Last week we talked about petition, praying for our needs. Today our lesson is about intercession — praying for the needs of others.
Both the Jewish and Christian Bibles are filled with accounts of powerful intercessors. One such intercessor is Nehemiah, called by God to rebuild Jerusalem in order to protect the Israelites as they were returning from their time in exile. Serving as the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes in the 5th century BC, Nehemiah heard about the plight of the Israelite people. Many Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, but the city’s protective walls had been destroyed, leaving them vulnerable. The Bible says that Nehemiah “sat down and wept” (Nehemiah 1:4) as soon as he heard the news. The first chapter of the book of Nehemiah is one of the most heartfelt, intercessory prayers in the Bible. It shows a man with a God-given burden for a group of people pouring out his heart to God for their welfare.
He prays: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel” (Nehemiah 1:5-6). He goes on to ask God for mercy on His people, admitting that they had not followed His commands perfectly, but asking for His protection as He gathered them from the nations from which He had scattered them.
After this prayer, Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes to allow him to go to his ancestral homeland. Nehemiah miraculously found favor with the king, and was allowed to go. Oftentimes we can find our life callings and life directions while we are vulnerable in prayer. We may not know it, but we can be directed by God when we are praying for others. If we find ourselves continually burdened and praying for something specific — like students, the poor, the government, the homeless, a specific nation — it could be a sign that God is calling us to those people or that specific sector to make a difference! What we pray for outwardly reveals our hearts inwardly, and taking note of the topic of our recent prayers can be a good window into our “secret” desires.
The Book of Acts in the New Testament shows a powerful example of group intercession by the Christian church. Peter, one of the early apostles and disciples, was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. The Bible tells us that “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). God then sent an angel into the prison cell to free Peter from his chains, and lead him out of his cell. When Peter went to the house of his friends and family, they didn’t even believe it at first. We must never think that prayer, especially groups of people praying in one accord, does not affect the events of history. God’s heart is always with those who are persecuted unfairly, and even though we may not see the answer to our prayers right away, It’s important to keep calling out to God in prayer with the faith that He can do something about our situation.
Keep praying, and keep watch to see where God is at work!
-Jonathan GoldthwaiteTags: Bible Jonathan Goldthwaite Prayer