Intercession and Standing in the Breach

The people of God – followers of Christ – are to be a praying people. The apostle Peter says of us that we are part of a holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). When we consider the priests of the Old Testament, one of their tasks was to be intercessors on behalf of the people. Today, as members of the priesthood of believers, this holy and sacred baton has been passed onto us. Are we being faithful, or have we been fumbling it?

We are told by the apostle Paul,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. ~ 1 Timothy 2:1-6

I don’t profess to understand prayer. I only know we are called to pray. While I know God is sovereign and doesn’t need our help, I also know that He calls you and me to pray. While our prayers do not change God, in some mysterious way God has decreed that He will only do certain things in response to the prayers of His people. For example, after telling him about the corruption of the false prophets, priests, and political leaders of the day, God then tells His prophet,

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God. ~ Ezekiel 22:30-31

Did you catch that? God sought for persons to intercede for the nation, for someone to ask Him to turn away His wrath and judgment, but He couldn’t find anyone. God implies that He wouldn’t have sent destruction if He could’ve simply found someone to stand in the breach on behalf of the nation. Beloved, do you believe our nation and world aren’t experiencing the judgment of God? If not, read Romans 1. We are told of three judgements which occur as God begins giving a people over to their sins. With each judgment, there is a deeper, darker, and more dangerous pit. Beloved, whether we admit it or not, America is in the third phase of judgment. Yet, WHERE are the people of God? We’re so busy playing games in church, we don’t have time to take intercession seriously. You don’t believe me? When was the last time your pastor spoke about revival? How often do the television and radio preachers talk about it? We hear people all the time saying how crazy our world is becoming, but how many of the same are saying, “Come with me, we must pray and seek God’s face”?

How many churches today still have prayer meetings and altar calls? Of those that do, how many are filled with people pleading to God for His mercies on behalf of our nation and world? How many people truly plead to God to send revival? There is no lack of evidence for the urgency of such prayers, but where, oh where, are God’s people to be found pleading?

Beloved, let me ask you something. Why do people need the Savior? What is the eternity awaiting those who die without Jesus? These are not trick questions. And if you’re born again, you’ll know the answers are that those who die apart from the saving grace of Christ will die in their sins and be forever condemned to hell. There are no second chances or do overs. Do we believe this? Tell me, DO WE BELIEVE THIS??? Then how can our churches not be burdened? How can we not be on our faces pleading before God?

Beloved, I don’t care about your theological camp. What I care about is the heart of God. And He tells us as He speaks through His prophet, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin…. For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God; so turn and live” (Ezekiel 18:30, 32).

Churches and pastors, lest we continue in our religious fun and games, and remain focused on building our empires in our own names and for our own glory, God also speaks through His prophet this warning:

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. ~ Ezekiel 33:7-9

Beloved, our prayers matter. And our hearts matter. And to God our Father, the people all around us matter. The question is, do they truly matter enough to intercede and stand in the breach for them. If not, then let us be clear that our religious activities are nothing but sheer garbage.

Hospitals or Hospices?

It has been a few weeks since I have posted anything. There are a few reasons, but one of which has to do with releasing a new book through Amazon, entitled, Misfits of Grace: Black Sheep in God’s Family. I believe it’s an important message for the church today. The chief attribute Christians ought to be known for is love for one another. This doesn’t mean the condoning of sin, of course, but it does mean to treat persons with respect and worth. Sadly, too many persons, genuine believers, are attending churches trying to live by faith that they have intrinsic value as a brother or sister in the family of God, but they are ignored and rejected by the very persons who claim to be siblings in Christ. This is tragic. Furthermore, they are told they are important to the body, that God has given them spiritual gifts, but they are treated as mere benchwarmers and water boys on some high school sports team.

Some of God’s children are misfits, so to speak, and are treated as such by people. But be clear on this, these individuals are so dearly loved by God. They are not redeemed by accident, and their worth is not less than those who are “insiders” of religious circles.

Today, I’m sharing with you the first chapter of Misfits of Grace. I hope you will find it both challenging and encouraging.

Chapter One: Hospitals or Hospices?

Let’s begin with a multiple-choice question, shall we? Jesus says that people will know persons are His disciples by: a) How many verses they have memorized. b) Their faithfulness in church attendance. c) Having the complete set of John MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries. d) Branding sinners with red hot verbal irons. e) Being popular in churches. f) Appearing spiritual. g) Worshiping at a Chris Tomlin concert. h) Being a Sunday school teacher. i) All the above. j) None of the above. I trust that this was an easy question. In fact, I’m confident that many who are reading this can state what Jesus actually says: 

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. ~ John 13:35 

We, as Christians, can say these words with convincing conviction. However, let me ask you: Do others know you and I are Christ’s disciples by our love? Then again, what is love? The Bible defines it for us: 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians. 13:4-6 

Do these describe most of us in our interactions with one another? Really? Are most of us truly known for being patient, kind, humble, and selfless? Oh sure, those within our circles and cliques might think well enough of us, but what about the outsiders—those deemed as different, unattractive, not funny, too serious, socially awkward, too bubbly, etc.?  This brings us to what James writes to believers, concerning partiality: 

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory… If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin. ~ James 2:1, 8-9 

Again, how are many persons in churches doing in not showing partiality? I’ve been a Christian long enough and have been to enough churches and events to know the more attractive, nicely dressed, and influential persons are often treated better than those who lack these qualities (we’ll look at this issue later).

