God's Lightning: A Seminar on Prayer
INTERCEDING FOR OTHERS
John 17; I Tim. 2:1-4; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11
Story: "Walking the Children across No-Man's-Land"
One time, as we were walking across “no-man’s-land” and were stopped at the check-point near the national museum, a young militiaman stuck his gun into the gut of one of the children who was crossing with us! Twelve year old Brent put his hand on the barrel of the gun and slowly pushed it to one side, saying, “Please don’t point that thing at me” and then walked right on past him! Not unusual in those days.
During the toughest part of the civil war in Lebanon a ten-foot high wall of dirt was placed along the line between the eastern, mostly “Christian” (Catholic and Orthodox) side of the city of Beirut and the western, mostly Muslim, side. We lived in the hills east of the city, but the American Community School (ACS) was located on the low, seaward, side of the American University of Beirut which was on the west side. At first, in quiet times, we could cross without difficulty from one side to the other, but when the wall of dirt was built we could only cross when a narrow passageway was cut through the dirt as wide as the road leading up to and away from it.
For one school year we could not get the children to the ACS, so my wife taught them at home. We had gotten their books in the early days before the road was closed and then were able to keep in touch with their teachers by phone once a week so they could keep up with their classes. The road finally opened again two weeks before the end of the school year, so we were able to take them to school for their final exams.
During that week and for several weeks in the next school year, traffic was not allowed to drive from one side of town to the other. That meant that we had to take the children to the end of the road on the east side and then walk with them through the dirt wall for about a quarter of a mile across “no-man’s-land” to the end of the road on the west side where one of our missionaries who lived on the west side would pick them up and take them to the ACS. All along that quarter mile there were armed guards to keep people from going up the side roads and around the main check-point at the national museum. As we walked through the museum crossing, armed militiamen looked us over and then gave us permission to pass. That’s when the young armed militia man pushed the barrel of his gun into Brent's stomach.
INTERCEDING FOR OTHERS
John 17; I Tim. 2:1-4; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11
Our love and concern for others may be measured by the time we spend praying for them. Intercession is perhaps the most difficult kind of prayer. Jesus and Paul both taught us the need to intercede for others by both precept and example. We suggest here that you take your Bible and read the cited passages above.
In John 17 Jesus intercedes for Himself, for His disciples and for all who will believe on Him including those of us who believe on Him and follow Him today. This is the real “Lord’s Prayer.” The one we quote from Matthew 6 is more properly called “The Model Prayer.” When we follow His example we will pray for ourselves first, that we may be cleansed of our sins “up to date” and filled with His Spirit in order to pray effectively for others. Then we should remember and intercede for those who are close to us, our family and our church family and for their specific needs. Then we may turn to those who are far away like missionaries and believers in other countries and especially those under persecution and suffering for Jesus’ sake.
In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul intercedes for the people in the church at Ephesus: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the LORD Jesus and your love for all his people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our LORD Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
In Philippians 1:9-11 we read: 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. This is theological praying at its best. We don’t hear much of this kind of praying in our church prayer meetings, but it would be a blessing if we did and if we could model our praying on these prayers of Jesus and Paul.
Paul also points out the need for us to pray for those who represent us in government saying, 1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4). This includes praying for their salvation. What a different world this would be if our leaders all followed Jesus’ principles for life and for relating to others!
Interceding for others is difficult because it is unselfish. Our nature is basically selfish. We usually pray for whatever will make US comfortable. (Even praying for the sick and praying for the lost can be done from selfish motives.) Jesus had compassion for people because they seemed “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
Our intercession must be motivated by real love for others, the same kind of love that Jesus had for us when He went to the cross and died for us; that is, a deep, unselfish, unconditional desire, leading to action, for the very best for the person loved, regardless of the cost to ourselves and regardless of the worthiness or unworthiness of the person we love. Love is something we DO more than something we feel. It requires the action of the WILL. (This is God's kind of LOVE--"agape". See Rom. 5:8, John 3:16)
Interceding for others is also difficult because all people are created with freedom of choice and God will not overrule that. Since all people are "free moral agents" endowed with the power of choice, we cannot force people to do what is best for themselves even by applying the pressure of prayer. Jesus invited people to accept Him, but He never pressured them. In fact he often seems to have discouraged them by insisting they count the cost of discipleship (Lk. 9:57-62, 14:25-33).
