The Beauty Of Intercessory Prayer
It is the glory of man to know, to think, to reason, to feel, to will, to do. Of all these action is the climax. But action is inferior to prayer, for action is only as great as what it accomplishes, but prayer accomplishes the greater results. Indeed it is prayer which makes action, spiritual action effective.
But it does more than this. It secures divine action. It moves the arm of God. It reaches the heart of Infinite Love, which is the center of the universe and the spring of all action. It can be misleading to say that prayer is greater than action – it is itself action, perfect moral action. It is the highest of all actions of which man is capable if we include faith which is an essential condition, if not an element, of prayer.
In prayer the soul, the central soul, acts with the utmost intensity, energizes, agonizes, wrestles. Jacob never acted more truly or to a greater purpose than when he struggled all night with the angel of the covenant, and prevailed. That act also overcame his fierce and revengeful brother, as no other act could.
Behold now the beauty of prayer. Action is the highest form of man, prayer is the highest form of action! And now behold the beauty of intercession, the highest form of prayer. The history of Moses furnishes us with illustrations of these gradations.
We see that man of God in action when leading the Jews in the wilderness or when sitting to judge between them with the fighting parties around him from morning until night. We see him in prayer when he beseeches the Lord that He will show him His glory. That was prevalent prayer, for the Lord said, "I will make all My goodness to pass before thee." We see him in intercession when the Jews had incurred the awful displeasure of Jehovah by worshipping the golden calf.
God said to Moses – "Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and I may consume them: I will make of thee a great nation." Moses besought the Lord and said, "Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent Thee of this evil against Thy people" (Ex. 32:10-11). The Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do to His people.
Moses was great in action, greater still in prayer, but intercession has the first and most prominent place. The beauty of intercessory prayer consists in the following.
Selfishness is gone – its desires are set aside, its ease sacrificed. The intercessor pleads for others. In his closet, where no human eye sees or ear hears, he prays for blessings to rest upon careless sinners, upon prayerless professing Christians, upon the blind heathen, and even upon those who are his enemies without reason. He calls down blessings from heaven upon those who while in this life can never find out who was praying for them.
Churches have been revived, ministers have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, missionaries have had their hearts refreshed and encouraged, young converts have had their confidence renewed, and dying saints have received grace to triumph over the last enemy – in answer to the intercessions of someone they did not know about. This is the purest love and the sincerest devotion to the good of others of which man is capable. Indeed there is no other way in which a Christian can do so much good for another person as by praying for him.
The intercessor has no favorites. Like his divine example, he is no respecter of persons. He does not pray for his friends only, or for Christians alone. He pleads for the worst, the lowest, the most abandoned, most violent, the most rebellious and profane. Personal wrongs, injuries, persecutions, neglects are forgotten by the intercessor. He esteems them slight offenses, compared with the wrongs committed by sinners against God. He forgives the former things, and as for the latter he prays, "Father, forgive."
It takes hold of the most desperate case. It throws its arms around the world. The intercessor believes that God is and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. He pleads the gracious promises. In his view, nothing is too hard for God. He does not wait for a better time to pray before he intercedes for the church's prosperity. He does not wait till everyone around him begins to pray for revival as an encouragement to seek its speedy coming.
No, when all around is unpromising, when sinners are unconcerned and when the youth are devoted to foolish pleasures, when many in the church are worldly and others discouraged, and there is none that calleth on the name of the Lord, and "stirreth up himself to take hold of God" – in this spiritual midnight, the lone intercessor agonizes at the throne of grace for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For months and even years, sustained by faith, and helped by the Spirit of grace and of supplications, he importunes the throne of grace, till at length a revival comes. This has often been the case in church history.
It is jealous for the honor of God. This is perhaps the most excellent type of intercession. Intercession must be jealous for God's honor before it can prevail. The intercessor must not only be lost to himself, but even in a greater sense, to the human subject of his prayer, in his overshadowing concern for the glory of God.
"What will become of your great Name?" must be the burden of those groanings which cannot be uttered, and which are wrought in his soul by the intercessory Spirit. Prayer often takes a long while in reaching this climax. It sometimes falls short of it entirely. Then it is not answered. That is why James says in these words – "You ask, but receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts." God's glory is not the uppermost controlling motive.
With reference to this, we need to examine our prayers with the closest scrutiny. This jealousy for the great name of Jesus is perhaps the purest of all human actions. It should ever be aimed for. The Christian who reaches this point and holds fast there can ask what he will and it shall be done. He becomes like one of the ancient intercessors whom God could not deny. He becomes a prince of God.
With this in mind, intercession is far from being common among Christians. There are always too few who attain their privilege. At the present time, the spirit of intercessory prayer seems almost most extinct. But praise the Lord for the few who follow the path of their Master, "Who offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death," and bring blessings into this world through their faith and prayers.
– By James Thome from The Oberlin Evangelist. Edited and paraphrased by Don Lamb in Prepare Ye The Way Newsletter.