“He begs God on behalf of a human
as a person begs for his friend.”
Job 16:21, NCV
I’ve been thinking about a class I had in Bible School. The instructor made a comment that has stuck in my thinking for over 30 years now. I have relied on it countless times in ministry since. It has helped me piece together certain issues of the heart.
When we “preach” to a person, we are actively accelerating the judgement of God in their life. When we pray for that same person, we delay this judgement and allow more room for the Holy Spirit to work.
Now I know this is a generalization, and yet the basic premise of preaching and praying has a specific action. When you preach, you are calling that person to make a decision. They meet up with the truth and must decide for themselves. This is a very sensitive moment. If they consider your message at all– you must understand, one way or the other, that it will require a decision. Either they act on it, or they’ll decide to reject it.
Within the Bible we often see judgement coming to someone, and very often it comes right after a “declaration of the truth” by a witness or a sermon. Those who hear the word must choose to believe it, or spurn it. Even a neutral position is a position. A decision must be made on all light that comes their way.
Perhaps this may be easier to see. The Word is full of men and women who interceded for others. If preaching accelerates God’s judgement on a person (or group,) than prayer decelerates it. In a sense, authentic intercession can give them more time. It delays things, without approving them.
A classic case is Abraham. He intercedes, and by doing so desires to save and deliver God’s own. He “stands in the gap” for the unaware. We see him “negotiating” with the Lord, trying to make a deal of sorts. He is bold and somewhat presumptuous. And actually, this is a regular occurrence with different circumstances. Many in scripture do seem to get intensely involved in the lives of the people they represent.
“I will surely not stop praying for you, because that would be sinning against the Lord. I will teach you what is good and right.”
1 Samuel 12:23
Should we preach or pray? We must consider, I think, the certain obligations of both. I believe at the end of a person’s life, they have had both dynamics working. Its like the tide– it ebbs and then advances, and perhaps that will help us to do the right thing at the right time. We understand the necessity of preaching, and just as important the work of prayer. We must do both, but grasp the issues behind each work. Both are necessary for one to come to faith in Jesus.
Seeing the effects of our actions brings us into a deeper understanding of the life in the Spirit. It motivates and will guide us. We start to understand the Lord’s ways and become aware of what is happening in the world that is around us. This new discernment can only sharpen our work.