For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 2 Chronicles 30:9 (NRSV)
For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord. For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (NRSV)
(Jesus, speaking to Simon Peter and a group of disciples): “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19 (NRSV)
And he (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)
The Office of the Keys– which is the authority of average believers to forgive others and intercede for others- is probably one of the least understood concepts in Lutheran theology, but it is a radical twist from the traditional teaching of the church of Luther’s day. While the church hierarchy taught that forgiveness had to be earned- or bought- and that forgiveness could only be granted by an ordained priest, according to the Bible, Jesus taught that the authority to forgive and to pray for others (binding and loosing) belongs to every believer.
Jesus also taught that we have the authority in Him to go directly to Him in prayer concerning our own needs. We can and should pray for each other as well, but we are welcome and invited to approach Him with anything and everything.
In prayer, God has a dialogue with us- He changes our hearts and minds to be in agreement with His will.
The idea that Jesus followers have the authority (not just ordained clergy, but everyday garden variety believers) to intercede for others is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the prophets (such as Moses) and sometimes the kings (such as Hezekiah) stepped in for the people and asked God for mercy on the people’s behalf. Today Jesus has expanded that authority to everyone- a concept known as the Priesthood of Believers.
Jesus encourages us to step in for others in prayer. He tells us to be persistent and not give up when we pray. He tells us we have the power to forgive others which is another reason why confession is good for the soul, as it allows others to pray for us and intercede on our behalf.
Sometimes in the confusion and hopelessness in this world we find it hard to pray. We don’t know who to pray for or what their needs might be. We wonder if God hears our prayers at times. Yet intercessory prayer is one of the most powerful ways that every Jesus follower can work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
“You must learn to call on the Lord. Don’t sit all alone or lie on the couch, shaking your head and letting your thoughts torture you. Don’t worry about how to get out of your situation or brood about your terrible life, how miserable you feel, and what a bad person you are. Instead, say, “Get a grip on yourself, you lazy bum! Fall on your knees, and raise your hands and eyes toward heaven. Read a psalm. Say the Lord’s Prayer, and tearfully tell God what you need.” – Martin Luther from Faith Alone, A Daily Devotional
Prayer is for all Jesus followers at all times, in all things. We are encouraged to come to Him no matter what troubles our hearts and minds. We are encouraged to pray for others because our persistence in prayer may be the difference between God-life or hopelessness and despair for them.
The other part of this is that prayer and coming before God is more about one’s heart and motive than about following the rules. Anyone who has read the Ten Commandments knows it’s not possible to Follow the Rules one hundred percent. Following the rules doesn’t make us fit to come before God- the fact that Jesus told us to come to Him as we are, in our fallibility and humanity and to trust Him does.
Jesus, Who first interceded on our behalf, asks us to pray for others and to forgive the way He forgives us. We were put here on this earth for a reason, which just might include being the difference for someone else.