The Intercessions of Paul – Part One
(As described in Philippians 3:4-15)
When I was first “born-again” and attended a Pentecostal church, a number of the older people in the congregation would often testify about their “burden for souls.” They related how they would pray and pray, often weeping, deep into the night, for the salvation of individuals, groups, and whole towns and nations. In addition, these “prayer warriors,” as many called them, also talked about praying for those already in Christ for their needs, whatever they might be. The way they talked, it seemed as if their whole being and life was given over for this one activity. The word they often used to describe what they were doing was, “intercession.” They were “interceding,” they said, for these others for whom they spent hours and hours in prayer.
As an infant Christian, I had no frame of reference for what they did, but something in me was stirred by it, and I wanted to “be that,” too! As it was often in those days, if I found something in Christ I was not manifesting or experiencing, it caused me condemnation, as if I really wasn’t all I should be or doing all I should do. But their testimonies also spurred me into action, to “try” to be what they were. What follows is how the desire and manifestation of being an intercessor has over the years grown with my increasing consciousness of Christ in me. I am putting it within the framework of Paul’s marvelous passage in Philippians, the one we all know well, where Paul writes, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
This is not another rousing message of, “Stand up, and do your best for Jesus, because we all know we could always do better!” No, what Paul describes has no connection to that understanding. It is never, “You should,” or “You should not,” but always, “Yes, I am in You both to will and to do of My good pleasure.”
Jesus said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:27-30)
Some time ago, a brother asked me to comment on the two passages, Phil 3:12 and 3:15, where in the former Paul speaks of not being “perfect” yet, and then in 3:15 he says to his readers, “as many as be perfect,” those will have the same mind as did Paul. Perfect or not yet perfect, which is it? Or is it both? So it can be confusing. When I began considering the passages in Philippians where those verses are found, it occurred to me that I could not understand Paul’s meaning, without also understanding Paul’s inner life motivations, which brought out those passages.
(A brief mention re Bible versions. I use the KJV most often, checked by comparison to other versions. It is not because I think KJV is the only anointed Bible version in the English language. I do not think that at all. But I do think some of its language packs a punch in English that most newer versions don’t reflect. Such as the usage of the word, “perfect.” Other versions shy away from that word and use other words like complete or sufficient. There is a real aversion among believers to use the word “perfect” when thinking of themselves or the other brethren. That is because we are thinking with man’s idea of what perfect is, rather than God’s. I like the word and to me, the mojo that “perfect” has in the English language greatly exceeds the punch “complete” brings. So I continue with “perfect.”)
In the earliest part of my “saved” life, a copy of Oswald Chambers’ book, My Utmost for His Highest, showed up, I forget from where. I ate it up! I saw it like most people see it, an inspirational call to greater heights in God. I wanted to be “holy.” I wanted to be “godly.” I wanted to “bear fruit.” And Chambers’ book lends itself very much to that frame of mind. Devotion. Seeking the Lord full time. Wanting the Lord’s “character” to shine through. Never fully attaining, but nevertheless driven onward and onward, with our eyes on the prize, not yet grasped, always just out of reach. Now I have to say, there is absolutely nothing wrong in any way with that for a beginner. Before I knew Him, like people the world over, I had been taken with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9. And at the same time from the “Sermon on the Mount,” I began to believe the promises wrapped in those exhortations:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt 7:7-11)
Was that not grace? To be drawn toward God? To have the truths of God begin to be revealed in my mind? To start to believe in a “God” who could be sought – and found? Is that not grace? “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not.” (Isa 65:1)
It must have been the same for me, because all this stuff interrupted the life I was living at the time. I did not “draw myself” to God. I did not suddenly want to be good or righteous or holy. I thought people were crazy who were caught up in that. I was direction-less, and at the time thought that was okay. I had become a very young inexperienced cynic. I had quit believing in anything. I took John Lennon’s, “God is a concept, by which we measure – our pain – I’ll say it again … God is a concept, by which we measure – our pain,” as my daily mantra.
But the Spirit overreached all that and somehow, through the increasingly disagreeable circumstances in which we found ourselves living, he “awoke” in me a desire toward truth and a spiritual life. Which, as I have outlined many times before, took me first through eastern thought, and then finally “reaching the goal,” which was/is Jesus Christ.
Who was the Author of all that? Certainly not I, for I would never in myself have allowed that outcome. Of course it was He, the Father of Spirits, and more intimately as I learned, He was “MY” Father, the Father of “my” spirit! Through all the succeeding years from then until now, I have increasingly seen, day by day, how He is both Author of the faith that is in me, AND the Finisher! For a while I basked in the truth that He was the “author” of my faith; it blew my mind! But then how much more glorious it was to discover, that He was also the FINISHER! Which means He’s got the whole lot to Himself! We are right back at that perpetual place, “not I, but the grace of Christ…” (1 Cor 15:10).
