The Power of Intercession and Prayer

By Joe LaGuardia

Some time ago I was anxious about issues related to church.  There were things on my mind that I had no control over, things that should not have worried me but did.  I was driving myself crazy, my wife crazy, and distracting my kids from family time.

It did not take long before the Holy Spirit woke me up early one morning.  There are few times I wake up earlier than 5:00 AM, and when the Holy Spirit wakes me up that early, I know I need to listen!  That kind of movement is qualitatively different, and there washes over me a particular–indescribable, really–spiritual manifestation that captures my attention and heart.

In that moment I dumped (for lack of a better word) everything before God.  It was a combination of robust prayer–of boldness, so to speak–and honesty.  I said in my spirit, “God, you handle this!  This is your church, your ministry.  My life is yours, and you’ve called me to this.  You deal with this.”

A few minutes later I fell back to sleep in a posture of rest and peace that I had not felt in a long time.

This event reminded me of the power of intercessory prayer.  It is a type of prayer we see in Isaiah 37, when one of God’s children had more than he can handle, and he needed to hand it over to God.

Isaiah 36 and 37 are chapters that come from a time when the Assyrian nation threatened the existence of Judah.  Assyria had conquered most of the Middle East; Israel and Egypt were next.  The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, threatened Judah’s King Hezekiah with a royal letter: “You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone.  They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way!”

Sennacherib went on to say that the gods of other nations did not come to the rescue, why should Hezekiah expect the God of Israel to be any different?

Upon receiving this letter, Hezekiah became anxious.  The threat against his nation was very real, and the Assyrians had threatened him personally!  But instead of running around wondering what to do, Hezekiah’s sought the Lord.  Scripture says that Hezekiah went to the Temple, spread the letter before the Lord, and interceded on behalf of the nation.

As a result, the Lord responded: “Because you prayed about King Sennacherib of Assyria, the Lord has spoken this word against him.”  God affirmed that Assyria was a mere pawn in a larger drama of salvation and that God would protect Israel.

We Christians must be mindful of the power of intercessory prayer.  We must spread our own letters of anxiety before the Lord and remember that the Lord promises to take care of us.  We need to rest assured that the Holy Spirit will pray with us just as much as the Spirit captures our hearts, and gives us boldness to bring everything before Him.

In a devotional based on Isaiah 37, F. B. Meyer states, “Let us more habitually hand over our anxieties and cares to God.  God calls us to enter his rest…to place Himself and his care between us and all that would hurt or annoy.”

Intercede on behalf of those loved ones in your life.  Affirm and ask God to protect you and keep you.  In all things, surrender unto God and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring a peace that surpasses understanding.  There is power in prayer and in intercession.

Lord, hear our prayers!

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Prayers of the Hopeful

child-praying

By Joe LaGuardia

I enjoy listening to my children pray.  My seven-year old son started praying regularly just this last season of Lent (it was his commitment for Lent in preparation for his baptism come Easter day).

His prayers are unlike any I’ve ever heard.  Usually, people start their prayers with, “Lord, we ask…” or “Lord, please…”.

Not my son.  He begins every sentence with, “I hope….”

“I hope my mother gets home safely this evening.  I hope that tomorrow is a good day.  I hope that we get to play outside this weekend and there’s no rain.”

I think we need to learn something from him.  We too should approach God full of hope.  We have hope in our hearts, but we can also express hope in our prayers too.  It would make for more honest prayer, that’s for sure.

Hope is appropriate for prayer because it is the substance of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  When we express our hopes to God, we bear witness to our faith that God is in control of our life and our purpose in the future.

Whether my son knows it or not, when he tells God of all the things for which he hopes, he is declaring his faith in God’s providential wisdom.  I realize he is not that theological, but there is a reason why Jesus let the little children come unto him.

It is because children are honest in their prayers, and we need to learn from them.

Even those who grieve or face hardship may express hope in a prayer to God.  “We do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul wrote to the churches in Thessalonica, “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Yes, we grieve; but, we do so with hope that God will make all things right in the end (and the new beginning!) of time.  We hope even in our longing and desperation for God’s creation to be made new and whole.

Psalm 4 encourages prayer warriors to trust and hope in God in all situations: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent.  Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (verses 4-5).

To me, this verse balances quiet contemplation (we must think about our hopes and dreams and express them to God), with holy action (we respond to God by offering our very lives as living sacrifices, putting all our eggs in God’s basket).

