WHAT IS INTERCESSION?

A PRIMER


PRAYER HAS MANY POINTS OF FOCUS

At the heart of prayer is the Hebrew word "YADA" which means "to 'know' or 'to experience intimately' God."  In Philippians 3:10 Paul writes:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings , becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Paul's chief aim  in life was to know God!   There are many ways that we can know God.  We can know about God, we theorize about God in theology. We might acknowledge his power and majesty displayed through creation. But knowing God the way Paul wanted to know God takes Prayer!  Prayer is the intimate part of our relationship with God.   As the intimate part of our relationship with God, privacy is appropriate.  The intimate part of our spiritual relationship with God should not be worn on our sleeves!  Jesus said:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This verse from Matthew 6 makes it clear that even though our intimate  relationship with God is private, the consequences of that relationship will be public.  Another version of the scriptures tells us that we will be rewarded "openly."   These rewards will be demonstrated in our character, our healing, the fruit we bear.  Prayer is the key to bearing fruit, just as intimacy in marriage is needed to bear fruit, so prayer is essential to bearing spiritual fruit, whether that fruit be regarded as the fruits of the Holy Spirit or fruits in terms of reproducible  works for the kingdom of God.  Jesus said:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Just as there are many expressions of communication in an intimate human marriage relationship, so to our relationship with God in the area of prayer has many different aspects to it: Praise, Waiting, Confession, Listening, Reading the letters of scriptures, Watching, Intercession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Singing, Meditation, Bodily expression.  It would be far to great a challenge to face all of these in one workshop.  Different workshops will focus on different aspects of prayer.  This evening, our focus will be on intercession.

INTERCESSION - WHY SHOULD WE?   
WHY MUST WE?

The question can be asked:  Why should we intercede in prayer?  After all, God knows everything including every need!  Scripture indicates that he has all power in his hands!  How can we reconcile his omniscience and omnipotence with our need to prayer? Some have suggested that praying for others has its first benefit for ourselves.  Prayer changes us so that we might become more compassionate, considerate, loving etc. while God does all the rest at his own schedule. This is a self defeating approach to prayer!  Why pray for others when it has no real benefit for them, it only benefits you? Why not just pray for you?  Why must we intercede for others?

Reason #1  God instructs us too intercede, just as Jesus did (John 17), just as Paul did (I Corinthians 1:4, II Corinthians 13:9, Galations 4:19, Ephsians1:15 - 19, 3:14-21, Philippians 1:3 - 6, Colossians 1:3f, I Thessalonians 1:2f, 5:23f, II Thessalonians 1:3,11, II Timothy 1:3, Philemon 1:4)

Reason #2  We are co-workers with Christ in the project of redemption.   To often, Christians are not deeply engaged in prayer because they fail  to  realize this fundamental truth!  This truth has to do with our understanding of our role in the process of salvation.   Most Christians have reduced salvation to a past act on the part of Christ which is applied today.  We often picture this salvation as the bridge of the cross crossing over the canyon in our relationship with God caused by sin.  As such, the power of the cross is salvation for all those who have faith in Christ, they had gained access to God's throne of mercy, their sins covered by the blood of Christ.

The problem with this theology is that it has a once sided focus.  We are not only saved, scripture tells us that we are being saved.   Just as we are saved (a past act resulting in an on-going condition), we are also in the process of being saved. Scripture tells us that that we are "in Christ" and even though he is at the right hand of the Father he continues to be a mediator, He always lives to intercede for us!  If our salvation is only a past act resulting in an on going condition, why is it that Christ would have to continue his intercessory work on our behalf?  The picture that we get from scripture is that even though Christ's work is done, it is not complete.  He still works at being the intercessor, praying for his disciples in this world. Though he made the sacrifice of atonement once and for all (Heb 7:27), he always lives to pray for us (7:25) and is therefore able to save us completely.   If Christ and his work on the cross stand in the gap between man and God in the work of reconciling all to God, it can be argued that now we stand with Christ  or "in Christ" in the gulf between this world and God.

Ezekiel 22:30
"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."

To pray for others is to be a co - worker with Christ(I Cor 3:9), sharing in his sufferings in order that we might share in his glory. Intercessory prayer is to stand with or "in Christ", working with Him, in the task of redeeming others. (William Krutz - page 21)

Theologically, we can go even one step further, as many theologians have in their studies of prayer. Billheimer, in his book "Destined for the Throne" argues that not only are our lives given us by God so that we might experience salvation and intercede for others, our lives are in fact training grounds for eternity where the scriptures tell us that we will "reign" with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 5:10, 20:6, 22:5).  He pictures this as Christ the King and the church the Queen of the universe!   Our reign in Christ begins here through our prayers. 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)

The simple truth is this:  Prayer brings about the power of the kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of others.   Apart from abiding in Christ, we can do nothing.  Prayer and abiding go hand in hand.  Apart from prayer, we will accomplish nothing.  Satan enjoys frustrated Christians and he frustrates them the most by keeping them powerless, powerless because of prayerlessness. You have not because you ask not. (James 4:2).  Prayer is essential to seeing the realities of the Kingdom coming.  Prayer is where the battles of the kingdom are won!

