Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Intercessory Prayer

I get a lot of e-mails from readers asking about my post on intercessory prayer gifts. Most ask if I can provide a more detailed article on the subject so I edited my previous post on this subject and added information that might be of interest to those who have written to me. I have broken down some of the "signs" that point to a call in this area and have added some suggestions that may be useful.

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.


  1. So well put!
    This describes my life,
    resonates with my soul.
    I often wake up at night with an urgency to pray for souls and many times stay awake praying for hours. Many times the person appears in my dreams and I awake with a start and an urgency in my soul to pray with everything I've got... To pray for souls around us puts us in a constant war zone against the powers of darkness. Some souls I have prayed for, for years and I keep praying... For many years now I believe this has been my calling...

  2. A good and powerful post with which I agree a lot. Albeit I'm confused about certain aspects.

    The Holy Spirit can draw us into intercessory prayers for others so that they may grow closer to God. Why not approach the individual in question direct - as He did to Paul on the way to Damascus? Why ask us to pray for someone else?

    I recognise several of the signs you mention and have at times experinced them.

    I also know that God places people in certain locations for the purpose of drawing others to Him. To relate a long story shortly: A friend was diagnosed with cancer and went to hospital. The family was totally distraught. In hospital he met another person (a non-believer) with the same symptoms. Doctors did not hold much hope for either of them. The sick friend, out of the blue, decided to tell the non-believer that all will be well and that he would be healed and told him about God. After the operations both patients survived. The non-believer and his family became Christians. The two hospital patients became great friends.

    God bless.

  3. Hi Cinder,
    I know all about those middle of the night wake up Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi Victor,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! God definitely does stuff like this!

    In Acts, Chapter 7 through 9 we read the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen and hear about Saul's part in this. After Stephen's martyrdom, who happens to receive the grace of a miraculous conversion? Saul, whose name is later changed to Paul. The blood of the martyrs can pave the way to the softening of even the hardest of hearts. As he was dying, Stephen prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Stephen interceded for the very ones who were responsible for his death, just like Jesus did. Who was most responsible for Stephen's death? Saul, who converted right after this. And he was still mumbling murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord when it happened. After Paul's conversion, he too became a powerful intercessor.

    God bless!

  5. Oops, I meant to add:
    So Paul's conversion probably came because of Stephen's intercession. I think God often works it this way so we understand that we are all one in Christ and that our prayers and actions have effects in Christ Jesus.

  6. This is such a moving post, Mary. Thank you for sharing.

    I started reading your list and got excited that there might be a reason why I'm an over-sensitive lump of dripping. But, then, I read a bit more and realised that, no, I'm just a sook:-D

    It's inspiring to read how the Holy Spirit uses souls for the good of the whole Body of Christ.

    God bless, Mary:-)

  7. Hi Vicky,
    A sook? Translation? Lol! (I suppose I could Google it. No doubt I'm probably one too.)

    The Holy Spirit uses each and every soul for the good of entire Body of Christ if we allow Him too. Our "jobs" might be different but they each work for the whole! I doubt it matters to Him if we are "sooks" or not ;)

    God bless you too, Vicky :)

  8. A female crab? Yep, that sounds about right (meaning me, not you :) Doesn't stop the Lord!

    Or does sook mean something else too?

  9. Mary,

    I learnt so much from your post. Even though I can be very sensitive I don't feel I have a gift of intercessory prayer.

    Sook is an Aussie slang word... someone who is soft and easily upset, a cry baby... over-sensitive lump of dripping... Vicky said that well! Anyway, we usually say, "Stop being such a sook!" so it's not seen as a good thing to be!

  10. Oh Mary, I'm so glad you posted this. I have so much I want to say here...
    First of all, "standing in the gap" has given me a wonderful image of intercessory prayer..that's exactly what it is! There have been many times in my life where I have unable (maybe unwilling???) to pray for myself. When I've asked others to pray for me...well, it's deep. It's deeper than just asking someone to shoot a few ejaculatory prayers up for's waaay deeper than that! It's asking someone to actually stand in the gap between God and me! I can't tell you what doors have opened with this description!
    To have someone ask me to intercede for HUGE. What a responsibility! Standing in the gap between this person and God is a privilege! What an honor it is to offer that for someone else!

    I heard a phrase once when I was watching a video by Garry Smalley on marriage....the phrase was "emotional word pictures"! Standing in the gap is an emotional word picture for me! I see intercessory prayer in a different way today! Thank you!

    I also had something to say about "Mercy Seat"....but I got so caught up with "standing in the gap" that I can't remember what I was going to say....LOL!

    Anyway...your post was a complete GIFT from God for me tonight! Seriously!

  11. Mary, thank you for such an excellent explanation.

    It could not have come at a better time for me. On Sunday, the Lord reminded me (through an old friend) that I need to use the intercessory gift I've been given. Old memories re-surfaced of amazing times, when a specific (usually not-thought-of-by-me-in-awhile) person would pop strongly into on my mind. Totally out of the blue, with a call to pray. Almost always I would hear within a day or two "why" that happened. It hasn't been a frequent occurrence, but it can be dramatic. Very, as you say "911." Once it was for a celebrity.. someone I'd never met and hadn't thought about in years (I'd had a crush on him when I was a kid) and as a grown woman I felt a sudden urgency, one day, to pray for him. My sense was that God was looking about the earth for someone.. anyone... who would actually pray for this man right then and there. I suddenly remembered praying rosaries for this young man when I was eleven! I felt God let me know that those had been real prayer and had been heard as such, and that this man needed prayer RIGHT NOW. He died in a plane crash a day or so later.

