Intercessory prayer is "standing in the gap" or bringing others to God through your prayers. Anyone can and should intercede for others, especially those who are in trouble spiritually and cannot or will not pray for themselves. We, as Christians, are called to pray for our brothers and sisters in this world.
We are all called to intercede for our brothers and sisters, however, for some, the Lord has given the gift of intercessory prayer in a special way. Not because the person is "special" (we are all equally loved by God) but simply because it is a particular "mission" that God wants them to focus on and to do for Him. Each person is unique and has certain gifts that stand out more than other gifts and it's good to be able to discern what particular gifts the Lord has given to us so that we can better understand how to use them to help others.
This prayer charism, intercessory prayer, is the primary focus of this post. General intercession is also important and is one of our duties as Christians but this post is about discerning the particular charism of intercessory prayer which differs from interceding in general.
Intercessory prayer opens the floodgates of God's mercy and releases torrents of grace upon the one we intercede for. Why is this manner of praying so powerful? Simply because God has willed it to be so. God is love and intercessory prayer is a prayer driven by love Himself.
The Holy Spirit gives the gift of powerful, intense prayer to the intercessor. It is a burning prayer, forceful, and impossible to ignore. The Holy Spirit will bring the person that He is calling you to pray for to your heart and mind along with the overwhelming urge to pray for this person. It seems as if you are before the Mercy Seat as the Lord shares with you His love and mercy for the one you are praying for; it may even bring you to tears, as the Lord's mercy is a thing of incredible beauty. It is a deep all-encompassing prayer, it feels as if it is being pulled out of you. You are left feeling awestruck at the depths of God's mercy. This is completely the Holy Spirit's work; the person praying is simply the vehicle as a member of the body of Christ. This charism, as with any, grows stronger when the person cooperates with the Spirit, when he or she becomes more sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit within them.
Oddly enough, God may bring total strangers to you before drawing you into this prayer. The Holy Spirit moves the person's heart to open up to you and they will often pour out their problems even though they do not know you. It's actually kind of strange when this happens, as it is unexpected. Other times you may just be praying in general and the Holy Spirit draws you into intercessory prayer. Sometimes it is out of the blue, but it is enough to understand that He is doing it for a good purpose and it can help others immensely.
In these times the Lord is calling for intercessory prayer in a powerful way. Differentiating between our duty as Christians to intercede for others and the charism of intercession can help one understand whether they are called in a special way in this area...and many are. I believe this is one of the more common gifts. The question is:
How do we know we are called to this type of prayer in a special way?
Also, are there signs that the Lord is calling us into deep intercessory prayer? How are we to respond?
First, I'd like to clearly state that we each have spiritual gifts and we all share in the gifts of others. They are used to build the Mystical Body of Christ, of which we are each a part. Some have healing gifts (Father DiOrio comes to mind here), others have supernatural gifts of wisdom (such as Blessed Mother Teresa), words of knowledge, prophecy, teaching gifts, discernment of spirits - the list goes on and on. These gifts are extremely useful today because of the spiritual burden we are under due to the increase of sin in the world.
I'll start with the first question. How do we know we are called to intercessory prayer in a deeper way?
Those who have the gift of intercessory prayer tend to have deeply compassionate hearts. It may seem to others that they are overly sensitive but this is a necessary aspect of the gift. Without this sensitivity of the spirit to both God and others the gift cannot develop to the degree God would like it to. Others may consider intercessors to be "overly emotional" and impractical people. They may have mood swings and they may seem to "suffer" more than the average person because a prayer burden can be...well...a burden. Physically and mentally, because what affects the spirit can also affect the body.
Intercessors tend to have a strong "pull" to pray for others. It may even feel like a strong pressure upon the soul. Passages in the Bible such as Moses intercession for for the Israelites during the battle with Amelek stand out for them. "As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amelek had the better of the fight." (See Ex. 17:8-13). The passage where Abraham intercedes for intercedes for Sodom tugs at their hearts (See Gn. 18: 16-33) as well as other passages in Scripture such as Jesus' weeping, His Agony in the Garden, His pleading with the Father on the Cross, " Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Passages such as these burn like a fire in their hearts. They are being called to "stand in the gap" for others.
As for the second question, are there signs that the Lord is calling us to this in a deeper way? Yes, I believe there are. Here are some of the signs:
~ Your heart feels heavily burdened despite the fact that things in your life are running smoothly and there seems to be no valid reason for the burden. It makes no sense...your heart feels weighed down and you can't figure out why. That is a very common sign of a "prayer burden". Especially when the burden comes upon you suddenly. For instance, you are driving in your car and a feeling of grief or sadness comes over you when you were fine just moments before and there is no logical reason for the heaviness in your heart. If this happens to you often try this:
Start praying and offer the prayers to God for those in need. Continue until the burden lifts. You'll know when it lifts by the feeling of peace that comes over you.
~ You seem to suffer more than the average person and yet there seems to be no logical cause. Why? I believe this gives you a hint about what to pray for.
~ You have pain in the pit of your stomach that comes and leaves after heavy-duty prayer.
~ You get bodily symptoms that make no sense. They come and go. (Here we are stepping into "words of knowledge" and this can be useful in discerning what you are called to pray for.) God
has to signal the need for prayer in some way or another and this can be one of them.
~ Names and faces come to your mind over and over again. We should pray when this happens.
~ You have unusual dreams about people or dreams in which you are battling forces of evil.
~ You wake up during the night and someone is strongly on your mind.
~ You feel a burning or sensation of heat in your body and an inexplicable yearning to pray comes over you.
~ A sense of emergency (like a spiritual 911 call) comes over you. It doesn't let up except through prayer. Once it lets up you can stop praying.
~ Offering up Masses and going to Adoration relieves the "spiritual burden" as these are powerful sources of obtaining grace for others.
~ At times it feels as if "the veil of heaven" has parted and you are standing before The Mercy Seat. Intercessory prayer can feel as if you have stepped into "The Holy of Holies" at times. It can be a very powerful experience for the intercessor.
~ Tears for no obvious reason. For example, you are doing the dishes, a face or name comes to mind, your eyes well up, and a feeling of great compassion comes over you. This is a call to prayer for that person.
No doubt there are other signs but the ones I listed above are very common. If these things happen to you then you can be assured that God is calling you strongly as an intercessor. The answer is to pray, pray, pray.
God sometimes asks for someone to intercede in a more direct manner (for example: a vision of someone in danger, through words, etc..), especially in an emergency. The key is to pray until peace or a feeling of joy comes over you. This peace is a sign that your job is done, at least for the time being.
Those who are interceding for others can also fast and offer up small sacrifices to the Lord during the course of the day. Over time, intercessors grow in the ability to discern "calls to prayer" and are able to respond to the Lord in a more timely manner.
I'd also like to mention that during these periods of intercessory prayer it is important to refrain from any personal petitions that you may have. Bringing your own "stuff" into the mix seems to interfere greatly with intercessory prayer. It's best to wait until your personal prayer time to bring
anything else before the Lord.
I hope this post has been helpful!
Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to share in the love and mercy you have for your people.