Religion

Winter Intercession

I’ve been overhearing a lot of Chico State students talking about intercession lately. Actually, I’m kidding. They’re really talking about winter intersession (before regular classes resume at the end of January). But wouldn’t it be cool if it were the other kind of intercession that they were talking about–intercessory prayer?

C.S. Lewis said, “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.” While this is true, it is not just us that prayer changes, but it also has the power to change the world around us. But if God is in charge, why do we need to pray?

We find in Genesis 3 and Psalm 8 expressions of God’s assignment for mankind when he put us here, commonly referred to as the “Dominion Covenant”. And Psalm 115:16 (NKJV) says,

The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s;
But the earth He has given to the children of men.

The Hebrew word nathan, here translated “given”, means to “apply, appoint, ascribe, assign,” etc. Our sovereign, omnipotent God has not abandoned the earth, but he has assigned to us a certain responsibility of governing it. In The Treasury of David, Charles H. Spurgeon says of this verse,

He hath left the world during the present dispensation in a great measure under the power and will of men, so that things are not here below in the same perfect order as the things which are above….The free agency which he gave to his creatures necessitated that in some degree he should restrain his power and suffer the children of men to follow their own devices; yet nevertheless, since he has not vacated heaven, he is still master of earth, and can at any time gather up all the reins into his own hands.

We are given a certain responsibility to govern what goes on here, and this is why it’s our job to do God’s will, as well as to pray for God to do his will. And at times we need to petition the Creator directly on behalf of his people. We find in Amos 7:1-6 a beautiful example of this kind of intercession, which is the core of what I want to talk about here.

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed it was the late crop after the king’s mowings. And so it was, when they had finished eating the grass of the land, that I said:
“O Lord GOD, forgive, I pray!
Oh, that Jacob may stand,
For he is small!”
So the LORD relented concerning this.
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, the Lord GOD called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. Then I said:
“O Lord GOD, cease, I pray!
Oh, that Jacob may stand,
For he is small!”
So the LORD relented concerning this.
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

Amos asks God to cease his judgments, and he does. First John 5:14-15 says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” This means that when we pray for God to relent or to show mercy when he is in the process of passing judgment, we are not praying against his will, but we are praying for his will to come about, even though it might appear otherwise to our own finite minds.

There are parallel incidents in Genesis 18:16-33, where Abraham intercedes for Sodom, and in Numbers 14:11-25, where Moses intercedes for the people of Israel. Intercession in these passages about Abraham, Moses, and Amos, is all about relationship. The Lord says, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” (Gen. 18:17). And adds, “For I have known him” (Gen. 18:19, emphasis mine). This word “known” is the Hebrew word, yada, as in the Yiddish expression, “Yada, yada, yada.” But it is also the same word used in Genesis 4:1, where it says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bore Cain…” When God said he knew Abraham, it was the kind of knowledge and intimacy that two people share in marriage. Our sovereign Lord, who declares the end from the beginning (see Isaiah 46:8-11), still chooses to partner with his people in a relational manner.

In each of these cases, the Lord uses the dialog of the situation–the conflict, if you want to think of it in literary terms–to bring a deeper revelation of himself to his people. He puts them to the test, to see how well they know his character, because it is through the challenge of our faith that our own faith becomes stronger. And these men do, in fact, know the Lord’s character, and when they ask the Lord to cease and desist, they do it by reminding him of who he is. Abraham says, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25, emphasis mine). Moses asks God to “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Numbers 14:19, emphasis mine).

When God spoke through the burning bush to call Moses in the desert, Moses gave numerous excuses on why he wasn’t the man for the job. But God told him, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). When God gives you the call, don’t be like a child asked to take out the garbage and pretend you didn’t hear him. And don’t just sit there and assume that someone else will come by and take care of it.

“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation on them…” (Ezekiel 22:30-31) God has assigned the responsibility to us. Will you take up the call?

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