Intercessory prayer is loving with sacrificial compassion
by Brother Andrew – Founder of Open Doors International
God’s people are not doing what He told us to do: love our enemies, reach the lost, live sacrificially and walk in uprightness and humility with our Lord. The immediate result is fear of the unknown, often dressed up in romantic fashion when it comes to our expectations. Can anything be done? Sure. On our knees and I warn you that there is nothing romantic about intercessory prayer. To the contrary. Jesus said, we should close the door and pray. (Mt. 6.6)
Over the years, I’ve learned that the most challenging aspect of prayer – real intercessory prayer – is being able to love, with sacrificial compassion, those for whom we pray. And where else can we learn that, but on our knees?
The clearest illustration of this kind of prayer is found in Exodus 32, where Moses and his people are in a situation that reminds me so much of the world today. Here we see that God’s own people, directly defying His expressed command, have forsaken Him and turned to idolatry, forcing their priest to build a golden calf.
Understandably, God is very, very angry, because they have thwarted His ultimate plan and purpose for Israel: To prepare the way for the coming of their King. Basically, through their disobedience, God’s people have destroyed His best-laid plans for all mankind.
Yes, God is angry. Angry to the point where He says to Moses, “Now leave me alone so my anger can blaze against them and destroy them all.” (Ex. 32:10, NLT) In this passage, it’s obvious that God is finished with Israel. He’s washing His hands of the people in whom He has invested so much.
Often when I look at the world, I think this is how God must feel today: After all the opportunities He has given us; after the massive Bible distributions we’ve made; after the revivals that have taken place on every continent; after the churches and schools and missions we have built; after the Christian books, magazines, radio and television stations that have spread the Word around the globe; after all the claims by some overzealous Christians that Jesus can return tomorrow because we have finished the job of world evangelism; and after all the superficial calculations that we now have more Christians per square mile/km than ever before in the world. What can the honest Christian do but sit back and say, “What a mess we have made of this world!”
Is God angry with all of this? Yes, He surely is.
But as we continue reading this passage in Exodus, we find something unexpected: Even as God declares his intention to destroy Israel, He holds out a carrot to Moses. “…I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them.” (Ex. 32:10 NLT)
No man in history ever had that kind of offer!
Incredibly, Moses doesn’t seize the honour God has offered him. Instead, he pleads with the Lord: “O Lord!” he exclaims, “Why are you so angry with your own people? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you are planning against your people!” (Ex. 32:11,12 NLT)
Yes, Moses intercedes for his people, and here comes the crunch: In the Hebrew Bible, verse 11 says, literally, “…and Moses smoothed the wrinkles in Jehovah’s face.”
Unless you have access to a Hebrew lexicon, you will not be able to find that, but I would advise anyone with a theological background and access to the Hebrew Scriptures to look it up, study it, preach it. Here is Moses getting so close to God that he can not only speak to Him as friend to friend, but he can actually touch the face of God and smooth out His angry scowl. Try to imagine it: Moses, stretching out his hands and stroking, massaging the face of God, till all the wrinkles and frowns are gone!
No, it was not an easy prayer. It was not a matter of withdrawing into a prayer closet and closing the door. It was not a week or two of prayer and fasting – and then preaching a sermon or writing a book about it. It was forty days – the second forty days in a row. What a wreck Moses’ body must have been. Then, after hearing about the golden calf, he decides the only hope for this nation is if he can persuade God to change His mind.
In Deuteronomy 9:25 (NLT) Moses describes how he actually did that: “I fell down and lay before the Lord for forty days and nights when he was ready to destroy you. I prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your own people. They are your special possession, redeemed from Egypt by your mighty power and glorious strength. Overlook the stubbornness and sin of these people, but remember instead your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’….”
Now, I fully realize that after going through the account of Moses’ prayers for his people, no one will expect to easily or cheaply become an intercessor. Imagine Moses, skinny as could be, prostrate on his belly, bare hands and feet resting painfully on the rocks and dust of the Arab ground, hissing snakes slithering around him, scorpions skittering about looking for an opening to assault his exhausted body. What a way to pray to God! Forty days. Forty nights! Totally oblivious to the world around him, Moses has only one consuming burden upon his whole being: I’ve got to get through to God. I’ve got to take away the anger. I must convince Him to change His mind.
What sustained him? That same deep desire he expresses to his people (Ex. 32:30) when he says, essentially, “Maybe I can make atonement for your sin.” Nothing else will do.
I know some of you will say to me here, “But what about Calvary?” Calvary had not happened yet, but the principle was the same. Moses, the true intercessor, offers his own life as a sacrifice to make an atonement for his people. He was willing to be punished for their sake.
“Please forgive their sin,” he begs God, “. . .and if not, then blot me out of the record you are keeping.” (Ex. 32:32 NLT)
Incredible prayer! Do we realize that the two greatest intercessors in the Old and New Testaments, Moses and the apostle Paul, both prayed the same type of prayer? They were willing to give up their own standing before God, if only the others could be forgiven. No, they didn’t say, petulantly, “I don’t want to go to heaven if you don’t save my people.” There was not a thread of rebelliousness in their prayers, but a deep, deep love and a willingness to suffer with Christ on behalf of sinful humanity.
That is intercession. And that is what we must do today, more than anything else I can think of, if we are going to see real change in our world. Yes, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was complete and sufficient to redeem all mankind from sin, but He calls us to “…love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it–the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.” (John 15:12,13 NLT)
Moses did that, and as a result, God changed His plans to destroy His people. The Lord may not change His mind like a human does, but He does change the world – and us – when we pray as Moses did. This is something a superficial Christian can never dream of doing because he is not willing to pay the price.
So the question is: are we willing? Are we willing to let God be God, and let us be the men and women He wants us to become? God is looking today for another Moses, another Paul, another man or woman willing to love in the same way they loved, “laying down our lives for our friends” in prayer.
For the sake of a lost world, to the glory of His Name, for the coming of His Kingdom, and because you and I are part of the Body of Christ worldwide, let us embrace our role and act upon it!
Reprinted from Missions Fest Alberta Resource Magazine. Brother Andrew has been a keynote speaker at Missions Fest Alberta. Over the years he has challenged us to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. Each year Missions Fest Alberta prints in their annual Resource Magazine the “World Watch List Top 10” of the 50 Countries where Christians face the most persecution. This is a great resource that Open Doors produce’s each year, you can print one from the Open Doors Canada Website: www.opendoorsca.org