If we want to understand the ministry of intercession, the ministry of helping others with our prayers, it would be most helpful for us to look at the master teacher of prayer Himself, the one who always lives to intercede for us and learn from Him the dynamics of intercession.   From Jesus' example we can glean numerous principles of intercession.  Most of us have experienced them in our own lives, but as happens so often, it takes the scripture to illumine our experience.

1: THE PRINCIPLE OF IDENTIFICATION IN INTERCESSION

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.  I 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 even 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 mediating for them, 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 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."
Read 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.

The question is:  
How does this identification work out in the experience and practice of our lives?

It starts with "INTER-"  this is a Latin preposition for "in-between, among, involved  in."  The Basic point is this:  If we want to intercede on behalf of others meaningfully, we must join 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.  The character of love, however,  pushes us beyond our pea sized boxes of experience, 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.

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, that is 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.

Again and again, I meet people who are trapped in sin and experiencing the consequences and the confusion that results.  As a Christian I have the joy of sharing the good news of the Kingdom with them , but before I do that, I have discovered that I need one thing first - Compassion!  Only when I have listened intently, felt their pain, in a sense experienced their hopelessness, can I spend time in impassioned prayer for them. 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 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.

The call to pray can also be experienced in different ways - one of them that is also common to many of us is "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.

Some have burden bearing as a dynamic of personality.  If  we know of a struggle that someone else is having, somehow it becomes our struggle too.  Their pain becomes our pain.  Their weight becomes our weight.   In some cases, this dynamic may be unhealthy (ie. when we bear another's burdens because in a sense it legitimizes us wallowing in our own problems). But in many cases, people who really care become burden bearers like 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") and we can hear it in the words he cried for Jerusalem  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings." (Luke 13:34)

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. 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.

We to, as priests unto our God 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, con'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.!

In the practical experiential dynamics of praying for others, we need to go one step further.  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."

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 - only with tears, or only 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 - our experience when we are used of god in prayer. We have thus far looked at the first principle of identification - especially as it expresses itself in agony.

The second main focus of praying for others might be termed The issue of Authority (Rees Howells - Intercessor by Norman Grubb p. 81). To be effective prayers for others, we need to recognize that prayer bears authority to make change, since not only do we identify with those whom we pray for, we also identify with the God whom we are praying too.

There are a variety of ways that our authority is expressed in prayer.  But in every case, our authority has to do with covenants and remembrance. To pray is to make an appeal to God based on the nature of his covenants with us, to pray is to remind God of those covenants, just as he has given us the sacraments to remind us of his covenants with us.

There are many illustrations of this in the scripture.  One very clear one is Exodus 32:13f in which Moses appeals to God to spare the Israelites, and the grounds on which he makes the intercessory appeal is a covenant!

"Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self "I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this Land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever."

And the very next verse tells us that, having been reminded as his covenant with the patriarchs, God relented and did not bring upon his people the disaster he had threatened.

Moses took a promise of God, a covenant, and he appealed to the legal authority of a covenant so that from that position of authority, he might remind God of what was right.

Jesus High Priestly prayer is also a prayer that invokes authority. Jesus who intercedes for us starts his prayer with the statement:  "For you granted him authority over all people... that you might grant them eternal life"  Then Jesus reminds the Father that he has done on earth what the Father sent him to do, Jesus fulfilled his part of the covenant by completing the Work that God gave him to do, giving God the glory.  Jesus prays knowing that his part of obedience to God has been fulfilled, his side of the covenant has been, is being kept. Having fulfilled all righteousness, Jesus knows that the Father will hear him and answer his prayer.

Paul uses the same argument, arguing that the nation of Israel has a special place in history.  He writes. "As far as the gospel is concerned, they (the Jews) are enemies on your account, but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." (Romans 11:28f)

God does not change.  He does not change his mind as far as his love is concerned, as far as his faithfulness to his covenant promises is concerned. Because God does not change or go back on his word, Israel was not consumed.

We need to learn as Christians how to use with authority the promises and the covenants that God has given to us when we pray!   Because through Christ we have become God's children by rebirth, because God makes covenant promises to his children,  we have the legal right to plead these agreements in our prayers to him. 

Most of us do plead the authority of the covenant when we pray without even realizing it.  We conclude our prayers "in the name of Jesus Christ."  When we do so, we are reminded God that Jesus has attained for us a new and better covenant, with even greater blessing.  As we are reminded when we celebrate communion,  the blood of Christ has everything to do with a legal covenantal agreement, by which we attain or receive the blessings of God.

John 14:13 - You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.
John 16:24 - Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

God is a God of covenants, and if we are to pray effectively, with authority, we need to be people who learn the covenants and promises he has given to us so that we might appeal to them with authority.

