What Intercession Really Means

“Lord, turn back the rain.”

What Intercession Really Means

Two weeks ago I wrote about an important moment in my prayer life on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Our outreach was starting, and a storm was rolling in. We hadn’t even reached the Gospel presentation when the event was stopped because of thunder.

I knelt in the grass as the rain became more consistent. I answered the important question, “Why” in my prayers. “God,” I prayed, “I want you to turn back the rain so that people who don’t know You can hear the Gospel and respond to Jesus.”

The rain didn’t stop. But then God performed the miracle.

Introducing: Intercession

I grew up going to Sunday school, so I had heard the word “intercession” before. I guess I thought it was an older word for “prayer” used by old and overly spiritual people. But I was wrong.

I’m so thankful for the work of Oswald Chambers. He was the first writer I read to introduce the concept of intercession in a new way.

“Intercession,” Chamber writes, “means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.”

As I knelt on the grass in D.C. and prayed, God opened my heart.

Those who know me know I don’t cry. It’s not that I’m a tough, macho guy; I just have a very high emotional tolerance.

I started crying. And this wasn’t a polite, dignified cry. I knelt on the grass and sobbed, rain water and snot running down my fingers. And in my heart, I believe I felt what God felt for those gathered there.

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

“True intercession,” Chambers continues, “involves bringing the person, or the circumstance that seems to be crashing in on you, before God, until you are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance.”

“Until YOU are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance.”

Intercession brings home a driving principle of prayer: God often answers our prayers by changing us before changing our circumstances.

4 Principles of Intercession

That experience on the National Mall deepened my prayer life in a new and significant way. Looking back, I’ve learned several lessons about intercession:

Intercession means seeking God’s will for someone, not your own.

It’s so easy when we come to prayer to already have determined how a person or circumstance needs prayer. Intercession is humbly acknowledging that maybe we don’t know everything, and asking God to show us how to pray—which leads to the second point.

Intercession is about listening.

If we want to pray God’s desires for others, then we need to listen to God’s desires for others. Listening to God doesn’t look the same for everyone but will always be grounded in God’s Word. I could write an entire post about this (and maybe I will next week!).

Intercession takes time.

Our culture values speed and efficiency; prayer is about neither. Prayer is a key way God desires to retrain our minds to slow down and bring our lives (and the lives of others through intercession) before Him.

Intercession is about knowing God.

This is my great passion, and I love how intercession makes it plain. Andrew Murray wrote, “Some people pray just to pray, and some people pray to know God.” Intercession isn’t just about knowing the needs of others, but ultimately it is about knowing God. If you really want to know God’s heart, intercede.

In case you were wondering how the story concludes, the rain did stop after about ten minutes or so. For some reason the change in weather drew people out, because when I returned to the outreach, about twice as many people had gathered as before!

The miracle that day wasn’t that God stopped the rain. Yes, He heard my prayer, but He also opened my eyes and my heart to see and feel deeper than I ever had before.

If you’re wondering what intercession looks like in your life, I suggest you start by humbly coming before God and asking Him to help you. Ask Him to help you listen well to His heart for people and circumstances in your life. Listen, then intercede.

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Update // A Note on Preparation

I get out of bed on 9AM on Saturday morning. I’ve been moving nonstop all week, so it’s nice to finally sleep a little longer. I from my new bedroom to the office with my Bible and journal. I sit down in one of those snazzy POÄNG chairs from IKEA.

Ah. This is the rest I’ve been waiting for. Also, what time was that youth retreat meeting today? I pull out my phone to look.

Answer: 9AM–Noon.

Preparation
Welcome to Hopkins, the city of Raspberries.

I all but flew out of the Scandinavian armchair.

Why is it that when life gets busy, time with God is the first thing to go? 

In the midst of all the busyness, I wanted to give a quick update on my life and offer a note on preparation:

  • A week ago my wife and I moved into a townhouse with another couple from our church. We’ve been unpacking and assembling snazzy IKEA chairs all week.
  • I’m beginning a more consistent role at my church, speaking twice a month in our young adult service.
  • I’m volunteering as the Spiritual Director for a youth conference at the end of the month.
  • This weekend I’ll attend the Northwestern Christian Writing Conference at University of Northwestern in St. Paul.
  • This Sunday I’ll speak to my home church youth group on the first night of their summer missions trip.

With all of this activity—and especially after the incident Saturday morning—I’ve realized the importance of preparation. If I’m going to be a good steward of the opportunities God has given me, I need to make the time to steward them well.

But preparation isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too.

