The Key To Intercessory Prayer
The following is excerpted from a message given at a conference of America’s National Prayer Committee in January 2007 in Texas.
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself a ransom for all – this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle, (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument"(1 Tim. 2:1-8 NRSV).
It is very clear that the apostle Paul is concerned that we pray. His purpose, he says, is because it is the desire of God that all persons should be saved. Prayer is not simply for our own benefit, but it is to fulfill God’s purposes that all should be redeemed. How does this take place? There has to be a mediator, one in particular, and that is the man Christ Jesus. In the Incarnation He became one of us to solve our problems. Then God said that He wanted mankind to join with the Mediator as mediatorial agents, in order that the purposes of God for His creation might be fulfilled, and that all might be redeemed.
In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, we read that we should imitate God: "…live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us" (v. 2) in order that a world might be redeemed. Paul said such giving was "a fragrant offering" in the nostrils of God, the kind of sacrificial self-giving that enabled God to do His saving work in other people’s lives. That leads us to intercession, our thrust for today.
In the eighth chapter of Romans it tells about how we are to become children of God so that our response to God is, "Abba, Father" (v. 15). We belong to Him, which means that we have the same relationship to the Father that the second Person of the eternal Trinity has. What it says in Romans 8:15 and 16 is that God wants all of us to have that sense of adoption in us that when we think about God, our first thought about Him is Father. We belong to Him. He has given Himself to us. We have our life because of Him, so we are adopted. Romans 8:22 says: "…the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." What is it groaning for? It is because of the lostness of the world and the fallenness of the world. He says that the whole creation is groaning until the full adoption comes (v. 23), that final eschatological time when everything will be under the Father. Scripture says of the Son: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" and in the end He will render up to the Father the kingdom which was given unto Him (1 Cor. 15:24). So the last word in our existence and in the Father’s working is not the kingdom, but the last word is the family. Waiting for that day we groan.
It says in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit groans with us. The verbs that are used there for "groan" in the Greek are "stenazo" and "sustenazo." He adds "sun" in Greek, that is "with us" so He groans together with us in order that the ultimate purposes of God might be accomplished. There is another word that is used there, "sunodino," and that means "to have labor pains with," because the verb "odino" is to have birth pangs. The Spirit is having birth pains with us for the ultimate purposes of God to be created. The figure of birth pangs permeates Scripture more than I ever dreamed. Life comes in a fallen world out of pain and suffering, and so it says that the Spirit suffers with us. It says "stenazo" twice and "sustenazo" three times. The word "intercede" is used twice – one, the simple word "entugchano" for intercede and then a hyped up word to intensify His intercession, "huperentugchano."
What keeps us going and what sustains us in what we are about is the mediatorial role of the Son from the Father through Christ by the Spirit to us. Notice the prepositions. What we get from the Father has come to us through the Son, and what the Spirit does in us comes to us potentially through the Son. Christ is the center of it all. He is the mediator – in between.
The principle of mediation is one which God has built into the universe, into all existence. For example, every person you have ever met came through somebody else’s body. There is only one exception at the human level – that is Adam. The principle of mediation is also true of our salvation. It comes through somebody else. The key to everybody rests in somebody else. I do not know a more biblical thought than the fact that the key to every person is not in that person. The mediatorial principle permeates our existence.
Jesus Did Nothing of Himself
The following verses in the book of John give a revelation of Jesus’ relationship to the Father: John 5:19, 30; 7:28; 8:28, 42; 10:18; 12:49; 14:10; 15:4; 16:13. Jesus is saying that the Son can do nothing on His own but only what He sees the Father doing. He does not speak from or out of Himself. He speaks what the Father commands. He did not come on His own, but the Father sent Him.
As I read through all these verses, it dawned on me that the main person in the Gospel of John is not Jesus; it is the Father, because the Son is here to do His will. The Son, like an ambassador, when He speaks, does not speak for Himself but for the Father. The mediation here permeates all. It is all "from the Father through the Son."
Jesus said in effect, "My teaching is not My own…. My life is not My own…. My Father gives Me life…. My works are not My own, they’re His…." There is only one thing He does on His own. Look at John 10:18: "No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down out of My own accord." The only thing that He drew out of Himself was the cross. He chose to give Himself.
The Key Discovered
The key to intercessory prayer is for God to get you to the place where the well-being of others is more important than your own. You get that in Romans 9:3 where Paul says, "I could wish that I myself were accursed" from Christ, so burdened was he for his Jewish brethren. You also have that in the story of the golden calf. God says to Moses, "Let Me alone…." (Ex. 32:10). The eternal God says in effect, "Leave Me alone and let Me deal with them." And Moses said that if God was going to start with anybody, He should start with him, Moses, and a nation in large measure survives.
The big question is, how do I get to the place where I care more about others than I do about me? John Knox prayed: "Give me Scotland or I die."
I need to get to the place where I live for somebody else. If you want some individual to change, you have to start with somebody other than the person who needs the change. The possibility of the world changing started in the heart of God, not in the heart of the world. And the possibility of a sinner’s conversion never starts in the sinner’s heart. It starts in the Church’s heart, the Body of Christ, because of being in Christ – the mediator.
God wants to save the world, but He doesn’t start with the world. Jesus says in John 17 that He does not pray for the world. He prays for those whom God has given Him, and He prays for those who will believe on Him because of them. God’s prophets were normally sent to God’s people, not to the world. If Jerusalem got right, the rest of the world had a chance, and until Israel, the Holy City got right, the world had no chance. The key to a world is in our hands. Not all the world is in my hands and not all the world is in your hands, but some of the world is. This permeates Scripture.
The Hebrew word which is translated "pray" most commonly is "hitpallel" which means to interpose oneself, to put between. The "hit" at the beginning makes it a reflexive. So when God says to Abimelech in Genesis 20 that "this man whose wife you took will pray [interpose himself between you and Me] your wife will be healed" – it is interposition for the other person’s welfare. That is what intercession is, between the problem and the answer.
Prayer is an interposition. Prayer is also praise and petition, but in the Old Testament the word for prayer is "interpose." There is a word linked with it and it is "bear" (Hebrew nasa). It is translated in different ways. It means you can bear a load. It means a woman can bear a child. It means a person can bear another’s problems. In Psalm 32 we read that blessed is the one whose transgressions are borne, because when God bears them, they are forgiven. It is the prime word for forgive in the Old Testament. This man’s problem becomes someone else’s problem who bears it for him, and he doesn’t bear it any more.
The proof of justification by faith is the love of God shed in my heart by the Holy Spirit. And what is the love? It is the love that was manifested on Calvary and the love that binds the three persons of the Trinity together. And the incredible thing is that God loves you and me enough to give His Son to die for us (John 3:16; Rom. 8:32). If He tells me to be like Him, then He by His Spirit can get into my heart and make me care more about somebody else than myself.
The key to intercessory prayer is for God to get us to the place where the other person’s well-being is more important than our own. I need to get to the place where I live for somebody besides me. God’s love must be shed abroad in my heart for me to so live. "…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5).