Every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other people through the power of intercessory prayer.
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Two years ago we were on a trip to southern California and we had the opportunity to probably lay over a day or two and go down to Loma Linda which was the home of Richard Milhous Nixon, one of the past president of the United States, and where his presidential library is, and the area where I think his home was, the boyhood home where he grew up in. They had the boyhood home, and they had built a presidential library there, and we wanted to see that so we went in and made the tour of the Richard Nixon presidential library.
It was quite interesting; all these presidential library goes through the, basically focuses upon the administration of that particular president, and what he accomplished, and who he saw, and the events of that time.
There was one room in this library, the Richard Nixon library that struck me. He had, in this room there were ten life-sized statues of world leaders who President Nixon had met over the years, and who, in his opinion had stood up to the, had met the criterion for what he called great leadership. And his one criterion of a great leader, in his mind, was that they had to have made a difference.
Now that difference may not have always have been a positive difference in terms of how, let's say, we in the west would view it because Mao Tse-tung, the Chinese leader of the great revolution and establishing communist China was one of those figures. Nixon considered him a great leader even though we wouldn't necessarily perhaps look upon him as one we would want to emulate; but he did make a difference certainly in the largest nation in the world.
Two others that I remember there were Charles de Gaulle, the late president of France and the wartime resistance leader in World War II, and Winston Churchill, who probably, among all of us, we would have a relate and recognize that he did make a difference there. Those are three of the ten. I can't remember all the others that he had in that room but it was quite impressive at least to reflect on what former President Nixon's criterion of a great leader was, one who had made a difference.
The idea of making a difference is something that resonates with me, and with all of us really in our calling to the church. It's a good question for us to ask in our life, and how we are progressing. Do we make a difference where we are in our calling, and in our place within the body of Christ? Do we make a difference? We may not have a life-sized statue made of us at some point. I don't know that any one of us necessarily would want that but to make a difference in someone's life, that is a legacy.
We've all known the story and probably seen it many times from the movie that is shown every year around Christmas time, "It's a Wonderful Life," the Jimmy Stewart movie. I've forgotten now who the actual character's name is in there. I just know its Jimmy Stewart, that's probably the most important thing because of his persona and whatever but you remember the premise of "It's a Wonderful Life;" of how one man is shown how that the fact that he lived did make a difference in so many other people's lives and it's through the story theme that is brought out here, he's shown that it would have made a big difference had he not lived, and it does drive home a point that no matter who we are, no matter how insignificant we may think our life might be, we do make a difference.
And because of the calling God has given us, because of the Holy Spirit that God has given to us, making us His children, we can make an even greater difference in not just our life, and the impact on our own life but most importantly on those whom we come in contact: others in the church, those that we know in our midst here as fellow brethren, those that we hear about, other members of the church, and other people that we know about, and discover, and understand, and other people that perhaps may not even be connected with the church but because we would practice one very important spiritual discipline, and make that a calling to us, we can make a difference.
Every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference in our life, with our life through prayer, and that's what I'd like to talk about today. It's more than just praying about tomatoes, although that's all right too. Over the years I've come to realize that the small things are good to pray about as well because if we care about the small things then we're not going to miss the big things, either. But we can make a difference through prayer.
What I'd like to talk about with you today is the power of intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer for other people: for family, for friends, for brethren, for the world, and even for those who may set themselves against you, or I, in some way and some situation. Brother against brother or others that may not like the way we are, and what we represent, and instead of being a friend or family member at times might even be a foe, and yes, we pray for them as well.
Prayer can produce lasting results in people's lives and in ours. This is God's desire for us. It is something that we engage in every day as part of our duty before God, and it's something that we need to come back to and always keep in mind, and never, ever, forget. It's a discipline, that's the word I use, and others may use a different term in terms of what prayer is. It's certainly a practice, it's a teaching.
Christ taught us how to pray. You could certainly look out on it even as a doctrine, a teaching of the Bible in one sense but I use the term personally that prayer is a discipline because we do have to discipline ourselves. We have to, at times make ourselves pray when we may not feel like praying. We get into a habit in a consistent manner but it becomes, regardless, a discipline which it means an active, positive part of our life that does bring us in line with God. Brings us in line with other people, and accomplishes so much. So much more than perhaps than we really understand when the subject of prayer in scripture as we all know is so deep, and so vast, and so important.
