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Prayer Duncan Heaster  
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6. The Mediation Of Prayer

This study builds on some concepts which must first of all be mastered before we can go further:

1. Prayer is not just requesting things. God sees our situation and innermost desire / spirit as 'prayer' without us necessarily verbalizing these things in prayer. Evidence for this is provided in The Essence Of Prayer and Prayer: Some Practical Points.

2. There is a connection between a righteous way of life and attitude, and God responding to prayer. This is discussed in The Comfort Of Answered Prayer.

3. There is a connection between the word of God dwelling in us, and prayer being answered. There seems to be a connection between prayer and God's word being within us in Gen. 20:7- for exactly because Abraham was a prophet, therefore he could pray for Abimelech. Faith comes from our appreciation of the word (Rom. 10:17), and faith is the basis of answered prayer (Mt. 21:22)- to the point that we believe we have received the answer the moment we pray (as in Ps. 56:9). God cried to Israel in the prophetic word, but they would not hear; and so when they cried to Him, He also did not hear (Zech. 7:13). If the Lord's words dwell in us, we will ask what we will, and it will be done. Yet only if we ask according to God's will can we receive our requests (Jn. 15:7 cp. 1 Jn. 5:14). The implication is that if the word dwells in us, our will becomes that of the Father, and therefore our requests, our innermost desires, are according to His will, and are therefore granted. Therefore the word was what directed and motivated David's regular daily prayers (Ps. 119:164); they weren't standard repetitions of the same praises or requests, but a reflection of his Biblical meditation. He asks God to hear his prayers because He keeps God’s word (Ps. 119:145,173). He asks God to hear his voice in prayer, using the very same words with which he reflects upon how he heard God's voice as it is in His written word. He even goes so far as to draw a parallel between God and his own “reins” or inner self- both of them “instruct me” (Ps. 16:7). His inner self was so absorbed into the reality of God. The Lord taught that we should believe that "what [we] say [in prayer] shall come to pass" (Mk. 11:23 RV). This is very much the language of God's word- what He says, comes to pass for sure. And so we're being invited to see our words in prayer as effectively like God's words; for if we pray according to His word, surely we will be heard.

The extent to which Bible-inspired prayer is in a sense a word of command is brought out by the way Ps. 20 parallels answered prayer with a number of things, including God fulfilling "all your counsel / advice": "The Lord... grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel... the Lord fulfill all thy petitions... the Lord will hear" (Ps. 20:4-6). The very personal nature of our requests is brought out- they are the desires of our own heart, David received "his heart's desire" (Ps. 21:2)- and the power of prayer is that God Almighty is willing to treat the fulfillment of these very personal desires as our "counsel" to Him, in that it is based upon the "counsel" of His word. Elijah's commanding of the drought by 'his' word, when it was in fact the result of his prayer, is a classic example. Jeremiah likewise prayed the word of command when he as it were ordered the sword of Yahweh to "return to your scabbard; desist and be still!" (Jer. 47:6).

David so often likens answered prayer to the Father 'hearing' the words of the prayer. Take Ps 54:2: " Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth" . And dozens of times 'hearing' is used in this sense. But David uses the very same word to describe our hearing of God's words (Ps. 44:1; 45:10; 49:1; 50:7; 81:8,11,13; 85:8; 95:7; 103:20). Likewise: " Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation" (Ps. 5:1), just as David 'considered' the words of God (s.w. Ps. 119:27,34,73,95,100,104,125,130,144,169). " He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9). This explains why so many faithful prayers can be analyzed for their connections, both conscious and unconscious, with earlier Scripture. The prayers of faithful brethren of today are likewise full of both conscious and unconscious allusion to Scripture. It makes a good example to annotate the page of one's Bible with the cross references. David speaks repeatedly of how God ‘inclines His ear’ to the words of human prayer (Ps. 88:2 and many others). And yet he also records God’s appeal to His people to incline their ears to His words (Ps. 78:1; Prov. 2:2; 22:17). The mutuality between a man and his God is expressed very clearly in our attitude to His word. If we hear His words, He will hear ours when we pray.

