This is the asking part of prayer, prayer that makes requests of God for things we desire. It is the part of prayer that is most used and is normally the part we think of when we think of prayer, or when the word “prayer” is used. In fact, all of the Biblical (Hebrew and Greek) words translated as prayer mean to ask God for something. And there are also words that mean to pray with petition that are not very often translated as “prayer,” but are translated as “wish,” “ask,” “make requests,” “beseech,” “entreat,” “desire,” and “supplication.” All of these words mean basically the same thing: to ask with the prayer of petition.
Usually, when we think of making petitions, it is for our own personal needs. But we can also make petitions for others. We sometimes call this intercession, or interceding for another.
In a sense, I think all true prayer is intercessory because true prayer has a communal or corporate nature. That is, whenever we (as believers) pray for anything, we rightly include other believers around us. We pray as Jesus taught us to pray, saying “Our Father” instead of “My Father.” Thus, whenever we pray for our own needs our prayers are not only for ourselves but they are also (in a spiritual sense) for all other believers; hence, they are intercessory.
We should also think of non-believers. Though they are not included in our spiritual family, let us hope and pray that they will be. They especially need our prayers of intercession.
I think there are degrees of intercession. The more we pray unselfishly for others the more I think our prayers are intercessory prayers. If you are really serious about interceding for someone in prayer, you will position yourself to not only pray for him or her, but you will do for that person whatever God shows you to do. True intercession then is giving your life for another—in prayer as well as in works of service.
The most important thing about our intercession for others is that we should not view ourselves as alone in doing it. We are really co-intercessors with Christ and the Holy Spirit. We work together with Them. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor on earth and in our spirit. He tells us what to pray for and how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Christ is our intercessor in Heaven. By His continual pleading before the Father, He gives us access to God so that we may obtain mercy and find grace (Heb. 7:25). Hence, with this divine team beside us and in us, we have all the power we need to intercede for others.
Some say that petitionary prayer (asking God for things for ourselves or for another) is the only kind of prayer there is—that this is all that prayer is. And the reason they say that is because all of the Biblical (Hebrew and Greek) words translated as prayer or that indicate prayer, mean to ask for something. And this I admit is true. Reason tells us, however, that prayer is more than asking: it is just talking to God; it is soul to soul communication with God.
- Alton Bryant, editor of The New Compact Bible Dictionary, wrote,
As a many-faceted phenomenon, prayer must not be reduced merely to supplication, as is sometimes done. The immense sweep of Biblical teaching with respect to this phenomenon can scarcely be compressed into the single and rather crass category of ‘getting things from God,’ to quote the title of a once popular book by Charles A. Blanchard. Prayer, essentially, is communion, a desire to enter into conscious and intimate relationship with the Thou who is our life (Ps. 63:1-8; Ps. 73:25-26; Luke 6:12; 1 John 1:3). And the astonishing corollary of this truth is that God hungers for man’s fellowship (Rev. 3:20). (The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant, p. 472)
I agree. I think prayer goes beyond petition (drawing only on the Biblical words having to do with petitionary prayer) to include other types of communication such as confession, praise, and thanksgiving. But I think, however, that the biggest part of prayer for most of us is petition, maybe up to 80% of prayer. And that is because we are so needy. I would hope that during the course of ones Christian life the other parts of prayer would increase, especially praise and thanksgiving.