Sunday, January 02, 2011

Joyful Intercession

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, (Philippians 1:03-05, NKJV).

Christians are unique among all other terrestrial inhabitants in that we have guaranteed access to God.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV).
...on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19, NKJV).
according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:11, 12, NKJV).
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23, 24, NKJV).
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16, NKJV).
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1, 2, NKJV).
Believers have the unlimited, unencumbered and unprecedented ability to seek God Himself for all manner of requests pertaining to this life. We are promised that He "…is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…" (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV). Yet, many of us look at the glorious gift as an obligatory weight; something we must do in order to please Him. In reality, however, there is only one way to please Him, as Hebrews tells: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV).
We get it wrong when we think that prayer is a work of some kind. The Enemy would like nothing better than for us to neglect the greatest power there is to be had on this side of Heaven by persuading us that it is a dreary and boring practice that we have to grit our teeth and do. It is precisely the opposite of that. Instead of a work, it is a joyous privilege, as Paul declares in these verses. Instead of an obligation, it is a gift that, with the right heart,  we can use and appreciate as we use and appreciate all good gifts. Instead of a ritual or practice, it is a spontaneous act of worship in seeking Him who is the giver of all good gifts, who delights to give us the desires of our hearts, whose heart yearns to bring joy to His children.

Why is this so hard for us to comprehend? Would not a loving human father look upon sincere, righteous requests for help or blessing from his children as something to which he would delightedly respond? How much more for our Heavenly Father? Would not that same human father take joy in the fact that his children would come to him in intercession for others, and by doing so, unequivocally declare their faith that he is able to help others, as well?

The Apostle Paul penned some of the most glorious intercessory prayers in all of human history. Often, in the midst of them, his heart would soar in the realization of the immeasurable attributes of the One to whom he was making request, and his words would lovingly proclaim the awesome love and power of the His God and Savior. And Paul prayed with joy at every remembrance of his own or another's need or well-being. It makes sense. He was steeped in the ancient Hebrew culture. He knew the unapproachable nature of God from centuries of Old Testament practice and teaching - how only one man, once a year, could even think to come near God's Presence, and then only after perfectly executed ritualistic sacrifices for himself and the people's sins. He understood the incredible access to the Father we now have through faith in His Son, and his heart thrilled within him at the contrast.

If you examine all of Paul's intercessory prayers, you will see that interspersed with the godly requests were refrains of thankfulness for those he was praying for, for the gospel of salvation, for the fellowship of believers, and especially for the One to whom he was praying. Joyous intercession is inextricably linked with thanksgiving. Paul saw the ministry of prayer as receiving God's grace, not as payment for it, and it is therefore no surprise that his encouragement to the churches everywhere was to pray with joy.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; (Romans 12:9-12, NKJV).
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints-- (Ephesians 6:17, 18, NKJV).
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6, 7, NKJV).
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV).
The Apostle Paul followed his Lord's example in this arena of life. Jesus often prayed all night and day, treasuring the closeness and fellowship to His Father that it brought. Paul looked at prayer, not as a specific act, but as an attitude of life, hence his exhortation to pray without ceasing. And he understood that it was our greatest resource and treasure, as far from an obligation as any gift can be.

Prayer in faith is the gateway into the very Presence of the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, without prerequisite or appointment. I can think of nothing more glorious in this life.