Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Paul is in prison . . .
And Paul is rejoicing.
How can this be? If there is one place I cannot imagine rejoicing, it would be prison. Paul has so deeply and thoroughly surrendered his life to Jesus that though he is completely vulnerable to the schemes of men, he is totally invincible. You cannot kill the one who has already died. In this way, Paul blazes the trail that will be followed by every saint to follow who is worth their salt. He knows the secret to life—which is to die before you die. His ambitions and aspirations are dead and buried. Now his life can be consumed by a holy passion. Soon we will hear his mission statement: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21).
How does one get to such a place? Paul gives us a hint:
I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
Sometimes when people say they are praying for you it means one thing, and other times it means something altogether different. If I’m honest, I easily fall into a working definition of prayer that locates me in the place of an intermediary. My prayers center on my care and concern for others and bringing this care and concern before God in the form of a request on their behalf. It’s why when I (and I suspect many of you) say, “I’m praying for you,” or “I’ll pray for you,” it means I care and am concerned about you and I will mention that to God. It’s a sentiment that goes about as deep as my own commitment to you. Prayer becomes about me passing on your need to God to stand with you and resolve your situation.
An intermediary serves as a link between one person and another. I don’t think this is how Paul understands the Philippian believers’ prayers for him.
There is a better way. The New Testament does not conceive of prayer as the work of an intermediary but as that of an intercessor. An intercessor actually intervenes and gets involved. An intermediary sees their task as asking God to stand with you. An intercessor understands their work as standing with God for you. When I stand with God for you, I begin to share in the burden of the love God has for you. I’m not just passing on a request as the middleman. When I intercede for you, my concern for you becomes infused with God’s concern for you. I cease to be moved by my own best efforts. I no longer understand my own best efforts as some kind of strategy to get God to do something.
When I intercede, I open my will and my willingness to God in a way that wills the Holy Spirit–power-filled love of God into your life and situation. This is not about prayer changing me and me changing things. I do not become the answer to my own prayer. No, the intercessor enters into a mysterious way of participation with God in the process and in the answering. Intercession leads to the release of the power of God (which is love) in the world to work in new ways and to open up new possibilities that did not exist before.
This is why Paul counts so much on the prayers of the little Philippian church. Through the person and power of the Holy Spirit, they stand with God for Paul, and, as a consequence, despite their physical distance, they stand with Paul for the gospel.
This is why Paul always references his praying as a kind of travail. He speaks of it on one occasion as being in the pains of childbirth (Gal. 4:19). This is why down through the ages the saints speak of prayer not as preparation for the work but as the work itself.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is our Great Intercessor and who calls us to share in this work with him for the sake of the whole world. Would you lead me in this way of prayer? I confess I hardly grasp it, but I believe. I am tired of casual prayer. I want to participate in this greater work. Come, Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
- What do you think of this difference between an intermediary and an intercessor? Make sense? Where are you in that?
- Are you willing (or willing to be made willing) to become an intercessor in prayer? It’s not something you can just decide and do; you must ask God to do it in and through you.
- Do you see the difference between your good-natured care and concern for another person and the burden of God’s love for them?
For the Awakening,