Name would be mentioned that frequently before the throne of grace is humbling and honoring to me actually. I feel like Moses, my arms being lifted up and able to do what God has called me to do because of prayer.
It was Corrie Ten Boom who said, "The greatest thing you can do for a person is to pray for them." Charles Spurgeon, one of the most successful preachers in England was asked about the success of his ministry. And it said that he took the man who asked him down to the basement of the church where he showed people that were praying during the service. He said, "There's the secret of the ministry. It's not my preaching, it's the people who are praying. In fact Charles Spurgeon said, "Let me have your prayers and I can do anything. Let me be without your prayers and I can do nothing." There has been an unusual work that has gone on here in Albuquerque here at Calvary Chapel. I sit back really and marvel at what God has done. I had no idea that God would do, here at this church, what he has done. It has been called in Christianity Today the fastest growing church in America, during a couple of year period. Sunday nights we have seen people regularly make commitments, public commitments to Jesus Christ and I can only conclude that people are praying. I must only conclude that people are praying for that work.
A man approached me a year ago. He was an associate pastor in Albuquerque of a church and he said, "I just want you to know that I prayed for years that a church like this would come to this town." That's the pastor of another church, talk about humble selfless intercession. And he said, "You're the answer to that prayer." I didn't know what to say, I was quite humbled at that.
The title that I have selected this morning, it's called "Standing in the Gap." Standing in the gap. Now I know that might sound like a strange title. It doesn't mean that you go to the mall and go shopping and stand in The Gap. What I mean by that is I'm referring to intercession, praying for other people, that there are gaps that need to be filled. The title is out of the book of Ezekiel, where God says, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of this land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none." The idea is that God was looking for a leader that would stand in the gap between the wall of leadership, there was a hole in that wall, there was not a leader who would stem the tide of destruction. And God was saying it only takes one person to stand in the gap. But God said, "I found none." The gap that I am referring to this morning is the gap of prayerlessness perhaps. Perhaps there are gaps in our wall that leave us vulnerable to the attacks of people. And if only there were people praying for us or if only we were praying for certain other people, if those gaps were filled, perhaps that would stem the tide.
I asked my wife for permission to read a short little excerpt from her 1981 prayer journal that she kept on a daily basis. Things that she would pray for, things that would come into her mind. And it is dated April 2, Tuesday, 1981. That was a time where I had just asked her to be my wife. And it seemed that, we were going through some rocky times. I proposed to her but I said, "I feel like God is calling us to Albuquerque, New Mexico." And it was a real difficult time. We were making adjustments to the idea that we would be living together as a married couple, that we'd be moving from the holy land, southern California, and coming out to Albuquerque. We didn't know anything about it. And I came to a point where I said, "I don't know if we should get married. I don't even know if we should move. Maybe we should just stay right here and get grounded. This is our sort of place of protection. It was very difficult. And in that little jot, that prayer journal, she said, "Lord, if there was ever a time that I needed intercessors, it's right now. And I pray Lord, that you would lay Skip and myself upon the hearts of our friends." I said, "Honey, I've got to share that. You were praying that God would raise up people to pray for us. And He must have done it."
In I Timothy chapter 2 which I've had you turn to, the apostle Paul in writing to this young minister says, "Therefore I exhort (or urge) first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in godliness and reverence for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." I want you to notice the first verse, the emphasis that Paul lays upon this activity, the priority of praying for people. He says, "I exhort first of all," Or, "the most important thing you can do as a matter of priority is to pray." It should be something that requires top billing in our lives. As you set your priority of activities, the first thing is prayer. The first thing is prayer.
