In 1758, Charles Wesley published his collection of 40 Intercession Hymns.
These hymns are examples of intercessory prayers set to music. Music is a good way to remember words, and singing helps people have words of prayer and scripture on their hearts and tongues throughout the day.
Although Wesley’s collection of Intercession Hymns represents an era different from our own, many parts of these intercessory prayers are timeless, especially given their biblical foundations. All of Wesley’s hymns are steeped in scripture, and his Intercession Hymns are no exception. Even portions of hymns that are specific to Wesley’s day can be adapted for current situations.
A few of these hymns are not relevant to our contemporary life and times and would be considered inappropriate today. They remain a reflection of an earlier worldview that we no longer share. However, many of the prayer hymns in Wesley’s collection are timeless and as valuable today as they were when written.
Today we can sing and pray many of these Intercession Hymns as part of our prayer and worship life. We can also learn from these hymns how to grow in prayer and how to pray in intercession for others. These hymns are a wonderful reminder of who God is, what He has done for us and intends to do, and how much He desires to be in relationship with us. The Intercession Hymns are a great way to invite God’s interaction in our lives and world.
Why Wesley Wrote Prayer Hymns
Prayer was an important part of community life for the early Methodists under the leadership of Charles Wesley and his brother John Wesley. They gathered at the end of the week to intercede for each other and for the nation and world: “Fill every heart with mournful care, And draw out all our souls in prayer” (Intercession Hymn #1, verse 2). Given Charles Wesley’s gift for writing hymns (he wrote nearly 9,000), it is not surprising he wrote prayers as verse to be set to music.
Music was a way for people to learn and remember the words more easily and to sing their prayers throughout the week. Singing prayers during the week truly helped people keep prayer always in front of them (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As they prayed the words of these hymns, they learned how to pray for specific situations they encountered in their own lives, their families, and their community.
Today we can sing the Intercession Hymns by finding a tune that matches the meter of Wesley’s verses. As we learn what these hymns teach us about prayer, we can sing and pray.
Let’s start with Intercession Hymn #1 which is a prayer “For All Mankind.” This hymn is written in Long Particular Meter 88 88 88. The hymn tune Melita (known by the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”) is in the same meter as Intercession Hymn #1. Listen to the tune Melita and then sing Intercession Hymn #1 to that tune.
Common Themes in Wesley’s Hymns
Next, let’s look at some of the themes common to Wesley’s hymns. Where can we find those themes in Intercession Hymn #1?
Salvation — verse 4
Sanctification — verse 4
Kingdom of God — verses 1 and 4
Love and Grace — verse 3
Trinity — verse 1 (God, Holy Spirit, Comforter), verses 3-4 (Jesus)
What Does Intercession Hymn #1 Teach Us about Intercessory Prayer?
Take a closer look at the verses of Intercession Hymn #1 (pages 3-4).
Verse 1 reminds us that God sent the Holy Spirit as our Comforter (John 14:26). We can pray for His comfort for others and for ourselves. When we focus on God, we find comfort even in difficult times. As we receive His comfort, we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3) through our prayers and our presence (more specifically, the Holy Spirit’s presence in us).
“And swell th’ inexplicable groan” reminds us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and aligns our prayers with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).
We are also reminded in verse 1 that God hears our prayers. This Intercession Hymn begins with an expectation that God will hear as we cry out to Him.
The final phrase of verse 1 brings to mind Hebrews 4:16 — Jesus has opened the way for us to approach God’s throne to find mercy and help in time of need. The same phrase expresses the imagery of our prayers rising as incense to the throne of God (Revelation 8:4).
We can see where Wesley sets the tone in verse 1 for the biblical foundations of intercessory prayer. Where people might be afraid to talk to God, or wonder if He hears or cares, Wesley helps us connect with God’s heart. We can approach God confidently in prayer because Jesus has opened the way. Far from painting a portrait of a distant God too busy to pay attention to us, Wesley’s Bible-based prayer reminds us God hears us in His mercy and brings comfort. That’s a very personal God inviting relationship and sharing our heart through prayer.
