Intercessory prayer is lifting up the needs of others to God on their behalf. Believers intercede for other people, the Holy Spirit intercedes for believers, and Jesus intercedes (or mediates) for those He died to save.
When we go through trials, when we fall into temptation, when our souls are downcast, we don’t always pray as we should—but others can pray for us! God encourages His children to pray for one another and to lift up each other’s burdens to Him out of love. Let’s take a closer look at intercessory prayer in the Bible.
What is Intercession?
The dictionary defines intercession as intervening or acting on behalf of another person. We often see this played out in a court of law where a lawyer speaks, pleads, and argues on behalf of someone else. The idea of “putting in a good word” for someone is also an act of intercession or “standing in the gap.”
So intercessory prayer is talking to God for another person, or lifting up the burdens of others to God. Let’s take a closer look at intercessory prayer in the Bible and understand how we are to pray (intercede) for other believers—and how Christ and the Holy Spirit intercede for us!
Intercessory Prayer in the Bible
The idea of intercession is mentioned in three different contexts and applications. Not only are believers to intercede for each other—but Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede for believers too!
Believers Intercede for Others
When we pray, we recognize God’s sovereignty (supreme power) and our dependence on Him. Praying strengthens our trust and renews our peace as we come before the God who loves us, who works all things for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28). The prayers of those who trust the Lord are powerful and can accomplish much.
It isn’t just kind, it isn’t just a sign of maturity or unselfishness—praying for or interceding for others is obedient. God calls us to intercede for other people and because of His amazing grace, we can do that with joy and hope!
James 5:16 (ESV) Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Not only are we to pray for our loved ones, God commands us to love and pray for our enemies too—just as He does. Remember, we were enemies of God before He saved us by His grace (Rom 5:10). And quiet times are a great place to do so.
Matthew 5:44 (ESV) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Christ Intercedes for Sinners
Even when Jesus was suffering extreme physical and spiritual agony on the cross, He interceded for the sinners who put Him there. How great is His love for us?
Luke 23:34 (ESV) And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Those who trust in Christ’s death and resurrection are cleansed from their sin and stand faultless before God because Jesus paid the price and took the punishment we deserve. Jesus continues to intercede or advocate for sinners right now (1 John 2:1). He is our Great High Priest (Heb 4:14) seated at the right hand of God the Father and He is pleading with Him on our account motivated by His unfailing love.
Romans 8:34 (ESV) Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
The Holy Spirit Intercedes for Believers
The Holy Spirit dwells within those who receive salvation. He is our helper. He brings Scripture to mind, encourages us through it, and helps us understand it. Because of this gift, we identify sin in our lives, repent, and become more like Jesus. But He does something else too!
The Holy Spirit intercedes or prays for us when we aren’t able to or when we don’t see the need to. He knows our hearts and He knows all things (He is God after all!) —what a joy to know that He is pleading with God the Father on our behalf!
Romans 8:26-27 (ESV) Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
A Believer’s Response to Intercessory Prayer
Believer, be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is interceding for you and that Jesus is pleading your case before the Father and you stand innocent before a Holy God because of His sacrifice. Respond in worship and awe at these truths—and in obedience choose to intercede in prayer for others.
Hebrews 4:16 (ESV) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.