In some ways, our entire lives are about preparation.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic or spiritual. All I mean is this: God is always preparing us for something, whether we’re aware of it or not.

We’re all familiar with Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

God has already prepared the work for us, but “that we should walk in them” is conditional language. It’s our responsibility to walk in the works God has given us.

The problem is, there’s no way for us to know exactly what those good works are. I wish I could just open my Bible each morning and see a list of all the good works God intends for me that day, but that’s not how life works.

Instead, Paul tells Timothy in a later letter to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, be prepared for whatever God brings, whether you’re expecting it or not.

God is always preparing us for something, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The way we walk in the good works God has for us is by being prepared for them before they come. If we wait until the opportunity comes, we’re already too late.

Preparation for God’s good works through your life begins now.

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If your prayer life needs new life, ask this question.

When the fire in prayer is lacking, one important question can reset and refocus your prayers.

Photo credit: reza shayestehpour

My prayer life was transformed at an event in Washington D.C. in 2015. The hot June sun beat down on us as we began an evangelistic event near the Washington Monument. Then the dark grey clouds rolled in.

I remember the scene distinctly. Kari Jobe was on stage when we got the notice we might have to shut down the event. A scattered storm was approaching, and at the first sound of thunder we would have to stop the event.

I walked over to the prayer tent away from most of the crowd. Stepping behind the tent, I knelt in the grass and began to pray.

“Lord, please turn back the rain.”

Two Depths in Prayer

We generally pray surface or “fix it” prayers. We ask God to address an immediate or felt need in the world around us at a visible level.

“God, please bless this food.”
“Jesus, I pray you would heal so-and-so.”
“Please keep us safe on our trip today.”

Nothing is wrong with these prayers. But if we stay at this depth, I’m afraid we’ll only scratch the surface of what God intended for our prayer lives.

Consider Paul. I love Paul’s prayers in the New Testament, although we have to admit they seem a little long and academic sometimes. Let’s look at an example of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

If you’re like the rest of us, you read that prayer and think, “I could never pray like that!” But the secret to Paul’s prayer gets down to answering one simple question.

“Why?”

Look at the beginning of Paul’s prayer again.

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”

Stop. That’s Paul’s “fix it” prayer. If we stopped there, we would hit the depth most of us reach in our prayers. “I pray God would make His will clear to you,” Paul says. Simple enough.

But the key to Paul’s powerful, kingdom-minded prayer comes from him answering the question, “Why?”

Why should Paul want God to make His will clear to them?

This question is unlocked by the words “so that” in Colossians 1, which appear twice in Paul’s prayer.

“I’m praying God would make His will for you clear so that you can live a life worthy of God and please Him.”

For the rest of Paul’s prayer, he goes on and elaborates what this means—but it’s all tied back to the original, simple prayer, unlocked by the question, “Why?”

Transforming Your Prayer Life with Kingdom Prayers

When I knelt on the grass in D.C. during that storm, God challenged my motivations.

“Lord, turn back the rain.”

Why?

Kingdom prayers force us to deal with our motivations. So why did I want God to turn back the rain? Was it because I wanted our event to be successful? Is it because I wanted to see God show off?

“God, I want you to turn back the rain so that people who don’t know You can hear the Gospel and respond to Jesus.”

By asking why, my simple “fix-it” prayer became a powerful Kingdom prayer.

I’ll tell the rest of the story next week, but for now I want to challenge you to consciously think about how you pray. Even if it seems strange and mechanical at first, I challenge you next time you pray to ask “why?”

We can keep praying “fix it” prayers, but God wants so much more for us. He wants us to know Him and unlock the power of prayer, which in my experience is contained most simply in answering the question “Why?”

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4 (False) Roadblocks to Encountering God

When you go to a comedy show, you’re ready to laugh. When you go to a concert, you’re ready to sing. When you go to a Christian conference, you’re ready to be inspired.

And when you go to church or spend time alone with God… what do you expect?

In addition to the topic of expectation, this post also marks six months until Christmas! Talk about expectation!

Expectation influences reality. Nowhere in the Bible do I see this more clearly than Psalm 63. David has every right to be frustrated. He’s in the wilderness, running for his life. Yet he turns to God with some of the richest words in Scripture.

Psalm 63:1
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

This is beautiful, poetic language—but it also seems foreign to us. In our day-to-day life, we don’t experience this kind of longing for God.

But what if we could? What if I told you about four common roadblocks—and how they don’t actually exist? Let’s take a look.

1. Location

Consider the stories of Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1. Zechariah gets to minister in the temple (tradition tells us this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!). You’d think his expectation would be high! Yet when he encounters the voice of God, he doubts.

