A Call To Prayer
If there is to be a large experience of Godís power to sanctify ourselves and to bring down real blessings on others, there must be more definite and persevering prayer. The Scriptures teach this very forcibly, speaking of crying day and night, continuing steadfastly in prayer, watching unto prayer, being heard for our importunity. This must in some degree become our experience if we are really to be intercessors.
In Luke 11 we read, "As [Christ] was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray" (v. 1). After giving them the model prayer, He proceeded to give them instructions concerning the matter of intercessory prayer: "Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" (vv. 5-8).
Here our Lord teaches us persistence in prayer. He uses the word "importunity" in regard to our praying. Like the word "travail," it is not a light word. It means to pray with urgency, to pray refusing to be denied, to pray with a persistent attitude that will not let go until the blessing comes, until the blessing is received for your friend, loved one, or even your enemy.
An Urgent Need
There are in this example several things for us to understand in regard to intercessory prayer. There was (1) an urgent need. Here is where intercession begins: the friend came at midnight. Always the need comes at an untimely hour for our flesh, but here was a need. The friend was hungry and could not buy bread. If you and I are to pray aright and enter into the work of prayer with the Lord, we must open our eyes and our hearts to the need of those around us. And the needs are great, lost souls are everywhere. Christless souls are in darkness, perishing of hunger, and we have bread enough and to spare. Wickedness is abounding all around us: apathy of so-called Christians, a lack of a missionary spirit, Christless preachers, teachers and workers Ė yes, everywhere the need abounds.
Compassionate Love toward Others
If we are to pray aright, we must feel (2) compassionate love toward others. The friend took his weary, hungry friend into his house and his heart. He did not excuse himself by saying he had no bread; he gave himself at midnight to seek it for him. He sacrificed his nightís rest, his comfort, to find the needed bread. We need to understand that love "seeketh not her own" (1 Cor. 13:5). It is the very nature of love to give up and forget self for the sake of others. Love takes othersí needs and makes them her own. Love finds real joy in living and dying for others as Christ did.
It is the love of a mother for her prodigal son that makes her pray for him. True love for souls will become the spirit of intercession in us. True love must pray! If we would be delivered from the sin of restraining prayer, we must enlarge our hearts for the work of intercession. To be praying constantly for ourselves will end in failure; it is in intercession for others that our faith and love and perseverance will be aroused and the power of the Holy Spirit will be found to enable us to follow in the footsteps of our blessed Lord.
Sense of Impotence and Helplessness
Next, note the (3) sense of impotence and helplessness in intercessory prayer. A mother might be willing to give her life for her dying child, and yet not be able to save it. The friend at midnight was willing to give his guest bread, but he had none to give. It was this sense of impotence, or his inability to help, that sent him begging: "My friend is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him." It is this sense of our impotence that is the very strength of intercession, for it will drive us to our knees to plead with the only One who can help us, the Lord of glory Himself.
"...I have nothing to set before him." I may have knowledge and truth, a loving heart, and the readiness to give myself for my friend, but the Bread of Heaven I cannot give him. Oh, that this would grip us: "I have nothing!" May this ring in our hearts and drive us to the One who has everything for the souls of men. As we point them to Christ, let us go to Christ and urge their need upon Him. Let me repeat it: the sense of our helplessness, our impotency, is the soul of intercession.
Faith in Prayer
See the (4) faith in prayer! What one man did not have, another could supply. He had a rich friend nearby who would be both able and willing to give the bread. He was sure that if he only asked, he would receive. This faith made him leave his home at midnight; if he had not the bread himself to give, he could ask another. This is simple, confident faith, that God will give what we need. The Scriptures reveal that God is waiting, delighting to bestow His heavenly blessings in answer to prayer. A thousand and one are the promises and testimonies that call us to believe that prayer will be heard, that what we cannot possibly do ourselves for those whom we want to help can be gained by prayer.
Observe that (5) importunity prevails! The faith of the friend met a sudden and unexpected setback: the rich friend refused to hear. "I cannot rise and give thee." The loving heart had not counted on this disappointment; he could not accept it. The supplicant presses his plea: "Here is my needy friend, you have an abundance, I am your friend." He refuses to accept a denial. The love that opened his house at midnight, and then left it to seek help, must win out.
So many times the very ones we pray for go deeper into sin, turn on us, laugh us to scorn, and have no regard for God or His Christ; we are left to wonder what is the use of praying, for they only get worse. But blessed is the man or woman who is not staggered by Godís delay or His silence or apparent refusal, or the sinnerís hardened condition, but is strong in faith, giving glory to God. Such faith perseveres importunately, if need be, and cannot fail to inherit the blessing.
Look at these words: "I say unto you...he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." Our Lord here gives us the greatest reason for praying: We shall have an answer! "I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Luke 11:9-10). Ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.
Blessed Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to forget self and to intercede for others! Give us Your grace to enter into the work of intercession with You, O God.
Ė From Times of Refreshing: A Call To Prayer, Mt. Zion Publications.