Sunday Sermon: ‘The Ministry of Intercession’

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In his final message to the nation of Israel, the prophet Samuel said –

1 Samuel 12:23 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.

‘God forbid that I should sin and cease to pray for you.’ Samuel said these words shortly after the nation Israel made a very bad decision. Rather than trusting in God and walking with Him, the people demanded a king. ‘Give us a king so that we will be like the other nations’, they said. Samuel knew that this would be a mistake and he tried to convince them otherwise; yet the people insisted. Then the Lord told Samuel – ”

1 Samuel 8:7 …Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

God knew that this was a mistake and so did Samuel, yet sometimes the Lord gives us what we ask for. Sometimes God has to let us suffer the consequences of our foolish decisions because that’s the only way we will learn. ‘Give them their king’, the Lord told Samuel, ‘and continue to pray for them.’

Recently the Lord has impressed upon my heart the importance of praying for others. The biblical word for this is ‘intercession.’ Simply defined, to intercede for someone is to plead on their behalf. It is to pray for the things that we believe are needed in order to help resolve their problem. A major part of our prayer life involves the ministry of intercession. When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, Jesus used plural pronouns: “Our Father”…”Give us this day our daily bread”… “Forgive us our trespasses…”  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

There are many things for which we should intercede for others. Today I want to focus on the need to intercede for someone’s spiritual condition.

I. The Need to Intercede

I believe that we should pray fervently for the salvation of those who don’t know Christ. Why so?

A. Not to Convince God to Love Them

I don’t believe that we need to convince God to love them or to want to save them. The Bible says that God loves the world (see John 3:16) and that He is not willing that any should perish. (see 2 Peter 3:9) Scripture tells us that Jesus died for the sins of the entire world. (see 1 John 2:2) Why then must we pray for someone’s salvation? Can’t God do what He wants without our help? Of course He can. Yet the Lord has chosen to operate in cooperation with our prayers. Why else would He command us so many times in His Word to pray?

B. Because They Need Our Help

1. They are incapable of helping themselves

Jesus said that no one can come to Him, except the Father draws them. ‘Drawing’ means to pull by an inward inclination. People don’t come to Christ on their own. God must draw them to Himself.

The Bible says that those who don’t know Christ are ‘dead in their trespasses and sins.’ Dead people can’t do anything to help themselves. The Bible teaches us that left to ourselves, no one will naturally seek after God and His truth. If you are here today and you have never been saved, you are not here by accident. God is trying to draw you to Himself. God loves you and He is pulling you towards Him. He is drawing you. The Bible also teaches us that it is through our prayers that God draws people.

The Apostle Paul said this about his own prayer life –

Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Paul could see that his fellow Jews were bound in spiritual darkness. Although they were sincere about what they believed, they were sincerely wrong. Therefore Paul took it upon himself to pray for them. At one point he even said that he would be willing to give up his salvation, if that would bring them to Christ. Of course it wouldn’t and of course Paul didn’t. Yet he was deeply troubled and therefore he took it upon himself to intercede for their spiritual condition.

Samuel prayed for the hearts of his people and so did Moses and Paul. Perhaps such intercessory prayer was the reason Jesus spent so much time alone with God. Should we not also be praying for the salvation of others? Should we not also be praying for the salvation of our friends and loved ones? Should we not also  be praying for the salvation of our nation?

2. There is Spiritual Warfare

Though we will never actually see it, the Bible tells us that there is a constant conflict going on around between the angels of God and Satan. Satan is doing everything he can to oppose and stop the will of God. Greg Laurie, who has been involved in many of the Billy Graham crusades, said this – “When you pray for someone’s salvation, you need to know that it is a spiritual battle. The last thing the devil wants to do is to release one of his captives.” Perhaps more than anything else in your spiritual walk, the devil wants to keep you from praying. Corrie Ten Boom once said –  “When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles.When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.”  The hymnist William Cowper wrote  –“Satan trembles when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees.” The devil hates prayer because he knows that prayer is powerful.

This Satanic resistance to prayer can best seen in the tenth chapter of the book of Daniel. As you well know, Daniel was a great man of prayer. Yet we learn this from his example – the more fervent you are in your prayers, the more fierce the devil is going to oppose you. He is going to oppose you because he knows that is is in response to the prayers of Christians that God often moves.

The Bible tells us that for three weeks Daniel prayed and fasted. Then we read –

Daniel 10:12 Then said he (an angel) unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.

There are at least two thoughts concerning who this ‘prince of the kingdom of Persia’ might be. Some believe that it is a reference to an evil spirit that set up his rule in the kingdom of Persia. Others believe that is a reference to an evil spirit who had been assigned to try to influence the King of Persia. Either way it is an indication that Satan is often involved in the affairs of men.

We should note that Daniel did not pray to bind this spiritual enemy. Daniel did not focus on the evil spirits that were against him. He focused on the God of heaven who was for him. ‘Greater is He that is you, than he that is in the world.’ (1 Jn 4:4) When the archangel Michael had to do battle with Satan, the Bible tells us that Michael said – “The Lord rebuke thee.” (Jude 1:9)

From what we have read we can see that Satan was doing everything he could to stop Daniel from receiving his answer to his prayers. For three continuous weeks Satan had resisted him; even during a time that Daniel was not only praying, he was also fasting.Yet, even though Daniel could not see why his prayers were being unanswered, he continued to pray.

