Prayer is not the primary duty. The greatest command is not, “Pray to God.” Rather the greatest command is “Love God wholeheartedly.” Prayer, then, is simply a reflection of this prior duty working itself out. Because I love God, I communicate to him my love for him and my need of him. This is the essence of prayer: loving God.
Likewise the second great command is not, “Pray for your neighbor.” Rather, the command is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet one of the clearest reflections of this love is our praying on behalf of one another. Paul states the Golden Rule in fresh terms, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Again, let this principle be applied to our prayers. Our prayer should be guided not by our own interest, but by the interests of others.
Such praying directed toward the needs and interest of others is most often called intercession, and this type of prayer is pervasive in the Bible, even when it doesn’t go by that title.
Jesus prays for Peter, “Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). And Jesus prays no doubt similarly for all who follow him: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
These two passages (Luke 22 and Hebrews 7) shed light on one another. Jesus is able to save completely, because he always lives to make intercession. And his making intercession has a protective effect regarding our faith. At those points where we may be weakest in faith—where Satan is most likely to launch his offensive—it is at those points that Christ makes intercession for us. His prayer for us is that our faith would hold strong against the onslaught of Satan’s advance.
His praying is the means; his saving is the end.
Thus if we want to be like Jesus in our praying, then we should pray for others. And as we pray for others, our prayers should be targeting those areas in which they may be weak in faith. As we are aware of their characteristic besetting sins, tension-filled relationships, despair-inducing circumstances, we should target our prayers at their maintenance of faith through these things.
Tim Keller makes this observation about the prayers of the apostle Paul: “It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances” (Prayer, 20). Rather than praying for change in circumstances, Paul prays that their faith in God and love for God would grow through suffering, not apart from it.
There is no better way to love a brother or sister in Christ than to make intercession for them, specifically that their faith would not fail when under assault.