Does it seem like a lot of people around you are going through exceptionally hard situations? I have heard several people state this recently. “How do I pray for so many people? How do I encourage them?” I’ve felt this way, and know that it isn’t uncommon to be overwhelmed by other people’s trials and tribulations. God, however, never intended for us to be discouraged as we “Bear one another's burdens.” (Galatians 6:2) If you’re weary from the weight of concerns for other people, take heart! There’s a reason why people are coming to you.
Jesus, in fact, was honest about life’s inevitable difficulties. He compassionately told us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) With this bold confirmation that life can be hard came a promise. The promise, in fact, is so great that He tells us, “Be encouraged!” That’s what “Take heart!” means. The news? He has overcome the world! Good news, indeed! Still, we can easily forget this unwavering truth as the troubles pile up. Yet, Jesus says that He “told (us) these things, so that in (Him, we) may have peace!” This verse contains a promise of peace through trials. How do we find that peace, and share it with others who are hurting?
While some of us are gifted intercessors who spend a tremendous amount of time and effort in prayer, all of us are called to intercede for one another.
It’s a beautiful arrangement, with each person being a point connecting the 3 lines of the triangle. It’s an honor to be used to maintain that connection, or to reinforce it when a need is great. One of the most strategic verses in Scripture is about prayer. It talks about prayer in terms of this relationship. James 5:16 says;
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
The second thing these verses tell us about powerful and effective prayer is that it is done for each other. That’s intercession! The verse doesn’t say, “pray for yourself and you will be healed.” That does happen, of course. But this verse is talking about maximal prayer, and the strategy taught here is to intercede for one another for mighty and bullseye-hitting results.
We get the opportunity to step in and pray with a punch that may not happen when praying alone.
The third thing taught by these verses is that prayer that works is prayed by a righteous person. There have been times when I’ve searched my brain for the most righteous person or persons I could think of in my moment of greatest intercessory need. I actually have called older friends from church, people who have walked in love and righteousness for decades, and asked them to please pray for me. If God brought a transgression or bad attitude to my mind, I would confess my error and repent and ask for God’s forgiveness in prayer with that person. This is because I found that God listens to His devoted saints! Of course, I’ve been sincere and truly desperate. But I’ve found that Scripture spells this out to us for a reason.
We are told to “Bear one another's burdens,” (Galatians 6:2a) but we are also told that by doing so, we “so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2b) Sounds serious, because it is. This is the law of Christ because in many cases it’s crucial for us to pray effectively for others because God never intended for us to carry our burdens alone. Those who are reluctant to ask for prayer should take heed. Whether we hold back in true humility (not to impose) or out of pride (wanting to do it alone) or in ignorance (thinking there’s no benefit to including other), we fail to fulfill God’s ways when we go solo in our time of need.
This information should have us all sharing serious prayer requests left and right. The truth is, however, that we need to be careful who we ask to pray for us. If we are convicted that we need to confess and repent of our part in a troubling situation, we need to choose people who use discretion and will take our burden seriously. We also need to choose people who we spiritually respect. I just returned home from a ministry trip and enlisted both quality and quantity prayer support. It worked! My trip was fruitful for others (I hope), and it was personally fruitful for me. I can say with certainty that the productivity of the trip rested heavily on the faithful prayers of my beloved intercessors. I’m so grateful. But I can also say the quality of my intercessor compounded their prayers' effectiveness!
As an intercessor, you accept the weight of the burden, then when praying, hand it over to the Lord.
If you are overwhelmed by the needs around you, take them one by one to the Lord. Picture yourself taking that load off of your friend and hauling it over to the Lord for them. Ask, believing your prayer to be both powerful and effective. Keep praying as the Holy Spirit leads. The person may be in the process of being buried under his or her burden. Keep taking it and handing it over on their behalf. Or the Holy Spirit may ask you to pray once, and it is done. Those are times of rejoicing and thanksgiving. That’s when we sometimes need to remind our friends that God does answer prayers, that He is faithful, and He deserves thanksgiving and praise.
