Intercession The Subtle Behaviors of a Disciple Part 4
Intercession is more than a thought and a prayer, it's doing something.
The Subtle Behaviors of a Disciple Part 4
Intercession: The Parable of the Barren Tree
In this series concerning the subtle behaviors of a disciple we have explored gratitude, hospitality, ingenuity and today we will consider intercession.
Most often when there is a teaching on intercession it is about prayer. Paul wrote:
“…Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters....” (Ephesians 6:18) As disciples we are to pray for one another. The Apostle James urges us to “Pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) Intercessory prayer is bringing the need of another before God and asking for His help. But prayer is only one aspect of intercession. Intercession also includes intervening.
There are some fine lines to consider when helping another. There is a difference between “interference and intervention,” between “meddling and mediating,” between “minding our own business and interceding on the behalf of others.” (Dan Seagren). Not crossing those lines requires discernment that only the Holy Spirit can give you. Not allowing your boundaries to be crossed is another line that requires your attention. There is a difference between helping and being taken advantage of. I truly believe we are to help others out of our prosperity, we use our extra to make a difference for others. There is a little free teaching for a disciple here, if you have no extra, you may need to examine your lifestyle and see why you don’t. In our affluent culture that really requires contemplation, allowing God the Holy Spirit to guide you through your inventory of expenses.
“Intercession can be dangerous.” (Dan Seagren) A colleague of mine would remind me often that “no good deed goes unpunished.” (Ray Doane) That means that often your help and best intentions, don’t win any accolades. Two sister’s in my youth group experienced the death of their last surviving parent and in an attempt to minister to them, remaining adults of the family let me know that I was not at all welcome and asked me to leave. “Gosh, I was just trying to help.”
Intercession is always costly. First, it’s always an inconvenience, a disruption to your normal activities. There are a time costs and an interruption to your schedule cost. Second, there can be a get your hand's dirty cost. In your intercession, it may be you who has to do the chore, find the answer, make the connections, get the help. If you see a need God maybe calling you to meet the need. Third, there may be a financial cost or at least a resource cost. You may have to put your money where your prayers are. Fourth there is the reputation cost. We all want people to think well of us, sometimes we have to say “no, this is not in your best interest,” and then suffer the angry rebuke of the one we are telling that they need to help themselves and worse the scorn of others who do not understand your decision.
There is a spirit of intercession that motivates this subtle behavior of a disciple. We’ll have to do a little digging into a parable that Jesus told to see it. Though I’m going to give it to you right now, the spirit of intercession is compassion. Who cares? You care.
Luke 13:1-9 (MSG)
1 About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. 2 Jesus responded, "Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die. 4 And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? 5 Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die."
Jesus teaching here reiterates the truth we find in the story of Job. Job, righteous and well-to-do was accused of being faithful because of his blessings. Overnight Jobs money, health, and his children were all taken from him. Job’s friends come to comfort him and their bottom line is that Job must have sinned for God to punish him so severely.
Isn’t that what we think. If we do good, God will bless us. If we do bad, God will punish us. But the more I come to understand the atonement, the punishment of God occurred upon Calvary. If I first acknowledge the fact that justice demanded my punishment for the crimes against God, humanity, and myself that I committed, and second believed that Jesus gets me acquitted by taking my place with God’s wrath falling on Him, and commit myself to living for the One who died for me, His disciple, remaining in Christ, living a life of love, being the lover who seeks to meet the needs of others, then God does not punish me. God may discipline me to correct my subpar behaviors, but having identified with Jesus, God does not punish me.
The murdered Galileans and those crushed in Jerusalem were not because they had sinned. It was not God’s judgment upon them. We cannot automatically connect a person’s suffering with their sin. What is important is that we belong to God through faith in Christ.
6 Then he told them a story: "A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren't any. 7 He said to his gardener, 'What's going on here? For three years now I've come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?'
8 "The gardener said, 'Let's give it another year. I'll dig around it and fertilize 9 and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn't, then chop it down.' "
For you Bible savvy folks you may recognize that in the Message there has been a change of trees. In Kings James Version and the New International Version the tree is not an apple, rather, it is fig. For me, the bottom line is it doesn’t matter. For this parable is not about the horticultural characteristics of a fig tree or the fig tree representing the nation of Israel. It’s about intercession. This parable is not a warning that failure to produce fruit will get you chopped down, that anyone who takes and takes and gives nothing back will be destroyed. It’s about intercession. This parable is not about second chances and final chances to repent and thus respond to God’s requirement that a disciple of Jesus bear fruit or be cut down. It’s about intercession.
