"Intercession is the hardest work in the world..." Elisabeth Elliot

Intercessory Prayer: The Hardest Work in the World

I’m convinced we’re prone to make entirely too much of visible, quantifiable ministry. Don’t get me wrong–I love sharing the faith that is in me with a big roomful of women and then trusting God with the results. It’s also extremely satisfying to write and then painstakingly edit an article that shows up online and is widely shared on social media. The question is how does one “quantify” a ministry of intercessory prayer when we know it is easily more significant than any more visible or easily measured act of service?

Jesus addressed this tension in his Sermon on the Mount. Although it’s clear from the beginning that he was addressing his disciples in this discourse, he managed to get in a few pointed remarks to the pharisaical bystanders who were giving him the side-eye on the fringes. Rather than showy, street-corner prayers, Jesus advocated for a hidden ministry of intercession:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6

Of course, this raises the meddling question: What kind of reward am I looking for?

Consolation in a Shared Struggle

I’ve always found consolation in the knowledge that Elisabeth Elliot also struggled with prayer. Of course, “struggling” is never an excuse for “delayed obedience,” but rather an invitation to ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery, and in this I am always helped by the application of cold, hard facts like this bit of EE wisdom:

Intercession is the hardest work in the world–the giving of one’s self, time, strength, energy, and attention to the needs of others in a way that no one but God sees, no one but God will do anything about, and no one but God will ever reward you for.”

On Asking God Why, 130

No wonder intercessory prayer is so hard! It cuts across all my selfishness, all my obsession with results, and all my tendencies to look for my “atta girls” from people rather than from God.

In 2021, God is calling me to pay more attention to the hidden ministry of intercessory prayer, and my obedience looks like a small Post-It note
carrying a list of names,
carried forward in my planner each week,
carrying the weight of my intention, and holding me accountable to
carry certain people with me into the presence of God every day.

For one, the prayer is, “Grant her, O Lord, her heart’s desire.”
For another, it is, “Strengthen her body for a battle against cancer that’s become so routine for her that she swallows her daily chemo like I swallow my vitamins.”
For a dear aunt, recently widowed, it’s simply a quiet lifting up for joy and peace.

May I ask, gently, who belongs on YOUR Prayer Post-It?
If you are serious about intercessory prayer, you won’t have to look far to find people with needs.

What is your biggest obstacle to a praying life?
What practical steps can you take TODAY to be more available to God for this crucial ministry?

Praying for you,

Who belongs on YOUR Prayer Post-It?
If you are serious about intercessory prayer, you won’t have to look far to find people with needs.

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52 thoughts on “Intercessory Prayer: The Hardest Work in the World”

  1. Michele, I am sitting here in awe as just yesterday I was reminded of this quote: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” (Oswald Chambers)

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  2. I have a “post-it” list of those I pray for daily, and usually, those prayers are offered up multiple times during the day. As God’s children, it is imperative that we pray for one another, trusting Him to do the heavy lifting.
    Blessings, Michele!

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  3. Michele, I love this post and the wisdom from Elizabeth Elliot. I often think of Epaphras, ‘wrestling in prayer’ as a reminder of the hard work of prayer I’m called to. It isn’t easy but it is such a sweet privilege, one that I’m learning to relish more and more. Blessings on the journey, my friend.

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  4. I have recently been convicted to intercede more diligently as well. Isaiah 59:15-16 just jumped off the page at me a couple weeks ago. It says Yahweh was offended when He saw the injustice in the world and that He was amazed that no one was interceding about it. It was about a different time but couldn’t be more relevant today. I have been compelled not to amaze Him in that way! 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michelle, last year’s “word” was “Prayer” – and this year’s word is “Deeper Prayer – Intercessory Prayer.” Your “Post-It” brought back the sweet memory of one of my spiritual moms, Alvah – who put post-it notes with names on her bathroom mirror and would pray over those names daily. When we were visiting, she took me to see my name. Your post has such good timing – I need to be more organized – to write own – like Alvah did, so I don’t forget, don’t get lazy – and step forward to intercede for the lost lambs! Thank you for this message! ~ Maryleigh

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  6. “Of course, “struggling” is never an excuse for “delayed obedience,” but rather an invitation to ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery…”
    Love this analogy! So fitting!

    I could probably cover every mirror in my house with post it notes and not repeat a name if I were truly honest about who I need to pray for!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another excellent, well-written post, Michele. I have long believed our society is too interested in quantifiable results in situations where none are readily available. I saw this happening in school too. I love your idea of a physical (not virtual) Post-it note. I tend to pay attention to them more often than reminders I leave for myself on my phone!