A successful industrialist addressing a group of executives, he said, "I have found that there are two things that people have trouble doing in their lives, and that is first of all thinking and then acting out things according to their priority structure, things of first importance." According to Paul the most important thing you can do is to pray. First of all, or first order of importance. Why is it so important? Well one person said, "Much prayer, much power. No prayer, no power." It's a little bit disconcerting that we can announce banquets, retreats, concerts, special movies, and crowds will swell. Announce that we're going to have a prayer meeting and what happens? It's not seen as that important or urgent. One person said that Sunday morning attendance indicates the popularity of the church. Sunday evening attendance indicates the popularity of the pastor. Prayer meeting attendance indicates the popularity of Jesus Christ.
First of all, order of first importance. I've even been to so-called prayer breakfasts or prayer luncheons, about the only thing we prayed for is the food. It ended up to be a fellowship banquet or a fellowship breakfast or even a Bible study (and those are great events) but it was named a prayer breakfast. There are lots of people who speak to men about God, we call that preaching. There are lots who speak to mean about men and that's called gossip. But there are few who speak to God about men, that's intercession, that's standing in the gap for people.
I would like to address for just a few moments those in leadership, specifically pastors, those who might be listening to this tape or radio broadcast or if you're here and you're a pastor, a pastor of this church, one of the associates: God raised you up for the distinct purpose of having you stand in the gap for the people in this fellowship. It is a priority. In the early church, when the leaders were tempted to get involved with programs and planning, because certain widows were neglected at the daily distribution, the apostle said, "It is not fitting that we should leave the word of God to serve tables. Select seven men from among you to do the job but we will continually give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word of God. It's obvious that prayer is an important activity on God's agenda. Is it our important activity? Is ait our priority? Or, is prayer not the first resort but the last resort? "Well, I've tried everything else in the Owner's Manual, it doesn't work. All I've got left to do is pray." No, first of all, and I think if it would become our first resort, it wouldn't have to become our last resort.
Next, in the same verse he speaks of the variety of prayer, four different kinds: supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks, be made for all men. First on the list is supplications. What do you think of when you hear that word? You probably think of strong loud crying, which the word can imply. Bartimeus, when Jesus was going through Jericho, said, "Son of David, have mercy on me." And they said, "Be quiet." And he cried out louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me." But the word supplication in this verse, could be translated request. It means a request based upon a felt need. A request based upon a felt need. Prayer begins with recognizing need, inadequacy. That's why we come to God because he can meet the need, our need and the need of other people. Supplication.
There was a young boy in India who saw a holy man praying by the River Ganges, watched him for some twenty, thirty minutes. Finally approached the older man and he said, "would you please teach me how to pray?" The old gentleman studied that kids' face for some time and then he grabbed his hair and forced his head underwater. And after several moments, when the little kid got loose, he said gasping, "Why'd you do that?" And the man said, "You just got lesson number one in prayer. When you long to pray as much as you longed for air while your head was underwater, I can teach you how to pray. But it begins with knowing that you have that inadequacy and that need. Supplication, I have a need and therefore I come before the Lord. Now we're good at this, this part in prayer is no problem. I find that I can readily and easily engage in conversation with God about me. I'm in touch with my needs, "God it's me again. I need this, I want that," on and on. Now that's not bad, I don't want to diminish that form of prayer, Jesus commanded it, "Ask and you shall receive." We should come before the Lord and bring our requests. In fact, Jesus was amazed that his disciples wouldn't do it. He said, "Up to this point you haven't asked anything in my name. Ask, that your joy may be full. Ask and you shall receive." Listen, it is not humble to not ask things for yourself. It's foolish. Here's God standing in heaven with gifts, with resources, waiting for your supplication so that He can pour them out. And we say, "Oh, no, I want to be humble. In fact I'm kind of proud that I'm so humble." Actually that's foolishness, you won't get any power. God gave you that means to come before him and have those supplications answered. My