By Alvin VanderGriend
I received a letter the other day from a person asking me to pray about a family problem. Along with that request came additional pages with forty-four more prayer requests, all of them for various aspects of personal and family life. Most of the requests were for good and legitimate concerns. This person was clearly seeing God as the source of all blessings and was asking me to pray for them. That was good! What was not so good was that all of the requests were “for them” with little apparent thought as to their value “for God.”
This approach to prayer is typical of what we find in many churches today. Our bulletins are full of prayer requests that mention the things that we want God to do for us. We want him to heal out diseases, relieve our distresses, bail us out of our problems, and provide us with plenty. William Barclay, commenting on this view of prayer said, “One of the strangest things about prayer is that it can be the most selfish activity in the world. Prayer can be merely seeking to use God for one’s own purposes” (The Promise of the Spirit, p. 104). But, intercession is not first of all about us, it is about God and his kingdom.
The problem is not that it is wrong to pray for healing, help, and blessings. We should pray for these things. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray “give us our daily bread.” That is a prayer for God to supply our physical, material, and bodily needs. But the problem comes when in prayer the focus is primarily on us and what we want. What we are really doing when we pray that way is to try to get God to be our servant. But he is not our servant. He is our Lord and Master and we are his servants. Of course he does bless us, help us, and even serve us. But, in doing so he does not relinquish headship. He blesses us out of love so that we may serve his purposes.
Intercessory prayer is more for God than for us.
It is more a way for God to accomplish his purposes on earth than for us to get God to give us, or those we pray for, something. Jesus clearly thought first of God and his glory when it came to prayer. In a troubling moment he didn’t immediately think of how the Father could help him. He even said that he wouldn’t pray, “Father, save me from this hour?” Instead, recognizing that his suffering was part of God’s plan, he simply prayed, “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28).
On another occasion Jesus promised his disciples that if they would ask in his name he would do what they asked. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to say that he would act in response to their prayers, “so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” In other words, their asking was not just to get his help or to be empowered for ministry. The ultimate reason for their asking and his acting was to glorify the Father. Jesus clearly viewed prayer as for God and for his glory.
When we think of intercession as more for God than for us all kinds of things will change. We will ask different questions. Instead of asking, “Where is the problem?” we will ask “Where does God want to work?” Instead of asking “What do we want from God?” we will ask “What does God want for us and for those we pray for?” Instead of asking “What will we gain?” we will ask “How will God be glorified if he grants what I ask; how will he gain?” We will pray different kinds of prayers. We will pray less for relief and more for sufficient grace. We will pray less for comfort and more for spiritual growth. We will be less concerned with what he can do for us and more concerned for what we can do for him. Intercession will become a way in which we co-labor with God to accomplish his will and bring in his kingdom. Intercessors yearn for God’s work to be done.
Our Intercessory Prayers Release God’s Blessing
Our intercessory prayers release God’s rich blessings in the world—blessings that ripple on for many years, through many lives, and in many different forms. God is the first one to be blessed when we intercede, but not the last. When the lives of parents are touched through prayer, the blessing accrues to their children and grandchildren. When a pastor is blessed through intercessory prayer, his congregation is also enriched spiritually. When intercessors pray a friend to Christ all that person’s relationships are affected for the rest of his or her life. The hand that is moved when we pray is the hand of our loving, almighty, all-wise, everlasting Father. No wonder, then, that our intercessory prayers to the Father have such a huge ripple effect.
When we seek to orient all our prayers to what God is doing and plans to do the Holy Spirit will always be there to help us. He will guide us to pray in line with the purposes of God. He knows what will bring glory to the Father and blessing to humankind, and he will guide us to pray along those lines. Satan will, of course, be there tempting us to make intercession a tool for special favors and personal advantage. If, however, we pray “in the Spirit” and “in Jesus’ name” our prayers will always be first of all for God. They will be used to achieve God’s purposes and will inevitably frustrate the devil and his purposes. That’s what you want to see happen isn’t it?
Alvin VanderGriend is the author of numerous books on prayer including his bestselling, Love to Pray and Praying God’s Heart, from which this article is taken. Used by permission of PrayerShop Publishing.
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