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Intercession-A Scriptural Model

Intercession can be defined as going to God on someone else's behalf. Do you know anyone who you have tried to talk to about salvation and their response to you has been disappointing? Have you prayed for them? There's an old saying: "Instead of arguing with that person about God, argue with God about that person."

Besides salvation, there are many other things Christians could (and should) pray about for others, including healing from illness, deliverance from Satan's many schemes, financial problems, and, of course, we should be interceding for our nation and our spiritual and political leaders. It is important to note here that prayer is not and never has been intended to be about handing God a shopping list and saying "Please do these things for me." He is not a Genie whose sole purpose for existence is grant our wishes. On the other hand, He delights in doing things which glorify Himself, and demonstrating His power to us by answering our requests is a great way to accomplish this.

Many of the greatest men of the bible were intercessors. When David slew Goliath, he was doing it on behalf of his people. And take a look at this battle scene:

Exodus 17:12

"But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. "

When Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses, Joshua was leading the army in the battle. But Aaron and Hur, in their roles as intercessors, were just as important to the cause. In particular, they were lifting up their political leader (Moses was anointed by God as national leader, but not as priest; there were others who were priests) during a time when their nation truly needed it. How many of us are praying on behalf of our nation's leaders, and how many of us are verbally tearing them down?

Another great man of God who was an intercessor was Josiah, a great king who, once he was made aware that all the people under his kingship had been sinful, repented on their behalf, and the Bible says that the revival that happened as a result was the greatest revival ever! I have devoted an entire page to this incredible yet underrated biblical passage. Click here to read it.

In light of this realization that intercession is a powerful weapon, which method do you suppose is more likely to be effective?

A model for intercession:

I once read an article by Joy Dawson pointing out that the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah gives us an excellent model for intercession. Verses 4 through 11 are a step-by-step example for us to follow when we approach the Lord with a need.

Nehemiah 1:4

"When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the Lord of Heaven. "

First thing Nehemiah did when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down and the gates burned was he sat down and wept. It was even important enough for him to fast and pray before God. Fasting is, itself, an interesting subject. Interesting in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Christians today have never participated in this effective practice. Jesus fasted several times, and He made it clear that we as Christians need to make fasting a part of our walk with God. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says "when you fast" not if you fast. (In the same chapter, He says "when you give" and "when you pray").

I once heard a pastor who made an excellent demonstration of this. Imagine you were being attacked by a ferocious animal, a bear for example, and you had this arsenal of weapons within arm's length, including a pistol, a stick, and a very powerful shotgun, and all the ammunition you need. Now imagine that when the bear comes near you, you choose to fight him off with the stick. Ridiculous, isn't it? Why would anyone want to use a weak and ineffective weapon when more powerful weapons are at their disposal? Yet God's word makes it clear that fasting is our most powerful weapon; still, we rarely use it.

Verse 5 I said "I beseech You, O LORD God of Heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,"

Here, Nehemiah begins by praising God, because He is worthy of our praise. He doesn't have to do anything for us to earn our praise, He deserves it because of who He is. Nehemiah begins this intercessory prayer by acknowledging that our God is an awesome God. A neat picture of this can be seen when studying how the temple was organized. First thing you did when entering the outer court was sing praises to God. That is why the Psalm says to "enter His courts with praise".

Verse 6

"Let Thine ear now be attentive, and Thine eyes open to hear the prayer of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel, which we have sinned against Thee; I and my father's house have sinned.

There are two very important principles here practiced by Nehemiah which Christians tend to forget:

1. "pray before Thee day and night" means persistence. Many times it is necessary to pray incessantly. This kind of persistence goes hand in hand with sacrifice, doesn't it? It is difficult for us to go after something day after day if we don't see immediate results. The lack of immediate results, especially for modern Americans (we are used to instant gratification and have very short attention spans), can cause us to lose faith, and begin to doubt that God will answer our prayers.
By praying unceasingly, we demonstrate to God 2 things: we will never lose faith in Him no matter how long it takes to hear from Him, and this thing that we are praying for is more important to us than our time and energy is. It is important to point out here that while we are waiting on God, He is not sitting there doing nothing. He is building us up, constantly increasing in us. Regardless of whether the answer to our prayer is "yes" or "no", we will have made strides in the maturity process that we refer to as our walk with God.

2. the second half of the verse is also something Christians would like to do without: confessing sins, both our own and our ancestors. We are all sinners, period. Confessing our sins has nothing to do with feeling guilty or ashamed. It is simply agreeing with God about our behavior, acknowledging that we depend on Him for the strength to resist sin, and it absolutely does not make Him love us any less.

I can testify from personal experience that the enemy will lie to you about this truth, and may convince you that not confessing sin will actually protect someone else, and that is a lie. Confess and repent. It's very important.

Making this even more difficult is the concept of confessing and repenting for our forefathers' sins. It's right there in black and white, but we have a real hard time believing that confessing for someone else's sins is our responsibility, yet it is a crucial part of walking with God, and in this case it is a crucial part of getting our intercessory prayers heard.

If you think that this confessing for the sins of our fathers is just a quirky thing doesn't apply to us because it only appears in this passage, think again. In Leviticus 26:40, God says "if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers . . .". Even in recent years, God has led many Christians to participate in something called the Reconciliation Walk. To mark the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, many believers walked the same path that the Crusaders took on their destructive path from Spain to Jerusalem, only now they are spreading the news of confession, apology, and repentance. Much of this walk is centered in and around Turkey, and it is no coincidence that that nation is going through what appears to be the beginnings of a strong move of God.

Verse 7

"We have acted very corruptly against thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which thou didst command Thy servant Moses . . . "

This verse is an extension of the idea presented in the previous verse. Notice that, even though the man praying this prayer, Nehemiah, was probably not especially sinful, he did not point fingers at the more corrupt people, nor did he leave himself out of the confession. This is a great example of humility, which is absolutely necessary for effective prayer.

Verses 8,9:

"Remember the Word which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from here and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell."

This is really neat, because Nehemiah is reminding God of His promises. There is nothing wrong with reminding God of who He is. The last part indicates that the whole purpose is to give God's name a place to dwell. Glorifying God is really what it's all about.

Verse 10

"And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand." -- Reminder to God that these are His people.

Verse 11

"O Lord, I beseech thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man. Now I was the cupbearer to the king. "

". . grant him compassion before this man" is referring to the King Artaxerxes, from whom Nehemiah wanted to ask permission to go rebuild Jerusalem. The key point here for us is that he asked for something specific. When you come before God and ask for something, know the details so that your prayer may be more specific and therefore more effective. For example, if you are praying for someone who has leukemia, the physician may tell you that the platelet count is too low. In that case, pray specifically for the platelet count to increase that day to an acceptable level.

"cupbearer to the king" refers to a special position that Nehemiah had. In those times, assassination of kings was common, and poisoning was one way of doing it, so the king employed Nehemiah as his cupbearer, which implies that the king had great trust in him. God, our King, wants to be able to trust us with gifts that He gives us. Can God trust you?

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