son I have found would never shun a blessing. He's not shy about asking. Every Monday is allowance day. He gets a buck. And every Monday he reminds me it's Monday. "Daddy, it's Monday." "I know, Nathan." "Monday's allowance day. I get a dollar, can I have it?" He's not shy about asking. Every toy store he comes in, "Daddy, can I have a toy?" Now I don't always buy him a toy but he'll always ask. Yesterday we went to the mall, he said, "Dad, can we go to a toy store, too?" I said, "I don't know, Nathan." He said, "I'll tell you what, if we go to a toy store, I'll try really hard not to ask you for a toy." Do you think it worked? No. God invites us to supplicate, to have a felt need and to bring that need before him. That's good but it's not all there is to praying. If that's where we spend all of our time, we have an imbalanced prayer life. So Paul uses another noun, notice the next word, not only supplications but prayers. What does that mean? It sounds like a general term for any kind of praying but whenever this Greek word is used in the New Testament, it refers specifically to prayer focusing upon God himself, focusing upon God. That's how Jesus told us to come to God. He said, "When you pray, you say, 'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name." I recognize who I am speaking to. I recognize his concerns, I am speaking to God, I'm not speaking to the City Council, I'm not speaking to the President, "Not going to do it, like to, can't." But I'm speaking to God who has absolutely no limits. He has no Congress, he has no one who's going to veto what he wants to do, he's God and more than that he's my personal Father who loves me and has my interests at heart. And so I come to him in a balance, I have my needs but at the same time my prayer needs to focus upon God and his concerns to seek first the kingdom of God.
Mature Christian prayer is balanced. It's not heavy on one end or the other, it's balanced. I'm concerned about myself but I'm concerned about God as well, and others. When I was a baby, my only form of communication was, "Waah!" That's all I knew how to say, I couldn't articulate any words. When I was hungry, "Waah!" When I needed my diapers changed, "Waah!" It's funny how my mom could distinguish the tones of what they meant. My wife could do the same thing, when Nathan was a baby, Nathan would cry and she'd say, "He wants his bottle." "He wants his bottle? How do you know that?" "I can just tell, he's got that pitch." Now as I grew, my form of communication changed, I learned to speak. And so I'd come directly to Mom and Dad and say, "I want something." Like Nathan, he's at that age right now, "I want something." I grew out of that stage however and by the time I was a teenager I learned the art of manipulation and so I could butter up my parents and say, "Oh Dad and Mom, you're gorgeous today." The Eddie Haskell approach, if you remember Leave it to Beaver. However, I matured, I grew out of being a teenager and now when I call my parents, I don't ask for a handup, I don't cry on the phone, I don't say, "Give me." I usually say, "Mom, Dad, how are you? What can I do for you? Imiss you." The maturity has brought a different form of communication, so it is with prayer. My parents really did teach me to pray this way, "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep." But examine that prayer, it's very self-oriented. Now I, lay me, down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I, should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take." It's very self-oriented. Mature Christian praying is balanced. There's supplication but there's prayers that focus upon God.
I love the little girl who said, "Mommy I'm going to my room to pray." She didn't come out for a long time. Finally Mommy said, "Why were you in there so long?" The little girl said, "Oh, I was just telling Jesus I love him and he was telling me of course that He loves me. And we just spent a long time loving each other." That's balanced prayer, she kind of had the whole idea of what this word means.
Now I find, again, that this aspect of prayer is also not difficult. Just like I'm in touch with my needs and I can bring my supplications before the Lord quite easily, worship is not work, it's exhilarating. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort for me to think of how good God is to me. It's not laborious for me to go, "God I love you, I worship you." But the next part of praying is where it gets difficult. Notice the word, "intercessions." Webster defines this as to ask in favor of someone else. This is where prayer is tough. As long as I'm praying for myself, no problem, I could rattle on for days. Worshipping God is exhilarating. But it's hard to pray for other people. That's what Paul meant when he spoke of Epaphrus who said, "Epaphrus, my fellow bondservant is constantly laboring in prayer for you all that you might stand complete and perfect in all the will of God." That's where prayer gets hard. As long as I'm praying for my needs, I'm awake. As long as I start praying for other people, my mind is drifting. It's very easy for that to happen and I need to stay on target.
