Lou: What about intercessory prayer, praying for others, does that really do any good?
Graham: That’s a very good way to put the question. One reason we pray is because we don’t want to miss out on any good thing that God might have for us. We want to get our money’s worth, so to speak. But that doesn’t sound to me like conversation with God as with a friend. Let’s take an example, a mother with a son who has chosen to go his own way. She loves her son, so every night she talks to God about her son. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be normal. She talks with God about the things that are on her mind. She doesn’t say, “God, force my boy back.” She knows that if God would pour out His Holy Spirit with one hundred-fold greater intensity on her son, that alone would not make him a Christian. He could still say, “No.” So she prays, “God, You choose the time. You choose the way. Help me to be patient. Help me to do what I can do, and maybe bring every influence possible to bear, but I know my son can still say ‘No,’ just as Lucifer said ‘No’ to Your very face.” I’m not going to say it does no good for her to talk to God. She’s going to talk to Him anyway. This is her son. She’s going to talk to Him about her son.
Lou: But what if there is a particular need? I remember years ago there was a situation in one of the countries of Europe where people were suffering persecution and doors were being closed to churches. And we had a day of fasting and prayer. Did all of us joining together in a special movement of prayer bring about a decision by God to intervene? Did it bring extra power into the situation?
Graham: If more of us twist God’s arm, are we more likely to get what we want? Actually, I remember when that event occurred back in the 1950s. A whole group of theology majors at Pacific Union College, where I was at the time, said, “Let’s meet for lunch every Monday noon and discuss intercessory prayer until we understand this process.” And we finally agreed that, in the context of an enemy accusing God of manipulating things, our united requests set God free to do things He had been longing to do. When we all together said, “Please, will You open the churches in Romania,” or wherever it was, God could say to the adversary, “Step aside. I’m on My way.” And He could say to the angels, “Is this interference? Is this manipulation? Do you hear them all asking Me?” I think the Great Controversy is very much involved here. I believe our prayers set Him free to act, to say to the adversary, “Step aside, I’m being asked to do this.” Our prayers really do make a difference. But even if they didn’t, we should still pray, because prayer is how we talk to God as to a friend.
Lou: What if we did the same thing for that lady’s son? If we all prayed for the conversion of an individual, would God have to convert him?
Graham: If that happened, what would it say about God? If God by force can keep His family together, how did He lose one-third of the angels? I don’t believe God would ever overthrow the freedom of that woman’s son.
Lou: It really gets at the whole issue, doesn’t it?
Graham: Absolutely. God will not bring such pressure on her son.
Lou: In Romans 8 it says something about how the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, or as the New International Version puts it: “With groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:26). What’s happening there? What is the Spirit doing with God on our behalf?
Graham: Well, we need to consider that in line with John 16:26. If there is no need for the Son to intercede with the Father for us, there’s no need for the Holy Spirit to intercede with the Father for us either. All three of them are on our side. So this means that the Holy Spirit of truth comes and helps us to pray by bringing us the truth about God, that we might be encouraged to pray. He also brings us the truth about ourselves, so we can be honest with God and tell the truth about ourselves as well. That’s prayer that makes a difference. So the Holy Spirit, when we are struggling to find words, guides us into true conversation with God as with a friend.