Intercessory prayer is prayer which is undertaken on behalf of others. The intercessor uses prayer to communicate with God, making a request on behalf of someone else or on behalf of a group of people. Many religions include some sort of tradition of intercessory prayer, both for individual worshipers and for groups, and many people find intercessory prayer an important and fulfilling part of their religious practice.
Because intercessory prayer requires a sense of compassion for others, some people believe that it is an important way to contribute to the societies that they live in. Intercessory prayer is also markedly different from personal prayer or meditation, which may be important for self development, but not helpful for the world in general. In a way, this sort of prayer is a selfless act of charity, by using a relationship with God to assist someone else, as an intercessor is literally someone who pleads or takes the case of another.
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Most typically, someone makes an intercessory prayer on behalf of a living person or group. For example, someone might pray that his or her mother recovers from a dangerous illness. Others might pray for citizens of a nation which is caught in the turmoil of a war, or for other groups of people. It is also possible to pray on behalf of living animals, and in some cases an intercessory prayer may target an entity. In all cases, God is asked to intervene in some way which will be beneficial.
Many cultures also have a tradition of prayers for the dead, which is a form of intercessory prayer. In many religions, prayers for the dead are extremely important, and some people believe that it will not be possible to enter the afterlife without these prayers. In religions which have a belief in hell or some sort of punishment after death, people may pray that their loved ones reach paradise, indicating that they forgive these people for any transgressions they may have made during their lives and providing evidence that they are good people who are deserving of God's love.
In some Christian sects, people may also pray to the saints as a form of intercessory prayer. For example, many Catholic fishermen pray to Saint Andrew, the patron saint of fishermen, asking him to intercede with God on their behalf. Others wear medals representing various saints, in the hopes that the saints will look favorably on them and support their cause with God.