2.3 A Thorn Bush, or a Cypress?

I commend intercessory prayer, because it opens man’s soul, gives a healthy play to his sympathies, constrains him to feel that he is not everybody, and that this wide world and this great universe were not after all made that he might be its petty lord, that everything might bend to his will, and all creatures crouch at his feet. ~ Charles Spurgeon

A Thorn Bush, or a Cypress?

A Thorn Bush
Or a Cypress

What is Intercessory Prayer?  Intercession is prayer for others. But it is much more than simply praying for the needs of others.

As we look around we see so many needs. We often put ourselves in a “what if I was in their shoes” mind set and then pray for what we would like to see happen. We see children hungry so we pray “feed them”. We see a homeless person so we pray “give them a place to live” or a friend without a job so we pray “let them get this job when they go in for this interview”. As we put ourselves it their place, we may forget that God may have placed the person in this particular situation to bring them into His plan and purpose.

A number of years ago I interviewed Stephanie Fast on the radio. I had heard her tell her story of being a throw away child, the product of an American soldier and a Korean woman during the Korean War. She was a “tookie”, a nothing, a totally worthless item.  Her mother put her on a train as a tiny child, and when she got off, no one was there to meet her. She wandered through the countryside alone. She was abused by villagers, once tied on a water wheel as it turned, scraping her face on the bottom of the stream every time it got to the bottom. Once she was thrown down a well by a group of men. She was sexually abused, starving, so full of lice that her hair appeared to be white. She was found on a garbage heap and put in an orphanage. At about age 9 she weighed only 30 pounds. Her testimony today is that God was always working in her life and He never let her go through anything that was not necessary for His perfect, loving plan for her life.

Her testimony today is that God was always working in her life and He never let her go through anything that was not necessary for His perfect, loving plan for her life.

Intercession is not coming to God to plead that things would be different for those around us. It is not that we imagine ourselves in their shoes and beg God to turn things around so they are the way we want them to be, so WE are more comfortable in watching them. Intercession is bringing people or circumstances to God asking Him to work His perfect will in and through the individual or situation. We ask that God work all things for their good and His glory. 

Isaiah 55 has always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Let’s look at it from the perspective of Intercessory prayer.  It starts with a call to come to God with our need and it is a promise that when we come, He freely gives. Look at verse 1.

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

In the next verses, God says, “What you have does not satisfy you. You have worked to meet your own needs, do your own thing and you are finding out that it isn’t worth much. There is still an ache in your heart.” He tells us to come to Him for He alone can give us what we really need, what will really satisfy us deep down inside of us. God brings up David and uses him as an example of how He works. God chose David when he was a shepherd boy. Just a lad. He gave him some great experiences–killing Goliath, playing harp for the king, then He sent him out into the desert to be chased around like an animal, having to flee for his life from a man he loved and revered!

How did David feel about this?

Read the Psalms. He poured out his heart talking about his fear, frustration, anger, loneliness. . .you name it, it’s there! God let David go through all that as a witness to us and so he would become the leader and commander that his people would need when it came time for him to be king. And he did become king, just as God promised. And he became a famous, glorious king remembered still today, with his heir, Jesus, sitting on the throne forever! Here are verses 2-5:

2 “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. 3Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. 4 Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.”

Here God tells us what to do with our hunger and thirst, our dissatisfaction with our lives. Seek the Lord! Seek Him now while He is near, while He is willing and ready to meet you. Verses 6-7:

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

Next, God tells us to get rid of our wicked ways and our own thoughts. We have tried so hard to meet our own needs, do our own thing, be independent and make our lives just what we want them to be. God says to get rid of it all. We are to put aside our own ways, our own thoughts and come to Him for pardon. Is it for forgiveness for gross crimes that we are to come to Him for? No. It is for walking our own way and thinking our own thoughts. Verses 8-9:

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

God says that the thoughts we have don’t resemble His at all! The way we would do things is nothing like the way He does things.  They are worlds apart! And ours lead to emptiness; His lead to fulness and to a glorious end. He guarantees the fulness and glorious end! Now verses 10-11:

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding {in the matter} for which I sent it.

There have been times in my life that I didn’t like these verses. I saw people reading them and saying “If I throw enough Bible verses at a situation or at a person, everything will turn out so that’s all I need to do.” But these verses aren’t talking about throwing verses at people, it is saying that what God says will happen will come to be. His ways and thoughts are the ones that work. When He sets out to do something, it is done. When He promises something, you can take it to the bank. It is a done deal.

God’s ways and thoughts are the ones that work. When He sets out to do something, it is done. When He promises something, you can take it to the bank. It is a done deal.

And what is His promise when we come to Him for His way and His thoughts and get rid of our own? Now for verses 12-13. These verses that brought me to this chapter in the first place. That were part of the script in the Sound of Music which I, as Sister Margaretta, quoted at the end of the play we did when I was a senior in high school!

12 “For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap {their} hands. 13 Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the LORD, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

What we have on our own is like a thorn bush–worthless, a nuisance and a pain.

What God gives us is like a cypress–beautiful, useful. 

Our best results in the nettle–a stinging weed, shallow rooted, short lived. Compare that to what God brings, a myrtle–deep rooted, long lived, ever growing, thing of beauty and grace. And when God does it, it is a memorial to the Lord! It becomes “See what He did” not “Look at what I accomplished”. He gets the praise and glory. He makes my life into something that lasts, has meaning and has eternal consequences.

So what does Isaiah 55 have to do with intercessory prayer?

It is only as we realize that God is at work in our lives that we can recognize that He is also at work in the lives of other people. And just as Stephanie Fast said there was nothing in her life that was not necessary to make her into the person God wanted her to be, so it is true in our lives and the lives of the people around us. 

A real “faith stopper” is our praying for something that doesn’t get answered and in intercessory prayer that often happens. We look at people we love and pray for them in their situations forgetting that God is working to bring all things together for their good and His glory if they will let Him. We get so caught up in praying for the circumstances that we neglect to pray “God use this circumstance to the highest good You can and bring them to a right relationship with You.”

It is only when we stop thinking our thoughts and wanting things to go our way that we can intercede for people around us.

Maybe God wants your son to lose his job for a specific reason. Maybe that financial crisis has to happen before your daughter will learn to trust God. Maybe your neighbor’s bad experience had to happen to teach their children something that will eventually lead them to Jesus. We see such a small part of the big picture of life.

Let’s pray for our family. Let’s pray for others. We are called to do so. But let’s pray that God’s perfect will and plan will have precedent over our will and that He will not let the situation be wasted in the life of the person we are praying for. Our desire should be that God work all things for their good and His glory.

– Julia Ewert

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