We have previously considered the fact that God wants to work through the church to demonstrate His eternal purposes to the principalities and powers in heavenly places. He transforms the heart of the believer to want to pray according to the desires that God Himself has for the world. As believers respond to Him in faith and follow these leadings of the Spirit, they become a part of the process of demonstrating God’s manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers. In this way, God works through His saints to lessen the gap between His will and His desire. Francis Frangipane refers to the gap as “the distance between the way things are and the way things should be.”28 The way things are is that God sovereignly chooses to save only some. The way things should be is the way that God desires it to be…that all would be saved.
Why does God choose to use the church to stand in the gap before Him to reach the lost? Please bear in mind that God could, if He wanted to, reach down to every man individually and reveal Himself to them in a way that is much more clear and definite than doing it by the preaching of a missionary or evangelist. In fact, many of us have heard those occasional stories of the missionaries, who have a native from the jungle come looking for them, saying that God told them to go to a certain place and look for this certain person, who would tell them about the true God. Or as soon as they hear the gospel, speak of a vision that God gave them that they would have a stranger come to them with the story of God’s way to heaven.
If God can, and sometimes does, reveal Himself directly and clearly to the unsaved, then it seems fair to want to try and understand why He normally chooses to proclaim the gospel by the preaching of the church. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the most efficient way for Him to reach the lost, to be sure. It seems that God’s purpose in sending the church into the world is not just to secure the salvation of the lost. Perhaps God is even more interested in seeing the demonstration of faithfulness in the preacher, whose heart has been transformed so that he wants to reach the lost for his God that he loves so much.
There really is much joy in heaven when someone is converted (Luke 15:7). But God is glorified in the preaching whether or not the hearer is converted or hardened by the preaching of the gospel, if by no other means than the obedience of the preacher (as in the case of Jeremiah, for example: Jer. 26:1-6). I believe that God is intensely interested in the salvation of all men. And yet, I would suggest that even though the salvation of all men is immensely important to Him, it is not so important as to save all at any cost— and especially not at the cost of the purposes He has in His dealings with the principalities and powers. I believe that God is greatly interested in the opportunity we become for Him to demonstrate His wisdom to the angelic and demonic realms. Mankind is not God’s total purpose in the salvation picture. Ultimately, the purpose of everything that exists is to glorify God, not only here but in the kingdom of God and in the realms of the principalities and powers, as well.
Bear these things in mind regarding the principalities and powers. 1) They are of a different order than we are—they see us, and are sometimes sent to us as messengers. We do not see them unless they are revealed to us. We are never sent to them with messages from God. 2) They were around first. Their stature appears to be much more grand than ours. We are perhaps somewhat like players on a stage, like Job was. 3) When Christ appears, then we shall be like Him. And when He does, and we are then like Him, we shall judge the angels (1 Cor. 6:3). But that will be after we are transformed into our final (resurrection) state.
Here and now though, in this present world, one of our purposes is to be an object lesson to those principalities and powers (Eph. 3:6-10). The key to our fulfilling this purpose is that we do this now as we act in faith. When we believe in a God we do not see, and when our natures are so transformed that we become willing to do what He says just because He says—then we become a delight to His heart, and we become objects to display His glory and wisdom to those in both the angelic and demonic realms (1 Pet. 1:12).
A kite makes a great illustration for this point. If there is no wind, the kite doesn’t fly. It sits lifeless on the ground. It may be beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t best serve its ultimate purpose unless it is riding the wind. As the wind starts to blow, the kite can fly, but only because the person holding the string forces the kite to rise against the wind. Ironically, if the kite breaks away from the string, the kite no longer soars. It is instead tossed about at the mercy of the wind. Its end is to crash on the ground.