Neh. 1:5-10 and Acts 4:24-30 are good examples; just look up the cross references in most Bibles. Nehemiah's example is clearly based upon Deuteronomy being in his mind. Some of his allusions are conscious, others perhaps unconscious, but reflecting how the words of his prayer were rooted in the presence of the word in his mind:

Nehemiah 1


" The great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy" (v.5)


" If ye transgress I will scatter thee abroad amongst the nations" (v.8)

4:27; Lev.. 26:33

" But if ye turn unto me


though there were cast out of you unto the uttermost parts of heaven yet will I gather them from thence


...the place that I have chosen to put my name there" (v.9)


Daniel 9 is another one. Daniel's prayer seems to have been motivated in the first place by his appreciation of God's promise that if Israel confessed their sins when in captivity, He would turn again to them (Lev. 26:40), as well as his knowledge that Jeremiah had prophesied that when Israel intensely prayed, God would turn again their captivity (Jer. 29:12,13). Not only did the word motivate Daniel's prayer, but his prayer almost breathes his saturation with it:

Daniel 9 Passages alluded to

:2 " books" Lev. 26:40; 1 Kings 8:52; Jer. 29:12

:3 Jer. 29:13

:3 " waste" Lev. 26:31

:4 1 Kings 8:23

:5 1 Kings 8:47

:7 1 Kings 8:46

:9 1 Kings 8:30,34,36,39

:17 1 Kings 8:29,38

:18 1 Kings 8:52

:18,19 Jer. 29:12

:24 Jer. 29:11

We have commented elsewhere how circumstances tend to repeat between Biblical characters, and how our lives too often have designed parallels with Biblical characters. This is surely providentially arranged- so that we can the more naturally frame our prayers in the words of Scripture, perceiving the similarities between our position and that of previous Bible characters. The prayer of Ps. 10:10-14 is clearly based around the experience of Hannah- the Hebrew words for 'seeing', 'vexing', 'afflicted' and 'forgetting' are all taken from the record of 1 Sam. 1 and 2. The Psalmist has changed the gender of the pronouns to male from female, and concludes with praising God for being the keeper of the fatherless, just as He had been the keeper of the childless in Hannah's case.

The Mediation Of Prayer

With this in mind, we can consider the classic passage concerning the mediation of prayer, Romans 8. The context of Romans 8 teaches that there is in fact just one Spirit; the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of God, and is " the Spirit" in the believer (Rom. 8:9-11). There is " one Spirit" (Eph. 4:4). If the will of God is in us, if His will is embedded in our conscience, we will ask what we will, what our spirit desires, and it will be granted. This is because if our Spirit is attune with the Spirit of God and of Christ, our desires, our wish, is transferred automatically to Him. Whatever we ask being in the name of Christ, being in His character and the essence of His spirit, will therefore be done (Jn. 15:16). It doesn't mean that saying the words " I ask in the name of Christ" gives our request some kind of magical power with God. It must surely mean that if we are in Him, if His words abide in us, then we will surely be heard, for our will is His will. We are guaranteed answers if we ask in His name, if we ask what we will, if the word dwells in us, if we ask according to God's will... all these are essentially the same thing. If we are truly in Him, if the word really dwells in us, if our will has become merged with God's will, then we will only request things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore we will receive them. Thus the experience of answered prayer will become part of the atmosphere of spiritual life for the successful believer. The Lord knew that the Father heard Him always (Jn. 11:42). It is for this reason that the prayers of faithful men rarely make explicit requests; their prayers are an expression of the spirit of their lives and their relationship with God, not a list of requests. It explains why God sees our needs, He sees our situations, as if these are requests for help, and acts accordingly. The request doesn't have to be baldly stated; God sees and knows and responds.

This is why Romans 8 appears to confuse the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ in the believer, and Christ himself as " the Lord the Spirit" . Yet what Paul is showing is that in fact if we are spiritually minded, if our thinking is in harmony with the Father and Son, prayer is simply a merger of our Spirit with theirs; the idea of prayer as a means of requesting things doesn't figure, because God knows our need and will provide. The whole creation groans; we ourselves groan inwardly; and the Spirit makes itnercession with groans that can't be uttered. Clearly enough, our groans are His groans. He expresses them more powerfully and articulately than we can. It has been observed: " As I read paul's words, an image comes to mind of a mother tuning in to her child's wordless cry. I know mothers who can distinguish a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache cry. To me, the sounds are identical, but the mother instinctively perceives the meaning of the child's nonverbal groan. It is the inarticulateness, the very helplessness, of the child that gives her compassion such intensity" (1). In deep sickness or depression it can simply be that we find formal, verbalized prayer impossible. Ps. 77:4 speaks of this: "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (formally, to God). It's in those moments that comfort can be taken from the fact that it is our spirit which is mediated as it were to God. Tribulation is read as prayer- hence even the Lord's suffering on the cross, "the affliction of the afflicted", was read by the Father as the Lord Jesus 'crying unto' the Father (Ps. 22:24). This is sure comfort to those so beset by illness and physical pain that they lack the clarity of mind to formally pray- their very affliction is read by the Father as their prayer.