Intercessory prayer in itself is just one part of it as we pray for others, as we are so often asked to. It doesn't seem like a day goes by that we do not receive some type of a request to pray for someone. If you're on an e-mail list, certainly for the local congregation or for the church, those will come out usually from the pastor. I maintain an e-mail list of all the members to send out prayer requests that would come in where people would ask for members to pray for a particular situation. We send one out.
I know John LaBissoniere, one of our elders, compiles one that comes through the home office, and sends out on a weekly update, those that come out to us. And then we have even larger prayer lists that are maintained by other members of the church that have been, kind of rotated through, and distributed through the church of people with ongoing sicknesses and situations that have been updated a few times throughout the year.
I know Stan and Judy Erickson, down in Texas, have kept one up for the church that has been very helpful, and personally, I've always been amazed at times when I've had members on that list of my congregations to get periodic requests from people from far flung areas. "How's so and so. How's this situation going, and how's their health?"
And when you get those by phone call or e-mail, sometimes a letter, it really is very humbling because you recognize that those things are not just rote, routine paperwork items that go out. People do look at them, and people do take them, and in their own way, put them into a book or put them into a folder, or make them a part of their active life, and it is a way by which they draw themselves closer together with the brethren of the church. But even more than that, it is something that draws us closer in a relationship, this spiritual relationship with God, as we'll see that brings far greater benefits than we can possibly imagine in our own life.
In John 15 , let's begin here in John:15:13Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. . Jesus makes this statement His last evening with the disciples. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Now Jesus made this statement as he was about to literally lay down His life for all of mankind but He's making a statement that also has application for every one of us to consider in our own life. Do we think about doing this in the context of our own life? And I mean life rather than our death.
You know, we even went so far as to even change the wording in that "Battle Hymn of the Republic" that we have in our hymnals where we sang in that one stanza, "As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free" rather than the traditional, original wording which is, "Let us die to make men free," written there by the author. We put that in years ago, someone did. We said, "Let us live to make men free." And I think with that is something to consider spiritually.
We put that there for us to understand that by making ourselves a living sacrifice in so many different dimensions we have that opportunity to lay down our life for others, and to show love, and concern, and a care, and we can do that through prayer. We can do that through intercessory prayer. It is an effort, and it can be a sacrifice to serve one another in taking each other's needs, lives, situations, before our God in heaven, and following the example of Jesus Christ, and binding ourselves to one another in this way.
Let's begin this brief study this afternoon by looking a little bit at the life of Christ here. I thought what we are told about Him, and especially what He did and continuing on in this evening because when you turn over to John 17 you find a very long prayer.
I was taught at an early age in the church that this was the true "Lord's Prayer". And the point was well taken and certainly has merit that it is this prayer that Christ makes, taking up all of John 1 7 here, and it is an intercessory prayer. It could be said it's an intercessory prayer for all time. I'm not going to go through all of it here but let's just look at what Jesus did, and how it stands as a prayer for the world, and for the people of God.
John:17:9I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. – It says, "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those who You have given Me, for they are Yours." He was speaking of His disciples, those that had been given to Him by the Father, as He said earlier. "I pray for them." He did that night as he faced His own death and the suffering that He was going to go through, and at this moment at least He was not praying necessarily for all the others in the world but specifically for them. He says,
V. 10 - "… all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.
V. 11 - "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are." And so it's a prayer for unity among His followers. Now down in verse 20 , let's pick it up at that point.
V. 20 – He says, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;" And so, for those who would be called in the future Christ also made prayer that night as well. And again, it was for a unity of them:
V. 21 – "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
V. 22 - "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. " This is some of the deepest aspects of unity that Christ comes to in these moments in this prayer which is again, taking the needs of His disciples to the Father.
V. 23 - " I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
V. 24 - "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." Verses 22 and 23 speak to the very strong bond of unity, and Christ is asking for that unity here in the moment of prayer before the Father, and that is an extremely important thought for us to work off of in thinking of the impact of our prayers for one another, for others, for comfort, encouragement, grace, healing, health, whatever it might be that we take to God at various times, and ask Him on behalf of someone else. That makes a difference. It is following in the steps of Jesus Christ with what He did here today. Now Christ continues to do this today.
We're told in 1 John:2:1My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: - My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And so, Christ here is shown to be an advocate for those who sin.