    And now you are being used by God to remind me to listen actively for the urgings of God, and to pray, pray, pray.

    Thank you.

  12. Oh Mary thaaaank you so much for writing this. I've had most symptoms but didn't know what it was called and how important this ministry is. lately I've had the urgency to pray more and write less.What prayer do you use? Formula or whatever the Spirit leads?

  13. Dear Mary,

    Thank you so much for this very informative post! God bless you!

  14. Intercessory prayer is so important. Mary, thanks for going into such detail about it as a charism. Every now and then I get those "urges" to pray for someone or even something.
    While some receive this charism, I think we are all called to stand in the breach at certain times.
    Your point at the end of the post about how bringing our own stuff to intercessory prayer can interfere is a good one, and one I had not thought about before.

  15. Hi Sue,
    Ah! So that's what sook means! I figured from Vicky's comment that a female (blue?) crab was a bit off the mark ;) Thanks!

    Australians have a lot of slang words! (What am I saying? So do Americans!)

    I hope you and your family are well, Sue. Thanks for commenting.

  16. Hi Nancy,
    I'm glad you liked the post. I love when others intercede for me too :) We all need prayers! I doubt I would have converted if others weren't interceding for me and standing in the gap. (I like that term too and the mental picture it creates!)

    Like you, I love interceding for people. It really is a privilege and an honor! Great comment :)

  17. Hi Nancy(S),
    Your comment is a great example of how intercessory prayer can help others in their time of need! Thanks for sharing it! I believe the prayers of children are very powerful because of their purity of heart and I often tell Michaela this.

    This sense of emergency is one I often experience too. I think when we die we will see just how important our prayers for others and theirs for us are. We are all interconnected in Christ.

  18. Hi Anabelle,
    I think I would say that never has the world needed intercessors as much as it does today. Spiritually, things are really bad here. I think they will get better but not quite yet.

    In answer to your question: I do both. I often start with praise, then I thank the Lord for creating the person/people and after that I pray that He "opens the floodgates of His Mercy upon them", pray for His will to be done, cover the person with His Precious Blood, etc...

    If I know exactly why I am praying I address this directly. I also often use The Divine Mercy Chaplet or The Rosary.

    I end by thanking Him for His mercy and love.

    If I am praying for the same person over a period of days I'll often offer my Mass for them too.

  19. Hi Karin,
    I've noticed that the intercessory prayer seems to lose its sharp edge if we bring ourselves into it. I think it's because the Holy Spirit helps with the praying and instead of Him directing us we attempt to direct Him. That never works as I do think we need to pray for our needs, just not then.

  20. Hi Anne,
    I'm glad you liked the post :) God bless you and your family too!

    Beautiful churches near you!!

  21. Mary, what an amazing post, and I loved all the comments as well. I too love to pray for others, and will remember them at adoration, if I wake at night, etc., but I don't think I have this calling to the extent some of you do.

    I have prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet for a few people while they were actually dying, and it was such a powerful experience.

    It's so wonderful when someone promises to pray for you. When I had cancer, I could literally feel the prayers of others lifting me up and obtaining peace for me. I could only be joyful and at peace....not normal under the circumstances.

    I love these posts when you share so deeply from your wisdom and experience. Thank you!

    Love and hugs...

  22. Your life is a prayer, Patricia. I think you know what I mean. Love and hugs to you too!

    I pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for the dying too. I think this is a particularly good one to pray for them!

  23. Such good information Mary! I have many (but not quite all) of the "symptoms." I am definitely overly sensitive which causes many people to verbally beat me over the head and say things like, "toughen up" and like Nancy, I remember even as a child wanting to help save souls. Lately, I have been in a very dry period lacking zeal. Most of the time I intercede for others and forget to pray for myself. I understand the "burden." Sometimes I don't want to have the "burden." Your post is helping me to understand the need to embrace the burden and go ahead and pray. Mary, I am so thankful for you and all of my blogging friends :-)

  24. Hi Monica,
    Sorry it took me so long to moderate your comment - I was gone all day. You wouldn't believe how cold it is here! 39 degrees and very windy -brrr. And I planted my garden last week :( I hope it doesn't any colder.

    I'm glad you liked the post - I decided to add to my last post on intercessory prayer because I kept getting e-mails from people asking for more information. Many people sense a call in this area, which is good because this world really needs prayer warriors.

    I am thankful for you too!!

  25. Geeze! 39 degrees! What odd weather we are all having! Hope your garden survives!

  26. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for this explanation. When I was growing up we kids were taught about Our Lady of Fatima and that she said to pray for poor sinners because many people were ending up in hell because nobody was praying for them. I take that seriously, but seldom do I have the kinds of prompts you've written about.

