The Intercessory Life
I have long believed that God is working through even the seemingly “minor” things of life to bring us to Jesus. Sometimes however we are surprised to discover an aspect of the Spirit’s actions in our ordinary living which has profound implications. Such discoveries generally come outside the realm of dramatic experiences and hyped-up church meetings. My latest enlightenment came through noticing myself adopting a fairly consistent cynical attitude to many life situations. Who could after all deny that most of what the world does is simply empty and much of what the Church does is deeply flawed? Without adopting a critical spirit I can often depressingly discern where a Christian group has seriously departed from the centrality of Christ. Whether my discernment is accurate or not, I do know that since Jesus was never cynical my frame of mind must be sinful. Thankfully, when a group of experienced brothers and sisters gathered to intercede for each other last Saturday I was able to ask for prayer about my chronic negativity. Whilst some prayers focussed on my emotions rather than on my cynical heart, the Lord has started to answer those sincere requests in a surprising way (Heb 3:12-13). This brief report is about a way of life the Spirit is calling the whole Church to embrace flows from those prayers.
Cynicism is the dominant mood of our post-modern society. Absolutes are no more. The idealism that was so intense on the university campuses of my day has been deconstructed and replaced by a world driven by money and marketing where everyone is in it for themselves. Faith in the political process, which means faith in politicians, has all but been abandoned. Religions fare no better. Unbelievers commonly comment that religion is a mask for power whilst recent sex abuse scandals have annihilated the credibility of Christian institutions. Yet cynicism is not merely social, it is a symptom of isolation and disappointment at a deeply personal level. I came to Christ fundamentally through reading the Bible by myself, and over the decades isolation has been a frequent life experience; it is easy for me to identify with the lonely prophetic vocation of Elijah and Jeremiah (1 Ki 19:2; Jer 20:7-18). Surely we all have extreme personal situations of pain or disappointments which make us feel like Jesus at his hour of abandonment, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). Yet as this anguished cry from the cross is not Christ’s final word, so cynicism, doubt, and despair cannot be the prevailing mood of the believer.
Christ’s final word is; ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46).The Son’s triumphant testimony of returning to his Father is what came to mind last Saturday in praying over a distressed friend. He had awoken in the middle of a night feeling like he was choking to death. Whatever Satan’s intentions, I sensed this devout brother’s extreme experience of suffering was allowed for the sake of others. His gasping for air was spiritually one with the final breath of Jesus on the cross and a call to him in extremity to yield his last bit of strength to the Lord for the sake of the salvation of the wider world. A few hours later this very text (Luke 23:46) and the theme of suffering for others appeared on the page of a book that “accidentally” opened up when I had returned home. I suddenly sensed a deep inner connection between the purpose of Jesus’ suffering and all our negative experiences of life. Christ took all our painful cynicism-inducing experiences on the cross so that through his great self-offering we might live an intercessory life in him who; “bore the sin of many and made intercession for transgressors.” (Isa 53:12). To embrace this intercessory-life call requires a deepening level of surrender.
Christian mystics talk about “the dark night of the soul” where the Lord calls his faithful servants to go through a times lacking all sense of his presence so that they might purely seek and love only him. Love and seek him that is apart from his benefits. Mother Teresa describes her own “dark night”; “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God.…The torture and pain I can’t explain.” For all Christians these sorts of blank spaces are a part of following a crucified Lord. Your “dark night” where God does not seem to be present may be a flat tyre, a failed business venture, betrayal by a friend, a sacking, a chronic illness, a broken marriage, a lost child or … But the power of the gospel is that all our negative experiences have been included within Jesus experience of God-forsakenness and the yielding of his last breath to the Father (Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46). Since all my negative experiences of isolation were taken into Jesus on the cross and yielded up by him to God nothing that ever happens to me can be without purpose. In purposefully yielding my cynical soul to the Spirit-filled soul of Christ on behalf of others my life becomes an “intercessory life”. Such surrender becomes a source through which Christ conquers the cynicism of our sin-soaked world. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” is a call to hand over to the Lord in prayer every painful experience for his glory and for the salvation of others (1 Cor 6:20).
Our Father has handed us all over to many darkening experiences of life, not as an act of abandonment but for the salvation of the world (Col 1:24). Through deeper prayerful soul surrender our futile and sinful responses are joined to the power of Christ’s atoning life and become channels of his grace for the lost. In Christ and by the Spirit every negative life experience becomes an intercessory act for the salvation of others.
The contemporary church has pushed intercession into the realm of a few highly gifted individuals with a special calling in prayer. This has dulled the vocation of all Christians to live an “intercessory life” and immeasurably weakened our impact for God’s kingdom. Only a radical reversal of our spiritual priorities can overcome the prevailing culture of unbelief and cynicism in our Western world. When it is standard fare for believers to be taught to take their ungodly responses to the pains of life into the purposeful power of the cross it will become possible once again for jaded sceptics in a post-Christian society to believe that there is a good God (Mark 15:34; Luke 24:36). Every Christian person can be involved in this call and it will change the spiritual climate of our land. Every Christian is called to live an intercessory life, daily taking all our difficult experiences in marriage, family, work, friendship, of government, Church etc. back to the heart of the Father for the healing of the world. What has the Lord allowed you to experience of the ills of life that may be yielded to God for the good of the world? The Spirit of the Son who offered his final breath to the Father will empower you for such intercession, if you so will. Whatever else may be true of “revival” this sort of Christ-centred revival cannot disappoint us; it will not leave us cynics.