In verse 2, we are reminded that intercessory prayer is a privilege that allows us to come alongside others in their afflictions. Intercession is one way of bearing the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2).
However, we don’t carry those burdens ourselves. When we read and sing verse 2 as part of the whole hymn, we are reminded and assured that the Holy Spirit is the comforter (verse 1) and Jesus is the one who lifts those burdens (verse 4).
In intercession, we weep with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Wesley reminds us of the sympathy and care that are required in praying for or with someone — “fill every heart with mournful care.”
Even though we may feel hope, peace, and even joy for someone who is mourning, because we see beyond the present affliction, and even though we may pray for God to bring that hope, peace, and joy in His timing, we are called to meet the person where they are, just as Jesus meets us where we are. We don’t tell someone who is weeping to be joyful. Instead, we honor their heart by weeping with them and inviting Jesus to weep with them and to comfort them. In His presence, in their mourning, they will eventually begin to be strengthened by the joy of the Lord. But it starts by our meeting them heart to heart in their mourning.
Wesley reminds us that as we witness “scenes of human woe,” we respond with “sympathy” and “prayer.” This is very different than the common reaction to the tragic news of the day — reactions often based in fear, anger, frustration, discouragement, helplessness, and hopelessness. Instead, the intercessor is called to respond through a Christ-like heart filled with sympathy and prayer.
Wesley reminds us that intercession can involve wrestling. Intercession is not passive; it’s active. We are contending on the earth for what God desires to do. We are saying, “Yes, Lord, please do that.” And standing in faith until it comes to pass. “Standing” is a very active verb. In faith, we are taking spiritual ground and inviting the Lord to move in that space. That doesn’t mean we make it happen. It means we stand in faith, inviting God to make it happen. The wrestling comes when our faith begins to falter and when opposition comes at us. Thus, we contend so that we can keep standing in faith and saying, “Yes, Lord. Please do that.”
In this verse, we remember that wrestling invites the Lord to make His “mercy” and “pardon” known. In intercession, we are praying that hearts will hear the truth about salvation in Christ. This may be intercession for someone who isn’t saved. Or it may be intercession that someone already saved will hear truth where they have believed a lie, or that generations of a family will experience freedom from generational sin, because we are praying for truth to be loosed in those generations.
As intercessors, we are called to pray for the good news of salvation in Christ to be spread throughout our family and community. Even as we focus on very specific prayer needs, Wesley prompts us to remember the wider needs of humanity to have a life-saving encounter with Christ, and that we will add that need to our prayers of intercession for our community.
When Wesley speaks of “vanquish’d rebels,” he reminds us that without Jesus, we have nothing. We are slaves to our sin. “Vanquish’d” isn’t a term that implies “a little bit.” It implies totality. But Jesus came to free us in all areas of our lives. If we are totally vanquished in sin, then the opposite is total liberty in Christ. So why would we stop short in our prayers of intercession and accept defeat in any part of our lives? And why would we not continue to intercede for our family until everyone is saved?
The word “rebels” also reminds us that it is our separation from God (our choice!) that has allowed us to be oppressed by the enemy. In intercession, we are reminded to surrender our hearts completely to God, and Jesus makes this surrender possible. Repentance is our first prayer before we pray for anything else, and our repentance in intercession is a starting point for healing and salvation in our family and community.
Wesley encourages us to intercede for every person (2 Peter 3:9). Of course, this doesn’t mean we can literally name every person in the world; it would take more than a lifetime to do it, if we even knew all the names. But in our community prayer group, we often invite Jesus to visit each person in the community and introduce Himself to them. And to flood each street with His Holy Spirit.
We learn from Wesley that in any circumstance, we can pray for God to reveal His Son (verse 4) and His grace (verse 3).
This first hymn of intercession concludes with an invitation to pray for healing and transformation, asking God to “turn our earth to paradise.” We know that at the second coming of Christ, God will bring in a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). But we also know from Jesus that the kingdom of God is already alive among us and within us (Luke 17:21). In verse 4, Wesley is helping us intercede for sanctification and transformation, which are common themes in the writings of both Charles and John Wesley.