The people that told Jesus about what Pilate did in the murdering of these people and Jesus refreshing the memory of the people concerning the building collapse in Jerusalem, were more concerned about the theological reasons that these tragedies occurred than they were for the people and their families. Jesus tells them about the intercession of the gardener on behalf of the tree.
The non-producing tree is ordered to be cut down immediately. But the gardener intercedes. The gardener steps in between owner and tree and said let me do what I can to make this situation better, if nothing comes of it, then I’ll cut it down. That “let me do what I can,” is intercession. The gardener for whatever reason cared about the welfare of this tree.
The gardener knows the tree needs to produce, he knows parasites are to be destroyed, He knows sometimes you get a second chance, but that final chances inevitably present themselves. This tree is in danger. For some reason the gardener cares, he has compassion on the tree, it motivates him to do something. Caring, compassion, motivates intercession.
When a disciple sees that something is not right, when they see need, when they see suffering, when they see injustice, caring and compassion move them to do something. That doing something is intercession.
I think what has happened to many followers of Christ is that we get bombarded by needs all the time. The tragedy is brought into our homes through the nightly news, the internet, and we just start to become hard. We see reports of innocents suffering, we see murder, we see oppression. We just shake our heads and say that’s awful. Maybe we offer a prayer for God to intervene in the situation. Maybe we think like the people Jesus told this parable to, they deserve it, they had it coming to them. We see that person on the street corner with their sign, there are so many, we see them so often, and we hear of how some of these people are really parasites, or we look at them and think they could get a job, so we go blind to them. Our capacity for caring and compassion is desensitized by the overwhelming needs constantly presented to us. When everybody needs help we tend just to help ourselves.
People have even a greater need than the physical, the financial, the emotional; how much more the spiritual needs of the people we know? Those without Christ may be family members, co-workers, friends, folks that we interact with on a weekly if not daily basis and we see their need for Christ. They aren’t living their lives to the full, they are missing the fruit of the spirit, they are the weary travelers wandering down dead-end roads, they are caught up in destructive pursuits. Do we care, do we have compassion for them. Most often we don’t think about them. When we do we may think “stupid is as stupid does.”
We forget our calling “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11 (NIV). Caring and compassion motivate our intercession into their lives with the good news that there is an empowerment to change. Pray for them, certainly, but also get your hands dirty. Is intercession costly? Yes. Is intercession dangerous? Yes. Intercession is also the subtle behavior of a disciple.
So how are you going to intercede for the needs you see in the lives of others? I expect you first would pray for God’s blessing to meet the need. If you see a need and don’t know the person that you would cross over the stranger zone and greet them with a smile and a how are you doing? You know what happens next, they will most likely say fine, then you respond by saying, “but how are you really doing?” Once they know you are really interested, wow, you just interceded, they will most likely tell you. Then you listen, that’s intercession. Ask if you can pray for them and if out of your abundance become the source of the provision they need, you’ve interceded.
So often our prayers are just wind. That’s not to say we don’t need to pray. But prayer without doing something to meet the need is passing the responsibility of loving on this person to someone else.
What if there is really nothing materially you can do for someone? I would suggest you intercede for them, help them to find the resources they need. If even that is out of your ability, let them know that you at least care by follow up on them; check on them.
Do you recall the shooting in Thousand Oaks, November 7, 2018 Ian Long walked into the Borderline Bar and Grill and open fired with a Glock 21 45 caliber hand gun and killed 12 people, leaving 10 others injured and then took his own life. Telemachus Orfanos, 27 years old was one of the victims. His mother Susan with great agony of emotion, said: “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control.” When prayers, when thoughts are not backed up with being there and trying to make a difference they appear totally useless, especially to those who are not believers that God does hear our cries for help. A disciple intercedes with prayers and with deeds.
Matt 5:13-16 (NIV)
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
If you have yet to cultivate this behavior of intercession in your life, start caring about something or someone other than yourself.
Philippians 2:4 (NIV)
Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
Gratitude, Hospitality, Ingenuity, Intercession, these are four of the subtle behaviors of a disciple. If the Holy Spirit reveals to you that these are not
part of how you live your life, then make the change, because this is how disciples live.