The following excerpt is from the devotional book, “Living the Message,” by Eugene H. Peterson. This pastor-professor is probably the person I want to grow up to be like; he has a gentleness and eloquence that is seldom seen–and highly respected.
Dr. Peterson died in 2018.
Author of many books, and his great translation of the Bible, titled “The Message” is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the English language.
Additionally, he has recently focused on the pastor, and on the many issues, a pastor might face. He understands being a servant of the Gospel and the Church.
I encourage you to read his stuff.
“When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude there is nothing to this religious business, except perhaps, business…and a distant one at that. Insiders see it much differently.”
“Just as a hospital gathers the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the Church collects sinners.”
“Many people outside are just as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It is similar with sinners outside the church.”
Some other quotes by Eugene Peterson:
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves. “
“When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us.”
“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior.”
1 Timothy 2:1-3, NLT
“The Church has not yet touched the fringe of the possibilities of intercessory prayer. Her largest victories will be witnessed when individual Christians everywhere come to recognize their priesthood unto God and day by day give themselves unto prayer.”
–John R. Mott
You are a priest without a collar. Your work is called “intercession.” It isn’t for cowards or the spiritual lazy. It needs to be ‘hidden’ in order to really work. No one should see, there will be no adulation or recognition. You may not even feel special. But God sees and hears you. Jesus told each one of us,
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
When we ignite in prayer, we will see things as Jesus sees them. We will share His view and take part in His high priestly ministry. Jesus isn’t complacent, sitting on His throne, waiting for time to run out. I suppose that is the view of some, but it honestly isn’t real.
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most
Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT
“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
When we start to really intercede we become a sort of a “sub-priest.” We serve under the Lord Jesus the High Priest’s direction. We engage our work under the Holy Spirit’s oversight, and we start to plead for those who need Him most. We are the one’s who make things happen when we stand with Jesus.
So who and what do we pray for?
Family and friends
the sick, those in distress
the stranger, the one who bags our groceries
the church we attend, the pastor and elders, the congregation
missions, or missionaries in a certain country, or in general
for ministries working under God’s direction
finances, supplies, for more workers in the ‘vineyard’
safety and protection from the evil one, cults and businesses that ‘traffic’ in evil
more wisdom and grace for all who are ministering God’s Word, for other intercessors
our government, police, soldiers–from the ‘dog catcher’ to the president
These ten are just a start to get you going, this list is not complete by no means, but it’s a beginning. As you start praying you will add and expand these things. Remember that faith is a key component in the work of intercession. You must come in harmony with His present ministry. You do this through:
praise and worship
Bible reading and thinking about the Word
listening and discerning what is happening around you
asking questions that really matter
being humble and broken, not haughty or proud as you pray
becoming alert to all of the needs around you, be sneaky but holy
instill in your heart the Kingdom of God and the supreme ministry of the King
exercise His authority over the earth, see things as they really are
personal prayer times that get you ready to pick up the ‘mantle’ of intercession
see yourself joined in this ministry of Jesus, who wants “all men to be saved”
Don’t be surprised if the Spirit draws you to a specific need. I believe that there are ‘specialists’ in the Body of Christ. One person will concentrate his attention on the sick or the demonized. Another may be dedicated to praying for the president or the Supreme Court, and someone else might pray for certain missionaries or countries. In short, you must listen to the High Priest, and get your cue from Him. He most certainly will direct you on where you should stand!
There is definite power in joining with another or in a group. It seems to me though that this can be a challenge as we can get disengaged or passive. Spiritual laziness extinguishes the fire of God. Yet if we are sincere our intercession can become ‘turbocharged’ when we are actively with another. It should be a skill we develop over time. It will take concentrated work on your part to stay focused.
“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’
“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”
— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”
All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.
Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.
What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?
Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.
He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.
He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”
A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”
It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).
Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.
But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance,
A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.
The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary. Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.
Isaiah 50:4, CEB
Ask the Father to guide you. Be gentle. Be there. Hw will give you (in His time) a good word for them.
“I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk. But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.”
Early in my walk, over 40 years ago, I concluded that I would be able to acquire all the knowledge that I could ever want. I was on the short track, going up of course. It was a glorious thing, it took me some time to realize I was very ignorant of so much.
The Bible communicates truth, not facts.
As I age, I start to understand that things are much more enigmatic and unfathomable than I ever dreamed they would be. It is a step of faith to accept the truth when there are still a lot of things that are still vague. Mike Mason wrote,
“You say you have faith to be healed, but what about the faith to be sick?”
That is a penetrating question, indeed. “Why are some healed, and others are not? Why do I have eternal life, and my friend does not? Why should AIDS sweep through poor African villages when I live in a very comfortable suburb in the US?” I have many other questions like this.
And I’m not making a whole lot of headway here. Reasons and facts are not there. Life becomes more mysterious and inscrutable. But there is a word we must know–it is the word “trust”. It is a faith that assists us through the landscape of impossible questions.
As a sometimes struggling, mentally ill Christian, many (even in my own church) create more questions for me. “Therapists, psychiatrists, and daily medications are really good, but do you really need them?” or “Did God create in you the need for lithium and Zoloft?” and ” How can you follow Jesus when you have all of these depression issues?” And here’s a humdinger, “Where is your joy?”
But it is precisely these issues that help me be a disciple.
I’ve been slowly learning you see. And my weaknesses are becoming my strengths. They lead me to exercise my feeble faith. I trust in Jesus; my faith helps me trust. I find it interesting to note that the Book of Psalms, for the most part, was written by “a broken believer” like David– a king and (also) a rascal.
“People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, Steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit. Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.”
Isaiah 26:3-4, The Message
These nebulous areas have only increased.
Ironically my trust has only grown. I have more questions than ever before, but my faith in him only gets stronger. I suppose I will never, ever be a gleefully upbeat, cheery person. But I am learning “to trust and obey, there is no other way…” He himself has taken up the chore of teaching me to walk, again. Just one thing, keep trusting.