An advocate is one who stands up for, pleads the cause for another person in a case. Sometimes if we will have a witness in our defense if we get into a type of a criminal or civil trial, someone who can vouch for character, vouch for whereabouts, and that person becomes an advocate for us in a court. Christ holds that duty and that responsibility.
The book of Hebrews , it goes even further. Chapter 4 , if you will, turn over to chapter 4 of Hebrews. We begin to see how this drives very deeply into the active, current role which Jesus Christ has.
Hebrews:4:14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. – He writes, " Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." A great high priest. And then, down in chapter 7 , let's turn there, describing his current role as a high priest. It goes on in:
Hebrews:7:24But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. - But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.
V. 25 - Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. This is one of the current, active roles that Jesus Christ has, and we can well imagine that we keep Him pretty well active in that. Not just us, but really all the people of God, and all of the world, for that matter because there is nothing that doesn't pass by and escape their attention.
V. 26 – But He is …holy, harmless….
V. 27 – who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
And so, through these scriptures here we see Jesus' example of making an intercessory prayer for His disciples before He died, carrying that on as the Advocate before the Father for all who sin. And working as a high priest, as a functioning high priest, acting daily.
The role of the high priest at the time of the temple and the sacrificial system was almost a twenty-four / seven type of job in terms of what was going on. When you understand the whole system there it was an activity that never ended at the temple, and earlier at the tabernacle. The role that Christ plays as the high priest at the throne of God today as an advocate for the people of God never ends. And so we have that example.
Now, what's the lesson for us as we bring this down to our level? What about us? How does this relate to us and our work as prayer offerers, if you will, making intercessory prayer in our life for each other, and for all the needs that come across to us in acting in the same way?
Well, it's very simple. We're told in several locations that, and we were even reminded of that in the sermonette here this afternoon that Christ is in us. And if Christ is in us because of the Holy Spirit, his life within us and the life we live now is Jesus Christ within us. We have this life of the high priest, our intercessor, our advocate, actively in us through and by the Holy Spirit.
How much more should then we as individuals be praying in the same way as our example, Jesus Christ gives us, as we saw that He did in John 17 , and were told that he does here in Hebrews and 1 John . This is His work, and therefore His work within us must be, and should be along the same way. It's just a part of our responsibility. It's a part of what goes with our calling, and the relationship that we have with Christ as He lives His life within us in faith. That is the key. That is what we should be doing, as well.
Now, we're here in Hebrews . Let's turn over to chapter 13 , and look at an admonition that, and begin to give us some definition on this. This is what we should be doing. Paul writes here –
Hebrews:13:1Let brotherly love continue. - Let brotherly love continue. Let it be ongoing.
V. 2 - Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. That's a whole other sermon to get into sometime but we'll pass over that verse right now.
V. 3 – He says, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them--those who are mistreated--since you yourselves are in the body also." Remember the prisoners.
Is he referring to those only in a physical place of incarceration? Certainly, he's talking about those. But is that all that he's referring to? Well, I think by other statements that Jesus himself even said in terms of how we treat and care for prisoners we can understand that there's a spiritual application to this as well. But if we look at this from that point of view that remembering the prisoners as if chained with them, what might that be telling us in terms of how we would approach ourselves in prayer for others in times of need?
Can we chain ourselves to those who have needs who we would pray for? Can we chain ourselves, and lock ourselves into a persistent, enduring, and loving prayer for others that is ongoing until at some point there is some type of resolution for whatever it might be that is the trial, the illness, the time of distress that one might be going through? And in some cases, as we know, may last for several years. Can we chain ourselves in persistent prayer? This is, perhaps, a meaning for us to take there.
This is, again, something that gets impressed upon us when we – you'll see some of these prayer lists, and I refer to the one that's kind of a large one that has been maintained by the Erickson's, and perhaps not being in the field ministry I haven't received an update of that for some time. I assume that it is still kept but sometimes when you look on those they would always kind of be dated as to how people were…. Prayer requests may have gone out and some of them were on for some years, and yet their needs continued on.
When we forge a type of a chain as this is talking about, it can begin to free us from ourselves, and that which gets our mind only on ourselves, and you can get us of onto some of the genuine needs that other people have. Freeing us from self pity or being overly absorbed in our own lives little as they might be at times, and large as some of the problems might be. But I think through this discipline of prayer, and especially intercessory prayer for others God is telling us that it is a way for us to even manage some of our own inadequacies and problems that we struggle with as well.
