The Holy Spirit has a habit of interrupting me. He jumps into my thoughts, my conversations, my activities, and, just the other day, into my Bible reading. I welcome His interruptions because that always means He has something He wants me to notice or something He needs me to do or say (or sometimes not say!). This particular time He wanted to teach me more about intercession. (See also my post from last month: Crisis Intervention.)
I was reading in 2 Chronicles 30 where King Hezekiah of Judah reinstituted the celebration of the Passover after it had been neglected for many years. Besides being serious about worshiping God, it seems to me that Hezekiah was pretty classy. The tribes of Israel had fallen away from the Lord, but Hezekiah didn’t assume they wouldn’t be interested in coming. He didn’t write them off because they’d drifted so far away spiritually. He invited them to the feast anyhow. He hoped that maybe they would return to God and join in the celebration.
And you know what? Some of them actually came! (It makes me wonder how often I’ve failed to reach out to people because I’ve written them off as disinterested or too far gone spiritually.)
Anyhow, people from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun came for the Passover celebration. But they were sorely out of touch with God’s ways. They hadn’t worshiped Him properly for a very long time. So they showed up without having done the required purification rituals. According to the rules, they were unclean. They really had no business participating in the sacred observance.
None of this seemed to fluster Hezekiah, however. I think Hezekiah understood God’s heart pretty well. Instead of disqualifying the people because they’d failed to follow the law, Hezekiah appealed to God. He counted on His mercy and grace.
Here’s what Hezekiah prayed: “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (verses 18-19).
And here’s what God did: “The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (verse 20).
Hezekiah is my new intercessory hero. He interceded for sinful people. He stood in the gap for them. He acknowledged their sin, but then he asked God to forgive and accept them.
Hezekiah’s example challenges me. Frankly, I am more likely to ask God to convict people of their sin than I am to ask Him to pardon them. Hezekiah showed me another side to the coin. What sinners need—myself included, of course!—is God’s forgiveness. His mercy and pardon change us.
Besides, isn’t this how Jesus prayed? If anyone had reason to be praying for God to convict sinners, it was Jesus when He was dying on the cross. But that’s not what Jesus prayed. Jesus was the ultimate Intercessor. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
I still think it’s good to ask God to call people to repentance, if repentance is what they need. There’s biblical precedent for that as well. But hearing Hezekiah’s prayer was good for me. I want to intercede for mercy at least as often as I call out for conviction. What about you?