What is Intercessory Prayer?
Intercession means to “plead in behalf of another.” Therefore, when the object of prayer is an appeal for God to help other people, this falls into the category of intercession. All believers are called to intercede for one another, such as the Apostle Paul told Timothy, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them” (1 Timothy 2:1 NLT). Also, to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT).
In another instance, Paul wrote of his intercession for the believers at Colossae,“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9). He also requested their intercession for him, “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3). And apparently, Epaphras, a colleague of Paul’s in Rome, was also quite an intercessor, of whom Paul wrote, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV).
Another great example of intercessory prayer is seen when the Jerusalem church interceded for Peter after he was arrested and jailed for preaching the Gospel. “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). Herod had already put James to death, and wanted to try and execute Peter as well, but decided to wait a few days since this was during the time of the Jew’s Passover feast. Meanwhile, as the church prayed desperately for Peter around-the-clock, an astonishing miracle occurred in Peter’s prison cell. An Angel appeared to him, causing the chains to fall off his hands, and the iron city gate opened by itself as the Angel led him from the prison (Acts 12:1-11). This is the kind of power that God can still release today, if the body of Christ will only pray and seek God.
Intercessors are important because prayer is the means God uses to work in the behalf of others. While Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, standing at God’s right hand interceding for us (1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 8:34), believers also serve as intermediaries to intercede and help reconcile souls to the life-changing truths of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18). In other words, the prayers of an intercessor helps “bridge the gap” in behalf of others... taking up the slack, adding strength to theirs, helping them make a connection. “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” (Ezekiel 22:30).
Intercession is something that all Christians are called to participate with... however some believers feel a special calling, passion or anointing toward intercessory prayer and consider that their primary ministry. While prayer isn’t specifically mentioned as a gift in scripture, “faith” certainly is (1 Corinthians 12:9), as well as other motivational-type gifts such as such as service, mercy or helps (Romans 12:3-7) ... any of which may involve this kind of intercessory prayer.
Most everyone has heard of Dr. Billy Graham, the famed Gospel Evangelist of the 20th century. But while he was known around the world, and preached to millions through crusades and television... far fewer ever heard of Pearl Goode. She was a 65-year-old widowed grandmother from Pasadena, California, whose ministry of prayer and intercession under-girded Graham’s successful ministry for decades.
Goode, along with fellow believers, started interceding privately for Billy Graham during his first Los Angeles crusade in 1949, something that wasn’t new to her. Pearl had developed a passion for prayer and intercession from the age of seventeen, shortly after her conversion to Christ in the Methodist Church. She would often spend days and nights fasting and praying for a variety of needs. “The old Methodists taught that, and I was trained that way and I saw it in the Bible,” she said.1
According to Graham’s longtime associate, Cliff Barrows, Goode was an unusually devoted intercessor, who felt called, not only to pray, but to teach and to train others how to pray and intercede.1 Before her intercession for Graham’s crusades, she often hosted informal prayer seminars in her home for ministerial students from nearby Fuller Seminary, teaching them about the ministry of prayer.
Initially, Graham and his team were unaware of Goode’s intercessions during the Los Angeles crusade. They only knew God was blessing in an extraordinary way, insomuch that the nightly meetings extended from three weeks to eight. The crowds even swelled into the many thousands. However, behind the scenes Goode, along with scores of other believers, had privately organized informal groups who were praying and fasting around the clock for the success of the crusade.
Then as all this was going on, something else unexpected occurred that changed everything for Graham’s ministry. For unknown reasons, newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, decided to promote the story of Graham’s crusade across his chain of twenty-eight major newspapers. Virtually overnight, the relatively unknown Billy Graham became a national sensation.
“Puff Graham,” was the message Hearst dispatched to his editors, who readily understood that Graham was to receive top publicity. Their reports were then picked up by the Associated Press, and forwarded as lead stories to hundreds of other cities. Time, Life, Newsweek, and other national magazines gave as much as four pages to it. Even Shanghai’s Communist-censored English newspaper carried it on page one.
Neither Goode, nor any of her intercessors, ever sought credit for their part in the marvelous things God did in Los Angeles, but all those involved, especially Graham, eventually came to realize the significance of her ministry. But before they did, she had already been interceding for Graham for years, following the crusades to most of their scheduled U.S. cities.
Goode didn’t actually attend the crusade services themselves, but made arrangements to stay in an area home or in a room by herself, where she would spend days praying and fasting for the city, for Graham’s team, and for the receptiveness to the Gospel message. During the crusades she prayed fervently for Graham as he preached. She would cry out to the Lord, asking Him to pour out His Spirit on Graham as he preached the cross, and for souls to respond and get saved.
Until she began traveling by airplane in later years, Pearl Goode rode buses to the crusades at her own expense, logging more than 48,000 miles on Greyhound. While she remained unknown for most of her years of intercession, Graham’s team finally discovered what she was doing, and began providing her travel and accommodations to the various cities. They realized her prayers, along with those she organized, were playing an important role in the success of the crusades. She continued her prayer ministry until her death in 1972.
Without a doubt, Pearl Goode’s intercessory prayers, along with the prayers of many others, were a vital part of what God used to help Billy Graham succeed in leading throngs of souls into the kingdom of God. Graham never met William Randolph Hearst, nor ever learned why he received such favor, but only knew that the blessing came from God in response to the many prayers of intercessors such as Pearl Goode.
Graham was a praying man and always valued the importance of such intercession, but after learning about the amazing role that Goode and her prayer warriors played in his success, he made sure such intercession was given greater priority. For the remainder of his crusade years, each of his meetings were bathed in advance by organized round-the-clock prayer gatherings, with thousands of intercessors asking God to anoint the crusades and to open the hearts of lost souls.
But long before Billy Graham, there were other especially anointed Gospel preachers who also knew the value of intercessory prayer. One of these was a converted lawyer named Charles Finney, who became the most prominent evangelist of the nineteenth century… as well as one of the most important figures of his era. During an age without sound systems, radio or television, Finney preached to some of the largest crowds ever gathered up to that time.
While Finney was quite well-known, Daniel Nash and Abel Clary, were relatively unknown ministers of prayer who accompanied the evangelist as his intercessors.2
Finney believed that a community first needed cultivated with prayer before his ministry could be effective, so he dispatched Nash and Clary in advance, who would seek a few others to intercede with them until revival meetings began. And even during the meetings as Finney preached, they continued praying in a separate place, calling on the Lord to pour out His Holy Spirit. As a result, more than a half-million souls came to Jesus Christ though Finney’s meetings.
What we know for sure is that the prayers of intercessors are vital to the work of God and the success of the Gospel. As important as preaching is to the ministry, it cannot produce results without the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit... which requires the foundation of fervent prayer and intercession.
While their labors have often gone unseen in the background, intercessors have literally laid the foundation for the success of their church or pastor, working hand-in-hand with the invisible agents of God’s forces, while wrestling with evil unseen principalities and powers.
For this reason, intercessors are sometimes also referred to as “spiritual warriors,” as God gives them a faith willing to engage spiritual battles... praying persistently for victory, despite the challenges of spiritual conflict, doubt, persecution, that Satan inspires or exploits to oppose Christians from receiving God’s help (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
1 Transcript of Pearl Goode interview, Billy Graham Center Wheaton College, 1970