This is not to say that on another level, it is not the Father's pleasure that His children should rush to Him in their times of crisis. But Paul's point is that if we are spiritually minded, prayer is a merger of Spirit between us and the Father, and although we know not what to pray for as we ought, the real essential desires of our Spirit are transferred through Christ to the Father. Likewise Eph. 2:18: " Through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" . This access is not only in the moments of time we designate for prayer. Christ suffered for us and obtained our forgiveness, " that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18), and we are in that position now, all the time, not just when we pray. Being in this position means that our Spirit, the essence of our spirituality, our deepest spiritual desires, are transferred to the Father by the Son. Christ is in Heaven, " to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:24), the Greek translated " appear" meaning to exhibit openly. We are openly exhibited to God by the Lord Jesus, he reveals our inner spirit, our essential desires, to the Father. We become one spirit with the Lord Jesus by baptism (1 Cor. 6:17; 12:13); thus what we feel deep inside us in our spirit, in the spirit-man created within us, is automatically, instantly the feeling of the Lord Jesus. And because He is one with the Father in Spirit, He can therefore relay our spirit to Him. Rom. 8 is teaching that this is really what prayer is all about, and what we request verbally, not knowing what to pray for as we ought, is not really the essence of prayer. Perhaps we're helped to understand this ability of the mind / spirit of the Lord Jesus to connect with that of human beings by Mk. 2:8: "Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit that they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?" (NET Bible). The spirit / mind of Jesus was at one with the spirit / mind of those men. Such was His sensitivity. I don't think it was a gift of Holy Spirit knowledge so much as His sensitvity to the minds of men... and yet Rom. 8:16 calls Jesus "The Spirit" as a title, saying that He bears witness with our spirit / mind, in His intercession to the Father. So Mk 2:8 gives us as it were an insight into how He now operates too... He's the same today as yesterday. He's at one with our mind / spirit, and also with the mind / Spirit of the Father. Thus is He such a matchless mediator.

There is a mutuality between God and His children in prayer. We ‘make mention’ of things to God (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:2; Philemon 4). The Greek word used has the idea of bringing to mind, or remembering things to God. And He in response ‘remembers’ prayer when He answers it (Lk. 1:54,72; Acts 10:31 s.w.). What we bring to our mind in prayer, we bring to His mind. Those who pray for Jerusalem “keep not silence”- and therefore they give God “no rest” (Is. 62:6,7). But the Hebrew word for “keep not silence” and for ‘give no rest’ is one and the same! There’s a clear play on words here. If we give ourselves no rest in prayer, then we give God no rest. His Spirit or mind becomes our spirit or mind, and vice versa. And hence the telling comments in Romans 8 about our spirit / mind being mediated to God in prayer through Jesus, in His role as ‘the Lord the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:26,27). Yet God Himself had stated that He will not rest nor hold His peace for Zion’s sake (Is. 62:1). Yet His doing this is conditional upon His prayerful people not allowing Him to rest due to their prayers.

Note in passing how Paul speaks of ‘making mention always’ in prayer of his brethren (Philemon 4 etc.). This is clearly alluding to the Is. 62:6,7 passage, about always making mention of Jerusalem in prayer. But for Paul, the true city of God was now the scattered group of Christian believers around the Roman empire of the first century. Jewish minds would’ve picked up Paul’s purposeful allusion to the ‘always’ prayers for Jerusalem; and would’ve marvelled that he saw the great holy city as now the bunch of guys whom he’d baptized around the place, and that instead of a city, it was those very real men and women who filled his thoughts, prayers and yearnings. Paul saw himself indeed as the watchman upon Zion’s walls- but watching over the people of God, not a physical city.

