Building Bridges with Love!
An old Welsh proverb says, "He that would be a leader must be a bridge." Jesus said, "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 20.26). When I engage in intercessory prayer, I fulfill both these statements. Not that I become great or even a leader, but I serve my brothers and sisters through prayer and build a bridge. You see, it begins by recognizing the importance of others, the value of their needs over my own. One of the most important features of intercession is its other-centeredness. In Philippians 2.3, the Apostle Paul says for us to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself." Then, he encourages us to think the way Jesus thinks, by adding these words, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (vs. 4). Through intercession we extend our influence into the lives of others. We not only serve them in ways none of us could even imagine, but we also build bridges that link their needs with our Father's resources.
The two greatest examples of intercession in the Bible are the Lord Jesus Himself and the Holy Spirit. The prophet Isaiah tells us about Jesus's example. He said, the Lord was "numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53.12) This is the first reference in most translations of the Bible to intercession; and the word Isaiah uses is our old friend pagha. Remember Joshua indicating that pagha meant to establish boundaries? At the time, he established the boundaries of the inheritance of Israel; in intercession, we establish boundaries of protection for our brethren. But in Isaiah, we discover a slightly different meaning. In his excellent commentary on this passage, J. Alec Motyer says, "The base meaning is 'to cause to reach' and hence 'to cause someone's plea to reach someone's ears' (to intercede)...." More specifically, through intercession, the Lord Jesus causes the needs of transgressors to reach the ears of His Father, thus building a bridge between them and God. By intercessory prayer, we become the bridge Jesus uses to link God and His people within the boundaries of their inheritance in Him. By His love and power, both we and those we pray for become stronger in Him through prayer.
In Romans 8.26, the Holy Spirit provides another example of intercession. There Paul tells us that "in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." What an example! First, He helps our weakness. What does that mean? That word "helps" translates a foot-long Greek word that essentially means "to take hold of anything with another." He takes hold of one end of our burden -- naturally the heaviest end -- and bears it with us in such a way that it is no longer a major burden. The Lord exhorts us that we should follow this example in that we should "bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6.2).
But how can we intercede effectively when we don't know how to pray for each other? I recently read a story that may show how this kind of intercession could work. Two men planted olive trees in their respective fields. Later one of them prayed, "Dear Lord, my trees need water. Please send rain." Shortly came the showers. Then he prayed, "Lord, they need sunshine, too." And the Lord bathed them in sunlight. Finally, he prayed, "Lord, my trees need something to make them hardy. Please send a frost tonight." That night a frost came and killed all his trees. The next day, he went to the other man's grove only to find it flourishing. "How can this be?" he cried. The other man said, "When I prayed, I didn't ask for rain or sunshine or frost. I just said, 'Lord, You made these trees. You know what they need. Just send what is best!'" Often, that's all we can pray for our friends.
The Spirit also intercedes for us. Here the Apostle uses a Greek word not dissimilar to pagha. However, this New Testament word includes the meaning to go to someone "on behalf of another." Even though we may not know what to pray for, we fulfill the Word of God by simply taking our brother's needs in our hands and placing them before the Throne of God. Then the Holy Spirit acts as an advocate on our behalf to "plead our case" for us. Not only the Holy Spirit, but Jesus too "is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us" (Romans 8.34). Never before have God's people so needed the intercession of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as today. Never before have God's people so needed the mutual support of one another in intercessory prayer. Folks, not only is intercessory prayer the greatest need of the evangelical church today, but, as Warren Wiersbe reminds us, "We are never more like the Lord Jesus Christ than when we are interceding for others, because that's what He is doing in heaven today" (cp. Hebrew 7.24-25). What an example!