A Christian Kind of Worry?
Discerning the Call to Prayer
If you were with us two weeks ago, you might remember that we looked at the most common dynamic of our market crashing culture - worry - and we listened to Jesus instruction in Matthew 6 - "Do not worry."
But it is important to go one step further - is all worry wrong? Jesus says do not worry - but he is specific, he points the the basic necessities of life - what we eat, drink or wear. And certainly, don’t worry about your treasures in this world because your treasure ought to be in heaven. From what I can tell, there are only three foci of worry that we are warned against: the worries of this life - what we will eat, drink, wear; the worries we might have of what we will say when we are pulled before judges to give testimony to our faith, and worrying about how long we will live. "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest."
But are there not many other worries that we have, even worries that are caused by our faith, that are caused by our love for others?
A parents worry about a son or daughter who is making wrong choices in life. Does Jesus say to that - don’t worry?
Or worry about a child who looks like they are leaving the faith they have been brought up in? Isn’t that a covenant faith driven worry?
Or a conflict that remains unresolved between sisters and brothers in Christ?
Or worry about a person whom we love who yet needs to come to faith, or a spouse who does not know the Lord?
Or hungering for God’s kingdom to come?
In truth, aren’t there all kinds of worry that are caused, even driven by faith? Let me demonstrate this even more by noticing with you that there are pictures of faith filled worry in scripture. Remember Paul in his concern for the Galatian Christians who were bewitched by a different gospel. Listen to his description of his concern as he identified them as his children....
19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Gal 4:19)
That looks a whole lot like worry to me. We all know: If it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck and even looks like a duck, it probably is a duck.
Even Jesus who told us not to worry about some things seems deeply worried about some things.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36,37
The word for compassion in this passage is literally the "turning of the gut." Something that happens when we worry. Jesus so identified with that harvest that he worried, was gut wrenched by compassion for it.
It seems to me that Paul and Jesus experienced what might be called worry. If some types of worry are appropriate for the Christian and even fitting for Christ, then how are we to understand that worry. Turn with me to Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Notice Paul’s instruction: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God.
The appropriate response the worry created by our faith is prayer. Very simply, this faith driven worry is a Spirit driven call to prayer. So Jesus also, when he had compassion on the crowds called his disciples to pray that the Lord send forth workers into the harvest field.
This morning, let me build on the theme that these faith driven worries which are experiences of the Spirit of God in our hearts - they are nothing more than a call to prayer, a call to carry our concerns into the presence of God, a call to intercessory prayer for others. And this investigation into prayer has everything to do with the temple and that we are called in scripture a holy priesthood.
First of all, let me say that intercession is needed to get the work of the kingdom done. There is a reason why we get these faith driven worries. The prayers that follow are essential in the accomplishment of God’s purposes in this world. Paul regarded the prayers of the saints as the real assistance that made his words effective wherever he was. Jesus knew that a ton of work had to be done when he saw that harvest, but he knew that for the workers to come, prayer would be needed. Without prayer, it just would not happen. The simple truth is that God has made us coworkers with him in the process of the recreation of this world and lives around us. Redemption needs completion. There is a work that continues until the kingdom comes in its fullness. It is already accomplished in Christ, he interceded for us with his blood, but it is not yet, and as Christ always lives to intercede for us, so we with him are intercessors that the kingdom of God may come, so that the kingdom of God may come to fulfillment. With Christ, our prayers are the key link in establishing the kingdom of God. To often, they are the missing link, we have not because you ask not. (James 4:2), we are to often the weak link - listen to
"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it - but I found none."
Because there was no one to pray, because there was no one to intercede, destruction came. Without prayer, the very things that your faith drives you to worry about will not happen. Without intercession, things will go wrong.
As Andrew Murray, the great reformed preacher of South Africa has said "God rules the world and His Church through the prayers of his people." and in another spot he says "God's intense longing to bless seems in some sense to be graciously limited by His dependence on intercession."
(The Secret of Effective Prayer" - Shoemaker, p. 118, 119)
In light of Paul’s words "do not be anxious but pray," if you accept that this faith driven sense of anxiety is a call to prayer by the Holy Spirit, and if you accept that our intercessions or prayers are key to the coming of the kingdom (we pray your kingdom come) then lets look a little deeper at the experience of this call to the priestly ministry of intercession - specifically (1) our authority to intercede, (2) the passion by which we intercede and (3) the hard work of interceding. To do that, we are going to look at themes that arise from the temple, exemplified in Christ, our temple.
First then, our authority to intercede, the right that we have to intercede for others comes from our identification with them.
To gain the right or place of intercession, we must first of all identify with those for whom we are interceding.