As we forge a spiritual bond with God over the life of a fellow saint, and we labor in prayer for them, and we make it a point to continue in that. God's called us to a grand purpose in life and a very high calling, and it's the greatest single event that can happen to any of us, and as we share that with others, and as we serve our fellow laborers with our prayers that in itself is a noble adventure.
People go to great lengths today to experience an adventure. I think there's even a magazine called, "Adventure Magazine," and you can pay a lot of money to go have an adventure. Sometimes you don't need to pay any money to have an adventure. Sometimes it comes at you pretty quick and you're off on a trip.
Our calling is a great adventure. We know the meaning of life, and to share that with others, to pray for this world, to pray for those in needs, that is a whole life calling and activity. And our prayers should be given with a whole hearted perseverance that marks a fervent desire to see God's kingdom come, and to pray "Thy kingdom come."
We don't always have the choice at times in terms of what we are to pray about. In fact, this matter of praying for others and locking ourselves into intercessory prayer is sometimes, we must realize an incumbent duty upon us because of our calling; because of who we are.
There's a remarkable example back in 1 Samuel 12 . The life of Samuel, a great prophet dealing with Israel at the time that Israel wanted a king. They had rejected God, and they said, "Give us a king like all the other nations."
And you remember, Samuel thought they'd rejected him, and he got all upset because he was human, and anytime somebody doesn't like us, and comes and says, "You know, we want another leader, or we want another situation, another boss, or you know, we don't like you, or you know, it's time for a change, or whatever…." We take these conflicts always personally, and Samuel was no exception.
God said to him, "Don't worry about it Samuel. They've not rejected you. They've rejected me."
And so Samuel went through the discipline, went through the selection process, and selected Saul, and it's down here in chapter 12 where Samuel says, he gets one last shot at them. He tells them what's gonna happen as a result of their selection of a physical king like all the nations, and what will happen to them. And he said to the people, let's pick it up in verse 20 .
1 Samuel:12:20And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; - Then Samuel said to the people, "Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness;…" Samuel was usually direct with the people. "…yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.
V. 21 - "And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.
V. 22 - "For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.
V. 23 - "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.
V. 24 - "Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.
It's a remarkable statement there in verse 23 . " … far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you…" Here the Israelites and their leaders rejected Samuel's role as a prophet, thinking that's all they were doing. And, of course, God said, "Well no, they've rejected me; but we'll adapt, we'll alter, we'll work through this," but warned them of the consequences.
And Samuel has to stand there, and he says, "I'm still going to work with you, and I will not sin against God in ceasing to pray for you."
Sometimes we have to learn that lesson through some bitter experiences. We have to pray for those who may oppose us as well, not just for those who solicit and covet our prayers. Those are the easy ones. Can I use that term?
It's really a challenge when we pray and then we continue to pray for those who reject you. Nobody likes to be rejected. No one likes to be in a state of conflict, and yet Samuel gives us an example here that, "far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." He continued to pray for them.
He saw the fruits of Saul's kingship go down in flames. He had to go find another king, David. And he saw his words come true, and yet he had to continue to labor in prayer for the people. He had to rise above his personal feelings. So do we as we pray for people, as we practice this matter of intercessory prayer. That's a point to learn. We have to pray for those who will despitefully use us, as Christ said. And that's the hard, and the challenging part.
Well, what do we gain from them as we might pray for someone who sets themselves against us? What do we expect to gain from that? That's a very good question, and I'll come back, we'll come back to that as a possible answer before we close here because, as we all recognize, there are times and situations that sometimes just seem irreconcilable, and people go their own way, and friendships dissolve, re-form. Marriages resolve in that sense. Issues like that take place, and yet, far be it from us to sin against God by not praying for those who might be against us in some way, in whatever capacity that might be.
What do we learn from that? Well, let's hold that question for a moment. Let's turn to Matthew 15 . Let's begin in verse 22 with a story of a gentile woman. As Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon, actually out of the area of Israel at the time.
Matthew:15:22And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. - And behold, a woman of Canaan came to him from that region and she cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." So, here is a woman with a daughter in severe problems of mental distress to the point of even being possessed of a demon, we're told.
V. 23 - But He answered her not a word…. It's rather cruel, it might seem, as He was withdrawn. It was almost seemed like he turned his back. He didn't pay attention to her, as sometimes you know, you can do. A request will come, and you just don't heed it. You turn your back. … And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." She was an annoyance, a nuisance, as they looked at it and they were, perhaps annoyed. Maybe they were thinking they were pleasing Christ by their approach but Christ had something else in mind as He was working here, and He turns it around in the beginning of verse 24 .