The Unity Of The Spirit

This unity of Spirit between us, the Son and the Father explains an apparent contradiction in the Lord's discourse in the upper room: " Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask me anything (being) in my name, that will I do (Jn. 14:13,14 RV)...If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name...and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you" (Jn. 16:23,26 RV). Who do we pray to? The Father, or the Son? Who 'does' the answer to our prayers? God, or Christ? The context of the Lord's words was that " the Father is with me...I am in the Father, and the Father is in me...the Father abiding in me doeth the works" , even as the believers are in the Son and in the Father, as they are in us. This means that the question of who to pray to is on one level irrelevant. Our spirit bears witness with their Spirit, and there is only one spirit. This unity of the believer with the Father is only made possible through the Son, and so our formal prayers should be addressed to God through Christ, in recognition of this fact. But as we have seen, the essence of prayer is not formal request. To pray “in my name” could mean ‘in union with me’; yet Christ was at one with the Father. The Psalmist petitioned Yahweh to hear him “for His Name’s sake” (Ps. 25:11), just as we are to pray to Jesus ‘in His Name’. " He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:27) without us verbalizing our spirit in formal prayer. In the same way as the priests helped / assisted the Old Testament worshippers rather than actually offered their prayers or sacrifices, so with the Lord Jesus. Paul spoke of how he would be helped " through your prayers and the help of the spirit of Jesus" (Phil. 1:19 RSV). Their prayers ascended directly to God, but the response was helped by the spirit of the Lord Jesus, His mental desire to help; and because He is so sublimely at one with the Father, this means that the help will surely come. The rapport between our spirit and His Spirit is again reflected by the way Rom. 8:6,27 use the same phrase, “the mind of the spirit”, to describe firstly the mind of our spirit, and then, the mind of the spirit of the Lord Jesus.

There is another angle on this unity between the believer and her or his Lord. The Lord Jesus is prophetically described as He “that hath boldness to approach unto me” (Jer. 30:21 RV). This is applied to us, who boldly approach the Father in prayer likewise (Heb. 4:16). We are bidden to draw near to the Father in prayer just as the Son drew near (Heb. 4:15,16). He wishes us to share in the loving relationship which there was between Him and His Father, and prayer is crucial to this.

Case Study

What we have suggested so far is best demonstrated by a case study. Lazarus had died, and the evident desire of Martha was to see her brother again, there and then. But she didn't go running to the Lord with this desire. She simply and briefly stated her faith in the Lord's limitless power to resurrect, and her knowledge that He could use the Father's power as He wished. He read her spirit, He saw her fervent desire. And He responded to this as if it had been a prayer. He groaned deeply within Himself, and wept- not the tears of grief, as the Jews mistakenly thought (note how throughout the record they misunderstand what is really going on), but the tears which go with the groaning of serious prayer (Jn. 11:33-39). Having done this, He comments: " Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" . Because His spirit, His mind, was in constant contact with the Father, His prayers / desires were always communicated to Him, and always being heard. " Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me" could almost imply that the Lord prayed for something, and then, after some interval, the answer came. We have an exquisite insight into the Lord's mind and the highly personal relationship between Father and Son in the words that follow: " I knew (not 'I know') that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe" . This almost certainly was not spoken out loud; this is a very rare and privileged glimpse into the unspoken communication between the Son and Father. The Lord seems to be adding this almost in half apology, lest it should seem that He prayed for Lazarus' resurrection, the answer came, and He then thanked the Father for it. It seems that this would be too primitive a sequence of events. He says that He knew that His request had been granted, and His utterance of thanks for the answer was for the peoples' benefit: that they might perceive that whatever the Son asked for, He received from God. But in reality, the Lord's thoughts to the Father seem to suggest, it wasn't a question of His prayers being accepted and answered. His Spirit, His thoughts, were one with the Father, and therefore it was not that His thoughts were considered, accepted and then God granted the request. What He thought was the prayer and it was the answer all in one. His 'mediation' for us is in the sense that He is the Lord the Spirit. There is no barrier (and was not any) between His mind and that of the Father.

And yet the Lord's Spirit struggles in mediation with crying and groaning (Rom. 8:26), as He did for the raising of Lazarus (2). There is a further connection with Heb. 5:5, where we learn that the Lord prayed on the cross with a like intensity. And this Lord is our Lord today. He can be crucified afresh, therefore He has the capacity for struggle and mental effort. The Greek for " groanings" in Rom. 8:26 also occurs in Mk. 7:34: " Looking up to heaven, he sighed and saith unto him, Ephthatha" . The sighing of intense prayer by the Lord was His more spiritually cultured reflection of the number one desire of that man's spirit, as was His groaning and tears for Martha's desire to be granted, and Lazarus to be raised. It has been wisely observed that the language of Christ's mediation can be quite misunderstood. The picture we should have " is not that of an orante, standing ever before the Father with out-stretched arms...pleading our cause in the presence of a reluctant God... but that of a throned Priest-King, asking what He will from a Father who always hears and grants His request" (3).

