When Abraham prayed for the wicked city of Sodom, he started out by asking the Lord, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
The Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Genesis 18:22–26) and Abraham continued the question until he was asking about ten people instead of fifty. Sadly, his nephew Lot may have been the only righteous person in Sodom, so the city was destroyed.
Years later, Moses led a rebellious people out of slavery in Egypt. The Lord said to him, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11–12)
Moses interceded with this: “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:13–19)
And the Lord heard him, responding with, “I have pardoned, according to your word . . .” but withheld the blessing those people could have had. (Numbers 14:20–21)
Hughes says that the “crowning ministry” of the Christian life is intercession for others. He describes the attitude of mind that goes with those prayers. It is not a desperate pleading, nor is it ‘holier than thou’ as if I am better off and only others need God’s help. Instead, it is using my imagination to see them being drawn close to God and experiencing blessing and union with Him.
Intercession also believes in the power of God to lovingly hear and answer prayer. He is ready to bless. I don’t know why He determined to work as His people pray, but this is the way of God.
This ministry of intercession is costly. It takes time, energy and emotional reserve. It also makes those who pray a target. The powers of evil will do nasty things to keep me from praying. These enemies are also subtle in that I can easily miss the connection between my prayers and the temptations and distractions that pull me away from prayer.
This morning the Lord pokes at my tendency to give up with these words: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you . . .” (1 Samuel 12:23)
Giving up is sinful. I need to keep at it.