Why God “gives us discernment”: The life-giving power of intercession in a secularized culture

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Why God “gives us discernment”: The life-giving power of intercession in a secularized culture

December 5, 2023 -

A man folds his hands in prayer above an open laptop on a table. A closed Bible sits to the right of the laptop. Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

A man folds his hands in prayer above an open laptop on a table. A closed Bible sits to the right of the laptop. Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

A man folds his hands in prayer above an open laptop on a table. A closed Bible sits to the right of the laptop. Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

On the purely human level, there is little hope for the world. Immorality and lawlessness seem to be increasing. Wrong seems to be winning and right seems to be losing the battle for the minds and hearts of people.

Many of us have put our faith in money, jobs, status, gadgets, pleasures, and thrills. Many of us—and society as a whole—have tried to bypass God, and now we are paying the inevitable price. We are in trouble because we have left out God; we have left out the Ten Commandments; we have left out the Sermon on the Mount. Now we as individuals and as a culture are reaping the tragic results.

Billy Graham wrote these words in a devotional book published in 2008. The years since have seen dramatic upheavals in our culture with regard to marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity, abortion, euthanasia, legalized marijuana, opioid addictions, street riots, and a host of other issues.

What would Dr. Graham say of us today?

An example for our souls

In this context, I was reading through the Book of Amos recently and found his intercession for the nation of Israel to be especially stirring.

In chapter 7, the prophet is shown a vision of locusts devastating the land; he prays for God’s forgiveness and the Lord relents (vv. 1–3). Then he is given a vision of judgment by fire; once again he prays for God’s forgiveness and the Lord again relents (vv. 4–6).

Then comes a third vision of God holding the nation accountable to his word as a “plumb line” (v. 7–9). This time, the spiritual condition of the people must have been so dire and so obvious to the prophet that he does not attempt to intercede on their behalf. And judgment eventually comes to the nation of Israel.

As I read the chapter and thought about the ways our culture has secularized and commercialized the birth of God’s Son, I wondered what his Father must think of us. And my heart was prompted to follow Amos’s example of intercession for our nation before it’s too late.

Such an example is vital for us in this very busy season, for the sake of our souls as well as the well-being of those we serve.

“Purity of heart is to will one thing”

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard observed, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Here was David’s “one thing”: “One thing have I asked of the Lᴏʀᴅ, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lᴏʀᴅ and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

Scripture promises that God “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). Jesus assured us, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5a). But he also added: “for apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b).

One of the best ways I have found to “dwell in the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ” by abiding in his presence is to make my engagement with culture into intercession. As I pray about the events of the day and for those involved, I find myself being drawn further into intimacy with my Lord.

As I pray, his Spirit prays in and through me. I sense his wisdom for the events and issues we are facing. As Oswald Chambers noted, “God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.”

Those are the good days. On the bad days, I criticize more than I intercede and my spirit is grieved, burdened, and impoverished.

“O come, O Wisdom, from on high”

I say all of this to recommend Amos’s example for us during this Advent season.

Jesus promised us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Thus, if our souls are hungry or thirsty, we have not come to him. By contrast, David prayed, “With you is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9).

When last did you bring your thirsty soul and culture to this fountain in a life-changing way?

In a Daily Article last week, I quoted part of a sermon attributed to St. Macarius (AD 300–391) we read:

Woe to the path that is not walked on, or along which the voices of men are not heard, for then it becomes the haunt of wild animals. Woe to the soul if the Lord does not walk within it to banish with his voice the spiritual beasts of sin. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking. Woe to the soul without Christ as its true pilot; drifting in the darkness, buffeted by the waves of passion, storm-tossed at the mercy of evil spirits, its end is destruction.

Woe to the soul that does not have Christ to cultivate it with care to produce the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Left to itself, it is choked with thorns and thistles; instead of fruit it produces only what is fit for burning. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it; deserted and foul with the filth of its passions, it becomes a haven for all the vices.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news with which the sermon continues:

When a farmer prepares to till the soil he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable. So Christ, our heavenly king, came to till the soil of mankind devastated by sin. He assumed a body, and, using the cross at his ploughshare, cultivated the barren soul of man. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had ploughed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the Spirit that could produce for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind.

Let’s pray our way through this Christmas season, asking Jesus to do this transforming work in us and in our culture. To this end, I invite you to make this stanza in one of my favorite Christmas hymns our intercession today:

O come, O Wisdom, from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us its ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel.

Amen.

 

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