The clearest illustration of this truth is the life of Jesus himself. Isaiah 53, the famous prophetic passage which forecasts Jesus suffering, tells us that Jesus took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, he experienced rejection, pain, that he was numbered among the transgressors and it concludes with the statement "For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12)
All of the New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews brings out this theme very clearly. In order to intercede for us, in order to help us in our lost condition, Jesus had to become like us in every way. Thus his incarnation, his birth in Bethlehem was so that he could experience what we experience, birth, growing up, temptation, troubles, even to the end that he would taste death for every person. Jesus experienced the trials of life as we experience them, he learned obedience through suffering just like we learn obedience. Jesus was tempted in every way like us, he became sin for us, he died as we die.
He did this all so that for us he might be a fitting representative on our behalf, Jesus did this to gain the right to intercede or mediate on our behalf.
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Hebrews 2:14 - 18
Truly Jesus is the best possible example. But there are numerous examples of intercessors in the scripture, numerous examples of people who were called by God to help save God's people by interceding for them.
Moses was one such intercessor. He did not count equality with the family of pharoah to be grasped but took on the status of a slave, identifying with the people of Israel so that he might be used of God to rescue his people. Again and again it was by his intercession that the wrath of God was averted and the nation was saved.
"They (Israel) forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. So he said he would destroy them-- had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them." Ps 106:21- 23
Paul was an intercessor for the gentiles. He became "all things to all people" in order that he might save some.
In Romans chapter 9, he goes even further for his Jewish brothers. He says "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel." He was willing to be cursed so that they might be saved. He was willing to bear the wrath of God that was their's so that they might be blessed by God's mercy.
Basic to all intercession is identification. It is an unavoidable rule: If we want to help others with our prayers, if we want them to grow in faith, if we want the church to grow in strength/faith, if we want to unsaved to come to salvation, we first must identify with them.
If we look at the word INTER - CESSION
"INTER-" this is a Latin preposition for "in-between, among, involved in."
CESSION = to walk for the latin Cadere, where we get our word Cadence from. You cadence in walking is the number of steps you take per minute.
The Basic point is this: If we want to intercede on behalf of others meaningfully, we must join with them, walk with them, be one with them.. One of the greatest problems that I experience in my life is that I tend to shelter myself, I tend to keep other's lives apart from mine because its much easier and makes my life less messy. You see, when we descend to those places in between, where the battle is raging between the forces of evil and the forces of God in a person's life, or in our culture, we meet Goliaths there. And facing Goliaths is not for the weak of heart. The character of love, however, pushes us beyond our pea sized boxes of experience, love pushes us beyound our safe comfort zones, it pushes us to go beyond the barriers we have around our lives so that we might involve ourselves in the lives of others. Intercession will only start in reality when we break out of our own barriers, go beyond our own comfort zones.
The question is:
How does this identification work out in the experience and practice of our lives?
It's when we are involved in that lives of others that that we experience the call to pray. This call can come to us in a variety of ways, but it always involves an awareness of need! When we know the need in an identifying way, empathetically or compassionately, that is when we experience the call to intercede. You will notice in the gospels that compassion is what characterized the life of Jesus in his ministry. The blind, the lame, beggars, the deaf, were common place in Israel. They were not hidden in institutions! They had to make a living off of the mercy of the nation. Most people in Jesus time had learned to harden their hearts to them, ignore them, refuse to practice jubilee by bearing their burdens with them. Jesus was different. Jesus had compassion on them and his compassion was the motive for his ministry of intercession on their behalf. From his position of strength in God, he felt their pain, their agony and its because he was willing to do that he was able to bring salvation and healing to many people.
I suspect many of us here can relate to that well. We know we need to pray for others but often our prayers lack real power. But when we have "entered into" another person's troubles, by compassionate listening, prayer takes on a new quality. It takes on spiritual groans that words cannot express. It takes on the drama of birthing the will of God. It takes on the qualities of labour that will not be released until the job is done. Its not just the sadness of their case or the depth of their troubles. There are many other people that we know who experience troubles and we sure don't pray for them this way! Compassion becomes the power behind our prayer. We must Pray! That is the call to prayer and its when we listen to that call to pray, whether it happens immediately after we have talked to someone, or late in the night when we are awakened from our sleep and we find them on our mind, that is when we are called by God to go and intercede, we are called to "strike while the iron is hot."
However we define that "need to pray", the basic biblical truth is that the Spirit of God witnesses to our spirit, the Spirit communicates to us that we are called - appointed by God - to intercede on behalf of another because we know at least in part the depth of their need and we have at least to a degree identified with them. This is praying "in the Spirit" as Paul defines it in Romans 8
The call to pray can become prolonged, it can last for a long time. We start then experiencing the call to prayer as "Burden Bearing." By burden bearing, what is meant is more than just a passing urgency in prayer that may happen as the awareness of need is with us. "Burden Bearing" is a load that remains on our shoulders. It is a call to pray that does not stop with one or two urgent intercessions. It is a call to pray that may go on for days, even months, maybe years. To be a burden bearer is to identify with another's need, not just for a while but for a extended period of time, often until the answer to prayer is achieved.