Now think of the child of God as a kite. The wind is the blowing of the trials and storms of life; the string is the word of God. God is on the ground, firmly holding onto the spool of string—His promises are in His hands. God takes a risk on us. He calls us, as “living kites,” to actively hold onto the string by faith. He watches us. As the winds of life blow more strongly, we hold more tightly by faith to His promises. God delights in us and brags about us as an object lesson to the principalities and powers. (This is our very purpose for being a kite.) The further we can go—even through the trees, where we hold onto His promises even when it seems He is out of sight and out of reach—the more He can delight in our faith. And the more He can say about us, as He did to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job [or Bob, or Kevin, or Sue], that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8).
In fact, faith is the prerequisite for being able to please Him at all (Heb 11:6). As long as we hold onto His promises by faith, God can direct our paths, and even use us to do mighty works. And the higher He can let us go, all the while holding on by faith, the more He can delight in us and display His glory in us. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles…” (Isa. 40:31).
Many believers do not see us in this context of being a part of the larger picture. Many Christians are also not aware of the depth of the spiritual battle we are in, or how our becoming part of this bridge between God’s will and God’s desire is spiritual work in the sense of it being a spiritual life-and-death struggle with the forces of spiritual darkness. We tend, particularly in our 21st-century world, to see things that can be examined under a microscope or measured in a test tube. We do not recognize the spiritual entities around us as personalities that affect us on a daily basis.
For example, we read the story of Job, but we sometimes think of Job, whether we recognize it or not, as an isolated case—kind of like a one-only event in the history of mankind. However, we can see in the Scriptures many places where there is spiritual opposition to God’s messengers coming to His saints to deliver revelation (as in Daniel 10:12-13). We see where, for instance, Satan desires to sift all the apostles as wheat, but Jesus prays for Peter specifically, and then tells him that after he is strengthened, he should strengthen the rest (Luke 22:31-2).29
We do not connect these particular instances in scripture with the passage in Revelation 12:10, for example, where it says, “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” Or 1 Peter 5:8, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” Paul says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
I am convinced that at least sometimes (perhaps much more often than not) the prayer that affects things in the heavenly realms—the prayer that moves God’s heart to cause Him to move his Hand—is the type of prayer that causes agony and pain—groaning—in the human spirit (Rom. 8:22-23). (Remember that the Holy Spirit Himself groans in intercession for us, Romans 8:26).
It is the type of prayer that caused men like David Brainerd to wrestle so very intensely in prayer for the Indians to which he preached that he melted the snow around him with his body heat. Jacob wrestled all night with God. And he said to God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Gen. 32:26). He received his blessing because of his shameless persistence with God. As Oswald J. Smith says:
Can we travail for a drowning child; but not for a perishing soul? It is not hard to weep when we realize that our little one is sinking below the surface for the last time. Anguish is spontaneous then. Not hard to agonize when we see the casket containing all that we love on earth borne out of the home. Ah, no; tears are natural at such a time! But oh, to realize and know that souls, precious, never dying souls are perishing all around us, going out into the blackness of darkness and despair, eternally lost, and yet to feel no anguish, shed no tears, know no travail! How cold our hearts are! How little we know of the compassion of Jesus! And yet God can give us this, and the fault is ours if we do not have it.30
“The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). This is not a game. It is not simply uttering a few words, such as “God, please bless so-and-so, and please save him,” and then kind of hoping He will do so. “If my people…shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2nd Chr. 7:14). It is that kind of prayer that causes the one praying to focus so intensely on crying out to God that it becomes a type of “self-motivating” prayer—it is prayer that has the Holy Spirit witnessing to its truthfulness as it is being uttered, and so is fueled by this witness of the Spirit.