 I remember years ago being excited about enrolling at a Bible College/seminary. I had envisioned it as being a slice of heaven on earth. However, the truth of the matter is it was one of the most excruciatingly lonely places I have ever been. Although I did have some friends there, on numerous occasions I remember greeting persons passing on the sidewalk only to have them walk pass me without a smile, hello, or eye contact. I remember thinking, “Wow! If you will not greet a brother in Christ who is civil with you, you will not minister to those of the likes of me before coming to know Christ.”

On another occasion I had the initial privilege of meeting a wellknown Southern Baptist preacher. At the time I had a cassette tape with a sermon he had preached. This message had a profound impact on me. While trying to thank him, he shook my hand without making eye contact and basically blew me off.

I’ve experienced numerous such encounters in churches and religious settings. Furthermore, I have met other misfits who have had their own share of similar experiences. Churches ought to be a place where followers of Christ are both welcomed and feel welcomed. Sadly, too often, the church is often described as the only army that shoots its own wounded. Churches are also said to be hospitals where the spiritual sick can find healing. Ironically, for many, churches are more like hospices where individuals feel left to die alone with their broken hearts and wounded spirits. In his book, Encourage Me, Charles Swindoll tells the story of meeting up with a Marine he had once served with. The man had since then become a Christian. When asked how he was doing, he acknowledged to Charles that he missed the days when he could simply meet with his buddies at a tavern and let his hair down. Charles admits that many Christian men feel this way.

 So, Jesus says others will know we are His disciples by our love for one another. Can this be said of you and me? What would those outside our circles say of us? Do you think their opinions don’t matter? According to Jesus, others’ perception of our love (or lack thereof) reveals a lot about our discipleship (or lack thereof) beneath Him and His teachings. The implication is clear: If we are not known for our genuine love for one another, then neither are we truly known as Jesus’ disciples and followers. 

Does God Really Equip the Called?

It is common for preachers and laity alike to say, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called!”  Although we hear such things, this is not really the consensus. Most, I dare say, do not really believe this. Think about it, many churches will not even consider a person for a pastoral or staff position if one does not have the minimum of a master of divinity degree. Many would not take the time to read a theology book by someone who is not a seminary professor or have a doctorate degree. And many Christian organizations won’t consider persons with less than a master’s degree. Sadly, degrees neither prove a person is qualified, biblical, or filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet, a person can have the required biblical knowledge and filled with the Holy Spirit and His power, yet not possess a degree of any kind. Check out what the Scriptures say,

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. ~ Acts 4:13-14

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. ~ Acts 6:3

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. ~ 1 Timothy 3:1-7

Take note in each of these passages. Where was the source of power and what were the requirements of the leaders? The source of power was from time with Jesus and the being filled with His Holy Spirit. And this was in the lives of some described as uneducated and common. Mind you, this doesn’t mean they were stupid, but a degree is not what made them effective. And when we look at actual biblical requirements, where does one see anything about education or degrees? 

One of the things that drives me crazy about the denomination I’m affiliated with is the leaders will say, “We’re a people of the Book!” Yet, they add human requirements for persons to be leaders, pastors, missionaries, etc., which often supersede the requirements of “the Book. (e.g., one needs a degree, fit a certain image, etc.).

So many people talk about wanting to be a “New Testament” church. Now, all one has to do is consider the believers in Corinth and Galatia to realize the early church had its share of problems. However, there is a lot lacking in the modern, sophisticated church. Today, where is the power, unction, boldness, and the plain evidence—“they had been with Jesus”?

I believe many people are passed over in churches and organizations—persons who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who’ve been with Jesus, and fulfill the biblical requirements—because they have not earned a degree. They love God, love people, have a good reputation, and are capable teachers of the things of God, but they don’t possess a degree.

Think about this, most of the great persons of God in the Scriptures, the prophets, and the apostles would not be church leaders or pastors in today’s churches, despite their caliber. Ironically, many today have the degrees and “experience” but not the caliber. Will the church today truly get back to the place it needs to be: being immersed in prayer, the Scriptures, and being filled with the Spirit of God?

First Baptist Church of La-Z-Boy

One of the results of Covid is the revealing of many people’s ignorance of the Christian faith and its relation to the church. For all who profess to be Christians, and despite any criticism (sometimes justifiable) of churches, we must remember that the church is Christ’s idea. Let me say that again. The church is Christ’s idea. 