Prayer For Redemption

There is a theme in all the NT passages concerning prayer and mediation. It is that they speak largely in the context of prayer for forgiveness and salvation (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). This is what we really ought to be praying for. The passages concerning Christ as our mediator are all in the context of Him asking for our forgiveness, as the High Priest sought Israel's forgiveness on the day of Atonement. The description of Christ groaning in spirit to transfer our spirit to God (Rom. 8:26) is a reflection of the fact that we groan for redemption and the coming of the day of the liberty of God's children (Rom. 8:22,23), when what is guaranteed by " the firstfruits of the Spirit" which we have, will at last be realized. " All things work together for good" to this end, of forgiveness and salvation. It certainly doesn't mean that every story ends up happily-ever-after in this life. " We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26) seems to be some kind of allusion back to the mother of Zebedee's children asking Christ to get her two sons the best places in the Kingdom (Mt. 20:22). He basically replied 'You know not what you pray for', in the sense of 'you don't appreciate'. It may be that Paul in Rom. 8 is saying that in our desire for the Kingdom, in our groaning for it, we don't appreciate what we ask for as we ought, yet Christ nonetheless makes powerful intercession for us to this end.

The requests of the Lord's model prayer are essentially for forgiveness and the coming of the Kingdom. He gave us that prayer in the context of the need to seek spiritual rather than material things. We have shown (Prayer: Some Practical Points) that what requests David made in prayer, were essentially concerning the coming of the Kingdom and forgiveness. There is therefore repeated emphasis that these things should form the majority of our requests. The Lord spoke His model prayer in the context of warning the disciples not to be like pagans in bombarding God with requests for material things; 'Instead', He seems to be saying, 'concentrate on what really matters; your forgiveness and redemption, praise the Father, reflect on Him, and mention to Him your basic needs for daily bread. He knows your humanity, and will provide'. There is good reason to think that this spirit of prayer has yet to be learnt by us. Examine your own prayers. Aren't they really a long list of requests? Maybe not. But a warning needs to be sounded. The disillusion of many believers with their God arises from this faulty concept of prayer.

Strange Conclusions

If the thesis presented in these studies is correct, some sizeable questions arise with regard to the common understanding of prayer. Why pray at all, in a formal sense, if the state of our spirit is all important, and if God sees and knows our heart anyway and interprets this as our prayer? Theoretically, there is no need. But in practice, we should pray; we are almost commanded to. But the point is, prayer is for our benefit; the process of it will develop us spiritually. Prayer changes things, but it also changes us. The action of prayer does not serve to inform God of our desires, the state of our spirit, or our specific requests; nor does the physical mention of the name of Jesus give our prayers some mystical power with God. If this were the case, our relationship with God would depend on the form of words we used. The more intellectually able or verbally expressive would therefore have a superior relationship with God. This is evidently wrong, and is the classic mistake of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It is our spirit that is important, not the way in which we articulate this to God in language. And yet, we should pray. But the exercise is for our benefit. Israel were told to blow trumpets at their feasts, in order that God would hear their prayer and sacrifice, and remember them / take notice of them (Num. 10:10). The blowing of the trumpets didn't of itself remind God about His people; it was an exercise for their benefit. And the God who knows before we ask evidently doesn't need our prayers as a means of information transfer. The Lord Jesus prayed out loud: " Father, glorify thy name" . A voice came from Heaven saying that God had already done this and would do it again. And the Lord told the listeners that this response came not for His sake, not really as an answer to His prayer, but for their sakes, that in the apparent 'answer' to His words, they might see the power of prayer and the extent of the Father's relationship with the Son (Jn. 12:28-30). But He knew that the prayer had already been answered before it was prayed. And even with us, answers can come not necessarily for the sake of the answer, but to demonstrate other principles. Likewise the Lord asks us to pray for the Kingdom to come, not because this means that a certain number of prayers will change the date, but surely because the process of petition for the Kingdom is for our benefit.

For Our Benefit...

In the same way, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were not necessary to obtain forgiveness; the blood of those animals could never take away sin. But they were instituted for the benefit and spiritual education of the offerers, not for any theological need which God may have had. God didn't want sacrifice as sacrifice in itself. The cattle on a thousand hills are His, and in that sense nothing can be given to Him (Ps. 50:8-14). And yet, for our benefit, He asks for sacrifice to be given to Him. Paul likewise asked the Philippians for an offering: " Not because I desire a gift: but I desire (spiritual) fruit that may abound to your account" (Phil. 4:17). Prayer is one of the new covenant's equivalents of the sacrifices.

