The Francis Asbury Society

Bearing God’s Burden for Others

Participating with God through intercession

by Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw

Paul, the older pastor, is writing to Timothy, the younger, in a sort of father-son relationship, as follows:

I urge, then, [notice the urgency] first of all [of primary importance], that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man [notice reference to His humanity] Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.  And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.  I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim. 2:1-8)

Scripture gives us a lot of illustrations of prayer and the importance of it.  One of the passages that is very precious to me is the prayer of Hannah – a woman who lived in a day when a woman’s value was almost meaningless if she could not have children and Hannah could have none.  She had a rival, a second wife for her husband, who had no problem begetting children and that second wife had no problem ridiculing Hannah.  You can imagine the hurt and the pain, and you can understand the pain as she prays before God, and asks Him for a son.  Hannah is a woman whose life we would never have known about apart from that story, and she would certainly not be listed among the people who have greatly influenced human history, if it had not been for that prayer which made her the bridge person between twelve somewhat disorganized tribes, and the kingdom of Saul and then of David.  One of the most important bridge persons in human history came out of a humble woman’s cry for a child, and God heard that cry and gave Samuel.  God left us with the actual prayer (1 Sam. 1:11).  That is typical of Scripture’s interest in prayer.

The primary example of a praying person is Jesus.  In Luke it tells us that He prayed, but in John we get the actual prayers of Jesus.  They don’t appear to be prayers.  They are just conversations with His Father.  His whole life came out of those conversations with His Father.  My translation of John 17 begins, “And Jesus lifted up His eyes and prayed to the Father….”  But the Greek text says, “Jesus lifted up His eyes and said to the Father…”, and what He said is not even religious terminology.  Prayer is so much a part of His life that it is the same kind of language you would use with your wife or your son or your husband or your friend.

An amazing thing told about in the Scripture is that God Himself prayed.  That shatters all the concepts of prayer.  Why does God need to pray?  I understand why I need to pray, but why does God need to pray?  But He does – the Spirit and the Son.  And the Spirit prays with groanings that are unutterable (Rom. 8:26).

We make a mistake in dividing our life, between the secular, regular or routine life, and the religious life.  Prayer is something that we tack on.  You will not find that true in Jesus’ life.  You will not find it true in Abraham’s life.  You will not find it true in Moses’ life or Paul’s life.  It was such a vital part of their life that it really was the essence, the heart, the core of their personal existence.  Moses and Paul could not think of existing and doing their work without continual and deep and profound prayer.  Their life had to come out of an intimate relationship with God.

And where would you find in human history two busier and more active people than Moses and Paul? You never get so active that you have an alibi for making prayer marginal in your life.  Moses built a nation of people, laid the legal foundations for a society, developed the religious institutions for that same society and laid the very basis for Hebrew culture.  Paul laid the basis for the transformation of the West, philosophically, politically and theologically, helping us understand who Jesus was and who the God of salvation actually is.

Conversations with God

Conversations with God move history.  We tend to think about the geniuses, the great leaders and all the rest, but I’m ready to make a case that conversations with God ultimately determine history.  But how hard it is for Him to get on your calendar and mine!  God had to burn a bush to get Moses’ attention so He could simply talk to him.  But when God talked to Moses and Moses had to reply back, all of human history shifted.  Since conversations with God are of such great importance, how can we neglect them?  There is nobody with whom a conversation is as important as a conversation with God.

The primary thing in Genesis is God talking to Abraham and Abraham talking to God and then Abraham talking to his son.  The key word in Genesis is the Hebrew word ’amar“and he said” (vayomer).  The same word is used when Moses talked to God and when God talked to Moses.  It is not religious language.  The religious language doesn’t come in Abraham’s story until the story of Abimelech, when Abraham misrepresented things concerning his wife, and Abimelech found his household cursed (Gen. 20).  God told him to be careful about what he did to Abraham, because he was a prophet.  He did not act like a prophet when he dealt as he did with Abimelech, but God said that Abraham would pray for him, and when he prayed, the curse on Abimelech’s household would be removed.

The Hebrew word used there, hitpallel, is the standard word in the rest of the Old Testament for prayer.  The root palal means to interpose.  And when you put the “hit” in front of it, it becomes a reflexive.  What God was saying to Abimelech was that Abraham would interpose himself between Abimelech and God, and when he finished praying, the curse God put on his family would be removed.