V. 24 - But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He said this to where the woman heard it, and she came even closer.
V. 25 - … she came even closer and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" This was a woman of Canaan. She was not an Israelite, and He was making a point as to what His primary role and responsibility was but on the other hand He was not totally ignoring this woman. He was working the situation to make a point.
V. 26 - But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Again, to us, the way we read this in English, a seemingly cruel and callous approach.
But the woman replied, V. 27 - …"Yes, Lord,…" and with those two words she acknowledges who she is, a woman in a society that did not highly elevate women, especially the gentile culture, and a gentile woman, at that. Not having any standing within the Jewish community and with this Jewish teacher, as she may have looked at Him and to whatever degree her understanding was of who Jesus was at this moment. But she says, "Yes, Lord," as if to say, "That's right. That's what I am." "…Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from your masters' table." And in that she made her point, and she understood who He was, and what He would do.
V. 18 - He ( Then Jesus) answered and said (to her), "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Here's a mother who made an intercessory prayer for her daughter, and it is complicated by a lot of other issues as you can see here, and if we were to delve deeply into the social, economic, gentile-Jewish divide of the time we would certainly draw a lot more understanding from reading this than we have time to even get into here in this sermon.
But look at it just as an intercessory prayer by one woman, a gentile woman whose daughter was mentally disturbed. She finally acknowledged herself, her inadequacy. She got Christ's attention, and recognized that she was one of the dogs on the floor licking up the crumbs, and yet glad to be there.
Now Christ, in His heart, didn't look at her that way. He performed the healing just as He did for other Jews and other gentiles that He came in contact with; the Centurion's servant, and others. And here we recognize again the way that God looks at all peoples, and the care and concern that He has for the entire world.
His prayer, remember back in John 17 , was for all of those who would come as a result of their work. Those who would come and be drawn to the gospel, be drawn to the gospel of the kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ through the ages from all walks of life, and as the great commission to the gentiles opened up that became very, very clear. It was not without struggle but it became very clear that God was concerned for everyone, all peoples, and He is today. And our prayers have to go many times even beyond our own walls and our own fellowship to encompass a world and people who are not like us; who need the truth; who need the understanding; who come from cultures completely different from us, and it is difficult and challenging for us growing up in America with the wealth, and the abundance that we have at times to recognize how different other cultures are.
I travel some, but not near enough to understand the full depths that others would from some of the other areas of the developing nations to which they have gone and where we have members as called people from various walks of life. And at times as we look at those situations and we recognize that they are far different from us, and they perceive things completely different.
We're going to have the opportunity to go to Kenya this year for the feast year; first time to go to that part of Africa, and I was talking to John Elliott the other day, who is a senior pastor for that area and I asked, "What type of a message do I give in the sermon?" And he was telling me certain things to not even bring up because they don't relate to it in terms of western ideas and references, historical references and various things. It's a totally different universe to them, and so that will be a challenge to flavor up messages in that part of the world to recognize that they just have a whole different frame of reference about many aspects of life. And yet, they're called, and we have to and so take care of them.
We have had to spend, in the last months, a great deal of time and money because of the disruption that took place to stabilize some of these developing areas, and our ministers have traveled, their wives have traveled to do that many, many times at risk, and they continue to do so because they recognize that God is working in those areas. And they are different, they have different cultures but the calling of God is still there, and our ministry, our efforts to help, and to develop, and to work with them are very, very important. We must be making intercessory prayers for them as well for many reasons.
God knows who His people are, and He has called, and is continuing to call people from many different areas and many different walks of life, and there are things for us to learn, all of us together in this prayer that Christ made that we might be one as the Father and Jesus themselves are one.
Sometimes I wonder in my own mind and heart at this fleeting concept of unity that we strive for, we seek to maintain. I recognize that the unity that the Bible speaks about is a very real unity, and it exists. And it's up to each one of us to, each one who's called in the body of Christ to come up to that unity, and to be a part of that, and to work for it. And it takes effort, and it takes a great deal of prayer, and striving to accomplish. I think that intercessory prayer for one another is one of those ways by which that happens for us.
When we see ourselves, and we acknowledge that we need God's help, and we cannot do it ourselves, then God is ready to hear, and He never forsakes us despite a delay in answer that we look for that time, it's usually our time table but God operates on a different time table.