Mary was at home, probably doing chores. She’s a teenager. An angel appears and brings heavenly news. Yet in this unexpected encounter, Mary responds in faith.

We put a lot of stock into WHERE we encounter God. But God doesn’t.

Mary and Zechariah teach us a lesson—expect God in all circumstances. You never know when God’s going to show up, and we need to be ready to respond with faith.

2. Circumstances

Psalm 63 starts with the description, “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” Translation: He wasn’t at a Christian conference. He was running for his life.

I still remember the words a friend of mine said at a conference years ago. He said, “God doesn’t get spiritual highs.” We are prone to fluctuate based on our circumstances, but God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We need to begin to break the idea that God is only found in specific circumstances. God is with us in the midst of the good and the bad, the extraordinary and the mundane.

3. Knowledge

“If I just knew more, I would experience God more.”

Beware of half-truths like this. While it’s true in some regard, no matter who you are, whether you know a lot or a little about God, you have the power to know God by His grace and Spirit.

God does not have a limited capacity in your life. He has promised us everything. Listen to these words from 2 Peter 1:3.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

We have ALL THINGS we need for life and godliness. God isn’t holding out on you. In a very real way, you can have as much of God as you want.

The channel of this power is “His precious and very great promises” (v 4). At the end of 2 Peter 1, Peter recounts the Transfiguration. For all the glory he saw, he says, that we have something more certain, the prophetic word (1:19).

Even more than a personal encounter with the glorified Jesus, we have everything we need in the pages of Scripture. Don’t miss this!

4. Emotion

According to popular culture, reality is determined by emotion.

As Peter shared, our subjective experience of God is less important than the objective truth of God’s Word. But that doesn’t mean emotion is unimportant.

C.S. Lewis gives a good middle ground. Talking about relationship with others, I’ve changed the quote by just one word to apply to God:

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ [God]; act as if you did.

We don’t like hearing, “just act as if you love God, even if you don’t feel love for Him.” Because the message we live in is, “Loving action only results from loving feelings.”

Here’s Lewis, continued,

As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love [God], you will presently come to love Him.

Emotion doesn’t always result in action. Sometimes action results in emotion.

And this is especially important as we think about our daily experiences of God. Instead of thinking, “I wish I loved God more,” we should think, “If I really loved God, how would I approach Him in prayer, in worship, in Bible reading?” And then do that.

The key is to take our eyes off ourselves and fix them on Jesus.

The roadblocks we perceive don’t exist. We have just as much potential as David to encounter God—not in the perfect location or circumstance or knowledge or emotion. No, instead, we worship from a place of confidence in who God is and who He has promised to be for us.

The Prayer Matrix: Resurrect your Prayer Life in the Age of Distraction

How do you create a structured and spontaneous prayer life?

When I pray, I fall into one of two ditches.

On one hand, when I try to be spontaneous in my prayer, I get distracted. In the age of the smartphone, our minds don’t know what to do with open-ended time. Most of us can’t fill silence with prayer because our minds are hardwired to seek distraction. Our thoughts wander and we find it difficult to maintain a conscious stream of prayer.

The other ditch is rote prayer. I used to have a list of prayer items I would go through each morning. However, over time this list became hollow to me. I prayed the same thing every day, and eventually, the words lost their meaning.

Enter the Prayer Matrix

Several months ago I realized a need to revitalize my prayer life. I was swinging between overly rote time with God and unstructured, unfruitful time in prayer. So I created a prayer matrix.

I started by taking the long list of prayer requests I had created.

I broke this list into many categories—family, friends, church, youth ministry, personal, martial, and many more. These categories became my vertical column.

Most of us can’t fill silence with prayer because our minds are hardwired to seek distraction.

For each point, I listed five prayer requests I regularly lift up. For example, under family, I included my parents, my three sisters, and my brother-in-law. These prayer requests filled my horizontal rows.

Across the top, I put the five weekdays. This strategy allows me to use Saturday to make up for one day a week if needed. Sunday could be more contemplative.

To complete it, I included an “everyday” row on top with prayer points I counted too important to pray every day (points like “Thank God,” “Confess sin” and “Receive forgiveness”).

On the bottom, I included a note to end with the Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer matrix model really has given me great benefits. Using it daily has allowed me to consistently pray every week for every area of my life.

I encourage you to try the prayer matrix for yourself. It’s easy to create yourself, but if you’d like a template, you can sign up for my weekly updates below and I’ll send it immediately to your inbox (and if you’re already signed up, it should be in your inbox already!).