“Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 64.
Intercessory living, and with it intercessory prayer, is, in Christ, the life of the church, it is the life of life together. When we awake in the morning we awake not only in the presence of God, but we awake with our brothers and sisters in the presence of God. Our brothers and sisters are in our hearts and minds, they are in our souls, they are bound to our lives and we are bound to their lives. The prayer of our Lord Jesus that we may all be one as the Trinity is one (John Chapter 17) is fulfilled in our life together. As Paul writes, our hearts are “knit together in love”. The Christian life goes beyond “me” and becomes “we” – this “we” is found in intercessory prayer.
In intercessory prayer there is no comparison between brothers, there is rather compassion. We are all in need of grace and mercy; we all stand, or kneel, or lie prostrate before the Cross of Christ. The needs and afflictions and trials and sins of my brothers become my burden, enveloped in my intercession, in my cry to God for His mercy and grace in the lives of my brothers.
When there are times in which we do not know how to pray for others as we ought (Romans 8) we can trust the Holy Spirit to pray through us in ways that we do not understand. Often these prayers will be brought into focus as we persevere and we will gain some understanding or sense of the specifics of our brother’s need.
As a rule intercessory prayer is specific prayer, as Bonhoeffer writes: “Furthermore, it is clear that intercessory prayer is not something general and vague, but something very concrete. It is interested in specific persons and specific difficulties and therefore specific requests. The more concrete my intercessory prayer becomes, the more promising it is (pages 64 – 65).”
We are to live for others and we are to intercede for others – this is a service in the Temple of God to which we are all called. Intercessory prayer is a service of the priesthood of all believers. Bonhoeffer calls intercessory prayer “a gift of God’s grace for every Christian community and for every Christian (page 65).”
Some of us may use written lists; lists that we maintain, or lists printed or emailed within our fellowship. Others of us may use memory devices. The important thing is that our lists of people on whose behalf we intercede be etched in our hearts – we go beyond lists to hearts knit together, we go beyond lists to souls bound to one another in Christ – we become identified with our brothers and sisters in their needs and burdens and pilgrimage – the need becomes not simply “his need” but rather “our need”. I will carry the burden of my brother, I will carry my brother…in intercession. Just as Jesus carries us in intercession, even so we carry one another.