“I don’t need to go to church to be saved,” some say. Perhaps not, but what makes you think you’re saved if you reject the very idea and structure of the One you profess to be Savior and Lord? “You’re adding works to salvation,” someone will accuse. No, I’m saying you’re dismissing the very idea and structure Jesus established. “Well, I don’t need to go to church to worship God,” many say. Well, just because you profess to worship doesn’t mean you do, nor does it mean it’s acceptable to God. The Scriptures reveal numerous times when God rejected people’s worship. The writer of Hebrews admonishes,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

“Well, I’m fed by Pastor Stanley [or Jeremiah, etc.].” Perhaps, but church is not simply about you. The church is a body where every member has value and is needed (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There are persons in the church you are to interact with, to encourage, to exhort, to hug, to pray for. It is difficult to be involved (as we’re commanded to be) sitting in a recliner or laying in bed.

No where in the New Testament are followers of Jesus Christ called to be Lone Rangers. First Baptist Church of La-Z-Boy, St. Paul of King Size Bed, and Holy Trinity Breakfast Church are not legitimate churches. It is one thing to truly be shut in and bedridden, but it is quite another to dismiss church and the support thereof simply out of “convenience.” God calls us to love and serve one another. There’s nothing “convenient” about this. Church is more than simply going to sing some songs and hearing a message. Church is a living organism made up of individuals who minister to one another and to be involved together in the Great Commission of our Lord.

If you’re choosing to stay home from church when you are quite capable of going, you can use whatever excuse you want. But you fail to understand the very faith in which you profess. The Christian faith is not an isolated or “private” faith, but one of community. You do need church and the church needs you.

A House of Prayer 

Jesus says explicitly, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’” (Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46). Therefore, not only is He stressing the importance of prayer, but it is to be of highest priority of any congregation gathering in His name—from the vocational ministers to the attending laity. So we should ask ourselves, how did churches become houses of worship? Understand, this is not simply a changing of terms. These are not synonymous. No, this shift is quite consequential.

“My house is to be a house of prayer,” the Lord declares. Yet, consider the emphasis of most churches. Is it prayer? No, most churches emphasize the preaching, worship, or missions/outreach of some kind. Yet, typically in any service prayer is given only a couple of minutes. Certainly the preaching of God’s Word, worship, and missions/outreach are all important. However, it is through prayer churches show their dependence on God and seek His directives. Furthermore, it is through prayer these other things are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit versus man’s ingenuity and activity (there is a distinction). Incidentally, it is by the lack of prayer churches reveal their trust in themselves (rather than on God) and seek after their own agendas instead of God’s will. Oh sure, in many cases buildings are erected and congregations grow numerically—but not infused with the power of God and a deeper knowledge of Him!

Henry Blackaby writes this haunting observation, “Those who know they can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ will cry out to God continually (John 15:5). People who become self-confident and proud will find they are too busy to pray.” How much do you and I, as well as our churches, genuinely cry out to God in total dependence and with abandonment of ourselves?

We say that we follow Christ and that He is our Teacher and example—that we want to be like Him. But is this true? Do we follow His example? Do we really want to be like Him? Oswald Chambers is right when he says, “Prayer seems like such a small thing to do—next to nothing at all in fact. But that’s not what Jesus said. To Him prayer is everything.”

Consider how many times in the Gospels we read of the Son of God rising up early in the morning while it was still dark or staying up late into the night for the purpose of praying. Before calling His disciples, He prayed. So devoted was He to prayer that His disciples (who no doubt were familiar with prayer) requested that He teach them to pray. Before His passion, knowing the cup of suffering was being given to Him to drink in its entirety, He pleaded that there was some other way; nevertheless, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. Is this our mindset—our desire—to seek long and hard after God, to enquire of His guidance in every decision, and to surrender our desires and agendas in order to align ourselves with His? This is difficult. In fact, this is impossible if we are not being infused with His Spirit. Cheryl Sacks rightly notes that this cannot happen apart from fervent prayer.

Please understand, I’m not speaking as one who is some great prayer warrior. But I see so much powerlessness of the church as darkness spreads further and many people falling away from the faith. We have Christian literature and media galore, but where is our influence? We have plenty of nice facilities and events, but where is the power? Is not our lack of influence and power simply a result of our lack of prayer?

The purpose of this article is not to shame the church or put her down. Rather, I am simply wanting to encourage you, and that we may encourage one another, to seek passionately after the heart and face of our Father—just as our Savior exemplified. By the moving of the Holy Spirit within us, may our church buildings be restored to houses of prayer instead of houses of worship. May we become completely dependent on God rather than our own abilities, and may we learn to sincerely pray patterned after His, “Your will be done.” From here, only God knows what incredibly positive effects this would have in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world. We won’t ever know, except churches becoming what God has willed for them to be—houses of prayer.