I am beginning to wonder if we have got the ministry of the intercessor right. In the last century, thousands of Christians have taken up this role (maybe millions), but I am not sure that we have seen the return on the effort that we would expect. I wonder if the role has become a refuge for introverts.
My problem is that this ministry does not exist in the New Testament. There was plenty of prayer and intercession, but no one who devoted themselves full-time to this role. The only full-time intercessor in the New Testament is Jesus following the ascension. He stands beside the Father interceding for us (Heb 7:25).
The people described in the New Testament were active in prayer and intercession, but it was part of their broader calling. Jesus often withdrew to pray. He did this to refresh his spirit and to seek his father’s will so he would know what he should do during his encounters with people in the busy days that would follow. His times of deep intercession were balanced by periods of intense activity healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.
Judging by Paul’s letters, he also engaged in intense intercession (Eph 1:15-23; 3:16-21) but that was only a small part of his ministry. He was intensely involved in apostolic activity, preaching the gospel, discipling new believers, training leaders, writing letters. His intercession sustained his activities, rather than being the focus of his ministry.
I am coming to believe that intercession that is not balanced with active ministry can lose its way. The massive number of people who felt called to intercession and the huge increase in intercession has not brought the fruit that would have been expected if God was fully in it. Despite the highly-dedicated efforts of the intercessors, the church in the West has mostly gone downhill over the last century.
I suspect that one reason for this lack of effectiveness is the failure of intercessors to understand how authority functions, and their lack of it. The problem is that God has given all people freedom, so he will not force people to things that they don’t want to do. He will send angels and the Holy Spirit to put thoughts in their minds and he can constrain evil spirits that are manipulating them, but he will not force them to do what they do not want to do, no matter how much intercessors and are praying that they will.
The reality is that it is very difficult to bring real change in human behaviour from a prayer closet. Real personal change comes through encounters with other people demonstrating love and speaking the truth.
Political leaders have to be stubborn people, so it is almost impossible to change their behaviour by prayer alone, because God cannot force them to do things that they do not want to do. In a democracy, real political change can only come if many people modify their behaviour, so the prayer closet becomes even less effective, if not supported by other activity.
Real changes in behaviour towards God’s way will often come through:
- • evangelistic people sharing the good news.
- • pastoral people speaking balm to their hurts and fears.
- • prophetic people challenging their false beliefs.
Changing a community needs apostolic people leaving their homes and coming to live in the midst of the people they are interceding for so that they can see the life that is being offered.
Our intercession is far more effective in the lives of people who have submitted to our authority, because they are family members, or they have recognised the value of our gifts and calling. People who are actively exercising their evangelistic, pastoral, prophetic or apostolic gifts/calling will be more effective in intercession, than people who remain hidden in their prayer closet, because people have submitted to them have given real authority to their intercession for them.
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