By Denzil Holman
God has been on a search for a long time to locate dedicated believers who are willing to give themselves for a much needed cause. He has asked the question so many times, “Why do you stand idle in the marketplace?” This is not a recent quest but one that dates back to early biblical civilization. One can almost feel the desperation of God when He told Ezekiel, “I sought for a man . . . [to] make up the hedge, and stand in the gap.” He didn’t casually glance over the people for volunteers, but He went searching for those who would raise their voices and hands saying, “Here am I; send me.” Intercessors come from all walks of life and backgrounds. There is no age, gender, educational or racial discrimination with God, for there is no respecter of persons with Him. He is still looking for willing vessels. To seek is to beseech, entreat, search for. He isn’t just casually looking but is earnestly beseeching, pleading, entreating believers to involve themselves in intercessory prayer.
I was preaching for a minister friend last year and was ministering on the subject of intercession. A young, zealous convert was visibly moved by the message and, being new in the church, was especially tender and sensitive. He was a local businessman who had many contacts in the professional field as well as his personal friends from years of living in the area. During the altar service, he wept and sobbed passionately. When the prayer time was over, he gripped me and, looking me in the eye, said, “I know what God wants me to do now. I am supposed to be an intercessor.” God had come searching in the service that morning and found a new volunteer to be an intercessor. He realized that he had received a wonderful treasure and wanted to share it with others. People like him are grateful for their personal freedom from the bondage of sin and seek to assist others in deliverance also.
Jesus commanded the disciples, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). With privilege and blessings come responsibilities, and we owe a debt to the world. Paul felt this keenly when he said, “I am [a] debtor” (Romans 1:14). We are a blessed people and understand our responsibility to reach others with the gospel. In addition to witnessing, the ministry of intercession is part of repaying our debt of love.
Since we are human, it is sometimes difficult for us to understand the significance of intercession because we are finite and God is omnipotent. Why doesn’t He bypass humanity and do things without human involvement? He could do whatever He wants to do because He is sovereign, but He chooses to use human instruments in carrying out His will. His plan of operation is to use us as channels of blessing. He could answer prayer without our asking but wants us to ask Him and express our faith and trust in Him.
We are members of the body of Christ and carry out the wishes of the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. When we petition or intercede and He answers our prayers, we testify and bring Him glory and honor. There are others who hear about our answers to prayer and are influenced to believe God also.
Throughout history there have been activists who saw things that needed change or improvement and sought to affect their world. Many of those people were motivated by an altruistic attitude. These inventions and medical developments have come at a great price for someone because those people had to give of themselves. They made history and we benefit today as a result of their sacrifices. They changed the world in which they lived and for the benefit of future generations, too.
Intercessors are activists because they understand what is at stake and want to personally get involved. We are not playing a game but are in a spiritual war for the souls of men and women. Prayer is a mighty weapon because we rely on the power of God instead of our abilities to fight this war. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). There is resistance from the enemy because we are in a life and death struggle for the souls of men. However, we have the promises of God that we are on the winning side. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). We are fighting the good fight of faith and the front lines of battle are in our prayer rooms. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (II Corinthians 10:4).
We don’t win spiritual battles with precision-guided, bunker-buster bombs but through the awesome power of God in prayer and the Word of God as weapons. We storm the gates of hell, for they shall not prevail against us (Matthew 16:18), and using the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, we will conquer. We are focused, single-minded, and not distracted by the enormous task or the enemy. We are not forced by whips of a tyrannical God to fight but influenced by a benevolent Savior who draws men with cords and bands of love (Hosea 11:4). The violent take it by force and this army of intercessors is comprised of the young, elderly, housewives, professional workers, and people from all walks of life. They are passionate for the cause and refuse defeat, but we need many more volunteers who will join this swelling number of believers who are building altars of intercession. It is exciting to realize that all over the world, twenty-four hours a day, intercessory prayer is going up before God.
God will not violate the human will and waits for them to make choices because of their own volition. Even though He will not force them into surrender to serve Him, He will beckon and knock at the door of their hearts. The position of the intercessor is to stand in the gap for them and plead on their behalf. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Our prayers accumulate as a memorial before God.
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints (Revelation 5:8).
Cornelius prayed, and his prayers came up before God as a memorial. God took note of his faithfulness in prayer and sent Peter to preach to him. Our prayers live a long time, and as we intercede for others, the effects of prayers will be felt until they are answered. The parable of the unjust judge and the widow in Luke 18 illustrates the value of persistent prayer. There are many testimonies of people who have come to God after years of intercessory prayer by friends and loved ones who wouldn’t stop praying. Even though God will not violate the human will, His Spirit will deal with people and reach out to them. An element of faith is present in persistent prayer. Faith will sustain us as we patiently return again and again to our altar of intercession.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise (Hebrews 10:36).
