Intercession: I am not alone!
I must confess that intercession has always been hard work for me. I have never been an admirer of my own praying. I feel more like a young child learning a difficult language, than a multi- decade veteran of daily prayer. I never feel the poverty of my love, the diminishment of my passions, and the paucity of my understanding more than when I am engaged in sustained prayer. I could get despondent quite easily if it were not for a blazing revelation marked clearly in the scriptures. When I pray I am not alone! When I intercede there is more than just me praying. Let me explain.
The New Testament tells me that Jesus himself is interceding for us with the father. “Jesus Christ … is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34) “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Since Jesus is the prime interceder, then my part is simply to join him in a work he has already begun. It does not all rest with me! Thanks be to God!
The Holy Spirit Intercedes
But that is not the limits of the good news. Not only does Jesus live to intercede for humanity, but so does the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26-27.) So it is not all up to me! The Spirit helps me as I attempt to pray unselfishly, by inspiring prayers within me, and then by topping up the oil of my own deficiencies in this work of prayer! I feel a bit like Moses, who had Aaron on one side and Hur on the other, lifting up his hands. But I seem to be more fortunate that even Moses, with Jesus and the Spirit letting me join in their redemptive working in the world.
All Creation Intercedes
But that is not the end of the good news about our calling to be intercessors. For not only does Jesus and the Spirit intercede with us, but here is an added bonus, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait….” (Romans 8:22-23) Nature may have been despoiled, but it has not defected from serving its creator, and so offers its own earnest yearnings along with all those who are part of the community of faith. I am surrounded by intercessors!
The company in Heaven Intercedes
We might be in even larger company than that, however. I find myself gripped by the words prayed in the service of Holy Communion, “with angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your holy name…” and I suspect that they participate with me, (or is it, me with them?) not only in praise but also in prayers for those that cannot or do not pray for themselves.
If Jesus, and the Spirit, and the residents of heaven and all nature, as well as the community of saints are engaged in intercession, then I am fortunate to find myself singing in a marvelous choir. Who would not want to lift their voice in prayer in such good company?
Reflections upon Prayer
The prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17 has been called His “High Priestly Prayer.”
What parts of this prayer do you think he may still be praying on our behalf?
Jesus also intercedes for Peter in Luke 22:31-32. Is this still his prayer for us today?
Quotable Quotes on The Intercession of Christ
H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ. London: Macmillan & Co. 1911, page 100 wrtites:
“While the incarnate Son is our advocate with the Father and makes intercession at the right hand of God, the Holy Spirit is our advocate on earth, and makes intercession for us in the depths of our hearts. So awful and blessed a thing is Christian prayer that no petition finds its way from man to God without the co-operation of two divine persons, one working with man of earth, the other for man in heaven. The Spirit inspires prayer, or the desire which can as yet find no full expression in words; and the Son presents it to the Father, and claims acceptance for it on the ground of his righteousness, his sacrifice, his exaltation of manhood to the throne of god.”
Arise, My Soul, Arise. (Charles Wesley)
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.
Published in Light and Life, January-February, 2004