One of the reasons many of God’s people do not see an answer to their prayers is because they do not stay in the fight. As soon as they began to experience the opposition of Satan, they give up and quit. Yet we need to persevere.  A perfect example of this is found in the gospel of Matthew –

Matthew 15:22 And, 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 . 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

For what was this woman seeking the help of Jesus?

22 Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

For what did Jesus praise her and grant her request?

28 …O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

The woman was seeking the spiritual deliverance of her daughter and Jesus praised her for her perseverance. What a great lesson for us all to learn!

3. God Responds to Fervent Prayer

The Bible tells us –

James 5:16 …The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Many of us do not believe in the power of prayer and that is why we do not pray. Yet the Bible tells us that the most powerful thing we can do in any situation is to pray. Again to quote John Bunayn –

“You can do more than pray –  after you have prayed,
but you cannot do more than pray – until you have prayed.”

Prayer is not the only thing the Lord would have us to do, but it is the first thing He would have us to do. Without first praying, we are trying to do what we do in the strength of self.

II. For Whom Should We Intercede?

A. For friends and loved ones

A few weeks ago I told you the story of George Mueller and his praying for his friends’ salvation. Recently I came across this that Mueller wrote concerning his prayer for their salvation-

“In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission.”

For fifty-two years Muller prayed for his friends. Eighteen months passed before the first was saved. Five years passed before the second was converted. Six years passed before the third came to Christ. It took another twenty-five years before the fourth man was saved. But then he died and still the fifth friend had not yet accepted Christ. But shortly after his death, Mueller’s fifth friend came to know the Lord.

In addition to the salvation of these five friends, Muller wrote that he believed that more than thirty thousand souls came to know Christ in answer to his prayer.

Brad Barbour reminded me the other day of the importance of praying for the spiritual condition of others. Just before the Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, He said this to His beloved disciple, Peter-

Luke 22:31 … Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Jesus interceded for Peter’s spiritual well-being. The Bible also tells us that at this very moment, He is interceding for each of us as well.

B. For a nation

The Bible also teaches us that we as believers should interceded for the salvation of our nation. We know for a fact that Moses, Samuel and Daniel interceded for the spiritual needs of their people. In each of these cases, Israel was in rebellion against God, yet these faithful men of prayer took upon themselves the burden of intercession. Here is but a portion of Daniel’s intercessory prayer –

Daniel 9:5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments… 10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets… 16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. 18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.

Note that Daniel did not ask for forgiveness because he believed that they deserved it. He pleaded for the forgiveness of his people because he believed that God is merciful.

III. Becoming Involved in the Ministry Intercession

What does it take to become an intercessor?

 A. Purpose

As we take up the duty of intercessory prayer, we need to ask ourselves: ‘For what am I praying? What is my purpose in seeking the hand of God?’ It would be wrong to think that we can somehow manipulate God into doing something that is not His will.

George Mueller was a great man of prayer who saw many of them answered. Do you want to know why Mueller saw his prayers answered? I once read that he made it a habit to read scripture on his knees. Why did he do that? There are two very important reasons:

1. He prayerfully approached the Bible

2. He biblically approached prayer

Mueller believed that the Bible had been given to reveal to us God’s will. Mueller also believed if he prayed according to God’s will, God would answer. Therefore Mueller prayerfully searched for the will of God as it is revealed in the Bible, and then he prayed with the confidence of biblical authority.

When Jesus gave to His disciples His model for prayer, He said this –

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

For God to be glorified and for His will to be done should be the reason why we pray.

B. Passion

Down through the centuries, God-fearing mothers have often been some of the greatest prayer warriors and intercessors. This is especially true when they have had wayward children. A perfect example is a woman named Monica who was the mother of a son named Augustine.

Augustine was a rebellious young man and his mother was greatly worried over him. Therefore she began to pray. At one point she went to her pastor, Ambrose, and expressed her concerns. Ambrose assured her – “It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost.”  After his conversion, Augustine wrote about his mother’s prayers – “She wept to [God] for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son.” [1]

The passion I am referring to is not necessarily an open display of emotions, although some people may pray that way. Instead I am talking about a deep seated burden that God has given you and that causes you to pray from your heart.

C. Persistence

Let me but briefly touch on the issue of persistence. Throughout the Gospels we see where Jesus stressed the importance of persistence in our prayers. The passages are too numerous to study at this time. But in order to give validity to what I am saying, consider these words from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8)

There are at least two important things that we should note:

1. Ask, Seek and Knock Are All Commands

2. Ask, Seek and Knock Is in the Present Tense Which Means Continuous Action

In other words, we are to ask and to keep on asking. We are to seek and to keep on seeking. We are to knock and to keep on knocking. But for how long? Until:

  • God has answered our prayer
  • There is no longer a need
  • Or God has revealed to us this our request is not in line with His will

George Mueller prayed everyday for fifty-two years for his friends salvation!

 


[1] Augustine, Confessions

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