The war we wage in quiet: part one

Intercession: noun: the act of intervening on behalf of another; the action of saying a prayer on behalf of another. 

“But Moses implored the Lord his Godand the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:11-14)

Too many of us are haunted by a sense of defeat when it comes to intercessory prayer.

We look at the reality of the world around us, and find ourselves plagued by doubt. In the face of so much injustice, so much darkness, apathy and hopelessness easily break in to our hardened hearts.

We are perplexed by the same old questions:

“God, are you listening?”

“God, are you working here? I can’t see you.”

“How long, O Lord?”

Immersed in the darkness that we see around us, we lose sight of the power of God to redeem our present reality. To avoid disappointment, we relegate His promises to the future. Isn’t salvation simply something to be enjoyed in a far-off eternity only once we have suffered a lifetime in this godless world?

Standing in the Gap

Prayer is powerful. We believe this, but we don’t live like it. “I believe,” we cry out with the father of the boy with the unclean spirit, “help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Our sense of defeat in prayer is fuelled by a small view of God; a God who is only interested in saving a few individual souls, and not in redeeming and restoring the whole of creation.

We need to reclaim a big-vision theology of prayer fuelled by a big-vision God. Our prayer must be fuelled by a picture of God who is content not merely to save a few forlorn souls from a world doomed to go to hell in a handbasket, but a God who is in the habit of making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Intercessory prayer has been described as “standing in the gap.” When we pray for the Kingdom to come, we stand in the gap between the reality that is – a world marred by brokenness and sin – and the possibility of the restored and redeemed world that God has promised.

When we intercede, we anticipate a world to come, the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. To many of us, the prayer that Jesus taught us – “your Kingdom come, your will be done” – has lost its raw power. When we ask for the Kingdom to come we are not merely dreaming of some abstract, distant future alien to our present circumstances. To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

Romans 8:22 tells us that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In prayer, we participate in the groaning of creation for the redemption of all things. We cry out to God, that he may bring about the transformation of this world.

When John the Baptiser sent messengers to Jesus to question whether he really was the Messiah to come, Jesus answered “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). In other words, he tells them that the rule and reign of God promised by the prophet Isaiah – the Kingdom of God – is being established here-and-now. This Kingdom is not some far-off hope attained only in a foreign future, says Jesus. Your God is on the move now, in this time and this place, bringing about the redemption of all things.

When we intercede, we claim the same reality of God’s redeeming presence for our city, for our nation, and for the world in which we live. We believe that the Kingdom of God is really among us. We believe that we can see the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them, because our Father is on the move here and now. 

To pray for the Kingdom to come is to call into concrete existence the rule and reign of God in the here-and-now.

A life of prayer is a life lived in tension. We acknowledge that the redemption of God is yet to come in its fullness, on that final day when Christ returns in victory. Almost paradoxically, we appeal to God to do what He has promised to do here-and-now. We pray in confident faith that we will see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). We appeal to the same Father who transferred us from the domain of darkness into the domain of light (Colossians 1:13) to overcome once and for all the darkness that haunts His Creation.

Intercession, then, is full of possibility. It is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation. To pray is to believe that God will bring about that which He has promised: the restoration and redemption of all things.

Prayer as resistance

When we intercede, we call the power of the Father who orders all things into the disorder and chaos of this world. We call on our Creator God to speak into the storm of our existence, to bring peace where there is unrest and wholeness where there is brokenness.

To intercede is to stake our existence on the possibility that our Father not only can act, but will act to redeem His Creation.

To bow the knee in prayer is an act of resistance against a culture that continually puts the self at the centre. To pray is to surrender our own priorities for the priorities of our Creator, Redeemer God. Prayer is an act of sacrifice, an embodied statement of our utter dependence on our Father in Heaven. Prayer is a declaration of our commitment to the priorities to the Kingdom.

We are an army waging war on our knees. In prayer, we call upon God to make His power perfect in our weakness. We acknowledge our utter dependence, as creature to Creator, and appeal to His goodness to work for the good of His people and His Creation.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet. When God’s people bow the knee in prayer, we begin a revolution against the tyranny of busyness that plagues our world. When we kneel, we oppose the noisiness of a world starved of solitude, in order that the perfect peace of God may break in.

To pray is to wage war in the quiet.

So we do not lose heart. In prayer we stand together against the apathy and cynicism that pervades our culture and so often pervades our thinking. In prayer we appeal to a big God – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – not the small God that our imaginations have created.

Our Father is in the business of making all things new, and in prayer He invites us to participate in the redemption of all things. He calls us to “stand in the gap” between the old order of things as He ushers in a new order:

Will you accept the call?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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The Beloved

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

All that matters is to accepted by the Father as a child radically beloved by Him.

In His presence, we find out who we truly are. He sees into the cracks and crevices of our heart; His light shines into every dark corner of our mind. He is the one who searches us, who knows us intimately, discerning our thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:1). He knows every terrible secret that we so carefully lock away far beneath, always fearing that we will finally be sniffed out for what we truly are.

And yet, He embraces us in our totality.

At the end of ourselves, fearful and alone behind the mask we put on before the world, He whispers these words into our hearts: you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you (Isaiah 43:4).