I will never forget the very clear sense of burden bearing the church council of the congregation I previously served experienced. One of our members was found to have what the doctors believed was advanced colon cancer. I invited the council members to come out on a Sunday evening to pray with our brother the night before he would have surgery. We came as a group, every council member was there. The young man's unchurched parents were also there. We prayed earnestly as a group following the basic instructions in obedience to James 5. We left that night, not knowing what the Lord would do. But we experienced through the night and the next day a burden of prayer on our shoulders, to the point that some of us had at least upset stomaches, (our gut was turning). It was not until after the surgery the next day, we heard that the doctors thought they had gotten it all. Instantly the burden was lifted. This young man continues to do well over 10 years later! And on top of that, his parents who had the opportunity to witness Christian compassion in action became faithful worshippers giving glory to the living God!
When we are called to pray, through compassionate identification, another's sturggle becomes ours. Their pain becomes our pain. Their burden becomes our burden. Listen again to Paul for the Jews in Romans 9:2
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel."
Jesus also was a burden bearer (as was prophesied in Isaiah 53:4 "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows")
Jesus Christ, in his work of intercession as our heavenly high priest, was actually foreshadowed in the OT in the clothing of the High priest. You see, intercession has everything to do with the temple which we are presently studying here at Langley Immanuel Church. On the High Priest's Breastpiece, which was a heavy material woven out of blue, purple and scarlet yarn along with finely twisted linen, there were mounted twelve precious stones on a gold backing. Each of these stones represented one of the tribes of Israel. As the Priest went about his duties, he figuratively carried the weight of all of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders, bearing the burdens of the nation before God. The priest, like Christ, carried the burdens of Israel into the presence of God.
We to are priests unto our God. We are called to bear burdens before him, and we are called to do this especially when God places a burden for others on our shoulders! This often happens. You may listen to someone who shares their burdens with you, and even as they share their burdens , you feel their tears, and when the person leaves, your inward tears continue, their grief has become your grief! When that happens, we have the privilege on behalf of that person to carry their pain to the foot of the cross, again and again entering into God's throne room of mercy seeking his grace in their time of need. Take this burden in prayer, don't carry it as worry - carry it to the throne of God and leave it there, every time it comes back to you! Be a burden bearer, yes, but always do something with your burden. Don't pointlessly and fruitlessly carry it around.
One note about burden bearing. Often the Lord will lay the burden on us because he calls us to pray. We might be surprised at times that others do not share the same burden. We might want to judge them for a lack of compassion. But don't! God may have called YOU to be the burden bearer. Take these burdens simply as a call for YOU to pray. God is calling YOU to identify with the one you are interceding for. Take their burden to the throne room of God!
We have to remember that this is a spiritual dynamic. If we do not know the Lord, if we have not been born again by the power of the Spirit of the living God, this faith driven worry is not of concern to us. It is foolishness to us because the things of God's Spirit are foolishness to those who do not know him. This is a basic and I believe one of the most common experiences of the Spirit in the lives of those who know Him.
Now my last point this morning. Let me point out that we will look at it with a little more depth as we look at the first four verse of Philippians 4 this evening.
Intercession becomes hard work. If the Lord gives us compassion so that we can truly identify, if the Lord lays the burden of prayer on our hearts - than we should anticipate the "LABOUR" of prayer.
The Labour of Prayer, in the past called travail of prayer, is the hard energy consuming work of prayer that is done until its purpose has been accomplished, similar to the hard labour of childbirth until until its purpose is accomplished (the child is born).
Paul describes this experience this way (Gal 4:19 NIV)
"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."
In Colossians 2, even though he could no be with them in person, Paul tells the Colossian Christians
"To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea...5 - for thought I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit..."
The simple truth is, since we are co- workers with the Holy Spirit in interceding for others, our job will involve hard work! The kingdom of God does not come without effort!
In Romans 8:21f, Paul, right after talking about all of creation waiting to be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God writes
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved."
That is a compassion driven call to prayer, an experience of the Spirit of the living God as we identify with the burdens of those around us, this world and do the hard work of prayer.
And a few verses later he writes
"In the same way, the spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."
Sometimes these prayers can come upon us. We can't express them in words. We can only express them with tears or we can only express them with groans, but as we do we must remember that it is our privilege to be used by the Spirit to pray on behalf of the saints, those who need the gospel. These are normal parts of praying for others. This is our experience when we are used of god in prayer.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.