Jesus Christ is a great example of an intercessor. John chapter 17, he prays for the disciples. Though he had taught them for three and a half years, he decides to pray for them. He says, "Father, I pray for these whom you have given me. Sanctify them by your word as truth. I pray that they may be one even as we are one." Wouldn't it be great to know that Jesus is praying for you? Think how Simon Peter must have felt, when he said, "Lord, though everybody else flakes out on you, I will never deny you." "Peter, you're going to deny me three times." And then he said, "Peter, Satan has been asking for you, he wants to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you. And when you are returned strengthen your brethren." How would you feel if Jesus said, "Hey, Satan has been calling for you, asking for you lately, he wants to sift you like wheat." You go, "Oh no!" And the he says, "But I'm praying for you." Whew. The reason that Peter was able to be returned and to strengthen his brethren is because Jesus prayed for him. Do you know that Jesus is praying for you this morning? Do you believe that? The Bible says that Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father right now, ever living to make intercession for us." Listen to what it says in the book of Romans. "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died, more than that who was raised to life is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Jesus work for you is not finished. Now his work upon the earth is finished, he died on the cross. But his work in heaven is still going on, he's talking to God about you, He ever lives to make intercession for us. He was an intercessor.
Now I'd like you to notice the objects of prayer. Look at verse 1, "That these should be made for all men." I skipped by the way giving of thanks, we did that last week. "Be made for all men for kings and all who are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." According to Paul the object of our prayer is to be for all men, that means all mankind, not just all men in distinction to women, but all mankind. All mankind, that's a very broad kind of a thing. Paul prayed for individuals and he prayed for churches as well, for all men. So far you may be thinking, "Well I do pray for my church and I do pray for my family, my Christian brethren like Paul the apostle did." But let's broaden all men. How about your enemies? Wouldn't that fall under the category of all men? You know that if you would pray for your enemies, you wouldn't have very many of them. Your heart would be changed and turned toward them. Jesus said, "Pray for those who persecute you and spitefully use you. Pray for them." Did he practice what he preached? What was his first prayer on the cross? "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do." I don't think that would have been my first prayer actually, honestly. I would have said, "Father, smite them. Judge them. They deserve it." No, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." There have been many times where I have been so angry at a person and God taps me on the shoulder and says, "You're a hypocrite, you need to pray for your enemy." And I would suggest that you make a list. Not a hit list and if you've got a hit list, turn it into a prayer list and watch God soften your heart. One pundit from the past said, "Earnest intercession will be sure to bring love with it. I do not believe you can hate a man for whom you habitually pray." If you dislike any Christian brother, pray for him doubly. Not only for his sake but for your own sake that you may be cured of prejudice and saved from all unkind feeling." All men, pray for all men.
That would also include, according to Paul, the government. Lord knows, we need it now. Notice it says, "for kings," verse 2, "and all who are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." This verse has special application to us right now. As you're looking at the debates, as you're wondering and praying who you should vote for, we need to be praying for this nation. It was Edward Hale, when he was chaplain of the U.S. Senate that was asked by one person, "Dr. Hale, do you pray for the senators." He said, "No, I look at the senators and I pray for this country." We need to pray for this country but we also need to pray for the people who lead the country, even if you don't like them, even if you say, "I didn't vote for him," or whoever makes it into office, "I didn't want him in office." Respect the position even if you don't respect the person. Do you know that when Paul wrote this letter, who was on the throne in Rome, Caesar Nero, the one who killed Paul the apostle later on, the one who persecuted Christians, who took Christians and poured tar upon their bodies and made them living torches. It says, "Pray for those who are in authority that we might lead a godly and a peaceable life." I think Christians more than ever need to be on their knees in prayer for the revival of this country. And I think that means personal repentance, like me and my own. "God renew my own heart, revive my own heart, shake away my own apathy. Start revival with me, begin it in my heart and renew this nation." II Chronicles 7 still applies, "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will heal their land, I will forgive their sin."
