Crisis Intervention

There’s nothing casual about intercession, the Lord whispered to me one day last week. Intercession is more than just praying for people.

“It is?” I replied, surprised. Up until that point, if you’d asked me to define intercession I would have said it meant exactly that: praying for other people. I would have said that intercession isn’t about praying for your own needs, it’s about praying for the needs of others.

I learned that I was only partly right.

God reminded me about two of Scripture’s most well-known intercessors: Abraham and Moses. These two didn’t merely pray for things people needed, such as healing, wisdom for decisions, or jobs. They prayed for God to relent from judging people who were at odds with Him. Unless God relented, the people they cared about would be toast (remember Sodom and Gomorrah?). But God did relent. Because of his Uncle Abraham’s intercession, Lot was spared the holocaust at Sodom. And because Moses interceded, the rebellious Israelites escaped being completely blotted from the earth.

When I looked up intercede in the dictionary, I learned that it means to plead on another’s behalf; to mediate a dispute; to attempt to reconcile differences between two people.

In other words, intercession is about intervening in a serious conflict where, if nothing changes, somebody is going to suffer serious consequences.

I realized that intercession is what Jesus does for us. We used to be God’s enemies, destined for hell, but Jesus took up our case. As Romans says,

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (8:34)

And as Hebrews explains,

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (7:25)

When God initiated that discussion with me about intercession, I realized that giving me an invitation. He was inviting me to take up the cases of people I care about who have walked away from God or who never knew Him in the first place. They are choosing paths that, if they don’t turn around soon, could send them plunging over steep cliffs—but God wants to show them mercy. And He wants me to mediate for them.

By teaching me about intercession, God instilled hope in me. God is on the lookout for intercessors. When He can’t find them, He is stunned. Isaiah 59:15 says that He was “was astonished that there was no one to intercede.”

Intercession is crisis prayer, intervention prayer, life-and-death prayer for peoples’ very souls. God wants us to plead with Him to give mercy to people who don’t deserve it. He’s waiting for us to speak on their behalf.

I don’t know about you, but I have several of those folks in my life. What if it’s my intercession that God is waiting for to turn these folks from death to life?

Nagging and Begging

“Please, please, please, please, PLEASE!”

I startled myself. It was Sunday afternoon, and I was taking a leisurely walk through my neighborhood. I had been praying about a situation that’s been heavy on my heart, but I was finding it hard to find words. Until my voice rose on the last please, I didn’t even notice I had been praying out loud. The sound of my inarticulate begging embarrassed me.

“Please, please, please, please, PLEASE!” hardly seems like a worthy prayer. But that’s all that came out. Before I could apologize to God and try to pray a more appropriate prayer, however, He brought a Scripture passage to mind.

“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10, NLT).

God seemed to be telling me that He values “shameless persistence.” Sometimes it’s the repeated knocking that is more important than the words that make up my prayer.

As I’ve pondered this over the past couple of days, the Holy Spirit has confirmed God’s message with other passages. Luke 18, for example, where Jesus tells about the widow who continually pestered an unjust judge until finally he gave in to her because “she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (verse 5).

And Matthew 15, where the Gentile woman kept crying out to Jesus for help for her demonized daughter. First Jesus pretended to ignore her. Then His disciples urged Jesus to send her away: “She is bothering us with all her begging.”  Eventually Jesus spoke to her—but He was not encouraging: “I was only sent to help Jews.” Still refusing to be turned away, the woman continued to plead: “Lord, help me!” Jesus still seemed to rebuff her: “It’s not right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Even then, the woman would not give up. “Then give me some crumbs,” she says. Finally, Jesus can’t put her off any longer. “Dear woman, your faith is great!” And He immediately gave her the help she needed (Matthew 15:21-28).

So what’s God saying to me about these “please, please, please” sorts of prayers? I think God is telling me that what I considered to be a pathetic excuse for intercession was actually a prayer that pleases Him. What to me seemed like inarticulate nagging or begging, to Him represented faith. He likes “shameless persistence.” He values “constant requests.” He appreciates the person who refuses to give up.

So Lord, please, please, please, please, PLEASE give me that kind of faith!

Tell One Another of His Mighty Acts

When I shared a deep prayer burden with an older Christian friend today, I had no idea that she had walked a similar path to mine several years ago. After listening to me for a while, she related some of her own experiences. She told me about the desperation, heartache, and weariness she felt over a situation she could not control. And it went on year after year after year. As she confided in me, I realized that she understood exactly what I was feeling.

But my friend offered me more than just empathy—she offered me hope! Because not only had she experienced something similar to what I had—God had answered her prayer! Her story was a God story and it had a happy ending!

The answer didn’t come without a lot of tears and agonizing, though. My friend told me that she prayed about her particular situation every day for 13 years! Like the Canaanite woman who wouldn’t give up until Jesus at least gave her some crumbs (see Matthew 15:21-28), my friend pleaded with God until He answered her.

I don’t like how long it took for God to answer her prayer, but I am deeply encouraged by the fact that He did answer her prayer. The situation I am praying about Is not impossible. God has done it before. He can do it again.

That short talk with my friend did wonders to build my faith. It made me realize just how important it is for us to tell others about the ways God acts in answer to our prayers—especially people younger than we are. As Psalm 78:4 says, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.”

Who do you know who would be encouraged by a story of how God answered your prayer? Will you share “the wonders he has done” with them? It may be just what they need to keep them from giving up and help them to persevere.


Praying for People Who Are Doing Well

Sometimes I seem to focus so much of my prayer energy on people who are hurting and struggling that I almost forget to pray for people who are doing well. Doubts, discouragement, discord, fear, depression, besetting sins—there’s enough brokenness around me that there hardly seems time to pray for people who aren’t in in deep pain.

But today the Holy Spirit re-directed my focus. I was reading in 2 Thessalonians and verses 11 and 12 seemed to pop off the page:

“We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul prayed this wonderful prayer for people who, in spite of persecution and trials, were growing in their faith and increasing in their love. They were already doing exceptionally well. So Paul prayed that they would do even better.

The Holy Spirit directed my thoughts to some friends of mine who are doing great spiritually. Their marriage is strong, their kids are doing well, they are fruitful in their service for the Lord. If you were to ask them for prayer requests, they would probably say, “Can’t think of anything—we’re doing fine. How can we pray for you?”

But in spite of them not seeming to need anything, I realized the Holy Spirit was inviting me to pray for them, using Paul’s model. I especially liked praying the part that asked God to fulfil every good purpose of theirs and every act prompted by their faith. People who are strong spiritually have lots of “good purposes” and lots of “acts prompted by faith.” If God were to bring all of those to fruition—Wow! That would be a spiritual jackpot! So I prayed that for my friends.

It was a joyful conversation with God. It was a lot of fun to ask Him to bless people who already are glorifying God and exhibiting His grace. It felt extravagant and luxurious, and is definitely something I want to keep on doing.

Do you pray for people who are doing well? What is that like for you? And what have you seen God do?