It is a prayer that transforms the one praying so that God’s abounding love for that lost person is manifested—through the one praying, and toward the one who is lost. As Frangipane writes:
What is abounding love? It is love that leaps out from us toward others. It is motivated by long-term commitment; it is anointed by sacrificial charity… Picture, if you will, a long-haired young man. His clothes are unkempt and he has tattoos on his arms. It is night and he is walking toward you on a lonely street. It is easy to judge such a person after the obvious and superficial. Now look at this young man in the same setting, but as his mother. You can still see his outer appearance, but when you look at him, you have insight into his life and hope for his future. You see a little boy growing up without a father, a child rejected often by his friends. You have a commitment toward this man that runs deep, that has been sustained by love, that you have carried since you suffered in giving him birth.31
Effectual prayer is the prayer that transforms the attitudes of our hearts from looking at the lost as strangers to looking at them as our children—those that we would spiritually birth into Christ’s kingdom. Paul often used this imagery and language in speaking about those believers for whom he had a part in bringing them to the savior. In writing to Philemon he referred to Onesimus as “my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment” (Philemon 10). He said to the Corinthians, “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). He said to the Galatians, “my children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
Effectual prayer is prayer that allows us to kneel in intercession before God (like Paul was—Rom. 9:1, Gal. 4:19) on behalf of those we choose to love with Christ’s love…a love that God has for them, a love that kindles in us so that we love them because He first loved us.
And when someone breaks through to God’s heart with this type of prayer, he knows when he is finished. There is a release in the spirit of the one praying when the spiritual battle has been won. And so he knows, now that he is finished, that God has heard and God will now move, and heaven and earth will now no longer stand in the way of His sovereign grace reaching down into that lost person’s heart and sovereignly moving to give him the grace to believe and be saved.
Charles Finney relates the story of a man that he knew from his many successful efforts in evangelism:
I knew a father who was a good man, but had erroneous views respecting the prayer of faith. And his whole family of children were grown up, without one of them being converted. At length his son sickened and seemed about to die. The father prayed, but the son grew worse, and seemed sinking into the grave without hope. The father prayed, until his anguish was unutterable. He went at last and prayed (there seemed no prospect of his son surviving) so that he poured out his soul as if he would not be denied, till at length he got an assurance that his son would not only live but be converted, and that not only this one, but his whole family would be converted to God. He came into the house and told his family his son would not die. They were astonished at him. “I tell you,” said he, “he will not die. And no child of mine will ever die in his sins.” That man’s children were all converted years ago.32
I am also convinced, the more I defend my position with those who do not embrace it, that there is one particular reason more than any other that they disagree with it. Quite simply, it is that it is foreign to our 21st century, individualistic and self-gratifying society (even our Christian society) to embrace the fact in any more than a superficial way that our actions (and more importantly, our prayer lives) will have that kind of impact on another man’s salvation. Quite frankly, that idea seems to bother people.
You see, if you think about it, it can be easy, in the end, for the Calvinist to say that he is responsible to preach, but it is up to God to change the heart. If the Calvinist is correct, then God is entirely responsible for the lost man’s salvation. And even for the Arminian (who, like the Calvinist, recognizes intellectually that the preaching of the gospel is an essential part of the process of salvation) it still works out that in the end, even though we are responsible to preach, it is up to the lost man to believe. And so, in the end, the lost man is ultimately responsible for his own salvation.
But if my position is correct, then the church is God’s chosen vehicle to bridge the gap between His sovereign will to save some and His passionate desire to save all. The church must learn to intercede with effectual, fervent wrestling in prayer on behalf of those who are helplessly lost. The lost cannot, in a fallen state, seek God for God’s sake. They cannot realize how desperate they are. They cannot want God to crucify their flesh to make themselves true worshippers of a holy God. And so I must embrace the uneasy truth that I, as a saved person, may be the difference between that lost man being transformed into the likeness of Christ and enjoying Him forever in eternity, or being condemned to a Christless eternity in hell. This a frightening—even repulsive—thought for a lot of Christians. And yet, if we believe that God’s character is always the same—that He is unchanging (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), then we need to carefully consider the many passages in scripture that support this idea, such as this one in Ezekiel:
Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he shall die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning, and you have delivered yourself (Ezek. 3:16-21).
God held Ezekiel responsible regarding whether or not he did what God told him to do. If God prompts us to pray for the lost, and we do not respond to Him with prayer and intercession on their behalf, will He not also hold us responsible for that?
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