When we are on the receiving end of effective intercession, we should be the one leper who went back for thanks. In Luke 17:17-19, after healing ten lepers, Jesus asked the one who came back to thank Him;
“‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’”
One thing is certain: if you are an intercessor, you see many needs, but you also see many answered prayers.
I John 4:16 tells us, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Intercessors know from experience that we can rely on God. It’s a simple and encouraging word, but we can forget it when our burden is great.
Years ago I sat at a table of 8 people at a conference center. Each table had a waiter, and forks chimed on institutional-strength china plates as people in the tables around us were served their dinners. We sat, neglected and hungry. We waited. No waiter or waitress appeared. We tried to get the attention of focused waiters and waitresses who were bee-lining it from the flapping kitchen doors to their assigned tables. None responded. Good and polite Christians that each of my table-mates were, we all began to realize we were not getting our food, but no one complained. Without commissioning, I took initiative and approached the Director of the Camp. He had several people vying for his attention by the dining hall entrance. I waited my turn to file my concern.
Exasperated, he responded to my salutation. “Our table over there…we don’t have a waiter.” We went back and forth for a minute as he told me this wasn’t possible, of course we had a waiter, etc., and to be patient. I reasserted myself, to his clear annoyance. We had been patient, but everyone else was well into their meal. Irritated, he called over and spoke to a few staff members, then walked away. I returned to the table, feeling ignored, but a waiter from another table came to our table after a minute or two. Yes, there had been a mix-up. But I had plead our case, and help did arrive. That oversight would have left us hungry without my intervention. Passive, the entire table would have probably waited through half the dinner before asking for help.
This is what an intercessor can do: make the request, and stay on the request until an answer comes. I didn’t take on the burden by providing each person with a meal at my personal effort and expense. Instead, I passed the need on, to be met by another provider. I would have done the same for ten tables of hungry guests, and the burden would not have increased. The task would have been greater, but I would have the understanding and faith to know that an answer would come. My faith would help their needs be met.
The Holy Spirit resides in compassion.
The enemy can work in seasons and waves. Certain populations can suffer from similar trials and troubles in seeming patterns. I do believe that the enemy can work in campaigns, and those trials aren’t accidentally effecting a lot of people at once. Churches can experience a series of tragedies before a big breakthrough, for example. And sometimes there is backlash from the enemy when we experience great victories in our lives. This is why we must stay connected and follow one another’s lives in good times and bad. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Prayer is a key part of this process.
An elder from a church recently told me a story that helped me understand answered prayer in a new light. He said that on a leadership retreat a few months ago, church leadership prayed fervently and in agreement for their church to be used to reach out to the community. The church had grown exponentially and was concerned about becoming separate from the community. They wanted to make an impact in the lives of the people outside the church body.
As a result of the retreat, the elders felt led to make some changes in the church. They were basic alterations and could help, however God would use their church. A few weeks later, a devastating hurricane hit the surrounding communities. Countless people were stricken. The church opened its doors and its generous grounds wide open. The church and facilities have been used for months as a base for hurricane relief. Thousands of people have come there for help, many with overwhelming needs. Others have been reached as the base has been used to send help out to the homes of community members. God answered their prayers in ways they could never imagine. He gave them a burden, they prayed and acted as a result of it, and Kingdom work was done in amazing ways.
This true story illustrates the life of the intercessor. We pray to be used of God. We want to make a Kingdom difference. We ask God to use us. Then, sometimes all of a sudden, a parade of people call, text or email us to encourage and pray for them. But God has equipped us and prepared us. Like this church before the hurricane wind and rains, we avail ourselves. Like the church after the floods, the people with needs arrived at our doors. Now we roll up our sleeves, ready and willing, prepared and equipped, and we help. We encourage each person to the best of our ability and as the Holy Spirit leads us, and pray. It’s a powerful and effective answer to our prayers, and theirs. God bless you as you roll up your sleeves, bow before our King, and intercede!