So, how do you pray? Do we fervently pray for others? For family, for friend, for foe; not merely for self-deliverance, but for mutual success, and mutual salvation? There's another reference to an intercessory prayer that can teach us something again about how God looks at that among His people. In Luke 7 is the case of the centurion who came to Christ on behalf of his servant, asking for Him to heal him. And let's pick up the story thread here in verse 7. The centurion said,
Luke:7:7Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. - " Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
V. 8 - "For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
V. 9 - When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him,… (another translations puts it that He was amazed at him). He actually was taken aback, as we might say. He was amazed at this man's faith. … and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"
V. 10 - And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
This is another case of an intercessor. The centurion went for his servant, and asked Christ to heal him. And he didn't even want Him to come to his house, he said, "Just say the word. I am a man under authority? But it was the fact that Christ was…. Was He amazed at the faith he had? Was He also amazed at the concern that the man had for his servant, and what he expressed for this man? Can God be amazed and marvel at your concern for someone else, and may that be pleasing to Him?
In that process of intercessory prayer we, in a sense, amaze God, and He is very pleased with that. And He acts, and He intervenes, and He answers that prayer, but He marvels. Does He not marvel at that? I wonder just how much we might learn from that.
Prayer is a very vital and very important discipline that tends to draw us together in ways that we just don't always understand. And there are times when we go through our lives and we might think, "You know, God's not hearing my prayer." And there'll be times when we will slack off from diligent prayer. Our schedules will change. Interruptions, we might go some period of time, and our diligent prayers may not be what we would like them to be. And if other matters come in, and at times discouragement – we might even find ourselves for an extended period not having the type of a vibrant, active prayer life for ourselves, much less others than we would like.
There's a time for us to recognize that we just need to kick-start ourselves and get back into that habit, and not let ourselves slip completely away. No matter how far we may have strayed from God. No matter how far one might go, and I'm talking, in a sense, to the choir here. I would imagine that all of us have varying degrees of diligence and discipline about our prayers. They will ebb and flow at various times. But never let yourselves get discouraged thinking that you've slipped so far away that God can't hear, and there's always an opportunity to reconnect with God because He looks upon the heart, and He knows the genuine sincerity of the moment.
There's a very interesting example we could quickly turn to back in the book of Judges 16 , it's in the life of Samson. Samson's story makes great kids' stories. The Bible stories of various lessons, Samson makes a great story for teenagers to study because of his dalliance with gentile women and the life that they got into, and not obeying his family, and he let himself get caught into a relationship, and losing his strength, and thereby his relationship with God. But when you get down to it, no matter how great a jerk Samson was, and he did act like a jerk on occasion, he had ending as you know, he went down in the dust but his last words made a connection with God because here in Judges:16:28And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. is a lesson for all of us in terms that it's never too late because we can always get back to God. Because as he was blinded and they were abusing him at this moment Samson called out to the Lord in v. 28 , his last prayer.
Judges:16:28And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. - …"O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!" Now that's a little bit of carnal in his approach, and I'm not advocating that we pray for vengeance to be able to wreak some type of havoc upon our enemies, but note Samson's attitude. "Oh, Lord God, remember me, and strengthen me."
You know, there comes a time in our lives when we may have been distant from God, and this might be one of our points of our prayer to kind of get back in line with God. "God, remember me, I'm back, hear me, strengthen me, help me through this time."
Pray with sincerity for oneself, or in the case for someone else, no matter how long we've been away from God He's always ready to restore a relationship with us. He did it with Samson, and that's the lesson to take. Be careful what you ask for. Always be careful what you ask for.
There's another example back in Colossians of the apostle Paul. Years ago I was always impressed by Paul's letters where he just continually told the churches how he was praying for them. Constantly, without ceasing, always without ceasing, the various phrases that He uses.
In Colossians 1, in what is a prayer from prison, remember, when he had every opportunity just to focus on himself, Paul was still getting reports about the nature and the state of the churches and congregations, and he was praying for them. In Colossians:1:3We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, he says,
Colossians:1:3We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, – " We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
V. 4 – "since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints." So Paul, here, in prison without his freedom, gave thanks that God was working with others, and in their lives. That their lives were being changed by the truth. And then down in verse 9 he says,
V. 9 – "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;" And so, he again lays out before them, "I do not cease to pray for you."
