The Ministry of Intercession (8:30am)
Topic: Prayer Scripture: Psalm 113–113, 1 Timothy 2:1–2:7
We have a tradition in our family called Dunkin Monday. Each Monday we go to Dunkin Doughnuts for breakfast before we go to Fairview School. For several months we were served by a young man who knew our order by heart. He had a big smile for us whenever he saw us on the way in the store, and had our order up by the time we got in line. I was grateful for his personal attention to us. Then came a new person in his place. She never connected. You could even say she didn’t seem to give a rip. Gone was the smile and the personal concern for our order. Yet, she was in need of our prayers, too. Clearly, she had challenges in her life. Prayers of intercession are always appropriate.
We come to that place where Paul, having shared his testimony, now begins to instruct his younger colleague Timothy. His words claim our attention. He writes, “first of all…” among the many directions he will offer, this one has primacy. Before anything else, there is this. But what is it? What would you place as foremost in the Christian life? It is of course a plea for prayer. Each ministry, each member, each person, should be surrounded by it. Every venture, every conflict, every suffering and illness should be taken to the Lord in prayer. It is easy to say, but also easy to forget or neglect. We often find ourselves struggling in our own strength, trying to resolve a vexing problem. If we find the grace to pray about it, doors open and hearts change.
Each day presents many opportunities: a neighbor who is facing a challenge; a child going off to school; the friend who is moving to a retirement community; a news story that touches your heart. Everywhere there is abundant material for prayer. A prayer doesn’t have to be long, or said aloud. We can simply lift up a person or need in our minds. The words employed or the method used is minor compared to the act of prayer itself. When many people in a church are praying, things happen, people and resources come through, and lives are transformed. We can’t explain all the mysteries associated with prayer, or answer all the objections. We simply are called to pray.
The terms used in this passage include supplications, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Each is a different aspect of the same thing. I focus for a moment on one of them—the concept of intercession. The Latin root of our English word is inter cede, and it means simply to go between. The Greek New testament word also means to encounter, and to bring before. In intercession, we serve as a mediator or advocate for the person in the presence of God. We commit ourselves to that person’s well-being and wholeness, and his or her relationship with God. We are a go-between.
This summer we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In a national park, I witnessed a doe and her spotted fawn crossing a highway. They made it across safely, then, unaware of my presence, they came quite close to where I was standing. Mother deer suddenly noticed me, and went into a defensive stance, placing herself between baby and me. There she stood defiantly, while baby scampered off into the woods. Mom’s “intercession” included the willingness to sacrifice her life if necessary.
We’re reminded that Jesus’ life was a life of prayer, and it culminated in his offering up himself for the life of the world. He interceded with his own body. I think of rescuers during the Holocaust who put their lives on the line—and their whole families—to rescue Jewish people. There is also a New Testament image that portrays Christ as interceding for us still to this day. In Romans 8 we read, Christ is at the right hand of God, interceding for us, praying for us. We are not alone. Just as we value the prayers of friends and family, we can take comfort from the knowledge that Christ is praying for us too. What a friend we have in Jesus. In John chapter 7, Jesus interceded for a woman who was about to be stoned for adultery. He stood up for her. That was a loving act, and a brave one. In intercessory prayer, the pray-er places herself between a person and some need or danger, and seeks God’s help and mercy.
The Alexander family were faithful members of the church I served in Coraopolis, PA. Jim Junior was the high school principal, a member of session, and fierce fan of the Steelers. His dad was James Senior, a gentle soul then in his eighties. Mr. Alexander told this story. When he was 10 years old, he developed a case of blood poisoning that brought him near death. The minister was notified and went to the Alexander home. There he stayed at young James’s bedside all through the night, earnestly beseeching God. As dawn broke, the crisis passed. Seven decades later, the boy and his family remembered that night of intercessory prayer—and the dedicated presence of the one who offered it.
The apostle emphasizes prayers for all people. A child at bedtime prays, “God bless everybody.” That’s good. We’re also being called to pray for all the people we cross paths with—the easy ones, and the tough ones. As we widen the circle of our prayers, our own horizons are broadened. The wideness of God’s mercy becomes the wideness of our hearts.
In the 1980’s, when HIV-AIDS was still a major fear factor because people didn’t know if it could be transmitted, our church in Kalispell invited a man to speak at an evening class. He had the disease, and its ravages were visible. He shared openly about his struggle. At the end of his talk there was a moment of awkward. Then, an older couple made their way the front, shook his hand, embraced him and thanked him for his talk. That broke the ice, others followed their lead. I considered what they did to be a type of prayer—a deed of intercession.
In his call to prayers for all, Paul includes the leader, the emperor of Rome, who as Matt said might have been Nero, not a nice person. Pray anyway. Today in developed nations, there is no dictator. Power is shared among many, partly to prevent dictators. In “Fiddler on the Roof”, the rabbi is asked, “Have you a blessing for the Tsar?” The rabbi thinks for a moment, no doubt recalling the centuries of pogroms and persecutions by the Tsars, and then replies, “May God bless and keep the Tsar—far away from us!” Russia is still a dictatorship, and quite a brutal one, but mostly in leading nations there is some form of democracy. Our intercessions are meant to cover many in public service.
A story is told about the constitutional convention in 1787, held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. As the convention was wrapping up, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have you given us—a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, Madame—if you can keep it.” Though it has lasted 240, we must work hard to keep it. Now is a very good time to pray for our country, for an end to the rhetoric of political violence, which is shocking and without precedent in American history. Offer prayers and intercessions for this beloved country. Pray that this republic, which Abraham Lincoln termed the world’s last best hope, shall not perish from the earth.