Abraham believed God and was called a friend of God.
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4:20-22).
One of the definitions of impute is “to credit.” God credited the faith account of Abraham. Intercessors are putting faith in their account in heaven as their prayers mount up as a memorial before God.
Intercessory prayer is a necessary and vital ministry in the work of God. It is an unselfish ministry and one that is usually unnoticed by most because it is done in the secret place of prayer closets. Intercessors change their world. They are like thermostats that affect their surroundings. Intercessors are the movers and shakers who help make things happen because they are partners with God. These instigators feel the personal responsibility to get out of the bleachers and onto the playing field. Many of their prayers involve life and death situations both naturally and spiritually.
Intercession is closely related to petition because it involves asking God for answers to prayer. The difference is that intercessory prayer is standing in the gap and praying for others instead of one’s own requests. It is praying with unselfish motives; “not I [live], but Christ liveth in me.” It is living the crucified life and bearing a cross for others.
We often say, “I’m praying for you.” It is so much a part of our vernacular that we can speak those words easily, but do we sincerely pray for others or is it part of familiar greetings to others? It is a comfort and such an encouragement to us to know there are people interceding for us in times of need.
We pioneered a church in the early 1970s while Brother J. T. Pugh was the General Home Missions Director. I have a letter from him in a book that I have saved through the years. He wrote across the page, “I prayed for you today.” I have never forgotten his kindness and generosity in praying for us.
The Scriptures teach that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves … more than lovers of God.” The “me first” mind-set and concern for “the big I” are not new but are rampant in our day. Selfishness is a work of the flesh and is closely associated with envy, jealousy, pride, and covetousness. In the stories of the rich man and Lazarus and the rich fool, both wealthy men thought of themselves first and what they wanted. Intercessory prayer is unselfish petitioning and is the will of God and having the mind of Christ. It is a beautiful example of sacrifice, humility, a giving spirit, and servanthood. Intercessors place the needs of others ahead of their own petitions, and God will reward their unselfish spirit. Intercession is giving of oneself in ways that are immeasurable.
I am personally a product of intercessors. My family walked into the church in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that was pastored by Brother J. C. Cole when I was a small boy. My parents were sinners and far from God but hungry to meet Him. We didn’t know it at the time, but a couple in the church saw us and became burdened for us. Their names were Brother and Sister Guy Hughes. Their son, Brother John P. Hughes, has served many years in foreign missions service with our fellowship. They began to intercede for my family. After my family was converted, Brother Hughes testified about their burden with tears in his eyes. Thank you, Brother and Sister Hughes, for giving to the Lord in intercessory prayer.
My father entered the ministry and was a pastor in West Virginia and Ohio during my growing-up years. Many nights as a child, I was awakened to the sounds of lengthy intercession coming from the living room where my Dad was praying. I would lie awake in the late night and early morning hours and listen to him call our names in prayer. I heard him pray for me, and the echoes from his altar still ring in my ears. I’ve come home and found my mother on her knees in prayer, and I still cherish the memory of her tenderness toward the Spirit of God. A person cannot escape the influence of intercessory prayer forever.
There were several of my friends who sat in church together, and we shared many life experiences while growing up. A couple of them played brass instruments in the church orchestra. We were in the Boy Scouts and camped, hiked, swam, and shared many good times together. They were standing by the baptistery when Brother Charles C. Murray baptized me at Lighthouse Tabernacle in Genoa, Ohio. We sat together in Brother Borntrager’s Sunday school class and were on the front row in church when the Kinzie evangelistic party held a revival in our assembly. We went to Buckeye Lake youth camp and prayed at the same altar together. I don’t know what happened to all of them, but I’m the only one who continued to live for God. Some of them died young, and others left the church to live in sin. My parents prayed for me, and I am humbly grateful that something was instilled in me that created a desire to want to serve God.
There is a long parade of intercessors throughout the Bible. They affected their own generations and influenced the future. They made history on their knees while standing in the gap as intercessors.
God would not empty the fire and brimstone from heaven’s furnace of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah until after He had met and talked with Abraham. Every filthy and vile act that could be imagined was practiced there until the mercies of God were exhausted. The stench of the abomination of those twin cities had come before Him as a putrid odor, but a solitary man who was His friend pleaded for their cause. The respect that God showed for Abraham’s intercession gives us hope for our earnest prayers still today. God looked for ten righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah but couldn’t find them, so the cities were utterly destroyed.