This focus of our authority might be called our "God-ward" authority.  It is the authority to appeal.

We also have a "Satan-ward" authority, this is an authority to command in the name of Jesus .  As we intercede for others, it does not take long to discover that the ministry of intercession involves spiritual battles!

Though scriptures says an awful lot about this Satan-ward view (James Callus - A Satanward View), so much so that I cannot do justice to it in the time that is remaining, I would like to make a comment about theology and then we'll notice just a few basic truths and essential scripture passages that will help us to grow in this area of our authority.

First of all, recognize that Intercession will involve battling the evil forces that pervade this world. Over 1/2 of the works of Jesus, our intercessor, were not first of all aimed toward God , or God-ward (with whom he had the covenant). They were in fact aimed at Satan, they were Satan-ward, they involved rebuking, silencing, kicking out, and basic instruction about spiritual dynamics. When Jesus sent out the disciples, he gave them authority over the forces of evil, to drive them out and to cure illnesses. (Luke 9:1,2 10:18-20)

Paul recognized that so much of his work was actually a battle against forces of evil. He says "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph 6)

If you are thoroughly western in your mindset, scripture passages like this will probably mean little to you.  Our paradigm in our technological society has been materialistic.  Only those things that can be scientifically empiricly studied and verified are real.   But  the perspective of scripture is not bound the the material! We need to have our eyes reopened to the reality that parallel to this material universe that we experience is a spiritual universe which effects everything that we experience here today. We are in a spiritual battle that involves confrontation! The only way we will win any battle in this realm is if we understand the authority that we have in the name of Jesus.

To gain in this battle, we first of all need to understand Christ's authority! The most helpful single part of the New Testament for an understanding of Christ's authority for the purposes of spiritual battle is in the letter to the Ephesians.

First of all, remember, Christ is Lord, all authority is his. Eph 1:22

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

We tend to say or sing "He is Lord" without recognizing the full impact of what we are saying.  The simple truth is He does have ALL power and authority and he has all this authority  for us, for the church, so that we might do the work of authoritative intercession that God calls us to.  Few passages bring this out more clearly than Acts 4:23 ff.   That passages occurs right after Peter and John had been rebuked by the Sanhedrin.  Peter and John realized that the chief priests and the elders of the synagogue actually represented spiritual forces opposing the advance of the kingdom,  and they choose to pray  authoritatively in response.  The first words of their prayer are so instructive:  "O Sovereign Lord"   The greek word that they used was "has despotas" which transliterated into the english equivalent  is: "Dear despot!"   We tend to think of a "despot" as somebody who is corrupt because he has absolute power,  but the wonder of our Lord is that he has absolute power on behalf of the church.  He is a despot (absolutely powerful) and he is on our side, to exercise that absolute power as he wills on our behalf.

A second basic truth we have to realize is that this absolute Sovereign,  Jesus Christ, has commanded us to proceed into this world, using the authority he has delegated to us to bring into reality his kingdom.  We are co - workers with Christ  in overcoming dark territory with the Light of the Lord.  After his disciples were sent out with authority, Jesus said "I saw Satan fall down like lightening from heaven."   We have been delegated this same authority, authority to be used in obedience to Him so that the works of the devil might be destroyed. (Heb 2:14). Paul pictures this authority in Ephesians 2 by placing us "in Christ," seated with Christ on the throne,  from that throne of authority exercising dominion over the earth, exercising the dominion over the earth that we lost in the fall and have regained by faith in Christ. (Eph 2:6). As we are co - workers with Christ, our intercessions are in fact an exercise of that authority in the battle of prayer.

That is I believe the point of Ephesians 6:10f.  It tells us to put on the full Armor of God.  A soldier in full Armour is a soldier commissioned to battle with the full authority of his country to fight the battle. A soldier out of uniform was a soldier off duty, he was not called to fight. What is especially interesting about Eph 6 is verse 18, which is included in the paragraph about our spiritual armour, it is translated in the NIV this way:

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

The way of understanding this direct connection of prayer to all our spiritual armour and remaining alert is that the battle is in fact waged in prayer.  Verse 18 though it remains in a imperative can be alternatively translated as an instrumental imperative: "through prayer in the spirit on all occasions."   This would indicate that we are called to fight the battle, defeating the powers of evil, through the ministry of intercessory prayer.

One pastor has said:  "No battle of the church is won unless it is first won in prayer."  Though we don't understand all the dynamics, if  we understand the basics, we are ready to go into training.   Training is not first of all sitting in a class and understanding perfectly how it is all to be done,  training in the scripture is to put into practice the truth we have come to understand.  

So at the end of this session together, lets put some of the things we have learned into practice.  Pray in small groups.  If you identify with another persons need, carry their burden to the throne room of grace, appeal to the covenants, listen to the Spirit, apply the scriptures and stand on the ground that God has given you to defend with the authority that you have in Christ.

Let me know if this message was helpful.

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