πας ο μισων τον αδελφον αυτου ανθρωποκτονος εστιν και οιδατε οτι πας ανθρωποκτονος ουκ εχει ζωην αιωνιον εν εαυτω μενουσαν εν – τουτω εγνωκαμεν την αγαπην οτι εκεινος υπερ υμων την ψυχην αυτου εθηκεν και ημεις οφειλομεν υπερ των αδελφων τας ψυχας θειναι 1 John 3:15-16
There are many kinds of prayer, and it is worth exploring what some of these prayers are like so that we can find liberty when we pray.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that when we speak of prayer, we are in truth, speaking of God’s will. And whilst some prayers agree with God’s will they do not need too much thought because these prayers come to us instinctively or naturally. We call these simple prayers. Then other kinds of prayers also take the form of knowing the will of God, but cannot be entered into unless we are willing to be committed in the Spirit. These prayers we call intercessory prayers.
To explain this, we could say when a mother sees her child coming into danger, she doesn’t need to ask God if she should pray or how she should pray. She knows that she should pray. How can God who made man, not also know that He has given fathers and mothers a natural authority to pray for their children’s safety? Not everything that happens with children is reflective of danger, of course. What danger does is set the parent into a natural response, and in their natural response, they pray for God’s help and protection. The same principle could almost be applied to any number of ordinary circumstances, and our natural response is to call on God. We celebrate this gift from God. Praying for oneself, for one’s children, for one’s friends and even for others whom we know and love is very natural, and all we need to pray in this way is to know and love ordinary things that we can easily understand.
Intercessory prayer is different. Intercessory prayer takes a kind of commitment that speaks more of the love of God than it does of our natural affections. Emotionally we may not easily see this because as Christians, we tend to be decent and reasonable people – even in our emotions. So praying for the salvation of others by natural means may seem like an understandable emotional response. However, emotion will not be enough to pray for people who are perishing through a lack of knowledge of Christ. We can witness to others, but we will see more fruit if we also have intercessory prayer for those to whom we are witnessing. People must consent to God of their own free will and must not be persuaded to believe in Christ for emotional reasons. If people cannot be brought into a right understanding of their need for Christ, they are not likely to receive a living faith. The place to work that out is before God. If we intercede effectually in prayer, then we will also witness effectually, even when we do draw upon emotions.
It is the Spirit who has been sent to bring conviction of sin, and so intercessory prayer must always include a necessary faith in depending on God. Only then can men and women get saved – by crying out to God. Our petition for their souls will water and give substance to the will of God by our witness and obedience. If we did depend on our emotions to inform our prayers in the way we use our emotional experience of life when we pray for those we love, where would saving faith come from? It must come from God. Experience, no matter how grave does not save. Things could be even more complicated when we are witnessing to those of other cultures.
What about prayer for those who are not of our culture? We may find that emotion won’t be enough for men and women who don’t eat our beef, blow our horn, rest under the same Oak, draw upon the same draft of Ale, and walk our fields singing the same anthem. We may even be offended by others’ cultural practices. How can our emotion win these people for Christ, through prayer – if our prayers are not sufficient to stir God by setting aside our feelings to lay hold of God’s love for those who are perishing?
It is God’s will that no one perishes, so we do not need to ask God whether someone should be saved. Everyone should be saved, and we have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, given to us by Christ Himself. Emotion will let us down when it comes to intercessory prayer. If we approach intercessory prayer emotionally, we will become discouraged, and when we are discouraged, we stop praying. Intercessory prayer is a burden, and all real burdens are ministries. All ministries need men and women to be towers in leading and teaching others, through example, how to walk in that Ministry.