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There is a wide variety of how you can pray for others. This lesson will not be comprehensive, but it will touch on some of the more common ways God may call us to pray for others. This includes, but is not limited to:
(We will look at the first two in this lesson and the remaining ones in the next lesson.)
Petition for Others
This is bringing another person's needs before the Lord in prayer. You can become aware of these needs in a variety of ways. Sometimes people will bring prayer requests to you and you agree to pray for them. Sometimes you read a newspaper or watch the news and God quickens something to you. Sometimes the people you want to cover are dear to you, friends, family, etc. Sometimes God will put someone on your heart and you begin to pray for that person.
There are four things that can drive us to petition God on behalf of another person.
Or perhaps a particular situation or request strums you heart cords. For instance, when I was riding BART last week, I met a lady whose husband has been in a coma in the hospital for the past 30 days. I ministered to her during the half-hour train ride and saw her distress and became emotionally involved. Her husband comes to mind at various times, and my heart goes out to the woman and her family and I find myself praying earnestly for God to heal her husband.
We see Paul praying constantly for those he was in relationship with. For instance, in 2 Cor. 13:9-10, he prayed for the Corinthians and admitted that he cared about them and wanted to encourage them. He prayed for many of his spiritual children, such as his prayer in Col. 1:9. John also prayed for those he cared about in 3 John 1:2.
(James 5:6 makes a reference to that type of intensity or fervent prayer.)
Any of these three are valid reasons to pray. In fact, you may find yourself drifting from one to another on a given prayer request. It may start out that you are notified via a prayer chain that someone at church is sick, and you dutifully begin to pray for him. At first you might have to force yourself to pray. Then after 10 minutes or so, an intensity comes on you and you find yourself fervently petitioning God on their behalf. You happen to look at the clock and notice it is 7 p.m. Then, maybe half an hour later the intensity goes away. The next day, you hear that they had a heart attack and were in critical care, starting at 7 p.m. and they stabilized around 7:30 p.m. Then you realize the urgency you felt to pray for them was indeed from God and you were being Spirit-led in your petition. (This type of experience, where you get this extra urgency or intensity to pray, is not at all uncommon for intercessors.)
Some people find it helpful to keep prayer lists so they can keep track of the requests they are praying for. Some take it a step further and keep a prayer journal, where they record what they are praying for, the date they started, the date the prayer was answered and how God answered it.
Standing in the Gap
Standing in the gap is literally when you insert yourself between God and someone (or a group of people) God is angry at and wants to punish. An illustration, in the natural, is when you know two people who are about to get into a fist fight. You jump in between them so neither can get to the other without going through you. Hopefully, they care enough about you that they don't both end up hitting you as they try to get to each other! Let's take another example from the movies, an angry stepfather is about to beat a child who made a mistake. You see the stepfather, face swollen and red with rage, taking his belt off and advancing toward the offending child, who is cowering against the wall in fear. Then the mother steps in between the angry man and the frightened child, willing to protect her child with her own body should the stepfather not back down.
That is what standing in the gap is. You, in the righteousness of Christ, come between God and someone (or a group of someones) the Lord is about to judge or destroy. You plead with God for His mercy and grace to be extended to this person or situation, even though they don't deserve it. God actually desires for believers to stand in the gap on behalf of others. He expresses this in Ez. 22:29-31:
The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.
Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord GOD. (NKJ)
We see an example of standing in the gap from Moses' life. The children of Israel had just entered into a covenant with God and Moses went up to the mountain to meet with God and receive the law. He was gone a long time (about 40 days) and they got impatient. They quickly forgot their covenant with God and made an idol to worship. God became quite angry about this in Ex. 32:9 and wanted to destroy the children of Israel and raise up a whole new people group from Moses.
We see Moses' response in Ex. 32:11-14. He stood in the gap for them. The passage says, "Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: 'LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, "He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?" Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever." ' So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people."
Here is another example of Moses' intercession, where he literally told God that if He destroyed the Jews, He should destroy Moses as well. It is from Exodus 32:31-34: "Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, 'Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin--but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.' And the LORD said to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin."