The Ministry of Intercession
“Ministry” is the English translation of the Latin word ministerium, which means “service.” In its sociological usage, it is applied to institutions or establishments that give aid and services to people. Its Christian understanding is defined by the manner in which Jesus exercised His mission among men: He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; cf. Mark 10:45; John 13:1–17). Christian ministries are thus selfless services rendered to people in the name of God for the salvation of souls and for the glory of God. Such services are driven by Christian love and for the sole purpose of higher values.
Intercession is the act of intervening between parties with a view to reconciling differences, or mediating in order to obtain favor from one of the parties for another. It is an interposing or entreaty on behalf of another person. Intercession in a Christian sense means, therefore, to stand between a needy soul and God, praying for God’s mercy and gracious considerations. It is a vicarious supplication where one is given to agonize in prayer for the welfare of others.
As a ministry, intercession becomes an organized service in which people can individually or collectively send ceaseless prayers to the presence of God and entreat His help for distressed souls or situations. It acts as a form of spiritual legal aid for needy souls, which argues their cases in the divine council. In spiritual warfare, the ministry of intercession stands out as a manifest way of resisting the kingdom of darkness.
Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18–19).
Not everybody can be a literal missionary by going to the nations and spreading the good news of the kingdom or can engage in the formal ministry of spreading the gospel and saving souls. But one can become a missionary nevertheless through the ministry of intercession. There are so many places, for instance, where the gospel has been impeded or where some political policies have impaired the message of salvation.
There are situations and conditions that need the urgent attention of heaven. These situations are such that one may not be able to reach and tackle them directly or even do anything directly to change them in order to save people from unnecessary suffering, break yokes, and bring restoration.
Believers can handle such problems through the ministry of intercession. One can become a missionary like St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who, without ever being a missionary in the conventional sense, brought many souls to God through a hidden, simple life of prayer.
The salvation of souls is the Master’s supreme concern. In Ezekiel 34:6, He complains: “My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”
Through the ministry of intercession, one participates actively in the redemption of the world, in seeking the lost sheep of the Master. A single person who opts to be an intercessor can make a great difference. People who really believe in the power of intercession, graced with a passion for souls, can greatly influence the divine council in favor of lost souls. Accordingly, the apostle James points out: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16).
Even souls gained through preaching and teaching of the word may not be retained without constant intercessions on their behalf. Intercession is a ministry that the Christian Church cannot do without.
Sometimes we need to go beyond our own problems and ourselves when we pray. We need to realize that we should pray for sinners, for backsliders, and for those who do not even know they need prayer or divine help. Praying for divine intervention in the lives of those who are at the brink of eternal damnation and the lives of the wretched of the earth is a very noble missionary service. Intercession is indeed a very profound way of extending the ministry of Jesus and saving souls. When Fulton J. Sheen was describing the profundity of passion for souls, he said: “What nobler work could there be than zeal for souls? What finer way to spend oneself and be spent than in drawing souls to the love of their Lord and their God?”
Who wants to be an intercessor? Who cares for lost and perishing souls? Is there really someone who can go before the Lord and pray until tears flow for wretched souls? It is only this kind of prayer that can heal our wounded world and battered humanity. It takes hot tears of men and women passionately dying for souls to bring down the mercy of the Father on sinful men and women and on the world. It takes kneeling knees and upraised holy hands to draw down the power of God to heal, to break yokes, to restore, to console, and to bless. You are called to be a member of this noble class: an intercessor.
The Early Church and the Ministry of Intercession
The Church, the sacrament of salvation instituted by Christ, would not have survived the mortal persecutions that confronted her at a very tender age, and buoyantly flourished nonetheless, if the community of believers was prayerless and slumbering. The Church knew that her Master succeeded in establishing her because He was and remained a great intercessor, who never slept with two eyes closed.
It was clear to the early Christians that the ministry of spreading the gospel, which was entrusted to them by the Lord, would not survive the heavy enemy artillery unless they could “lift up holy hands” (see 1 Tim. 2:8) to the heavenly sanctuary. They knew, therefore, the source of their strength and survival — intercession — and exploited it to the full. Thus, before Pentecost, they were gathered in the upper room and “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Because they had been saturated with passionate prayers during this time of waiting in the upper room, Pentecost became a great harvest of souls. Following the Pentecost experience, the apostles began the ministry of intercession in earnest, having been equipped with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
The Acts of the Apostles helps us to appreciate the commitment of Jesus’ early disciples to the ministry of intercession: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). That means that they continued with the tradition that the Master had handed over to His apostles.
