If you’re like me, you have a list of prayer requests – either scribbled down on a notepad or tucked into your Bible, typed out on your computer, or rattling around inside your head. And, if you’re like me, the requests are a motley assortment: deep and important prayers for the safety and growth and well-being of those you care about, the hangnail Aunt Mildred asked you to please pray about, so-and-so’s cousin’s daughter’s hospital visit…
I battle with intercessory prayer. Not with doing it – I do it quite often. Rather, I battle with integrating intercessory prayer into my Christian walk generally. Too often, it becomes a list I keep, a task I do: a dropping-off of names and incidents and dates into God’s great skybox. I mean it very much and I care when I do it, but that’s still all it is. And that bothers me, because then intercessory prayer for me becomes something rote and ritualistic for me. It also becomes a form of prayer at odds with the reflective, relational prayer I have for myself with God, and it seems to exist independently from the rest of my spiritual life, too.
In an effort to remedy that, I’ve come up with a handful of ways to improve my intercessory prayer life, and I thought I’d share them with you.
(1) Be careful what you commit to pray about. It is really easy to start jotting down every single prayer request, hither and yon, that we hear. But are you really going to pray about it in a meaningful way? Are you really going to care and take the time to sit intimately before the throne of God with this? Or are you going to throw off a two-second “oh, be with Susan’s knee” and then forget it ever happened? Think about what you’re committing to pray for before you commit with an “uh huh” to everything everyone asks you to write down.
(2) Use intercessory prayer as a springboard for conversation with God. I think part of my problem is that I tend to corral intercessory prayer as its own thing; I act as though my prayers for other people and my prayers for myself are different things. In reality, though, when we’re praying about someone else’s life it can lead us to reflect on our own. Ask God what He wants you to learn or how He wants you to grow from praying for this person or this request. See if praying for someone else convicts you, inspires you, or moves you to study something.
(3) Integrate intercessory prayer into your life of Christian service. I’m not saying you immediately have to go make a meal for Sally’s family when they ask you to pray for their sick uncle – though if you feel led, do! But you might call or email or text later that week to see how Sally’s sick uncle is. You can send a card. Sometimes even just remembering to ask about a request at church from one week to the next makes a difference. Intercessory prayer shouldn’t happen in a vacuum.
(4) Embrace intercessory prayer as fellowship. Sometimes this means literally coming together with believers in the flesh to pray about something. Other times it might mean having a team of “prayer warriors” on call. Either way, there’s something edifying about praying with other believers. Listen to them pray. Watch. Learn. Let the Spirit work. You will grow in your prayer life as you study the way others pray.
(5) View intercessory prayer not as a requirement but as a privilege. I sometimes think that in the modern church we’ve become far too casual with prayer. “Hey, pray for me,” we say on our way out the door, without realizing we’re asking that someone else take the time and effort from their day to sit before the throne of God on our behalf. “Yeah, I’ll pray for you,” we say, without realizing the wonder it is that we get to pray for anyone, including ourselves, at all – that we have the privilege of direct communication with God thanks to the (intercessory!) work of Christ. Before you sit down to intercede for someone, take a moment. Thank God that you can do this for them. Thank God that you can do this for you. Realize the wonder of the moment. And if you are the one being prayed for, take a minute to be thankful about that, too – that in the wonderful life God left us as believers, intercessory prayer is one of the best and kindest things we can do for one another.
I hope this helps if you, too, are feeling “stuck” in your intercessory prayer life!