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Tuesday
May 21st, 2019

gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

When our children were young, my wife read them a book, “Sons of Africa,” full of stories about a young boy growing up in Swaziland. Elmer Schmelzenbach’s parents were pioneer missionaries, and eventually the children had to leave for school in the U.S. to learn English and further their education. 

When Elmer was in college, one day he left class, cold, lonely and discouraged, and trudged to his dorm room. That very morning, a letter arrived under his door, written in Swazi, from Joseph, a man in his church back home. The letter began, “‘My son, I have been to the rock at the top of the mountain and I talked to God about you. … He told me to tell you to reach through the clouds and He would take your hand and joy would come again.’” 

We’ve been discussing prayer – how God is approachable, how He wants to keep company with us, and how prayer is a two-way street, listening to God even before we begin praying. Today, we’ll look at intercessory prayer, with one definition of praying on behalf of another person. 

The Cambridge Dictionary is helpful in distinguishing what prayer should not be, as it equates intercession with using one’s influence. When we bring prayer requests to God, it’s not that we can demand anything, or build up credits, or that God perhaps doesn’t know the whole situation. What we’re asked to do is carry the person to the Lord, leave him or her in God’s capable hands, and listen. 

In at least twenty places, the Bible urges believers to pray for one another. Doing so doesn’t require a “gift” of intercession. Peter wrote, much like Paul in Ephesians, “…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices …” (1 Peter 2:5). The role of a priest is twofold: he or she has the rights, privileges, and responsibilities to go straight to God on behalf of the people. Also, historically, God speaks through a priest, giving a specific word or ministry for others. 

There are tools we can use to help us remember to intercede: a Christmas list, directory, or perhaps a map of a neighborhood or the world. Songs will bring folks to our mind, or stories or Scriptures we read. In addition, Jesus gave instructions for whom we should pray. “‘I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’” (Luke 6:27). 

Sometimes intercessory prayer is public, as when a pastor leads a congregation. But Douglas Steere writes we should use caution when praying that way. “Intercession is the most intensely social act that the human being is capable of – when it is carried on secretly, it is mercifully preserved from, in fact, almost immunized against, the possible corruptions to which all outer deeds of service for others are subject.” 

So, what about praying for the physical needs of another? God of course wants His people to experience a good life. The church is in partnership with God to dispense God’s love and grace. But health and well-being are not guaranteed to even believers. Fil Anderson says, “It isn’t in the avoidance of pain that we find joy, but in the embracing of it.” So, as we pray for a person who is injured or sick, God can expand our focus from whatever the needs are that day, to a greater understanding of the whole. 

Our options, if we pray for a physical need that doesn’t improve, are to become bitter or better. As we pray for anyone dealing with difficulty, we enter the stream of God’s love directed to the one needing help. Prayer involves imagination – we see our hands lifting another as we present the need, asking for His perfect will. Sometimes we don’t even know what to say in prayer. But with a sincere heart, “…the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). 

Prayer transcends time and distance. Elmer Schmelzenbach was lonely in his dorm room, so God - who sees and knows all - placed on the friend’s heart a vision of a young man in America needing a word of hope. Weeks before, Joseph had written the letter and placed it in an African mailbox. 

A song by Stephen Curtis Chapman includes lyrics, “I will carry you to Jesus on my knees. It's such a privilege for me to give this gift to you.” Every one of us can learn to be an intercessory pray-er. 

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