Intercessory prayers are probably the most difficult to explain in terms of a personal relationship. Intercession, by definition, brings other people into the picture. This points to a truth that our culture often forgets: the purpose of personal relationships is not solely for personal satisfaction, but for the betterment of the entire world. Marriage relationships yield children, friendships bring together larger circles of friends, political or economic relationships bring peace and stability to a larger sphere of influence. Of course, with the reality of a sinful world, these relationships often fall short of their potential, but we mustn’t lose sight of these ideals, lest we fall into a completely selfish attitude.
Applying this to our relationship with God, it’s a very simple matter. The point of having a personal relationship with Him is not for our personal salvation alone, for salvation includes our reconciliation not only with God, but with the whole world. It’s not just the ‘vertical’ relationship with God that is being restored, but also the ‘horizontal’ relationship across humanity – the perfection of the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor.
And so as we grow and mature in our relationship with God, we bring more and more people into the arms-reach of our mutual embrace, interceding for others. Some people find this comes naturally, others have to work at it to get it going. A good follow-up question is what sorts of things we should include in regular intercession? In many of his epistles, Paul asked people to pray for him and his companions, and told them that he was praying for them, so that’s a pretty clear indication of the importance of praying for the Church in its various orders and ministries, local and abroad. Going further, Paul instructs Timothy that prayer should be made for everybody, especially for government leaders so that peace might reign. I think it’s safe to say at this point that ultimately, intercession should be all-encompassing. We just need to remember that this is an out-flowing of our personal relationship with God, not something that just gets tacked on somewhere.