Like my son, we are to pray often with the phrase, “I hope!”, and we can take all things to God in prayer:

“I hope You will give me strength and heal me of this cancer.”
“I hope that I will feel your presence during this time of uncertainty.”
“I hope that my children will be safe today.”
“I hope that I can be courageous in my compassion towards those in need or those who are on the margins.”
“I hope You give me a spirit of forgiveness to reconcile with my enemies today.”

I know it is a leap to go from hoping to seeing the requests of our prayers come true, but we have to start somewhere — and honesty is the best way to go.

In another letter to a group of churches, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

May our prayers this week be filled with hope, that trust may replace anxiety, assurance replace uncertainty, and holiness replace paralysis.

The Sound of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9)

TransfigI.

Have you attended a movie, concert, or play in which the person next to you talks the whole time?

You know, you’re sitting there, enjoying the show; and the show or concert comes to a place of awesome suspense or beauty or wonder, and then there it is: A voice of someone who ruins the moment.

I know someone who does this during movies.  I’ve vowed never to watch a movie with her again.  I like my movie-watching in total silence, even if it is the most predictable, corny movie there is.

When she watches a movie, its always, “Oh, oh, don’t go in that room” or “Oh, he’s the one who’s the culprit.”  Or one of my favorites, as we sit half-way through the show, “So that’s how the movie is going to end…”

There are just some people who need to talk during those awkward moments.  They just have to say something.

I found out early on in high school that having to say something just to say something is a fast way to ruin a date too.

I’m a talker just in case you didn’t know, and when I was learning how to court the ladies, I didn’t realize that girls like mysterious men.  The less they know about you, the better.

So, as each date I went on, I found that I was ruining the whole thing by talking.  A lot.  At the end of the day, after I realized I had botched things, I would scold myself, “Joe—you just have to shut up.  Just be quiet!”

I have a wife who says that to me now, so I’m grateful.  … I must not have talked much before we got married.

 I.

In today’s scripture lesson, we find ourselves back in the gospel of Matthew and back on another mountain.  Last month, we spent some time on a mountain listening to Jesus’ sermon and gleaning from lessons related to both the spiritual practices and the social practices that will help us be the Good News in the world today.

This time, we are not listening to one of Jesus’ lessons, but getting a fly-on-the-wall view of a magnificent and moving, climactic, vision that Jesus, James, John, and Peter shared together.

It is the Transfiguration; and, today is appropriately called, “Transfiguration Sunday.”  It’s the day that marks the final day of the season of Epiphany and the foreshadowing of the season of Lent.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and we’ll find ourselves with Jesus not on a mountain, but in the wilderness valley of testing and trails.

Matthew must have something for mountains because they appear throughout his Gospel.  We mentioned before that this is probably intentional:  It was on a mountain where Moses received the Law; it was where Elijah heard God and challenged the prophets of Baal.   Zion itself sits upon a mountain, which is why we always sing that we are “marching up to Zion.”

Mountains mean something to Matthew, and I think they mean something to us too.  We have mountain-top experiences, those moments when we have a revelation or epiphany and reach some peak of awe in our spiritual life.

III.

So here we are, taking a long walk with Jesus back up a mountain, and we get a bit tired at the top and wonder why he led us here in the first place.  Scripture tells us that we are alone here.  There are no crowds to heal.  There are no religious officials with whom we might debate.

Then something brilliant and amazing and awe-inspiring happens!  There is a great light, and Jesus is changing right before our eyes into the most beautiful, heavenly being we’ve ever seen!  Glory is coming upon us, and it takes our breath away, it is so bright—as bright as the sun—and we have to shield our eyes.

As we try to see through the sun-spots, try to take in  this moment before it goes away, we make out two figures:  One looks like Charlton Heston and the other one looks like someone we can only guess is Elijah.  They are having a conversation with Jesus as if they are in a library, hushed and reverent, but we can only watch speechless and with hearts throbbing: Glory, glory in the highest!  And our hearts soar!

We enjoy the moment and drink it in like fresh water, and then the moment is broken, not by amazing song of angels or by a thunderous voice from heaven, or by a transformative, cataclysmic speech by Jesus or Moses or Elijah, but broken by Peter. Anxious Peter!

“Lord,” Peter says, “This is so good, so very good.  Let’s build something.  Let’s capture this Kodak moment with altars so that we can live in this moment forever.  …Whatdaya’ say?”

