“All we can do is pray.”
I’ve said it, so have many other Christians. Yet we would agree that this is a disgraceful attitude, as if prayer is the last resort when it ought to be our constant way of life.
Prayer is many things; a conversation with God like conversations with others, sometimes an expression of love, a telling of events, a pleading for change, a request for help. One of the most challenging variations of prayer is that of intercession. In fact, the word is rare in the Bible, and those who pray that way seem as rare.
Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:15–16)
No one to intercede. Chambers says the reason for no intercession is that we are “merely sentimentally interested” in prayer. I’m not sure about that, but I do agree when he says worship and intercession must go together because intercession means seeking the mind of Christ in my praying, coming to Him without any notion or opinion of how I think He should answer my prayers.
Prayer is laying hold of God, being in contact with His mind about the ones for whom I pray. That requires a deep and holy relationship with God. I cannot be insistent or dogmatic. I cannot think that I know what should be done. I must surrender entirely, in total trust. That is worship.
Worship presses me to abandon thoughts that my request is impossible, but it also presses me to abandon all of my own schemes of how He should answer. When I say, “Thy will be done” I must mean it with all my heart, and I cannot mean it unless I stop bringing a shopping list, and stop telling Him what to do. I have to believe that He hears, He knows, and He will answer. I cannot do that apart from an attitude of worship.
Chambers calls intercession ‘work’ and I agree. While I want a joyful conversation with God, intercession can leave me exhausted and emptied. This is because the intercession undertaken and exemplified by Jesus Christ involves talking with God, but it comes with a cost.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
When intercessors pray, we do not physically die for sinners, yet there is an abandoning of our own desires and a pouring out of our souls. We bear the weight of sin in the sense of it has driven us to this lonely kind of prayer.
Not only that, intercession is never finished. While sinners are saved through the power (and mystery) of prayer, the Prince of prayer reveals that this is a lifetime work . . .
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Yet intercession is also a blessing. Getting to the heart of God about how I should pray is ‘getting to the heart of God’ — and what could be more blessed than that? Further, the Spirit of God is right with me, acting as my interpreter so that my intercession is translated into the will of God before it reaches His throne.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27)
When God looks out on the world and sees the mess it is in, may He find many who are willing to intercede, to pray with a sense of awe in God, fully believing that He hears and answers and will do what is right.