God will ultimately preserve His Truth, through the Cherubim-Angels that keep the way to the tree of life. But for our benefit, we are commanded to disfellowship false teachers; for the process of self-examination, consideration of one's own weakness, agreement amongst the faithful etc. is for our development. If Israel hid their eyes from false teachers, " then I (Myself) will set My face against that man...and will cut him off" (Lev. 20:4,5).

Likewise, the day of judgment is for our benefit; the process will serve to prepare us for entry to immortal nature; it isn't a method for God to gather evidence concerning us, consider it, and reach a verdict. He knows the end from the beginning (as, now, does His Son).

Preaching also is a spiritual exercise for the benefit of the preacher. Through their work of witnessing, the persecuted believers overcome their tribulation (Rev. 12:11). The labourers were called to go out into the vineyard because the Lord felt sorry for them, standing idle with no work or livelihood- rather than because He needed them. If this was his motivation, he wouldn't have called anyone at the 11th hour, neither would he have paid them all the same wages if he was only using them for his benefit (Mt. 20:4,5). God will call His people unto Himself without us doing a thing; and yet we have a responsibility and even a commission to take Christ to the world. The fact God will call His people to Himself anyway does not exempt us from the duty of witnessing; and the process of this witnessing is so often for our benefit. Anyone who has reflected on any length of ecclesial experience will realize the truth of the fact that so many of our spiritual exercises in preaching and pastoral work are in fact for our benefit, although we may feel that they are only for the benefit of others. This is especially true of preaching: reflect how the disciples laboured so hard to catch all the fish according to the Lord's command, but when they reached land with all the fish, they found the Lord already had fish and prepared them for breakfast (Jn. 21:9). All the labour for the fish was for their benefit: not because the Lord needed fish (cp. converts); He already had His. Paul's request for material aid from the Philippians was " not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account" (Phil. 4:17). And the physical, verbal expression of prayer is one more example of a necessary spiritual exercise which is for our benefit.

John Calvin has some relevant words about this: " Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they may rouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things" (4).

Does Christ Offer Our Prayers To God?

'But doesn't Christ mediate our prayers to God?', I can hear some of you wondering, as you reflect on the suggestion that prayer is not so much specific words, but rather our innermost thoughts relayed to the Father by the Son. Why then do we have the Lord Jesus as our High Priest? The answer to these questions revolves around deciding whether the Bible ever says that the Lord mediates our prayers to God, or that He intercedes for us in the sense of taking the words of our prayers and somehow presenting them to God in an acceptable form. In other words, are phrases like " We offer Thee our prayer through the Mediatorship of Jesus our High Priest at Thy right hand" really correct? The conclusion of what has gone before and what follows is that they don't give a fully correct picture.

We are told that we will no longer need Christ to ask the Father for us, we will be able to have a direct relationship with the Father in prayer (Jn. 16:26). We will not need to be like the disciples, who in their immaturity asked Jesus to pass on their requests to God (Jn. 11:22). He sees our spirit anyway, He knows our need anyway; this knowledge doesn't depend on the Lord's mediation. And yet against this we must balance the undoubted fact that the Lord is in fact our advocate and interceder. The advocate identifies with the one he helps, stands next to him, knowing his case fully. But as Christ is our advocate, so we should be to our brethren (" comfort" in 2 Cor. 2:7 is s.w. 1 Jn. 2:1). This doesn't necessarily mean that we interpret our brother's words to God, but rather than we pray for our brother, in our own words; we are with our brother, supporting him, knowing his weakness.

So on one hand we have a direct relationship with the Father. On the other, the Lord Jesus is our vital, saving advocate with Him. I don't think these two aspects can be reconciled by re-translation or expositional juggling. The fact is, through what the Lord achieved, we theoretically don't need His mediation. He was our High Priest to bring us to God on the cross. He no longer needs to enter into the Holiest Place (cp. heaven) to gain our atonement, for this He did once for all (Heb. 9:26). We should be able to pray with the earnest intensity of Elijah or Moses, who prayed without an intercessor, and were heard. But we lack that intensity. And therefore the Lord Jesus holds up our feeble 'groanings' before the Father. Likewise He is our 'advocate', although theoretically a righteous man doesn't need an advocate. John almost writes as if 'Of course, you won't sin, but if very occasionally you do, Jesus can act as a powerful advocate for you'. And yet in reality, He is acting in the advocate role for much of our sin-stricken lives.