Their central preoccupation revolved around three cardinal traditions:
- (1) the teachings of the Lord handed over to the apostles (the Word);
- (2) the breaking of bread (the Eucharist) which was the sacrament of unity, love, and the real presence of the Lord in their midst; and
- (3) prayer (the vehicle to attend the divine council).
Through prayer they made themselves always present at the divine council, where they obtained the grace to expand the number of those who believed and to dismantle the roadblocks of the forces of darkness. Accordingly, “fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). Through the ministry of intercession, they were able to move the hand that moves the universe, overthrow spiritual territorial powers, and hoist the emblem of the Master, marked with the blood of the Lamb and the power of the Resurrection. Because they maintained the tempo of the required commitment and did not relent in participating in the divine council through constant prayers and flooding heaven with tearful petitions for the salvation of souls, the Pentecost anointing continued to flow generously.
The power associated with the ministry of the early believers was made amazingly manifest after Peter and John were released by the Jewish authorities, following their arrest after the healing of the cripple at the Beautiful Gate. When they gave to the other disciples the report of their encounter with these authorities, who were resisting the power of God, they called upon the name of the Lord as a team of intercessors with one mind and one voice. They pulled their spiritual energies together and besieged the divine council: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29–30). Heaven responded with a blessed assurance. The evangelist Luke reported the consoling manifestation that confirmed the response of the divine council to their supplication: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
Intercession was the glory of the early Church.
There are so many instances of the early Christians’ commitment to the ministry of intercession and how this paved ways for the expansion of the Church and the harvest of souls. The story of the experience of Peter in prison will, however, suffice for these pieces of evidence that indicate the place of intercession in the life of the first-century believers.
After he had killed James the brother of John, Herod arrested Peter and put him in prison, intending also to kill him, “but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). The early Church was a praying Church. She had no other defensive or offensive weapon more effective than prayer. She knew that her advantage was “not by might, nor by power, but by [God’s] Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). Thus, while Peter was in prison, believers were in the divine council, wrestling with the intrigues of the accuser and asking the Supreme Judge for justice. They knew that it was “the time when kings go forth to battle” (1 Chron. 20:1) and not the time to slumber or to get drunk. They thus blew the war trumpet, gathered their army, and went to battle. The experience of Joshua, the successor of Moses, was then repeated with the apostles.
When Joshua gathered his army and marched out to take over Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He went up to him and asked, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” The man replied, “No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (Josh. 5:13–14). That is to say, “If you are for the Lord, then I have come to lead you to battle. But if you are against the Lord, I am here to command the Lord’s army against you.”
Whenever the army of the Lord gathers for battle, the Lord always sends His angel to lead it to battle. It was this same experience that the disciples of the Lord had when their army filed out for battle against the spiritual forces personified in Herod. The Master sent His angel to lead them in battle even though they were not conscious of this like Joshua. As the commander of the army of the Lord, this angel went into the prison and released Peter unconditionally.
The intercession of believers has the power to obtain the services of heaven. The early Church was always in contact with heaven and always present in the divine council. This was how they made heaven always present in the world of their time.
Do we still wonder why the Church appears today more or less feeble and battered? Do we still wonder why demons can perch comfortably on the pews of our churches? Pope Paul VI sadly noted, “It is as if from some mysterious crack — no, it is not mysterious — from some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God” and has sometimes even infested its sanctuary.
Believers have grown more and more ignorant of their roots and neglected their source of strength. They have grown too fat to go to war and too busy and distracted to appear in the divine council. The devil has used the enticements of the world as a lullaby and soothed them into drowsiness and stupor. When it is the time for kings to go to war, they stay at home like David (2 Sam. 11:1), romancing the devil.
As a result of this situation, the devil has been enjoying a field day, wreaking havoc in the world and steadily dragging millions of souls to destruction. Would that the Church, the Body of Christ, might rediscover herself and exploit her powers once again. Would that believers might reclaim their dignity and measure up to their calling.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in The Art of Spiritual Warfare: The Secret Weapons Satan Can’t Withstand, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.