In spite of this, when we pray, spiritual power is released in the world which would not otherwise have been released. In answer to prayer God does sometimes arrange a person's circumstances to try to help them make the right decisions, perhaps by letting them pass through hard times or arranging for them to hear the Gospel. We can pray for that, but the decision has to be theirs. Some people have prayed for many years for the salvation of loved ones only to see them reject God’s love over and over. Sometimes we may get to see loved ones come to Jesus before we move on to heaven and sometimes not and sometimes they never do. Has prayer failed? Has God failed? Oh no! People are free to accept or reject God’s love offer. The choice is theirs even if God arranges their circumstances to try to help them make the decision which would be best for them.
Interceding for others is spiritual warfare (as is all prayer) and we must claim the spiritual victory by faith (Eph. 6:10-20). We will not go into the details of the spiritual armor of the soldiers of God’s army, but will speak of the principles of spiritual warfare. Our enemy, like Jesus’ enemy, is Satan and his evil demons. He is personally involved in planning for our spiritual downfall. He will tempt us to sin and to rebel against God’s will for us and make us impotent to serve the Lord, if he can. He controls most of the people in this world and will not give them up easily to come into God’s kingdom.
Spiritual warfare requires spending time interceding for others so that the forces of evil arrayed against them are forced back to give them a better chance to respond positively to God's will for them. When Jesus said in Matt. 16:18 – “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [the church]), the text indicates that the gates and walls and fences of hell cannot stop or prevail against the power of God in the Gospel of Jesus. This is the Christian offensive! We are not only to defeat Satan by keeping ourselves defensively sharp but also to move forward against him and his demons by bring others to know and worship and serve Jesus.
Spiritual warfare requires positive action to demonstrate God's love. This is our offensive movement in action. It is well illustrated in these passages: Acts: 2:44-47, 4:32-35, and 6:1-7. In each case we find that the young church really demonstrated positive spiritual warfare by caring for each other unselfishly out of “agape” love for each other.
Intercession is difficult because Satan knows how effective it is and he fights to divert our attention from it and to prevent us from engaging in it seriously. Regardless of the difficulties, the army of the Lord only moves forward “on its knees,” meeting each trial and testing and opportunity and problem with believing prayer, trusting and committing each need to the Lord until the problems are solved and God's will is done. All great revivals have been born in persistent, serious prayer.
Time spent in prayer is NEVER wasted time. No matter what the occasion, it is always a benefit to all concerned to PRAY together before they attempt to do anything else together!
Make it a habit to talk with the Lord ALL DAY LONG, not just in the morning or at any other stated time, but all during the day, walking in faith-fellowship with Him! Whatever the Lord brings to your mind, make it a matter of prayer and share it all with HIM. Develop that HABIT of continuous (though sometimes intermittent) prayer and experience deeper fellowship with GOD. Carry on a continuing conversation with Him all day, every day: more about this in the next chapter.
That was the year a LIFE magazine photographer and writer walked with us and followed us everywhere we went for two weeks to try to understand why we "crazy" Americans were still staying in Beirut and what we were doing there. We have pictures they took of us walking our children "across the green line." They were published in the August 1984 edition of LIFE on p. 34. We had to learn to live with guns all of those twelve years of civil war and unrest and violence. Thankfully, our Lord faithfully looked after us and kept us safe even in the areas where snipers were active. Our dear friend, Bill Hern, who was in the marines and landed in France on D day and had witnessed many deaths that day was shaken when a man a few steps ahead of him in a group of people walking down a street in Beirut was shot and killed by a sniper. Many thousands of people went out into eternity without knowing the Lord Jesus during those days.
So is there any value in interceding for missionaries and their work far away across the world? Indeed there is. In the first place it is always good to pray for the safety of missionaries. Many of them live in areas where anti-Americanism makes them subject to attacks. During war time safety from bombs and snipers and kidnappers is always relevant. In addition, missionaries need our intercession for God to give them wisdom in presenting the Gospel to those who are willing to hear the message so that they may respond and hopefully receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then let us pray for those who are hearing the message, some for the first time. Pray that the Lord would open their hearts to receive the truth.
If you don't yet have a list of people for whom you pray regularly and for whom you intercede before God, please develop such a list now in your workbook. Use this list each day as you pray. It is good to make brief notes as to what the request is for and then to leave space to write down the answers as they come. Keep revising this list as necessary and add to it as the Lord leads.