  27. Hi Barb,
    I wish the entire world would take Our Lady's words at Fatima to heart. I take them seriously too. Plus, I thinks it's very interesting that Pope Francis consecrated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. Fatima has not yet come to completion and that this decade that we are currently in may bring about its fulfillment. Possibly, anyway.

  28. Oooooweee know these wake up calls per ce during the middle of the night. Mary wonderful inspiring post. Hugs to you my friend.

  29. This was really interesting, Mary. I learned a lot. You certainly have a gift from God - and most importantly, you realize it and USE it!

    God Bless you.

  30. Hi Grace,
    Me too on those middle of the night wake up calls :) Glad to hear you survived the trip! Your niece and nephews are cute!

  31. Thanks for commenting, Michael! God bless you too!

  32. Thank you Mary for the compliment on my family. Blessings to you dear one....


  33. Thanks for this Mary.

    I do tend to spend quite a bit of time praying, or trying to - and much of it for others - the world.

    I did not walk the paths I intended as an innocent, idealistic youth. But the paths I was taken down gave me a greater understanding of my own humanity and that of all others. I pray for all people who are wounded and broken down by life - before the Cross of Christ - "through, with and in Him.... in unity with the Holy Spirit.... "

    My heart gets sore - I weep at times and always assumed it was just my being overly sensitive and stupid.

    Lately I spoke to a member of the Franciscans of Renewal - here in Ireland. He said he believed I had this 'gift' of 'intercessory prayer'. I was not sure what it really meant let alone having a gift or not for it. But the very expression seemed to light up in me somehow - resonate deeply. He said even it causes me deep pain and tears flow - to go with it. I had always fought that part before. So much of what you described above seems to fit with me too. It's a relief to know I am not nuts or if I am I am not alone. :-)

    I found the part about dreams intriguing too. I have had those dreams of 'fighting' these demonic like entities for years. I will wake up and feel drained and my lower legs literally barely support me - drained and even a feeling of deep pain - like in my bones. A Lutheran minister recently suggested to me that this too was a 'gift' for 'prayer' - 'intercession'. I'd never imagined any of these things before - assuming I was just overly sensitive. I am deeply sensitive, very deeply compassionate which can be a curse at times it seems, as well as a blessing.

    Anyway - thanks for your post. I am going to feel more at peace now in all of this and actually try and pray to develop this 'gift'.

    My younger brother died last week and had been praying for him. He was not what you'd call 'religious' but died in peace and received all the Sacraments. He would speak about a nun when in hospital - which none of us could see. And when caring for him at home when he was dying - again he'd mention this nun in the room.

    More wild imaginings I thought. But had a strange sense of late that it might have been Faustina.

    God bless

    Caoimhin (Eire)

    1. I apologize for replying to your comment so late, Caoimhin. My comments are no longer hooked up to my e-mail so I miss a lot of them. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. I'm glad he was able to receive the Sacraments. It could have been St. Faustina - I hope it was :) The dying see things we cannot see because their eyes are focused on eternity and no longer on this world.

      It certainly sounds as if you have the gift of intercessory prayer! Thank you for the comment - I appreciate the feedback!

  34. Hi

    Thanks for this detailed post. The reason why i searched this is exactly what you wrote about a burden i have had for almost 2 years to pray for someone i met through a friend. However a few days ago, i went into prayer so deeply and i cried in the pit of my stomach the annointing came on me so powerfully but i cried out to God mentioning the burden i have carried for long and wanted him to bring an end to the suffering this person has endured. The following day i got a scripture Ps 145 18-19 kind of a confirmation that he has heard my cries but what was interesting was this person who hardly comunicating to me sent me a message and the friend who introduced him to me on whatsapp, and we spend all day communicating something we'd never done before but along the lines of the matter i am praying into. It felt that the cry was like in the spirtual realm something had been broken. I have asked God to help open more channels of communication so i can engage more with the person and use the opportunity to minister and pray for him. Thanks for this post it was really useful.

  35. Any insight, thoughts or teachings about actually sensing you are present in a distant land among foreign peoples interceding/praying for the people/circumstances there? Though this is not the way i usually experience intercessory prayer, it has happened unplanned and unexpected a number of times .... i do not want in any way to participate in anything not authored by the Lord. I will continue to seek Him and the counsel of Holy Spirit, but would appreciate if there is any understanding He'd have you share. Thank you.

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  37. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I came home after meeting with my spiritual director and praying if this is my calling. I come to your website and read your blogged and moved me to tears. I am so glad that God gave us each other to help, support, and bring others closer to him. All praise and glory to God!

  38. WOW, I just had one. In my gut had to stop what I was doing and pray. Now I am very weak

  39. I don't feel worthy but I thank him for using me. I never know who it is what it is but it's a not so good feeling in my gut. Once I was talking with my son and just feel to my knees bent over the pain of what I felt all I could do is moan and cry like now. Then I'm left weak barely moving. I seen passion of Christ and u would think they were whooping beating me. I could not speak move I was out of breath I was trying to crawl and I could not. Lethargic I just don't no why this movie did me like this I was weeping out of control. I am no one he is so great to me. Here I go crying