SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
April 27 2008
Intercessory Prayer a Ministry that Begins with Listening
Key Verse: Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. – Daniel 9:17
Daniel’s example inspires us. Daniel prayed. Daniel prayed for his nation, the
Add Daniel’s example to the example of our Lord Jesus and you have no doubt that intercessory prayer must have a vital place among the disciplines of genuine Christian disciples. Jesus prayed. He expects us to pray. Praying is not optional. Prayer is as natural as breathing for it is the lifeblood of the believer’s relationship with the Father.
As we grow in grace Jesus teaches us how to pray. We learn to move from selfish, childish prayers to prayers of submission and surrender to the will of God. Eventually we discover that intercessory prayer is both a privilege and a sacred responsibility of those who follow Christ.
The spirit in which Daniel prayed is impressive. He included himself in the sins of his people. Observe his words, “We have sinned and done wrong.” Like Isaiah, Daniel felt the shame of his own sins as well as those of fellow Israelites. Once Isaiah had seen the King, Almighty God, he confessed, “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (6:5).
Daniel uses beautiful imagery to make his passionate plea for God’s mercy. He invites God to demonstrate his forgiveness by letting his “face shine upon” the people. This idea calls to mind the beautiful words the Lord gave to Moses about how to bless the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
This is a beautiful truth! A child can experience no greater joy than to look upon the smiling face of an approving father or mother. Just so it causes agonizing pain for a child to observe angry disapproval on the face of disappointed parents. Imagine what joy Jesus must have felt when he heard his Father say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Like Jesus we all created with a need for the affirmation of our heavenly Father. Daniel was wise. He knew that the shining face of the Lord, beaming with affirming love, would bless and transform the people as nothing else could.
Daniel’s example in intercession should inspire us to take more seriously the need and privilege of praying for others. Richard J. Foster can help us also. In his acclaimed book, Celebration of Discipline, he observes that “the work of prayer involves a learning process.” He explains, “One of the most critical aspects in learning to pray for others is to get in contact with God so that his life and power can flow through us into others.”
How do we do that? By listening to God. Foster says: “Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession.” Before we can know how to pray for others, we must learn to “listen for guidance” from the Lord.
As I was preparing this lesson, our dear friend Sara walked in the front door of our home. It dawned on me that she had come because she had been listening to God. God told her to come. She obeyed God. She brought food but the food was incidental. She had come to pray for my wife Dean who was just home from the hospital.
The three of us held hands as Sara prayed. What she asked the Lord for was exactly what we needed. The doctor had “shocked” Dean’s heart to restore its normal rhythm. Sara asked the Lord to “seal what the doctor had done so that Dean’s heart will continue to beat normally.” She asked the Lord to strengthen Dean and continue to make her life and testimony a blessing to others. We felt Christ present with us, keeping his promise to be present “when two or three gather in his name.”
When Sara left our hearts were filled with joy. A friend had come and prayed for us, reminding us once again what a powerful difference it makes when others pray for you. It is a privilege as well as a significant ministry that followers of Christ must not neglect.
Asked to explain his success as a preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “My people pray for me.” Foster writes, “Your pastor and the services of worship need to be bathed in prayer.” Miracles happen when people fill the church with prayers. Foster quotes Frank Laubach saying to his audiences, “I am very sensitive and know whether you are praying for me. If one of you lets me down, I feel it. When you are praying for me, I feel a strange power. When every person in a congregation prays intensely while the pastor is preaching, a miracle happens.” Indeed miracles do happen in church, and outside the church, when people are praying.
We must not suppose that we not have time for intercessory prayer, as though this is a ministry mostly for retired people. Intercessory prayer, Foster says, “is not prayer in addition to work but prayer simultaneous with work” so that “prayer and action become wedded.” He calls upon the saintly Thomas Kelly to back up this claim with these words:
“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”
Foster helps us relax by inviting us not to make prayer “too complicated.” This is a good word. We are prone to think of prayer as an exercise for professional prophets and priests, monks and nuns. Not so. Foster reminds us that Jesus taught us to come like children to a father. He says wisely, “Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father. The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.” It will help us to remember this as we continually learn to pray.
May we become more willing to listen to God and to obey him when he moves us to put our own selfish concerns aside long enough to pray for others. When we do, then like Daniel we shall see the Almighty work miracles in our lives. We may even feel the incredible joy of knowing that in spite of our sins the Father has made his face shine upon us and given us the peace of his approving love.
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