It must be remembered that the High Priest of the Old Covenant did not offer up the prayers of the people. Yahweh's ears were ever open to the cry of the individual Israelite, without an intercessor. Moses mediated the Old Covenant in the sense that he obtained it and relayed it to Israel; his mediation was a one-off act. This is the basis of the NT passages concerning the mediation of the New Covenant through Christ; He did this through His death and resurrection (Gal. 3:19,20; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Christ was the mediator of the new covenant so that the sins committed under the old covenant could be forgiven (Heb. 9:15); thus His mediation is not in the relaying of our words to God, but in the sealing of the new covenant through His own blood. The mediation between God and man by the Lord is paralleled with His giving Himself as a ransom on the cross (1 Tim. 2:5,6). This is the sense in which He is the mediator of the new covenant; He mediated it once, not in an ongoing sense. Because His mediation was a one-off act, Christ would not be a priest if He were now on earth (Heb. 8:4). He is given the title of priest, as He is given the title " the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5), even though He is not now a man. He made one mediatory offering for all time (Heb. 5:7; 7:27); therefore He has nothing to offer now. The High Priest going into the Holiest is also a type of Christ entering Heaven. He is in a sense permanently in the Holiest, He bears our names always before Yahweh; He ever lives, all the time, to make intercession for us, all the time (Heb. 7:25). Rom. 8:34,35 suggest that the love of Christ, from which we cannot be separated, is manifested to us through His intercessions for us. He doesn't offer our prayers to God all the time; He is our intercessor in the sense that He is always there as our representative, and on this basis we have acceptability with God, as we are in Him. This is proof enough that intercession is not equal to merely translating our prayers into a language God understands. We offer our prayers ourselves to God, as men have ever done. We are, in this sense, our own priesthood. We offer ourselves to God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5). He Himself made only one offering of Himself; He does not offer Himself again. If He were on earth, He would not be a priest. It is the fact we are in Him that makes our offerings acceptable.

The passages concerning mediation we have shown to refer to the Lord's mediation of the new covenant through the atonement God achieved through Him. None of them associate His mediation with the offering of our prayers to God. Indeed, several passages suggest that the actual fact of the exalted Lord now being in heavenly places, and we being in Him, is in fact the intercession necessary to bring about our redemption- rather than His translating, as it were, of our actual words (Rom. 7:25; 8:34; 1 Jn. 2:1). The references to intercession likewise never suggest that Christ intercedes in the sense of offering our prayers to God. " Intercession" can be read as another way of describing prayer; this is how the term is invariably used (Jer. 7:16; 27:18; Rom. 11:2; 1 Tim. 2:1). Thus when Jeremiah is told not to intercede for Israel, this meant he was not to pray for them; it does not imply that he was acting as a priest to offer Israel's prayers to God. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea floated that a man can offer another man's prayers to God and thereby make them acceptable. The Greek for " intercession" essentially means to meet a person; prayer / intercession is a meeting with God. There is evidently nothing morally impossible about a man having direct contact with God in prayer without any priest or 'mediator'; the Old Testament abounds with such examples. The fact we are called upon to make intercession for others is surely conclusive proof that " intercession" means prayer, not relaying the words of another to God (1 Tim. 2:1). This meaning of intercession needs to be borne in mind when we consider its occurrences in Rom. 8. There we are taught that we know not what to pray for as we ought; the Lord Jesus makes intercession for us- i.e. He prays for us- not with words, i.e. not transferring our human words into God's language, not shuttling to and from between us and God as it were, but with His own groanings of the spirit. We don't know how to pray, so Christ prays (intercedes, in the language of Rom. 8) for us.

We must now consider what it means to be acceptable to God by / in Christ, how we can give thanks to the Father in / by the name of Christ, if in fact He is not a relayer of our words to God (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:5). Our acceptability with God is because we are in the name of Christ by belief and baptism. God sees our approach to Him as that of His Son (which is another reason why we don't need Him to be a mediating priest for us; this would imply that we were somehow separate from Him in God's eyes). Our offerings are acceptable to God by (Gk. dia, " in" , on account of) Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5); by / by being in Christ we offer to God the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15). The fact we come unto God directly dia, " by" , through, on account of the Lord Jesus does not mean that therefore Christ must interpret our every word to God; it cannot mean that in prayer we cannot come directly to the Father. If this were so, the Lord's model prayer would be seriously lacking in its omission of any such clause which reminds us that we are praying to God through the mediation / interpretation of Christ. If English and Greek mean anything, the Lord categorically stated that He does not transfer our prayers to God; through Him, as a result of His work, we have a direct approach to God: " Ye shall ask me nothing...Ye shall ask [the Father] in my name (i.e. because you are located there, in that position / relation): and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you" (Jn. 16:23,26,27). Christ does not pray for us in the sense of offering up our words of request to the Father; He prays for us, according to Rom. 8, of His own freewill, with His own agenda, not ours. The aim of His suffering and Heavenly mediation today, is that He might " bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). This refers to His reconciliation of us to the Father, rather than His offering of our prayers. Because we are in His Name, on account of (" by" ) Him and His work, we can pray directly to the Father. He does not pray the Father for us.

