Mountain of Intercession, Valley of Interaction

So Joshua…fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (Exodus 17:10 ESV)

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites camp in Exodus 17, Moses bid Joshua take men to battle with the assurance that he would be praying for him. Thus, the battle took place on two fields that day: In the valley of interaction with Joshua, and in the mountain of intercession, with Moses. Both battlefields are important.

  1. “Divine strength is to be combined with human effort— There is a saying in Spanish that says A Dios orando y con el maso dando. Literally it means “Praying to God as you strike with the hammer” God blesses human efforts, and his blessing come in proportion to how much energy and effort you put in.
  2. The success you get while in the valley of interaction will be dependent on whether you are winning or losing ground in the mountain of intercession. It was noted that whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed (Exodus 17:11).

Those are the “obvious” lessons. They deal with success in the valley of interaction. But there is one more that I’m driving at, and it deals with success in the mountain of intercession. It is a much more complex thing.

* * *

One of the things I’ve just now come to understand is that though the purposes of God are incredibly mysterious to us, they resolve beautifully in the end. That chain of events when life seemed to get out of control made perfect sense once I was able to look back, connect the dots, and see how God made much good come out of it. Oswald Chambers put it like this:

The circumstances of a saint’s life are ordained of God. In the life of a saint there is no such thing as chance. God by His providence brings you into circumstances that you cannot understand at all…bringing you into places and among people and into conditions in order that the intercession of the Spirit in you may take a particular line…to bring them before God’s throne and give the Spirit in you a chance to intercede for them.

So for the past two weeks I took this to heart. I made a list in a paper of the people in my life—family, friends, and other people I interact with and I prayed over them daily. My prayer time increased by as much as fifteen minutes. It was a short list, you see.

But each day as I prayed I thought of a new name, and added it to the list so that it grew and grew. It came to include people I love, and people I cannot stand. People I wish I could help, people I want to avoid. People I admire and people I secretly envy. People who have hurt me and people who have brought me joy. People that inadvertently make my life miserable, and people whom I have hurt. People I need to forgive, and people whom I need forgiveness from. People who are poor and sick and in great need. People who seem to have it all.

As you may imagine, my prayer time increased dramatically the longer my list grew. Praying more is, indeed, a benefit. However, I never imagined that after my first week or so I would have to encounter some people whom I could not face. People I literally hid from. They had been in my mind as I prayed, and in my heart of hearts I begged God to make them go away from my life.

The answer to this prayer came the next week. I was forced to encounter them, and yet it was so sudden and unexpected that I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed or nervous. Instead I was empowered to face the situation with grace, and I parted amicably with them.

It took a few minutes for me to realize that in reality, while I had been praying for other people, God had been at work in me, preparing me to go down to battle.

* * *

It is a tendency we all have to seek the Lord when we are in the greatest need. The truth, however, is that the victory in the battlefield is won in part by how we pray up in the mountain of intercession.

Why? Maybe it is because that is where we get out of ourselves. Instead of looking at our lives from the angle of our needs, our complaints, and our particular point of view, we begin to see it as part of a vast, living network. Each of us precious and important to God. Or maybe it is because we realize that there are others who are in greater need, in more pain, and whose troubles are greater than ours–Yet how awesome is it when we are reminded of God’s power when we see the answers of our prayers in other people’s lives? Super awesome. I just think that when we pray for others we empty ourselves and begin grow more and become more conscious of God’s work on Earth.

Sooner or later we all have to go down into battle, but until the next battle rages, are you preparing yourself in the mountain of intercession?

Prayers

“I thought you wouldn’t come”

“Long story.” He said, removing his jacket.

“You don’t have to sit with me, you know.”

“I want to. Besides, you don’t have a partner yet” He said, and asked me to scoot over a bit more.

As I didn’t want to make a huge issue about this business anymore, I said nothing, merely moved and made him more room. After the welcoming remarks and repeating the invitation to pray in groups for the sake of the newcomer, all thoughts turned to prayer again—and far away from me.

“That was close.” I said out loud, greatly relieved.

Tony said nothing. He simply glanced at the others and took in the soft murmur of prayer. “Everybody’s praying.” He whispered, “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to start?”

“What?”

“Pray.” He leaned in my direction, bowed his head and closed his eyes. I realized he meant it as an order, not as an answer to my question.

I began to protest “I don’t—I…”

He began, interrupting my protests, “Jesus Christ. I know you are alive and you reign in heaven. I pray for strength and deliverance from the devil and his fiery darts. I ask for courage to do what’s right, and I claim the power of your cleansing blood to purify me. Forgive me . . . ”

He paused here for a protracted time. I, who had kept my eyes open looking this way and that, now began studying his face with growing unease. His brow was furrowed, and his chin was sunk low on his chest. Fortunately he didn’t cry. He rallied himself and continued on, “And I also pray for my friend Tanya. We all come from different places and backgrounds, so I don’t know what troubles her. Please give her the power of your Holy Spirit to resist temptation. In your name I pray, Amen.”