So I started in Christ with the only “model” any of us know of piety or holiness, which is that to which we have been exposed. For me in 20th Century America, it came somewhat from church, but for me more in the movies and on television and a few books, and was sort of an amalgamation of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish traditions. All these traditions have roots in individual and corporate prayer and of being alone with God. Catholic monasticism affected the entire culture of Europe (including Protestantism) and subsequently the USA, from the Dark Ages until now – the reverential “attitude,” going aside to seek God, giving oneself to prayer and fasting, celibacy, scarcity of possessions, etc. The Jesuits and the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola have echoes in William Law’s legalistic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, sort of an Anglican call to discipline and earnest seeking the Lord. It was well-received at the time, especially by John Wesley, though Wesley ended up parting with Law after Law discovered Jacob Boehme’s writings and found his own “union” with God.
Jesus said, “Seek, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened to you; Ask, and it shall be given you.” This is where most honest seekers of God start out. We are without – outside! We know neither God nor ourselves. The “God” we think or hope might be there, we can only conceive as “apart” from us. And in the beginning for me, this was the “Word” I heard from the Lord. “Seek Me, and you will find Me!” If someone wants to see that as legalistic, let them take it up with the Lord, because it was His Word to me at the time.
In my initial beginning, I was not in a church and had no spiritual “cover.” Just the Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and me. And this is what came up to do. Not because someone had told me I “should” do that. But because I could not help but to do it. I did not yet know the Who that was filling me with Himself – at least I did not know Him in any sense as “in me.”
I did experience “the baptism” of the Spirit, again alone. (“What” we experience is less the point than “Who” we experience – the “what” may change and be different from one to the other. The “Who” is eternal and never changes, regardless of the “what.”) I had “an experience,” felt myself “immersed” inwardly and without with Spirit, a language I did not know came out of my mouth, and all my thoughts and emotions were only praise and thanksgiving for all the things of God, and finally I was overcome by an other-worldly joy – a “joy,” not of this world, a joy greater than anything on earth could ever bring, a joy so powerful and overabundant I did not think I could contain it.
But even with that, (which came in that full manner only that one time, though there have been quite a few reminders over the years), the Spirit let the “gap” in my consciousness remain, the “gap” that kept us, the Father and me, as “two.” This “gap” is insurmountable by any human means. Except for the revelation through the Spirit, I cannot see past the point of my individual selfhood, and see that God already is my inner all in all. For the Spirit’s reasons, which I have learned are always perfect, He ordained for me to walk during that time in that separated consciousness, because everything in those days which I could not see at the time, were the Spirit’s perfect building being built and revealed in Me, though at the time it looked more like the cankerworm was running amok.
For several years at our Union Life meetings in Louisville in the 1980s, our good friend Helen Overly led our song times. Every year she led us in a song she had composed from some verses in Habakkuk. It had come to her at a particularly tough time of trial, when she and her friend Freda were starting a doll-making business, and things were at their worst. Helen and Freda had both been reading at the same time the same passage in Habakkuk, unknown to the other, but when they found out, Helen put these words to music:
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:17,18)
She would lead us in that song every year in Louisville in those days, and it hit me where I was truly living when I first heard it, and was the same for years afterward. I KNEW all these things were true. I KNEW Christ and I are one. I KNEW we were living in God’s bounty, and I KNEW that He had called us to give what we had been given. That was all “inner knowing.”
In a sense, it was almost like Joseph and his dreams. I knew the things I saw were true and real. But at the time, my life looked more like a fig tree yet to blossom, with no fruit on the vines; the olives were failing; the fields produced no harvest; no lowing of animals in the stalls. There was nothing on the horizon that in any way indicated what I believed inwardly could ever come to pass. But I also took the last line to heart: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation!”
It is during those times, the “no evidence” times, that the Spirit uses to completely disabuse us of our former attachments and false separated mindset. We leave “Egypt” (our old “natural” life, as vessels of wrath) still much in the same ways of thinking, relating to the world, as we always had been. We have always been “outer” people. Our concerns were over the outer. How it looks, how it feels, whether we are hungry or full, whether we have possessions or not, whether we have food and security, protection from anything that might harm us. God “delivers” us from Egypt by a mighty hand, one way or another, but our minds are too dull to understand what is really going on.
And that’s what the “wilderness years” that some of us experience take care of. As Paul compares the Israelites in the wilderness and their crossing the Red Sea to be their baptism into Christ, the wilderness years make them into a nation, and points to what the Spirit does in us, as Paul points out in 1 Cor 10. We cross the Red Sea and are immediately in the wilderness, but are led every day for (figuratively) 40 years by the Spirit as a Cloud in the day and a Fiery Pillar at night. We go in complaining babies, who freak with fear every time an obstacle impedes their trek, even though every time God “delivers them by a mighty hand.” But when they are finally ready to go into the Land of Promise 40 years later, they have left behind in the wilderness the carcasses of their old selves who were still slaves of Egypt, and they march over the Jordan on dry ground, going into the Land to possess their possessions.
END PART ONE