The fact we praise God and come directly to Him dia, through the Lord Jesus, does not mean that our words come to the Father through the Son as if He were a sieve or telephone line. We come direct to the Father dia, on account of, for the sake of, the work Christ achieved. The following are a few of many examples which give the flavour of dia: John was put in prison dia Herodias, for the sake of Herodias (Mt. 14:3); the Pharisees transgressed the commandment of God dia, on account of, through, their tradition (Mt. 15:3); the disciples couldn't heal dia, for the sake of, their unbelief (Mt. 17:20); the Angels of the " little ones" dia , for their sakes, behold the face of the Father (Mt. 18:10); because the Pharisees pretended to be pious they would dia, on this account, receive greater condemnation (Mt. 23:14); the faithful will be persecuted dia , for the sake of, Christ's name (Mt. 24:9); dia the elect's sake, on their account, the days will be shortened (Mt. 24:22). " I thank my God dia (through) Jesus Christ my Lord" (Rom. 1:8) doesn't therefore necessarily mean that Paul prays to God 'through' the Lord Jesus as some kind of connecting tunnel; he thanks God on account of, for the sake of Christ. The very same Greek construction occurs a few chapters later: " Who shall deliver me...? I thank God, through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 7:24,25). He thanks God that his deliverance is possible on account of the Lord Jesus.

Moses of his own freewill chose to intercede for Israel, concerning things which at the time they knew nothing about; things which were almost against their will, in fact. And this is the prototype of the Lord's mediation for us who know not what to pray for as we ought. Consider how he prayed for Peter when Peter didn't realize he was being prayed for (Lk. 22:32). Or how Nehemiah made his prayer parallel with that of the rest of Israel, and asked God to hear it- even though he may have been asking for his prayer and confession to be seen as that of Israel's, even though they hadn't uttered the same words (Neh. 1:11- in this we see some shadow of the Lord's present work for us). Moses' freewill interceding for Israel, not Aaron's offering of their sacrifices, is the basis of the NT descriptions of Christ's intercession for us in prayer. Lk. 13:8 records how Christ of His own volition asked the Father not to destroy Israel at the time He planned, but to give them longer to repent. This was exactly the spirit of Moses' pleas for Israel. But this is not the same as 'relaying' the words of human prayers to God. This is undoubtedly how many of us conceive of Christ's intercessory role for us; but is this actually what Scripture teaches? Many of the relevant Scriptures which speak of Christ's activity for us before the Lord God are not in this context; they suggest that He of His own will prays to the Father on our behalf concerning things which are on His agenda for us, not ours. If we confess Christ before men, i.e. reveal Him to them, He will confess us, reveal us favourably, in the court of Heaven, before the Father and the Angels (Lk. 12:8). The Hebrew epistle stresses that the Lord Jesus usually sits at the right hand of the Father, but Stephen saw Him standing, in fervent appeal to the Father for him (Acts 7:55). As he saw this happening, he told the court that he saw Christ standing there. At that moment, the Lord was not relaying Stephen's requests to the Father; He was intreating the Father in His own way for Stephen. The fact that the Lord " ever liveth to make intercession" for us (Heb. 7:25) is an allusion back to Is. 53:12, which prophecies that on the cross, Christ would make intercession for the transgressors. His prayer for us then, that we would all be forgiven (and see the prophecies of this in Psalms 22,69 etc.) was therefore His intercession for our salvation. His whole death was His prayer / intercession for us. But it was of His own freewill; He was not relaying our words then. And His intercession for us on the cross is the pattern of His intercession for us now. This is- or ought to be- a humbling thought.


(1) Philip Yancey, Reaching For The Invisible God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) p. 153

(2) This connection is strengthened by the knowledge that there are many links between Romans and John. See G. & R. Walker, Romans In The Light Of John's Gospel (Alsager: Bible Student Press, 1995).

(3) H.B. Swete, The Ascended Christ (London: L.U.P., 1912).

(4) John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Eerdmans ed.), p. 144.