When I read the scriptures I'm a little bit worried as to the future of this nation because in end-time prophecy, I don't find our nation mentioned. That could be: a) the United States allies itself with the Antichrist in the end times and they're destroyed by God, 2) we lose a nuclear conflict and we're not a significant power; or 3) this nation turns to God in revival and when Jesus comes back for his church, so many of us are gone that we lack that political prominence that would cause us to go astray in the last times. I would pray for the third option, that a massive revival would sweep this land. We can't count on it but we ought to be praying for it, for our own nation.
Now I want you to look at verse 4 because I think when we say "praying for all men" that means praying for unbelievers. Verse 4 says, "Who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." I thank God for the people who prayed for me. There was a lot of people who decided to gang up on me in prayer. They said, "Look, it's Skip, he's wasted man, he's a case. Let's pray for him." And the Holy Spirit responded to those prayers. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, "Do you say that you have nothing to pray for? What? No children unconverted? No friends unsaved? No neighbors who are still in darkness? What? Live in London and not pray for sinners? Until the gate of hell is shut upon a man we must not cease to pray for him, and if we see him hugging the very doorposts of damnation, we must go to the mercy seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position." Now let me give you a suggestion: I have a prayer journal at home that has been a real help to me, it divides up things to intercede for, things to pray for on a weekly, daily kind of a basis. Number one, they suggest on Sunday you pray for the church, your church, the church around the world. Monday you pray for the family, your personal family, families in the church to be strengthened, families in the nation to be strengthened. Tuesday, pray for the media, of course you might want to spend a little longer praying for that one. Wednesday pray for the government. Thursday for education, Friday for business, Saturday arts and entertainment, I think you'd pray a long time for that one as well.
The priority of prayer, I urge you first of all, there's a variety of prayer: supplication, the giving of thanks; intercession, prayer that focuses upon God. But now I'd like you to look at the reasons for it. There's three reasons and we'll go through it briefly and we'll close here. First of all, prayer is good, notice what it says in verse 3, "For this is good." What does that mean? It means that intrinsically prayer's a good thing to do. It works, there's benefits to it. In fact, studies have been shown that people who pray regularly lower their stress and anxiety level. I'm not saying that's the reason you should do it but there are side benefits to it, it is good. Secondly it is acceptable, verse 3, in the sight of God our Savior. When you pray God is pleased. Do you know, speaking about that, that to not pray for people is regarded as sin in the scripture? Samuel the prophet stood before the nation as they asked him to pray and to teach them and he said, "Farbeit from me that I would sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." He knew that prayer was pleasing and acceptable to God. Prayer is good, it is acceptable or pleases God and number three, stuff happens when you do it, it is effective, it works. Look at verse 2, "for kings and all who are in authority (and notice the result) that we may lead a quiet and peacable life in all godliness and reverence." God said, "Jeremiah, call on me and I will answer you and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not know." It'll work.