I imagine that as soon as Peter opened his mouth, all of them–James, John, Jesus, and even Charlton Heston and Elijah—all turned to Peter with looks of confusion on their faces.  Perhaps James—the quiet one—just shook his head in disbelief.  The light that once shone like the sun became a little duller.

“Peter, you’re about to ruin the moment, Dude.”

Then God makes an entrance.  The light brightens again to cosmic, blinding proportions, and another voice overtakes Peter’s and says in no uncertain terms, “This is my Son, my Beloved.  Listen to him!”

Listen to Jesus!  Peter just came into the presence of greatness:  A dazzling and brilliant Prince of Peace, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah—heroes of the faith, and God reminds him and his friends: “Don’t say another word—Listen!”

IV.

I am reminded of stories of people who meet celebrities.  When people meet them on the street or at some local restaurant, they—the fans—start acting like children and talk and talk and talk, “Oh, Mr. So-and-So, I’m you’re biggest fan, can you sign my napkin?  Somebody get me a Sharpie… grab a Sharpie!”

My sister, the journalist, called me one day after she did a press junket for the movie, The Italian Job.  Movie execs put her and a half-dozen other reporters in a room with some actors from the movie to do a round-table interview.

One of those actors was Mark Wahlberg.  My sister got to sit right next to him.

Now, you have to know something about my sister.  Ever since Mark Wahlberg was singing hip hop with “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch”, my sister had been infatuated with both him and his brother, Donnie, also a singer.   So being next to Mark Walhberg was something akin to having a mountain-top experience.

“What did you say to him,” I asked.

“Nothing,” she told me, “I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t ask him any questions about the movie or anything?  You didn’t tell him that you have a Mark Walhberg action figure on your bookshelf at work?”

“Well, yeah, I asked him a few things, but I spent most of the time just looking at him: At his biceps…his shoulders…his hair….”

“Alright, enough Gina!”

My sister probably did what most of us would do in that situation, to sit speechless.  But for every person who is speechless, there is someone else who would have talked Marky Mark’s ear off just because silence becomes too awkward sometimes.

I really do think that my sister was on to something.   When we are in the presence of something great, we need to be quiet.

“Listen to my Son.”  Don’t spoil the moment.  Enjoy it.  Take in the glory.  Let Jesus do the talking for once.

V.

The truth is that there are many times when we are on a mountain with Jesus, and we don’t know what to do.  Some of us, like my sister, look in disbelief.  We breathe in that fresh, mountain air and try to listen.  We wrestle with how to let Jesus’ words sooth the soul and transform our hearts.

We know the moment may not last into tomorrow, but that’s okay.  Jesus told us to let tomorrow to take care of itself.

Then there are others of us who are uncomfortable on that mountain.  Mountains are, for them, not places of clarity and insight and awe, but of anxiety and stress.

They only remind folks that a valley is just on the other side, and that there will soon follow either a boring walk through the routine of faith, or a strenuous—and in some cases, tragedy-laden—journey through that dark valley before getting to the next mountain-top experience.

There is a saying in Haiti that when things go bad, it is as if the people are facing “Mountains upon mountains.”  That’s like saying, “When it rains it pours.”   For some people, mountains are hindrances, they represent hurdles to overcome rather than sacred spaces that enable you to see the big picture.

Some of us would rather take Jesus’ other advice, when he said that our prayers can move mountains.  That is much more comfortable than having to climb up one only to experience an awkward blinding light.

There are times when we get anxious on the mountain top and, like Peter, say the wrong things at the wrong time.  We talk too much.

We don’t let Jesus speak, and we don’t listen to those prophets of the Bible.  We fail to let the Bible speak for itself.  We want to go back to that noisy, busy-body world we settle for: the one with all of the cell phones, social networking, music, entertainment, and endless conversation that drowns out the piercing silence and glory that comes when we face God and face ourselves.

“Come on, let’s do something,” we tell Jesus when we meet him there, “I’m too uncomfortable to just sit still and simply worship you; let’s build something together to get our mind off of the things that you and I need to deal with in my life.”

And God comes again and again, dazzling us with light, surprising us with divine revelation; and He shuts up our mouths and tells us to quiet down.  God gives us permission to enjoy the moment, to not ruin the date; to “be still and know that He is God,” as Psalm 46 says.

“When you pray,” Jesus once told his disciples, “Go into your prayer closet, and shut the doors.”

I wonder if Jesus really meant, “Go into your prayer closet and shut up for a while.”  Be quiet for a moment.

“This is God’s Son.  Listen to him.”