Abraham symbolized every pastor who has wept over his city as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Late at night, I have looked at the twinkling lights of Norfolk while I was pastor there and felt the weight of a burden for it. We fasted and prayed that God would bring a harvest of souls to Norfolk, Virginia, and saw it come to pass before our eyes. Several decades have gone by since we drove into town with a U-haul trailer and a dream of seeing revival come there. I have fond memories of a storefront church on Chesapeake Boulevard where I agonized in prayer. As the church grew, we were blessed with some prayer warriors who united with us in faith. Intercession was a major part of the victories we experienced, along with consistent evangelism and witnessing.
We saw revival as we had envisioned, and a mighty harvest of souls was reaped there and has continued through the years. I am so thankful that Brother and Sister Blankenship pastor a great revival church in Norfolk and are doing a wonderful work.
Moses stood in the gap between an angry God and a rebellious nation of pilgrims headed toward the land of Canaan and pleaded on their behalf. When God would have annihilated them and started over with Moses, he stepped forward and requested a pardon for them. Oh, the drama of that moment when a solitary figure stood between a massive number of disobedient people and Almighty God and intervened on their behalf! How could a man like Moses intercede for a multitude who had just paid homage to a golden calf after walking safely through the midst of the Red Sea by the miraculous power of God? Their memories were extremely short and their devotion to God fickle and disgraceful. What could possibly have influenced Moses to take such drastic action and be motivated to become their intercessor?
Moses learned early in life that he was not an Egyptian. I feel certain that his mother, while raising him for Pharaoh’s daughter, had instilled the value of his heritage. Even while living in pomp and splendor as a young man, he was already coming to grips with who he was and refused to be called Egypt’s son. After he had killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand, Moses fled to a desert place, where he matured for forty years and developed leadership qualities. As a shepherd, He first learned to lead sheep before he was called to lead people. While tending sheep, he learned compassion, patience, and love. His personality was molded and tempered until he became one of the meekest men who ever lived (Numbers 12:3).
He symbolizes everyone who is or ever has been motivated by love and compassion to intercede for the unlovely and ungrateful. There are people who can thank God for an intercessor who loved them when they were not lovable and watered altars with tears on their behalf. At the coming of the Lord, there will be those who will walk through the pearly gates who will need to locate their praying pastor and others among the throngs of the redeemed and thank them for their intercession.
During the dispensation of the law, the general populace didn’t have access to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. They depended on a high priest to perform a perfect work at the brazen altar of sacrifice, wash at the brazen laver of water, and go into the presence of God as their intercessor. On the Day of Atonement, they waited with bated breath to see if their sacrifice was accepted and the sins would be rolled ahead for another year toward Calvary yet to come much later. If he failed, the bells on his robe stopped ringing when he was slain in judgment and the rope attached to his ankle would be used to drag him out. They depended on him to be their go-between, their intercessor. He was a type and shadow of Jesus Christ, who became our intercessor. He ever liveth to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Samuel was an intercessor who prayed for Israel. He considered it sinful to fail to intercede for Israel (I Samuel 12:23). He said “God forbid” or be it far from me to be so negligent. He considered it his sacred obligation and responsibility to do so. He grieved for Saul even after he had been rejected of God. Finally God instructed him to stop mourning and go anoint a new king (I Samuel 16:1).
It would fearful indeed to know that God had told others to stop praying for certain individuals. Fortunately, this does not happen often because His mercies and longsuffering are far reaching. However, people should not abuse the grace of God. We need the mercy of God, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
David was a man after God’s own heart and loved to worship Him. Even with his close personal walk with God, he was not infallible and made a mistake and sought God for mercy. When we have sinned, we need mercy, favor, and restoration after we have repented. David built an altar and offered a prayer of intercession after he’d sinned against the Lord by numbering Israel. He felt a personal responsibility for what had happened and asked for mercy.
And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house (II Samuel 24:17).
Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet,” who interceded for his people. His ministry as a major prophet happened during the decline and fall of Judah in the sixth and seventh centuries BC. When Jeremiah was ten years of age, wicked Manasseh died and his son reigned for two years. Josiah became the king of Judah at eight years old and in his short life changed the spiritual direction of Judah back to God from idolatry. Thirteen years later, Jeremiah came forth as a prophet for his nation. His life covered some tumultuous years of biblical history, and his empathy and compassion are a vivid testimony to anyone who has wept and interceded for those dear to him. The Book of Lamentations is his laments and sorrows for their wicked condition and attitude.
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people (Lamentations 3:48).
