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Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:26-27 NKJV
For some time, we’ve been looking closely at the passage in James chapter five about praying over the weary believer. Hopefully, we have a better understanding of praying over those with whom we have covenant connection. It starts with a prayer call from a sick person, and we go to them. Because we’re part of a covenant-connected body of believers, we have responsibility and authority to pray over them with the expectation that they will be refreshed, renewed, and raised up. We saw the power and value of praying in other tongues in this enterprise.
There’s another level of praying for the sick that we often refer to as intercession. In intercession, we hear about a need of someone in our circle. Though we’re not physically present, we go to our prayer closet and begin to pray for them. We move from praying over them to praying for them. This is an area of prayer that gets little attention in most circles. It’s inconvenient. It requires commitment, time, and patience. It’s not a 21st Century kind of pastime. It is, however, one of the things that separates religion as ritual from relationship as reality. Without a renewal of committed, covenant prayer we are never going to see the kind of results we see in the Scripture.
In Acts 12, we see an example of the church praying in this way for Peter when he was imprisoned. James had recently been beheaded for his faith, and that was the intention of Herod for Peter as well. The one significant difference is recorded in Acts 12:5 “but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” They didn’t know exactly how to get Peter out of jail, but they knew how to pray in the Spirit. Their prayers commissioned angels who went into the prison and released Peter. He thought it was a dream, and the prayer group thought he was an angel. They were not just repeatedly “confessing” that Peter was delivered, they were agonizing in the Spirit.
We tend to reduce prayer to a formula that we can execute properly and expect God to dance to our tune. There is so much more to it than that. When praying for another, it’s often impossible to exercise simple faith as you would in praying for your own needs. You don’t know all the necessities and circumstances. That’s when we need to step beyond our own abilities and lean on the Holy Sspirit to make intercession for us. Which brings us to the question: “What is intercession?”
In our text, Paul says that the Holy Spirit “helps in our weaknesses.” The original language uses a word that has the idea of taking hold of something in cooperation with another in opposition to some force or weight. The idea is that the Holy Spirit grabs hold of our weakness and infirmity and helps in our efforts against them. Just the other day I had a package of canned dog food delivered that was quite heavy. As I was trying to move it, someone came along who grabbed one end of the box and helped me get it inside. They interceded in my struggle against the weight of the box. That’s the idea. Intercession is helping another in a struggle by bearing part of the burden.
One of the most used texts on this subject is in Ezekiel. Judah and Jerusalem have moved away from the worship of Jehovah. The society is corrupted and idolatrous, including the political class and the priesthood. God is at the point of bringing judgment on the land, but His mercy prompts Him to make one final attempt to save them:
So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV
Unfortunately, no one was found to intercede on their behalf, and judgment came. Thank God, He has found you! If you will make yourself available to stand before Him on behalf of your fellow believers who are facing sickness, you can often stop the advance of the enemy and help bring them into a spiritual place where they can receive the blessing He wants for them.
Two “directions” of intercession are implied here. Building a wall puts up defenses against an enemy assault. One of the ways to intercede for others is by taking up the battle on their behalf, stepping into the fray and resisting the enemy. On the flip-side of the coin, we can also stand in the gap before God and plead the case of the one who is too weak to believe for Himself. To intercede means to intervene on behalf of another, or to take the place of another in battle or business. I can add my faith to the fight, or my influence to the pleading of the case.
Remember Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians about prayer:
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
In these verses, we see the two kinds of intercession. The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is a weapon to be used on the enemy. When we find that a brother or sister is being attacked physically, we can look to the Book and find words to speak to the problem. “The Word says by the stripes of Jesus, we are healed. If we are, then my friend is. Disease, go!” In addition, we can also pray in the Spirit, approaching the throne of God on behalf of the person in need. When we do, we know that we are praying out the will of God for the individual, “Father, I thank You for the Holy Spirit who helps me when I don’t know what to pray for. I yield myself now to pray in other tongues for my friend. I know that I’m praying according to your will.”
I’ve found that as I continue to pray in the Spirit, often words in English will arise in my heart. Sometimes they just “pop” suddenly to mind, other times they sort of “float up” from the depths of my inner being. In those moments, I speak those words out loud. It may be a specific scripture. “Himself bore our infirmities!” Other times it might be something that speaks to the problem at hand, scriptural, but not an exact quote, “I speak hope to the heart of my friend!” In some instances, I’m not sure what it means, but if it passes the test of being consistent with the Bible, then I speak it. God knows stuff I don’t know! These are wonderful weapons, placed in my heart by the Spirit of God, and meant to be spoken as part of the intercession He is making. This is a real-time manifestation of 1 Corinthians 14:15a “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. NKJV”
Do you remember the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter? She approached him and was initially rebuffed. At first, Jesus seemed to ignore her. His disciples advised Him to send her away. Notice, He didn’t follow their advice (Matthew 15:22-23) Instead, He responded to them by explaining that His mission was to Israel (Matthew 22:24) The woman persisted, worshipping Him and crying out for help. This time He responded that, based on His call to Israel, He couldn’t give to outsiders what belonged to the children of the covenant: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs. (V. 26)” She responded immediately with, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.(V. 27)” That was the key that turned the lock!
In this woman’s response we see an example of the Spirit of God giving words that bring answers to prayer. When He heard her response, Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire. (V. 28)” Many folks interpret this that Jesus was rewarding her perseverance; she just kept pressing Him until He yielded. But notice Mark’s description of this same event. He adds. “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter. (Mark 7:29 NKJV) ” Notice that Jesus attributes the deliverance to 2 things, her faith (Matthew 15:28), and what she said about the crumbs (Mark 7:29). Faith and the spoken word brought her the answer.
The response about the crumbs touched two things that moved Jesus to act. She acknowledged Him to be her master, the lord of the children’s table (Matthew 15:27), and she tapped into a principle called ”The Law of Gleanings.” This was part of the Old Covenant book of Leviticus that commanded Israel to provide for foreigners by leaving the “crumbs” of their harvest in the field for that purpose:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. (10) And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV
Her perseverance allowed Jesus and the Holy Spirit to work in her until she spoke something that put a claim on the covenant that God had with Israel. She didn’t become an expert on Old Testament law, suddenly knowing the Law of Gleanings, but she did persevere until the right words just “popped” out of her mouth. When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, we can expect the Holy Spirit to help us by doing exactly the same thing. If we persevere, He will begin to put words in our heart that specifically address the needs of the one for whom we are interceding. This is prophetic prayer, and it is a powerful thing.
Next Step: Make extra time to pray. Get in your secret place, yield yourself to the Spirit of God, and let’s remember who we are and what we have. I’m again asking you to take part in a determined, unyielding, inconvenient calling to bring weary believers into contact with the healing power that God provides. Make effectual and fervent prayer in the Spirit.
Next time: As we continue to pray, God may allow us to move to new levels in our intercessory role. We’ll take a look at prayer that taps 3 great spiritual forces: identification, agony, and compassion. Until then keep praying in the Spirit and speaking out what God gives you. Your prayers avail much!
For men who want to do this right
“Man Alive: Christian Manhood in a Twisted World.”
For all other Pastor Virgil books, visit the FCF Tucson Bookstore
Previous lessons from “Healing Help” along with video teachings are available at www.pastorvirgil.com.
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