“Amen” I said, unwittingly—and felt silly at catching myself doing it. But I was glad that he was done. I sat back in my couch and expected him to do the same, but Tony kept his attitude of prayer. He kept it so long that it was just plain weird…

“Tony. It’s ok… you can sit back now. We just wait until the others are done”

“Your turn” He said with his eyes still closed

“I don’t pray. I can’t. You don’t know I—”

“Just do it. If not for you, pray for me. I need it.”

The duration of my inner debate was not long—but it felt like it. It was so—so—awkward. How could I pray for Tony? And what for? I never even prayed for myself since that fiasco back when I’d asked for a miracle (a fat lot of good it did me)—and longer still before that. And why was the prayer time longer—much longer—than it usually took?

Tony kept his head bowed, as if waiting for me to start

I sighed loudly.

“Fine,”

Where to start?

I closed my eyes, and remembered way back when my grandmother had taught me to pray, which was peculiar—because I could not remember much from infancy.

Fold you hands like this. Yes, like that. Very good. Now bow your little head. Close your little eyes. That’s it. Now repeat after me . . . “Our Father in heaven…”

“Our Father in heaven,”

Hallowed be thy name,

“. . . Hallowed be thy name,”

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .

“. . . Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ”

Nothing more came. That was all I remembered, though I strove to recall the rest of the words, but I couldn’t.

What could I do?

God, what can I say?

I grasped for words, but I literally had nothing—nothingto say aside of my usual litany of incoherent rebellion.

I was on my own now.

“God. I have nothing…much to say to you . . .  just . . . ” I sighed deeply once more and continued this most difficult task, “Please . . . just listen to the prayers of the people here . . . Listen to them . . . And I pray for Tony here too, who is suffering. Amen”

“Amen” Tony repeated, and then sat back.

But I wasn’t looking at Tony now. Tony, the study group, the church, the whole city block was now a thousand miles away from me.

Because my heart and my mind were millions of light years away. Prayer had awoken the fierce and gnawing pain of loss and now all my bones and joints, my muscles, my innards, my fat, and even my overstretched skin ached as if cold, damp, sorrow had taken possession of me. And that feeling was exactly like that day—years ago—when I had told God that he and I were through.

And how sad, how cold, how vast, friendless, and empty the world had seemed, the day I’d lost my faith in prayer–that day that Grandma died.

 

part 14 of If You Only Knew

Tony

We were late on Monday for some random reason. When we got there, Elder Banks was about to conclude testimony and prayer time.

Zuri took her seat on the circle–as usual. I went to my corner, briefly scanning the room.

Tony wasn’t there.

Figures. Well, this is–after all–the last place anybody would want to be at…

I plopped on my couch as usual; the old frame squeaked in protest under my weight.

“…and now let us turn each other and claim the power of intercessory prayer. Turn to a brother or sister next to you, and pray for each other for a few minutes.”

I was not alarmed. They had done this before many times. That day, however, Elder Banks was filling in for Zuri who had come late. He must have felt the spirit or something, because he walked up to me, and with an evangelist’s booming voice and expression addressed me, “Daughter. Please join us in prayer.”

“Uh?” I squeaked.

“Come. You can pray with…let’s see…is anyone in need of a partner?”

The silence was eloquent.

Zuri was about to speak up when Martha and Horace—the oldest people in the room—said they wouldn’t mind having a third.

No. No. No. No. No…

Diversion saved me, however. It came in the way of a new arrival dressed in an elegant business suit.

What the–

“Why, welcome brother!” Elder Banks said stepping forward to greet him with a hand shake.

At first I didn’t recognize the newcomer. But then I realized that it was Tony walking in and taking a seat next to me on the vile, pink, couch. He flashed a smile at me and greeted me cordially.

“Hey, kiddo”

There was a murmur of surprise when it was understood that I, the mocker, had been the one to invite the new arrival.

I suppose that—being the good Christians that they were—they’d come to underestimate the power of the God they served, otherwise how could they fail to remember that He can use any situation and any person—even me—for his good pleasure?

For I’m sure it was his pleasure that Tony should be drawn to know and serve him.

* * *

Let me fast-forward fifteen years.

Tony has since then finished college and attended the seminary. He works as a Chaplain in the same hospital I work at and spends much of his free time at a youth shelter mentoring neglected youth to steer them away from a life of addiction.

Furthermore, he also bears the title “Doctor” as he recently earned his PhD—He’s even published two books.

I didn’t know what Tony would eventually become when I first saw him crying his heart out in church–not even that day he arrived at the Study Group. I didn’t even imagine either that Tony would be the person who would help me believe in the power for prayer again.

Life is funny like that. God certainly has a knack for surprising you.

I certainly was surprised by him the first day Tony went to the Bible study group.

 

part 13 of If You Only Knew