Intercessory Prayer

From Walter Wink:

There is no place for intercession with a God whose will is incapable of change. What Christians have too long worshiped is the God of Stoicism…

The fawning etiquette of unctuous prayer is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an oriental bazaar than the polite monologues of the churches.

History belongs to the intercessors.

In J. Beilby, P. Eddy, Understanding Spiritual Warfare, 64, 67.

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  • Rick

    “History belongs to the intercessors.”

    Great line.

  • Exactly. Our prayers are far more determined by post-Victorian deferential politeness than those in Scripture, shaped as they are by the argumentative passion of the Ancient Near East.

  • Yes and no. I would like to see an example of a prayer he considers to be “unctuous.” Is it recited prayers or litany’s? In that case, the problem isn’t in the prayer itself, it could be with the one doing the praying. It is easy to become mindless when we recite prayers in liturgical settings. However, I have seen litany’s with piercing words that can lead the people of God into intercession.
    On the other hand, I agree. We have lost the passion and persistence of prayer in our congregations. We don’t pray for miracles anymore, we replace it with prayers of “comfort and peace.” When we pray, do we really believe He can move a mountain or do we think he will only comfort us at the base of the mountain?

  • *litanies

  • Chad

    Excellent quote; plenty to ponder.
    Not so sure about prayer moving God to change his mind per se, but I am certain that we often miss what God wants to give but chooses not to simply because we don’t ask (James 4:2). Talk about missed opportunities!

  • Nice. I agree. This is what I have learned from reading Walter Brueggemann and OT scripture which he cites.

  • Merv Olsen

    As a young Christian I was encouraged and challenged by Norman Grubb’s account of “Rees Howell: Intercessor”.

    This can be downloaded for free e.g at

  • Merv Olsen

    A really great book to help us pray aright is

    A Call to Spiritual Reformation – Priorities from Paul and His Prayers by D.A. Carson (Inter-Varsity Press, 1992)

  • I agree that this is the portrait the scriptures paint for us regarding prayer.

    When I have found myself in deep need, deep pain, though, the last thing I have wanted to do is to haggle with my Father….and the very thought of needing to do that has *seemed* an awful portrayal of God’s character. It seems almost cruel, doesn’t it? God so often likens himself to a parent, and it is natural for us to equate our benevolent and nurturing parenting instincts to how God loves us. When I think about it in those terms, though, (and God does indeed invite us to think of Him like a Father,) I try to picture me expecting my child to haggle with me when he is desperately ill or in dire straights…and that simply doesn’t improve my thoughts toward God.

    Anyone have any thoughts for me with this? I understand the passionate cry – I don’t understand having to barter with God, as such. That seems to be the pagan way.

  • Percival

    When we haggle, we try to find the common ground. We start somewhere, and we think the other person is somewhere else, but he may not reveal where he really is just yet. The other person may be moved by the expression of our passion and by how much we seem to want it.

    A good example of haggling in the gospels in the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman whom Jesus starts off by denying her request and calling her a dog. That’s not really where Jesus is, but it is not important where you start the bargaining, the truth is found in where the conversation ends. Request granted. Need met. Woman praised. Jesus redefined and revealed.

  • Thank you, Percival.

    You know, during one of the very worst times in my life…my husband was at the edge of death with a staph infection in his hip joint and his blood was septic, I was expecting our child, both of my parents were old and having surgeries…I could not pray. Couldn’t have even began to think of bargaining. It wasn’t an issue of a lack of faith – I’ve loved God for forever, and trusted him thru hard times. I just couldn’t pray, couldn’t feel, couldn’t cry, couldn’t do anything but get up and do what I had to do moment by moment. It was one of those times that I had to trust that God was my loving parent even though I could not feel Him, and that He knew the deepest desires of my heart before they ever found voice and I brought myself to ask.

    After it was all over (my husband got well and the baby is now a rambunctious two year old) I heard, saw, and realized how many people had interceded for us. We were absolutely carried by the prayers (maybe bartering) of others. I think I just trip over that word, but your definition helps.

    Here’s another similar analogy regarding persistent prayer that maybe someone has insight on.

    When my children want something, and they nag, whine, wheedle, pester and incessantly ask me for it, I finally get to the point in which I’m inclined to say, “No.” That’s usually because they don’t really think I heard them the first time, or that maybe I didn’t think they were really serious. They think they can convince me by repeating their request to the point of becoming annoying. So, I want to be careful about that. I want to honor God, but I don’t want to insult His intelligence…He really did hear me the first time, He wants me to trust Him to do the best by me even if I don’t understand it here and now. Why should we persist in pestering God? (Even though Jesus himself tells us to do so…) It just seems so strange. Is it as C.S. Lewis said, that persistent prayer isn’t so much about changing the mind of God, but that thru the process we are changed?

  • Hi Holly
    I am appreciating and resonating with you as I read your words.

  • Percival

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s good to know that God hears whatever kind of prayer we can manage, even it is only an inarticulate groaning.

    And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. Rom. 8:26

  • Hi Holly

    I am appreciating and resonating with your words. A thought or two . . .

    First, I too am confused about the idea of pestering-God, if I may use that phrasing. Jesus’ instruction on prayer to the disciples was to keep it real, keep it short. Yet in the parable about needing bread, the needer just kept banging on that door until he got what he needed. The intercessors I have known do just that. But that’s just never resonated with me.

    God knows my every thought and every word before it is even on my tongue. He knows my heart. There’s not a thing about me or my situation that he doesn’t know. He knows. So I don’t think I need to inform him of anything, and so sometimes I don’t say much at all. . . I don’t feel a need to say much at all. But I do feel a need to be with him – just be with him – be still with him – be in his presence . . . to still myself and remember I can trust him, remember he loves me.

    Love and trust are inextricably linked. When our son attempted to take his own life, I had to face the reality that I couldn’t be with him 24/7, I couldn’t protect him – that at the end of the day all I really had was God, his love and a decision whether or not I would trust him. And at that moment a deep settling washed into my core – that way down deep sense of contentment that can’t be touched by any circumstance, by the ‘storm’. Him *with* us, always . . .”I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

    Relationship with the triune God who *is* love is first and foremost intimate – that intimacy of family, of children and parents, such that Jesus addressed him as Abba. I agree with you that I don’t see the need of nagging, begging or bartering. If anything, I see the need to get, more fully, how the triune God who *is* love sees us and wants us to trust his extravagant love for us.

  • Thank you Trin – I appreciate your words and the place you describe so much. I am so sorry for your trials – I was at that same place with a son at one time. And I learned, just like you did, that God was truly with us. Emmanuel. Means so much more, now. 🙂

    So, I don’t know, really, what to make of the conflicting instruction from the Scriptures. I trust more in the relationship, as you said – and trust that my Father knows the depth of my passion for what I am requesting. Perhaps there are times for bargaining, time for short and to the point, times of extreme stress or grief or hopelessness where words aren’t even necessary. After living thru serious trials (of which I didn’t even scratch the surface above,) I am more convinced than ever of the need for intercession on behalf of others. If I was so carried, it is important for me to carry others to God by my prayer.

    Thanks so much for the conversation – you (and Percival) have made my day! God be with you!