Before we spoke a word, He was singing this song of love over us. He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us (Zephaniah 3:17). He saved us, not because of any righteous that we have done, but because He is a Father of mercy and love (Titus 3:5).

He embraces our wounds, our vulnerability, our rebellious self, our wandering ways. He accepts us in our totality – not just those parts of us that our particularly holy or righteous or beautiful, but all of us in our ugliness, sinfulness, and pridefulness. He sees to the very core of our being – He sees what we truly are, vulnerable, broken, alone. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,” says Isaiah about the faithfulness of this God in the midst of our brokenness (Isaiah 42:3).

He is Abba, Father – the God who runs after alienated and estranged children to bring us home. He gives us a place at His banquet, when we barely deserve the crumbs under his table.

The core of our being is constituted by the truth that we are Abba’s delight, beloved by Him, precious in His sight. When the beauty and strength of youth fades and the illusion of our self-sufficiency and autonomy shatters, when worldly glory vanishes and the fickle approval of man fails, His love remains. When our abilities crumble and our bodies grow frail, when our minds are dimmed and our hands grow weak, we still have the love of God and yet have all.

At every moment, we owe our existence to the love of God. The very core of our being is utterly dependent on the sustaining, creating, renewing love of the Father which never fails, which never fades, which is always faithful. In Him we live and move and have our being, always loved into being by the God who is Love.

To accept this radical love – to put on our identity as the beloved – requires a total conversion of the heart.

To accept our identity as a child of God is to lay down every illusion of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and strength. There is no part of our existence that receives its being apart from the life-giving love of the Father.

To be accepted by Him in our totality shatters the facade we put up to be accepted and approved by others. To be embraced in our totality by Abba means we can lay down our striving for the glory of man, because we have been endowed with the robes of righteousness that the Father lovingly puts on the backs of His children. We can walk with new confidence, new boldness. This is perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of man and fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Run out of hiding. Lay down your striving. Throw down your fear. You are accepted by Abba through Christ. He embraces you not because of your righteous deeds, but in spite of them. He rejoices over you and invites you in your pain, in your rebellion, in your hiding, in your hurting.

He will not break a bruised reed, nor will He snuff out a smouldering wick. Come to Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is gentle and kind. Let His perfect love cast out fear; let the truth that you are His beloved speak against every lie of the enemy.

We hear Heaven’s music on the horizon, and we are invited to the banquet as Abba’s children. May we have faith to accept the invitation.

The Art of Receiving

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The most important spiritual discipline we can practice is receiving the Father’s love for us.

Every other discipline and habit and spiritual exercise we could possibly conceive of will quickly disintegrate under the weight of crushing legalism until we have practised dwelling in the abundant love that God has for us.

And yet, when we find ourselves in a spiritual dry season, we are quick to forget the unchanging, steadfast love that the Father has for us, and turn instead to striving and doing in order to somehow place ourselves back under His favour. I think that if only I knew more about God or repented more or read more of my Bible or was more disciplined, God would break my spiritual rut and manifest more of His love to me.

The Father is not like that.

The spiritual life is not some slot machine that we put our little coins of righteous deeds into in exchange for more of His favour. The Father’s favour and love is freely received, not bought.

This does not come naturally to us. Every instinct in us tells us that God is big, distant, removed from our worries and anxieties. Our minds are quick to conceive of a detached deity in whose direction we send our doubting prayers and intercessions. Our spiritual lives become a mathematical equation in which more obedience equals more favour; if only I did more, if only I did something differently, God would manifest more of himself in my life.

Of course, repentance is crucial in our relationship with God for we are so frequently prone to wander, and good works are the vital outworking of His Spirit’s transforming power in us. However, in our spiritually dry seasons, we are often quick to put the cart before the horse. We are quick to seek solutions rather than savour and rest in the Father’s love for us.

Perhaps your spiritual rut is not a call to do more, but a call simply to be still in the Father’s presence.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:18-19).

It is the unwavering, steadfast love of the Father alone that survives our seasons of spiritual fatigue and our darkest doubts. The truth of the Father’s love for us does not change based on our experiences or circumstances. When we are past the point of pressing on, it is His unchanging love that meets us at the end of the road.

Our relationship with God is not a theological problem to be solved but a relationship with a loving Father. His love for us is unconditional. He bestows it freely, without qualification. True rest does not come from restless striving, but simply receiving the Father’s abundant love for us. Every other habit and spiritual discipline we could practice is simply to cultivate the ground in order to receive the rain of God’s grace.

When we received the spirit of adoption, the Father did not transfer us from one economy of striving into another. The slave strives for the Father’s approval and acceptance out of fear of condemnation; the son dwells in peace and rest because he knows nothing can shake him from the Father’s embrace.

We will not experience true peace until we have dwelt in the truth that we that we have peace with God. Peace will not rule in our hearts until the truth of the Gospel reigns in our lives.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…and always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

The answer to your spiritual rut may not be to do more, but simply to receive.Sit with the Father. Switch off your phone, come away, be still. Dwell in His boundless love for you, that sweet, unchanging love that shed blood to ransom your soul and reconcile you to Himself.