quick "You're in my prayers" without slowing down enough to make good on my word. Any "real" praying I do consists of a hastily muttered sentence during my busy day, as if I'm merely checking off my to-do list or making God aware of a situation he might've missed.
But the responsibility to pray for others deserves serious attention, as the abundance of biblical examples indicates. Moses regularly spoke with God on the Israelites' behalf because of their sin (Numbers 21:7). Esther requested her people to fast three days before she faced a volatile king (Esther 4:15-16). Paul asked early church members to pray for his speaking ministry (Ephesians 6:19-20). And Jesus spent most of his longest recorded prayer in passionate intercession for us (John 17).
Intercession—derived from the Latin words inter (between) and cedere (to go)—is an intervening or mediating between two parties with the goal of reconciling differences. And the key to a spiritual intervention is prayer. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers calls intercessory prayer "the ministry of the interior" and "the real business of your life as a saved soul." If so, we need to move past good intentions and make interceding a vital part of living in Christian community.
Standing in the Gap
God invites us to participate in his concern for his children by going before him on their behalf. During the prophet Ezekiel's lifetime, the Lord longed to show mercy to his wayward people through an intercessor: "I looked for a man among them who would … stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it" (Ezekiel 22:30). My friend describes this kind of gap-standing prayer as "reaching out a warm hand to a hurting friend while never relaxing your other hand's firm grip on God. You make a life-giving connection."