One of the more familiar intercessors in the Bible is Queen Esther, who interceded for her people when the wicked Haman sought to have them killed. She put her own life in jeopardy to go before the king when she didn’t know what his response would be. Her Jewish heritage in a land where they were strangers left them vulnerable to the vicious hatred of heathens. Her courageous and unselfish statement, “If I perish, I perish,” has echoed through thousands of years and encouraged many at times of peril and crisis. She was willing to be an intercessor even if it cost her everything. Her victory over her adversary gave birth to the Jewish holiday Purim, which is still observed by many.
What motivated Esther at her time of crisis to get involved? Her close relative Mordecai had raised her and reminded her of the necessity of her involvement in the situation because the decree would include her, too. She had to consider her own precarious dilemma. We can ascertain then that there were several factors that motivated her to intercede but one of them was certainly her burden for her people. A burden can be described as a heavy load or a concern for a need. She loved her people deeply, and although she was the queen in a heathen land, she didn’t forget her roots. She not only heard about the decree that would have destroyed her people but she was emotionally touched and made the decision to intervene.
The birth of a burden comes with knowledge of a situation, but it must grow deeper. It needs to touch our emotions so that we can feel the weight of a situation. It must even go deeper and propel us into action. At times earthly solutions can’t help situations, and we must invoke the help of God by interceding in prayer.
A burden is an essential factor in intercession because nothing usually happens without it. Whatever the situation is, to be effective someone has to care enough to take action. A burden and intercession are obviously closely associated with each other. For our prayers to be effective, we must pray wholeheartedly, and a burden will cause us to pray earnestly.
God takes note of those who are intercessors.
And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof (Ezekiel 9:4).
They were the marked ones who interceded for Jerusalem and their sins.
Even though intercessory prayer is often the result of a burdened heart, there are times we simply pray because we are obeying the commandments of the Lord and are constrained by the love of God. We are admonished to pray for those who would mistreat us (Matthew 5:44). We can only do this if we are filled with the Holy Ghost and our flesh is crucified with Christ. In the midst of His agony on the cross, Jesus prayed for the ones who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34). When Stephen was being pelted with stones, in his final moments of life, he prayed for the ones killing him (Acts 7:60). This can only be accomplished by the unconditional love of God.
Jesus expressed His concern for the disciples when He told Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32), before leaving to go to Gethsemane. He left us with an example that we should pray one for another. It is our love for each other that would motivate us to do so. It has to be more than simply duty or a feeling of obligation.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).
Paul exhorted us to pray for one another in his writings.
Withal praying also for us (Colossians 4:3).
He understood the value of intercession and wanted the saints at Colosse to remember them in prayer. We need to hold up the ministry and church leaders in prayer. They are specific targets of the enemy and need our prayers. We rely on the ministry to preach, teach, exhort, and instruct us in how to live and prepare for the coming of the Lord. We need a pastor in our lives so we will live for God. Pray for your pastor.
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith (I Thessalonians 3:10).
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men (1 Timothy 2:1).
For I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you (Philemon 22).
We are commanded to pray that the Lord will send forth laborers into the harvest.
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest (Luke 10:2).
Paul exhorted us to intercede for our government officials so that the work of God will be accomplished on earth. Our beloved nation is in trouble. The nation that forgets God will be turned into hell (Psalm 9:17). We must intercede and ask for mercy.
For kings, and for all that are in authority: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 2:2).
We need to pray for the backsliders who have wandered from the fold. We trust that the prodigals will realize the error of their ways and come home before it is too late. We would have a shouting time and there would be rejoicing in heaven when these backsliders from our churches come home to the Father’s house.
The altar of intercession is a vital and much needed ministry today and will be so until Jesus comes for His people. We may excel today in many areas of ministry, but we must never forsake the altars of intercession. We will never outgrow our need for prayer warriors who will give themselves to this cause. The “help wanted” sign is still posted, and God is ever searching for more intercessors to stand in the gap. The searching intensifies as we approach the end of this dispensation.
A pastor was called to visit a dying saint from his church. The elderly man told him that he was ready to meet God but was concerned about who would replace him in the local church. The pastor listened and wondered what he was referring to because the brother didn’t teach, sing, or play an active visible role in the local church. The man continued to explain that during the years since his retirement, he had devoted himself to a daily regimen of intercession for the pastor and the church. He had given himself to prayer consistently and was concerned about who would take his place. The pastor began to quickly relive the past few years and all that God had done for them there. They had experienced tremendous growth and revival. Suddenly he was looking in the face of a prayer warrior who had faithfully served God in intercessory prayer. The pastor then asked himself the question, “Who will replace him?” Where could he find a willing person to build an altar of intercession?
This article “An Altar of Intercession” was excerpted from the book The Altar Builders. Written by Denzil Holman. It may be used for study & research purposes only.