I'd like you to turn over to Acts chapter 12 for just a moment, I want to show you a good example of intercessory prayer working. Now there's several of them in the scripture but I think this is a classic. Acts chapter 12. Little background, Herod the Great takes James the apostle, cuts his head off, puts Peter in prison, he's going to do the same thing to him. Now look at Acts chapter 12, verse 5, "Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." Now that's the turning point of the story: he's in prison but prayer was constantly made. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold and angel of the Lord stood byhim and a light shone in the prison and he struck Peter on the side, raised him up saying, 'Get up quickly,' and his chains fell off of his hands. And the angel said to him, 'Gird yourself and tie on your sandals' and so he did. And he said to him, 'Put on your garment and follow me.' And so he went out and followed him and did not know what was done by the angel." What was done by the angel was real but he thought that he was seeing a vision. "And when they had passed the first and second guardposts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city which opened to them of its own accord and they went out and went down one street and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people. And so when he had considered this he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathering together praying." I love this story, they're praying, God answers his prayer, sends an angel, Peter doesn't know what's happening. He thinks it was just a dream, s vision, he thought it was the pizza he ate the night before. All of a sudden it dawns on him, "This real." He gets out of prison, comes to the house where they are interceding for him. The best part is yet to come. "And Peter knocked at the door of the gate. A girl named Rhoda came to answer and she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate but ran and announced that Peter stood before the gate." Now poor Peter's out there saying, "Let me in, let me in." She sees him, doesn't let him in, goes back to say, "Peter's here." "But they said to her, 'You're nuts.' That's what it means, 'You're beside yourself.' Yet she kept insisting that it was so and yet they said, 'It is his angel.' Now Peter continued knocking and when they had opened the door and they saw him, they were astonished." Now they obviously didn't pray with much faith. "Lord, I pray in Jesus' name, spring Peter from prison." "Here I am." (gasp) "I don't believe it." "You're nuts, it's his angel," and they were astonished. But, intercessory prayer worked. That's one of Paul's points in I Timothy chapter 2, it's good, it's pleasing to God and it works. It works.
In 1924, Dallas Theological Seminary was formed. They failed to calculate all of the costs and within the first year it was about to go bankrupt. The bank officials came to the office one day to foreclose on the property. On the same day, the president of the university, Lewis Sperry Shaefer gathered he and his men together in his office for prayer. He said, "Gentlemen, intercessory prayer will work, let's get on our knees before God. God gave us this seminary, God will keep it open." One of the men in that room was H.A. Ironside, Harry Ironside, some of you recognize his name, he's written several commentaries. Ironside was sort of a country preacher and he had a notorious way for praying and when it got his turn to pray he said, "Lord, you own a cattle on a thousand hills, would you please sell a few of them and send us some money?" Cute kind of a way to pray. While they were praying, Louis Sperry Sheefer tells us the story, a man, a large tall Texan with a cowboy hat, boots, wrinkled up shirt walked in. He said, "I just finished selling two carloads full of cattle. I had a business deal in Fort Worth that fell through and I feel compelled to give the check for this deal to the seminary. I don't know if you guys need it, but here it is anyway." The secretary walks into the prayer meeting, hands the check which happened to be the amount needed for the debt to Louis Sperry Shaefer the president, and he smiling interrupted one of the prayers. He said, "Harry, God sold the cows." And they paid the debt. Does God always work that quickly? OH, I wish he would all the time but sometimes he'll say no or wait. Sometimes God will not answer our prayers that regularly but it still works. Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham said, "I thank God that God does not answer all my prayers. If he did I'd be married to the wrong man several times."
How many gaps are there? How many holes that make us vulnerable because that team is not lifting us up, that effectiveness isn't in our walk because we haven't said to people, "Pray for me specifically about this." Some of you have been prayed for regularly, there's been a lot of people who've stood in the gap, like Bob sang this morning about his mother standing in the gap for him. Some of you are here at church today because somebody stood in the gap for you and you've come close but you haven't come all the way. Jesus Christ is trying to get a hold of your heart this morning. And he wants to answer the prayers of all those moms, all those wives, all those children, all those parents, he wants to answer their prayer and bring you to a relationship with Christ. If God is trying to get a hold of your heart this morning, would you respond to him? The reason you are feeling the need for Jesus Christ this morning and forgiveness is because of all those prayers that God wants to answer. Standing in the gap.
Heavenly Father, right now we want to stand in the gap, for those who are among our assembly this morning who do not yet know Jesus Christ in a personal way. And we pray Lord that you would save them, that after this service they will speak with some of the counselors and pastors and give their life to Jesus Christ this morning. And Father I pray for each and every Christian here, that we would not sin against you in ceasing to pray for one another, that we would make regular lists and go through them. And that intercession, standing in the gap, would strengthen the wall that is around each one of us. In Jesus' name.