Intercession is intervening. More specifically it is going to God on someone’s behalf. It a holy privilege and duty, not to be taken lightly. It is strenuous and it can be messy. We have learned from Nehemiah and his BURDEN for others, and from Daniel and his IDENTIFICATION with those for whom he was interceding.
Now let’s switch gears a little and think more specifically about what we pray for. If you are in a group and someone asks for prayer requests, what do mot of the requests deal with? Illness. We live in a fallen world and one of the evidences of that is sickness. It touches young and old. It seems to strike without rhyme or reason. Along with the physical suffering, it causes emotional anguish and financial devastation. If we have any faith at all, we need to pray for those who are sick. James 5:14-15 instructs us to call the elders to pray for us when we are sick.
Does Scripture give us any guidance on how to pray for the sick?
In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah is staying in the Canaanite town of Zarephath. A widow there is providing food and a room for him as God miraculously provides for her during the three and a half year drought. The woman’s only son becomes sick and the sickness is fatal. After the boy’s death, she confronts the prophet. While there are deeper theological implications here — like the local god Baal could not raise the dead while Yahweh could — and there is the fact the Elijah was a powerful prophet of God, he teaches us some important things about praying for the sick.
Elijah got personally involved.
But Elijah said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him from her arms, brought him up to the upstairs room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. (1 Kings 17:19)
He took the woman’s son, figuratively taking her burden and her sorrow. There would be no rest, no business as usual for Elijah as he prayer for this boy.
This is connected to identifying with those we pray for and to the burden we have for them. If it doesn’t touch us personally, if we don’t become involved personally, we will mumble, “Be with the sick,” and call it good.
Elijah didn’t have the answers.
Then he cried out to the Lord and said, “Lord my God, have you also brought tragedy on the widow I am staying with by killing her son?” (1 Kings 17:20)
Elijah was confused. Would God do a miracle to keep them alive only to let the boy die? What would that do to the budding faith of the woman? What about God’s reputation here in Zarephath? What about Elijah’s own reputation? Was he somehow responsible for this like the woman said?
God’s ways are not ours and it is arrogant to presume we know why things happen the way they do. Elijah was humble enough to pour out his confusion to God. We can do the same when we pray for the sick.
Elijah did not give up.
Then he stretched himself out over the boy three times. He cried out to the Lord and said, “Lord my God, please let this boy’s life come into him again!” (1 Kings 17:21)
I don’t know why it took three times. God certainly could have raised the boy after the first prayer. Maybe there were bonus lessons for the widow or for Elijah in this. I don’t know what laying down over the boy meant. The stretching out over the boy perhaps demonstrated to his mother that the prophet was identifying himself with her son. Perhaps Elijah was acting out what he was praying for by laying down and getting back up.
In any case, Elijah was actively, physically, intensely involved in praying. It is that intensity and that unwillingness to give up that we can learn from.
Now, we also know that despite our intensity and sincerity in praying for the sick, sometimes healing does not come in this life. You may recall in 2 Samuel 12 David’s fervent prayers for the recovery of his young son. Despite David’s fasting and mourning, the child died. David clung to his assurance that he would see his son again.
In my own experience, I have seen God miraculously heal and I have seen Him refrain from intervening. The same God. How God chooses to work out His will does not absolves us from the charge to pray for each other, especially to pray for the sick.