Intercessors often have the vision to pray for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) in their community. Intercessors need to make sure they don’t get impatient or frustrated when they don’t see the fulfillment of this prayer right before their eyes. We don’t see the full depths of how God is moving in response to our prayers, and His Kingdom will not fully manifest until Jesus comes again. But we can be assured He is responding to our intercession, and Wesley gives us the encouragement to press on in praying for God to “turn our earth to paradise.”
Those are just a few examples of what Intercession Hymn #1 can teach us. Take a closer look at each verse and see what else this hymn teaches about intercession and prayer.
Where Could We Pray-Sing Intercession Hymn #1?
Wesley’s Intercession Hymn #1 is a general and wide-reaching call to intercession. It’s a hymn that can be prayed (and sung) in the gathering of a church body, whether on a Sunday morning or for any occasion, such as a Sunday school class or mid-week Bible study group. The end of verse 1 is a great place to pause for silent or individual spoken prayer requests, and then continue with the rest of the hymn. This is a wonderful, tangible way for the congregation to remember that they are literally bringing their prayer requests to the throne of God, thanks to Jesus (Hebrews 4:16).
This Intercession Hymn can also be helpful for a community prayer group, as it encourages the group to focus on intercession for all specific needs as well as for the community at large, for salvation, sanctification, and transformation.
This hymn can be prayed as part of an individual’s prayers for themselves, their family, community, nation, and world. Families can find this hymn helpful to pray together.
Because this hymn offers a simple but powerful pathway of prayer, it can be helpful to pause at the end of each verse and lift up specific prayer requests, and also listen for additional specific ways God would prompt you to pray.
Where else (or on what occasions) might you find it helpful to invite people to pray this particular Intercession Hymn?
In Our Own Words
Using Wesley’s Intercession Hymn #1 as a guide, you can write a prayer in more contemporary language. The hymn offers a sort of outline for your prayer. And your family and the folks at your church or community prayer group will enjoy praying a prayer you have written. It will be interesting for them to learn that your prayer has brought Wesley’s biblical intercession forward into the modern day.
Here is a sample prayer that I wrote, inspired by Wesley’s Intercession Hymn #1:
God, thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who is our comforter. Thank You that You are present with us in all our struggles, and You hear the cry of our hearts. The Holy Spirit helps us pray when we don’t know how. We are overwhelmed with gratitude that Jesus has made it possible for us to come to You, to share our hearts and concerns with You, not only for ourselves but also for our family, friends, community, and world.
Lord, we share the burdens of those You have put on our hearts. We invite You, Lord Jesus, to carry those burdens and meet each person in their place of need. Stir our hearts to the specific needs where You would have us pray in intercession. Help us to weep with those who weep in our midst, knowing You are the one who will bring comfort. Keep us ever mindful of how You call us to pray for others.
Lord Jesus, thank You for the salvation You bring us. Let repentance begin with each of us. Help us surrender every part of our lives to You.
We ask that You would help people in our families, neighborhoods, and community come to know Your grace. And that by Your grace, You would introduce Yourself to each one of them who doesn’t know You. Carry the good news of Your salvation to the ends of the earth and to the darkest corners of our hearts. We speak over our community and let these words resound on the air: “Jesus is King!”
We pray that You will reveal Your goodness and mercy to people in our community, and meet them right where they are with Your love.
Thank You, Lord, that Your love is forever. That You have come to bring healing and transformation. We pray for Your healing for those You have put on our hearts. We pray for Your transformation in our own lives and in our families and community.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
Now you can write your own prayer! God bless you and thank you for your heart for prayer and intercession.
If you would like to explore Charles Wesley’s Intercession Hymns further, I invite you to read my free PDF: “A Life of Prayer in Charles Wesley’s Intercession Hymns” on my Free Resources page.
Copyright © 2020 by Janet Eriksson
Janet Eriksson is an intercessor, writer, and teacher in Dahlonega, Georgia. She loves conversation with friends, front porch swings, sweet tea, and spending time on lakes and rivers. The author of nine books and editor of many more, Janet blogs and teaches at Adventures with God. She enjoys volunteering with Transformations. Janet received her M. Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary.