The power of intercessory prayer
Ezra 9: My dear God, I’m so totally ashamed, I can’t bear to face you.
Ezra and his large caravan of returning exiles are very welcome in Jerusalem. However, it’s not long before Ezra learns that there’s a big problem. The Jews already in the area have intermingled with the other peoples of the area to the point of intermarrying. This is a clear violation of the Law of God and Ezra’s devastated by such blatant failure. He came to Jerusalem to teach people who he believed wanted to learn how to worship God. He assumed that they were already the “people of God” and that they only needed someone to teach them how to live as the people of God. Now he finds that they’ve broken the covenant with the Lord in the most basic way by allowing themselves to be absorbed into the cultures around them. Ezra mourns this situation and then begins to pray. Here’s the thing: his prayer isn’t for “them” as much as it’s for “us.” Their sin, in his eyes is shared by all of their people and his prayer is a cooperate prayer. How often do I pray that way? I pray about “those” bad people who are attacking and tearing down moral values in my society and I pray that I might be protected from “those” evil people who would do me and those I love harm. There’s a time and a place for such prayers, but, taking my cue from Ezra, there’s also a place for cooperate confession. Ezra isn’t married a heathen woman, yet he comes to God “totally ashamed” by this breaking of God’s Law. He tells the Lord, “We have thrown your commands to the wind” and confesses that “we” are “openly guilty.” As he prays this prayer of confession others began to weep and repent – others who have actually done the sinning! Here, I think, is the power of genuine intercession. Ezra identifies himself with their sin and then, they identify themselves with his repentance.
Take Away: There’s power in intercessory prayer.
Walking with the Lord
Exodus 33: If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now.
Following the golden calf incident the Lord tells Moses he’s going to change his relationship with the Israelites. Instead of being personally present, guiding them to the Promised Land, the Lord is going to assign that job to an angel. These Israelites, the Lord says, are a hard-headed people and they might just push too hard against God and be destroyed because of it. In response, Moses has another meeting with the Lord as the Pillar of Cloud descends on the Tabernacle. As Abraham interceded for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah centuries earlier, Moses begins to deal with the Almighty. He reminds the Lord that it was the Lord, himself, who called him from tending sheep to lead these people. He doesn’t want to settle for an angel. Instead, he wants the presence of the Lord, himself, on his life and on the lives of the Israelites. In desperate insistence, Moses declares, “If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now….are you traveling with us or not?” In the face of this intercession the Lord relents. It won’t be an angel who travels with the Israelites; it will be the Lord, himself. I have some theological issues with this whole exchange. After all, isn’t the Lord everywhere, all the time? Still, I’m drawn to this exchange between Moses and the Lord. As wonderful as an angelic visitation might be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the very presence of the Lord in my life. As Moses indicates, he doesn’t want to take a single step without the Lord. As I rise in the morning and enter into my day I want to do so in the spirit of Moses: I don’t want to say a word, to do a deed, to walk a step without the Lord in my life.
Take Away: I want to live in constant fellowship with the Lord, every step of the way.
Genesis 18: Abraham stood in God’s path, blocking the way.
I can’t imagine a more shocking description of how Abraham begins his intercession for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah than this statement. I’ve read this passage countless times and never realized what it meant for Abraham to, in the language of the NIV, “Stand before the Lord.” The Almighty has graced Abraham with a unique visitation. The Lord has made a wonderful promise to him. Now, he’s honored him by giving him advance knowledge of what he’s about to do. As the Lord prepares to depart on this mission, Abraham stands before him, ready to plead for mercy in one of the best known prayers of intercession in the Bible. It’s pretty clear that the Lord welcomes Abraham’s involvement in this. For one thing, had the Lord not told Abraham what’s about to happen, he would have found out about it after the fact like everyone else. For another, when Abraham stands in God’s path it’s akin to my going out to the interstate and “standing in the path” of a Mac truck. The only way Abraham survives this shocking event is that the Lord allows it. As I look for an application to my life from this passage I don’t want to go overboard here. I need to remember that Abraham’s pleading a case and not insisting that things go his way. Still, it’s enlightening for me to realize that the Lord sometimes welcomes me into the conversation about what he’s doing in the world. It seems to me that this is the key is the Lord’s informing Abraham of his intention. In that, I get the feeling that Abraham’s being given permission to respond from his own perspective. When the Lord gives me a burden, or even a unique insight into something, I can take that as being granted permission to respond in prayer from my own perspective and maybe to even “stand in God’s path” in a reverent and respectful way as Abraham did.
Take away: As amazing as it is, sometimes God welcomes me into a conversation concerning his intentions.