For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
- Ephesians 1:15-23
“You cannot truly intercede through prayer if you do not believe in the reality of redemption. Instead, you will simply be turning intercession into useless sympathy for others… True intercession 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. Intercession means to “fill up… [with] what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1:24), and this is precisely why there are so few intercessors. People describe intercession by saying, ‘It is putting yourself in someone else’s place.’ That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having His mind and His perspective.” …
“Our work is to be in such close contact with God that we may have His mind about everything, but we shirk that responsibility by substituting doing for interceding. And yet intercession is the only thing that has no drawbacks, because it keeps our relationship completely open with God.”
“What we must avoid in intercession is praying for someone to be simply ‘patched up.’ We must pray that person completely through into contact with the very life of God. Think of the number of people God has brought across our path, only to see us drop them! When we pray on the basis of redemption, God creates something He can create in no other way than through intercessory prayer.”
- Oswald Chambers, Intercessory Prayer, My Utmost for His Highest
Does your church have a prayer list? Most churches do.
Some are generic and even printed in the bulletin. For example: Pray for the following for healing… Pray for the following for strength and comfort… In this way, there isn’t any confidential information being passed along. Those that know the individual can understand the need for healing or the circumstances that lead to a cry for strength and comfort. But others can simply pray for the person, because someone loved them enough to add them to the list.
Other prayer lists are kept confidential, within the prayer team. Of course, there are usually leaks. A carelessly laid list that others can read. A slip of the tongue during innocent conversation. And, sad to say, a gossiper swears on a stack of Bibles that they would never tell… For these reasons, sometimes the preacher decides to keep the list confidential within the control of staff only, or even just pastoral staff only.
Some prayer lists may be subdivided with categories of Family, Diagnosis, Healing, and Bereavement. There could be dated lists that require periodic updates or rotations to another list.
All of this is mechanics. When you get bogged down in mechanics, you forget what Paul was talking about to the Ephesians and what Oswald Chambers had in mind.
First, Paul is praying for the Ephesians to gain in ‘wisdom and revelation’, that they ‘may know the hope’, and that ‘the eyes of (their) heart may be enlightened.’ When we pray that someone should be healed, do we look at their soul? Do we do as Chambers suggests in putting ourselves in the mind and perspective of God? Does God want to use this illness to transform the lives of the ill person, the caregivers, the family, the friends, or the church? If so, will a quick healing do what God wishes to accomplish, will a prolonged illness be necessary to put the right pieces in place for God’s heavenly kingdom, or will the result be death? From my experience, a quick recovery can be a sign of a miracle or it can be shrugged off as ‘no big deal’ for they weren’t ‘that’ sick.
I knew a man, a beloved long-time friend, who rejected God, becoming an atheist, because of a prolonged illness and eventual death to his daughter. He admitted that his daughter was a great blessing. She believed in Jesus and blessed all who came to her bedside. He just couldn’t forgive God for taking her away. Did you catch that? He couldn’t forgive the God that he didn’t believe in.
Yet, Paul’s ultimate goal in his prayers was that the church in Ephesus would grow with Christians who were on fire with the Holy Spirit. Think of the words ‘wisdom’, ‘revelation’, and ‘hope.’ It’s how Chambers concludes his topic of intercessory prayer. We need to pray for people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, whether they are healthy or ill. We need to see it through until they are eternally in the arms of Jesus. We need to pray for those who are born-again to grow in wisdom so that they can be foundation stones for the church to grow, and even more people to come into the fold.
To paraphrase the logic of Jesus in John 12:8, we will always have the sick (instead of poor), but we might not have Him (or the church). If the people that we are praying for do not result in a growth in believers or a gaining of strength among existing believers, the church could wither and die. Other than for the people that were healed and their family and friends, what did the miraculous healing accomplish?
Ah! What cynicism! No, if you haven’t noticed, we all get sick. Sometimes we will get better. Sometimes we learn to live with the malady. We walk a little slower, walk with a cane or walker, or we limp. Sometimes the doctor says that it is inoperable, but we are stubborn and we get out of bed anyway. But eventually, the end comes for each of us.
When we are gone, what is our legacy? Is it that we consumed oxygen, or is it that we lit a spiritual fire?
If we leave this earth without a next generation of believers to carry the torch, Jesus has said that He can raise stones (Matthew 3:9). God won’t be defeated, but our lives will be wasted, and our intercessory prayers would have only bought a few people a few more pain free days.
And what of Oswald Chambers’ second sentence in the quote above? Through interceding, we bring someone or some circumstance before God and God changes US! By intercessory prayer, we are placed into God’s place with His mind and His perspective. That is a heady thought. Does it make you afraid that you have bit off more than you can chew by joining the prayer team? That list that you were e-mailed by the team leader has just gained weight. You may find it hard to lift the first page to read the second, or third…
Yet, taking up our cross daily is not an easy task.
As for our church, our church’s prayer team has a prayer list that is confidential, but they also have a prayer box. When we are unable to update the status of someone, they are placed into the prayer box on a slip of paper. When the prayer box gets full, the slips of paper or sticky notes are burned, lifting a heavenly aroma up to God. The team prays for each person on the prayer list and then a special prayer for those in the prayer box. Only God knows what the people in the prayer box need.
But might I use Oswald Chambers’ conclusion with regard to the prayer box? For anyone who has ever been on the prayer list, until they pass to the Lord, we pray that the Holy Spirit work within the person for whom we are praying and the family of that person to heal their souls and bring them into holy communion with Jesus.
Do you have the strength? God will give you the strength and the wisdom. If you believe that…
Let us pray.