Hours of Work: Unlimited
Remuneration and Benefits: None
Age and Experience: No limits
References: Not required
Must care, must listen, must observe.
Who’d be an intercessor? It’s not a role that brings recognition or reward. It doesn’t come with an official title or office. The work is carried out in private – in fact, in secret. Most of the time, nobody knows who is doing it, or even if it’s being done. But, lack of intercessors is a serious gap in the spiritual resources of any church or community. How would you respond to the job advert?
If you’ve chosen to read this article, it’s likely that you already spend regular time praying; and that probably includes praying for other people. Praying for needs other than our own is what we call ‘intercession’. But, this kind of prayer can be expanded into a ministry. This work stands alongside well-recognised ministries like preaching, leadership, teaching, and evangelism. But intercession isn’t well-recognised. Nobody sees it happen. It’s hidden. But it’s a vital role. For the sake of the church, someone must do it – and, preferably, a lot of people.
It’s not always true to say that intercessors are unrecognised. The lives of some intercessors have been widely reported, which can create a different problem. Books written about intercessors like Rees Howells, John Hyde (“Praying Hyde”), Susannah Wesley, Hudson Taylor, and others, reveal lives of prayer that may inspire us all. But such inspiration may also be daunting. It’s great that these people spent untold hours on their knees. It’s wonderful that they lived exemplary lives. It’s beautiful that some ‘giants of prayer’ have been honoured with the title of ‘saint’. But, by putting such people on a pedestal, historians may make the calling seem beyond the rest of us. People who would be intercessors may feel inadequate or discouraged. The popular ‘…for Dummies’ books have shown computer-dunces, do-it-yourself-duffers, and other non-experts, that ordinary people can achieve acceptable results – and the same is true in prayer.
You may be thinking, “This ministry must need a lot of faith!” Well, yes, a lot of faith would help, but a little faith is a good start. Jesus told his disciples, “…you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Matthew 21:21 NIV). When he said that, Jesus was walking on the Mount of Olives, looking towards the mountain where the tyrannous King Herod had built the Temple. It should have been a holy place, but it had come to represent political arrogance, religious hypocrisy, and unscrupulous commercialism. For the sake of the honest, the faithful, and the needy, that mountain needed a good shaking. You’re unlikely to pray for the moving of a real mountain; but you may have injustice, prejudice, and unfairness in your sights as you pray for God’s will to be done on earth.
On another occasion, Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6 NIV). I’ve recently been uprooting a tree in my garden but, being neither muscular, nor young, I couldn’t use brute force or great strength to do the job. The solution was to sharpen my tools, apply my limited strength in short, manageable sessions, and to be persistent. We may not be giants of faith; but our puny prayers can move God’s purposes forward, little-by-little. To pray effectively, we only need mustard-seed sized faith – and to keep at it.
God calls some people to a ministry of intercession from their youth, making it a lifelong commission. God calls others to this ministry as they come closer to the end of their lives, maybe after many years of active, public ministry. It may also be a calling for people whose life-limitations prevent them engaging in more public roles. The ministry of intercession can fit into a physically less active life. But that doesn’t mean that it’s undemanding. It requires commitment, sacrifice, and perseverance – just like the public ministries. It involves engagement with spiritual powers. And it involves a battle with our own desires and temptations.
Is this primarily a calling for retirees? Certainly not! It may come to its fullness in later life, but the seeds should be planted early. It must start somewhere, and the beginnings may be small. With mustard-seed-sized faith, but excessively busy lives, our scope for becoming intercessors may be limited – for the time being. But a seedling-habit started now, despite limitations, may be nurtured over the years until it blossoms into a powerful ministry. Don’t wait until retirement to discover your ultimate calling.
There’s no single template for how intercession should be done. It proceeds from your personal walk with God and your mental, physical, and spiritual capacity. In that sense, it requires that you are sensitive to variations in your capacity, and that you take good care of yourself while considering other people’s needs. It doesn’t require special appointment or recognition; it doesn’t need anyone else to know what you’re doing. It just needs you to know that God has called you – and to do it.
As Jesus taught in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) all work in God’s service carries the same reward. Intercessors may not be noticed now, but they will not be forgotten. If you begin a ministry of intercession, you are taking on a role that is vital for the church and the world. Whatever your circumstances, whenever you start this journey, and however you do it – if God calls you this way, do it with your might.
How will you respond to the call?
© Derrick Phillips 2017
Many Christians feel inadequate about prayer, because they can’t pray in the way they suppose they should. But prayer is for all of us – extroverts, introverts, active people, people who enjoy stillness, folk who love solitude, and those who hate being alone.
Still Digging validates a variety of ways of praying, so that everyone can feel confident to pray as they are. It’s 80 short chapters can be read as part of a ‘quiet time’, or like a normal book, lead through all kinds of prayer, to suit every personality.
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