Our life, we can become overwhelmed with our present state, and that will often happen to us, and the challenge is always there for us to maintain the discipline of not ceasing to pray for others as a means of even managing our own difficult period, and working ourselves through a time of stress, challenge, or difficulty.
Many of us in the church, in the ministry over the years have had opportunity to go into Federal and State prisons to visit with incarcerated men and women who receive our literature, want visits from the church. Sometimes those visits actually begin to bear fruit, and people are baptized, and they are called. Their lives are actually changed while in prison, and they are baptized. And yet they have to remain in prison. Those are challenging situations for a person to be a Christian.
I had the privilege of baptizing a man over in Indiana in the State prison who, a few years ago, wrote to us, made contact with us, and wanted a visit, and it took some time to work through all the red tape to get in, and upon meeting him, and hearing his story found out that he had been a young man in the Worldwide Church of God many years ago as a teenager, and left at about age of seventeen or eighteen as many do thinking they know it all, and went off on his own in the world, and made a few mistakes, and wound up in jail. And while in jail kind of got it all together after a few more hard knocks even in prison, and realized that he couldn't do it his way. That what he had heard in his youth did make sense, and he began to study, and made contact with us, and we began to visit with him, and over a period of time discerned that indeed God was working with him. We baptized him and he's a member, but he's still in prison. And when the times that I would visit with him it was always, I frankly as an individual walked out more encouraged than I brought encouragement in to him.
None of us unless we've been there can begin to imagine what life inside a prison is like, and the challenges that are there on a day to day basis just to survive, much less pray to keep a right frame of mind, and certainly a converted frame of mind, and all of the challenges that are there. But this individual has managed to do it.
I don't visit him anymore since I'm no longer the pastor but I still get letters from him, and as he would always write letters to me. I would always look forward to his letters that he would write to my wife and I. I've got the latest one he had written to me, all handwritten. They don't have computers in prison, no internet, can't be Face book friends with him.
It's almost like the epistles because so often he's always asking about other people, and asking for blessings on others, and salutations that just would tear at you. He always hopes, you know, that this letter finds you well and so very blessed. And I always enjoyed reading his letters. I always enjoyed getting to the end of his letters because he always had a blessing at the end of his letters.
He said, "Take real good care of yourselves, and each other. I hope to hear from you soon, and may our dear Heavenly Father shine His peace, joy, grace, mercy, and love down upon us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord."
Words to that effect have always been his standard closing, and I'd usually read them and put them down with a tear in my eye and thinking, "Wow, I need to be more like that with the freedoms that I've got."
It reminds you of a letter like Paul wrote, and you see someone who's thinking about others, and you know that that person is praying for you as they always want to know about other people, and other situations, and some of the challenges in this particular individual -- it's through letters like that, through expressions like that, and a whole spirit that you recognize that in this case with this particular person in prison, that his baptism took.
God's spirit is working there, and I imagine that he offers up a number of intercessory prayers on a regular basis for God's people that he knows about, and mainly from the local contacts that he has but others as he finds out from church literature that's able to get in to him, and that he understands, and sees as well.
These prayers that we make: intercessory, prayers of blessing, prayers of requests, all different types of prayers that we can kind of analyze, and categorize. If offered to God, and one thing I think we should do, understand, and appreciate is that they make a connection with God in a unique way.
There's a scripture in Revelation 5 that, actually there's a few scriptures that talked about the saints at the throne of God. I'll just turn to one, Revelation 5 . In this awesome vision that John had of the throne of God that began in Revelation 4 , the throne room that he was thrust into.
I always like to read Revelation:4:1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. sometimes, and where it says, "After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven…." What an amazing vision John got to have through this experience here. … a door standing open in heaven…. Wow! And then he begins to open up and explain what he saw.
But let's go down to chapter 5 . He's describing Christ as the Lamb, what is beginning to open up the scroll in chapter 6. But it's all the preparatory work here in chapters 4 and 5 that , you know, we like to get to the four horsemen, the big things of prophecy, and the galloping horse people, and everything, and the seals. And we skip right over, sometimes, chapters four and five. I know Mr. Antion doesn't as he teaches Revelation in ABC. I'm sure he gets right into that and explains all of it. But this is the exciting stuff right here, John's vision of the throne of God.
Revelation:5:8And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. - Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. … the prayers of the saints.
