One of the great privileges believers embrace is intercessory prayer. It is a call that we, as believers, must answer daily as we pray for others, especially in times of suffering, pain, and grief.
We know that intercessory prayer is the act of praying for others, but before we move into why intercessory prayer is so important when others are facing difficult times, let’s read what Joshua Banks wrote on prayer at G3 Ministries:
“But what is prayer and why do we pray? Prayer may be defined as our “personal communication with God.”1 It is talking, communing, and fellowshipping with the Lord. This is the means that we express our love to Him, our devotion, dependence, praise, thanksgiving, and this is the means that we confess our sins to the Most High and seek His forgiveness and restoration. The puritan Thomas Brooks writes, “Prayer is nothing but the breathing that out before the Lord that was first breathed into us by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Lord breathed into us life and by the Spirit of God spiritual life, and this results in our hearts longing to honor and praise Him through our words that are spoken back to God.
Many saints in the Scriptures have come to the Lord in prayer pleading with the Lord to be merciful either to the individual praying or on behalf of others. There is the expectation that the Lord will hear and act. This isn’t to say that prayer is all about asking the Lord for this or that, rather much of prayer is praising God for who He is and adoring Him. But, there is that facet of prayer where we are invited to ask the Lord for things, whether provisions, help, for saving others, asking for wisdom, etc. The Apostle Paul writes those familiar words in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Jesus invites us to ask, seek, and knock (Mt 7:7). He tells His disciples, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”(Jn 15:7).[i]
Why is it essential to intercede for others in prayer? First, to be Christlike. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
We know from Scripture that intercessory prayer was part of Christ’s earthly ministry (John 17, Luke 22:32), and even now, He intercedes for us from the throne of heaven (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, I John 2:1).
Secondly, we are commanded to intercede for others.
James 5:15-16 says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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.”
When others are spiritually weak, they need the other members of the Body of Christ to lift them in prayer. We know God is sovereign and can choose to answer any prayer He sees fit. But Scripture clearly indicates that God does not listen to or answer every prayer. In fact, Grace to You gives at least fifteen reasons for unanswered prayer. Intercessory prayer is vital because God does not answer the prayer of those:
1) Who have personal and selfish motives.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).
2) Who regard iniquity in their hearts.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear (Psalm 66:18).
3) Who remain in sin.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2). Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him (John 9:31).
4) Who offer unworthy service to God.
“You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts.
5) Who forsake God.
Thus says the Lord to this people: “Thus they have loved to wander; They have not restrained their feet. Therefore the Lord does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, And punish their sins.” (Jeremiah 14:10-12).
6) Who reject God’s call.
Because I [Wisdom] have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke…. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me (Proverbs 1:24-25, 28).
7) Who will not heed God’s law.
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination (Proverbs 28:9). “But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:11-13).
8) Who turn a deaf ear to the cry of the poor.
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, Will also cry himself and not be heard. (Proverbs 21:13).
9) Who are violent.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:15; see also 59:2-3).
10) Who worship idols.
Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. (Jeremiah 11:11-14; see also Ezekiel 8:15-18).
11) Who have no faith.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7).
12) Who are living in hypocrisy.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
13) Who are proud of heart.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
14) Who are self-righteous.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:11-14).
15) Who mistreat God’s people.
You have also given me the necks of my enemies, So that I destroyed those who hated me. They cried out, but there was none to save; Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them (Psalm 18:40-41). You who hate good and love evil; Who strip the skin from My people, And the flesh from their bones; Who also eat the flesh of My people, Flay their skin from them, Break their bones, And chop them in pieces, Like meat for the pot, Like flesh in the caldron. Then they will cry to the Lord, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, Because they have been evil in their deeds (Micah 3:2-4).
So, does God answer the prayers of unbelievers? A strict yes or no answer is difficult without qualifying the answer in various ways. However, it is noteworthy that the above mentioned principles represent some of the key characteristics of an unbeliever. Thus we can safely say that, in general, God does not answer the prayers of an unbeliever.”[ii]
This is where we may intercede for others. In Christlikeness, believers abide in love and mercy, praying for believers and unbelievers alike, interceding in prayer for them. What a privilege to bring glory to Christ as we commune with Our Father on behalf of others!
“MacArthur and Mayhue write, “God-honoring prayer is motivated by a number of factors, including a yearning to fellowship with the Lord and bring glory to Him, a dependence on God for His provision, a need for heavenly wisdom in the midst of trials, a plea for deliverance in the face of trouble, a longing to find relief from anxiety and fear, a desire to express thanksgiving to God for His goodness, a need to confess sin, a yearning to see the salvation of unbelievers, and a desire for spiritual growth both for oneself and for other Christians.” There are numerous facets of prayer, and through all of them, the heart’s desire should be that God would be honored.[iii]
[i] Banks, J. (2023, February 3). The Power of Prayer. G3 Ministries. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from https://g3min.org/the-power-of-prayer/
[ii] Does god answer the prayers of unbelievers? (2016) Grace to You. Available at: https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA160/does-god-answer-the-prayers-of-unbelievers (Accessed: March 22, 2023).
[iii] Banks, J. (2023, February 3). The Power of Prayer. G3 Ministries. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from https://g3min.org/the-power-of-prayer/
I live in Drew County, Arkansas. I have been married for 24 years to Chris Lawson. I’m a former tutor and newspaper reporter, and an elementary Sunday School teacher at Enon Baptist Church. We enjoy spending time with our daughter and son-in-law, Becca and Clayton Cheshire, and granddaughter, Madeline Jayne. I enjoy spending time in the Word of God and mentoring ladies who have left various charismatic teachings.