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  8. For me, the biggest prayer problem is distraction. I cringe at the idea of bringing God a laundry list to check off. But otherwise, my mind wanders (and I cringe at that, too). A while back, I started trying to pray for any needs that came up as soon as I became aware of them–right in the middle of reading emails or making dinner. At least that helped the “I’ll pray for you” promise that got forgotten in a few hours. But there’s still a need for that quiet time alone with God to share my heart for the needs of others.

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  9. That same quote of E. Elliot has surfaced in my thinking a number of times over the years, ever since I first heard it as an eighteen-year old–in Quito, Ecuador myself. If SHE considered intercession hard work, then I need not feel guilty if it feels the same for me sometimes!

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  10. I truly believe in the power of intercessory prayers. I keep a page in the back of my journal & jot down prayers I see needed from friends, the world, blog posts, just things that the other person will never know I’m praying about… but it matters. God hears. Love this.

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  11. “No wonder intercessory prayer is so hard! It cuts across all my selfishness, all my obsession with results, and all my tendencies to look for my “atta girls” from people rather than from God.” This hit me in the heart today! I know my own ‘to do’ lists gets in the way of prayer.

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  12. I have a prayer app called Prayer Popper. That reminds me to pray. Whenever I learn of a need, I put it in and pray until answered. THen you can click to indicate answered and even be reminded of answers

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  13. Michele, I have a printed list by my Bible that helps me be consistent in prayer. While I do pray for a few people every day, I pray for others on a certain day of the week. I write in names as needs come up … I guess you could say the sheet itself is a record of the various requests have come and gone as the months go by. It might be to structured for some, but it helps me.

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  14. Tweeted! Such an important topic. Consistent intercessory prayer is hard for me (my to-do lists can get in the way, no excuse) but I’m determined to do better.

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  15. I used to say I will pray for you, and then forget. So now I write the names and requests down. And if someone texts me to pray for them, I will then write a prayer back to them in a text. This happened by accident, but so many people are comforted to see and read the prayer I prayed for them. Intercessory seems such a little thing to do, but I think it really does move mountains in the lives of others.

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  16. I think prayer is what every believer struggles with the most. My biggest obstacle is that my prayers rarely change. I feel I pray for the same things over and over again.

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  17. I studied Habakkuk early on in the pandemic, and this week has been a really tough week with a lot going on, plus a lot of triggers. I was having a real problem finding any peace. Have been reading the Psalms and other places in the bible and today I went to Habakkuk and came away with such peace. It is a book every Christian should study. I haven’t read the book mentioned here, but would love to. I just studied it with a bible commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I pray often and my prayer list has been growing with the many I know on Facebook that are facing covid crises and other health crisis as well as worries about finances. I definitely pray for our country to heal and for peace, My family’s health and safety are always in my prayers. I pray before going to sleep every night–it is so helpful to soothe my mind and sou

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  19. Friend. This: “What kind of reward am I looking for?” SO POWERFUL.

    God is showing me how valuable prayer is and all the different ways to add prayer to my life. It is truly beautiful and challenging.

    Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s good to talk about the parts of our faith no one else does.

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    1. I don’t like looking at that question myself for very long…
      But God is also helping me with my values system, bringing prayer further up the list and helping me to slow down and to make room for the most important ministry.

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  20. Now more than ever, I feel like I’m surrounded by people to pray for. Sadly, in the middle of a pandemic, there are many, many people who I find myself praying as we hear more stories of those who are affected. #ParentPower

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  21. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I do love a good list. Sadly, during the pandemic it does seem that thoughts and prayers are having to go out to so many people, for reasons that we’d all hoped wouldn’t be the case. Thank you for joining us for #MischiefAndMemories

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  23. I believe in personal prayer with church to celebrate events. I pray for my loved ones and all who suffer to be given strength. Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories

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  24. I find myself sending little prayers for others dozens of times a day! If I read or see something unpleasant or know of someone who is struggling, whether friend or stranger, I quickly take a moment to send positive energy and prayers for the needs of others and for the needs of the world and humanity as a whole. Beautiful post and message! Thanks for linking with me, Michele.

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  25. I appreciate this post. Prayer is something that I think does, on occasion, get taken for granted. We know we can pray whenever we want. However, when we pray with real intent, I think that is when we can see how prayer really works. I remind my boys to “be specific with your prayers.” Specifically naming people that are in need of healing, a new job, or help with a current struggle can keep you more aware of others in need in your own circle (and maybe you can be the answer to their prayers by praying for them).

    Adrienne from Gluten Free Preppers and a member of the Blogger’s Pit Stop Crew

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