Now in Chapter 8 , this is referenced again in two locations in chapter 8 . But these elders have harps, and bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. John is describing in his best language a spiritual dimension that is the heart of our physical world and the dimensions. It's something beyond anything. But here it says, and this is just a little bit of thinking about this.
Let's think this through for a moment. Here's where we find the prayers of the saints. Your prayers, you're a saint, and you pray to God. You pray for other people. You pray for all the things you have on your list, and all the individuals. And that prayer goes to God, and we believe that. Now that prayer, if it's in a bowl, whatever that bowl is. Again, it's a physical term to describe a spiritual dimension that is beyond us but the prayers are there. The prayers we make are spiritual, and they connect us with God.
Now I think perhaps they connect us with one another in ways that we don't always realize. I remember last year we went over here up into Sugar Creek, Ohio with the TV crew; we did a taping with John and Susan Miller. It was one of our television programs on the tragedy that unfolded in their life with the death of their infant son years ago. And we captured a comment that Susan made, and we put it into "Beyond Today ." Of how they got through that terrible tragedy through the prayers of so many other people. And Susan made a comment how that sometime later she ran across a lady who asked her about the situation, and how they were doing, and told her that she had been praying for them. In fact. I believe the way Susan put it was, "You were praying for us, weren't you?"
And that comment really spoke to the fact that the Millers, just like so many others who go through a time of tragedy, are sustained by the prayers of other people in ways far beyond what we can imagine because, perhaps the prayers that we make are spiritual, they make a connection with God, and if Christ says, "May they be one as we are one. I in you, and you in me."
What all that means when we read through that on Passover night. We read through that sometimes and, "What's that really mean?" Can it mean in this one reference here that through our prayers with one another we do make a connection? Certainly with God, because our prayers are spiritual, and if they find their way to the throne of God as incense in a bowl as the prayers of the saints, that's a different dimension, and it means something to God. And it means something to those who are impacted by it. Who are sustained by it in time of stress, trial, suffering, ways far from what we can imagine.
Prayer becomes part of the scene before the father, and Christ, and this reality here should encourage us that prayer is a very sacred matter, intercessory prayer, especially. It's weighed, it's considered before God, and it makes a difference far beyond what we can sometimes imagine even when we think it is not making any difference.
We pray for others, and the more we do we expand ourselves beyond our own wants and desires we enlarge our world to take in that of others. And we should go on praying for people even when the answers are not what we expect. Even when the answer is not what we're praying for.
We find the examples, so many in the scriptures of people who live lives of faith, and died in the faith. Paul spoke of himself being ready to depart. He's kept the faith knowing what was lying ahead of him, that people were praying for him.
We pray for people. We pray for situations, and we see those situations. We see people die, and we see certain situations go unresolved for a period of time, or not turn out the way we were praying fervently for it to happen, and it can cause us to doubt. We can look for a healing and it might not be there when we want it, and it can go on for years, and it will challenge, and it will test us all. And yet we continue to pray, because in the praying we all make a connection with God that deepens that relationship, and an insight into what is really needed, and that is a relationship with God to keep us firm and fast in the faith with Him. And that sometimes is what we have to come to understand that God is working out.
It broadens our mind beyond ourselves. When the answer comes we are then able to be thankful, and we are then able to be faithful. And we must be both. We must be thankful, and we must be faithful whether the answer is our desire or God's decision because it is in the praying that we make that sacred connection with God, and we then, are able to help others in their time of need to sustain them, and to, perhaps get in a marvel and amazement from God.
As to the attitude, the drive, and the desire of one of his saints for another we don't know what God's timing, purpose, and miraculous approach will be. We know what we should do and what we have to do, and in the praying we maintain faith whatever God's answer might be, and we maintain that faith to the end.
That is our job if Christ is in us, if Christ's life is worked in us. The Advocate, the High Priest, the One who makes intercession for us.
Let's turn to one final scripture in Hebrews 10 - Let's use this as our encouragement, and our model, and our inspiration to determine to make a difference both for ourselves and others, the Church of God, the body of Christ, and the world with a powerful, intercessory prayer.
Hebrews:10:19Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, - … therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
V. 20 - By a new and living way, which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh;
V. 21 - and having a High Priest over the house of God,
V. 22 - let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
V. 23 - Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
V. 24 - And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
V. 25 - not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as (is) the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Brethren, let us consider one another in prayer, in intercessory prayer, an advocate, and intercede for others. Let us do that through our Advocate, Jesus Christ.
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