Those Who Interpose Themselves

I think we are now getting the very essence of what the Bible means about prayer.  There are other angles to prayer, like praise and requests, and they are all legitimate.  But God the Son and God the Spirit do not need to ask for anything when they pray. What is their prayer?  It’s intercession.  You and I are most like God in intercession – interposing ourselves.  That’s the kind of person that God looks for in the Old Testament in Isaiah 50 and 59 and 63, in Jeremiah 5 and in Ezekiel 22.  He looks for a person who will interpose himself between God, who wants to save all men, and the world.  He wants first to restore His people, the Church.  That’s a revival prayer. The hope of the world lies in the Church, and if the Church is not revived, the world has no hope.  So God looks for those who will interpose themselves for revival in the Church.

In the background behind that story of Abimelech in Genesis 20, we get an interesting introduction to this aspect of the relationship between man and God and it comes particularly in Genesis 18, which fits with 1 Timothy 2:1-8 very well.  This is twenty-four years after God has told Abraham that He is going to give him a son, and no son has come.  God has his own time schedule.  In Genesis 18, Abraham was sitting, in the heat of the day, next to his tent, and he saw three persons coming.  In good Eastern fashion Abraham ran out and invited them in.  The three persons came in, and they sat down to eat.  One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a child” (v. 10).  Abraham knew it was God.  Who is this son who is going to be born?  His name is Isaac.  What does Isaac mean?  It means “he laughs.”  You remember that Sarah laughed in unbelief (v. 12). Earlier Abraham had laughed in unbelief.  For years I thought God was saying, when He gave the name Isaac, “Name your child your sin so every time you call him you will know you should not have laughed in unbelief.  You should have been a believer.”

But I did a doctoral dissertation on personal names in the ancient world and I got a revelation.  All the names are religious.  The normal one is a sentence and the actor in the sentence is the Divine Being.  For instance:  Michael – who is like unto God.  Jonathan – God has given.  If that is true, who is Isaac?  God laughs.  Who is this God?  It is the God who is not willing that any should perish, Paul says in First Timothy.  He wants all persons to be saved.  God came down and told Abraham that next year the Messianic line would be in place, and in naming the son “Isaac,” God is rejoicing in the prospect of the redemption of His world.  He laughs for joy.

When the men visiting with Abraham finished the meal and started to go on their way, Abraham with courtesy and hospitality, walked with them to the edge of the camp.  As they walked along, you might say that God talked to Himself. Here God says to Himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I’m about to do?” (v. 17).  Then He says that He can’t hide from Abraham what He may have to do, because Abraham knows Him and loves Him.  Remember, Abraham in the Old Testament is called the friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7).   The Hebrew word for “friend” is “lover.”  In James 2:23 in the New Testament, when they call Abraham a friend of God they use philos which means “friend.”  But in Hebrew, in Isaiah and in Second Chronicles Abraham is called ’ahab, the “lover of God.”  Is not this a fulfillment of the commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?

God seems to be thinking, “He is going to teach his children about Me.  He is going to teach them My way, maintaining this Messianic line of truth about Me (Gen. 18:19).  Of course, I’ll ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­tell him what My problem is.  We’ve just put in line the way to save the world, but I have some cities down here that are so viciously vile I may have to wipe them out” (18:20-21).

Beginning of Intercession

And what was the first response?  Abraham said, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (v. 26).  The first specific prayer of concern of any extent in Scripture is an intercession for others.  A pattern is being laid down.  And what is it?  God wants all men to be saved.  So there is an Isaac.  And in First Timothy there is “the man Christ Jesus.”  But then there’s the wickedness, and who stands between?  It’s a beginning of intercession.

A classic example, other than Jesus, is Moses right after he had received the Ten Commandments, and he came down from the mountain to find the golden calf.  God essentially said to Moses, “Leave Me alone. Let Me wipe them out!  I’ll take you and what I intended to do through Abraham, I will do through you.  I’ll make you the greatest, most significant name in human history” (See Exodus 32:10).  To paraphrase Moses’ response, he said, “God, You’ve got a name. You made a promise to Abraham” (Ex. 32:11-13).  Moses goes on to say that if God is going to wipe out anybody’s name, He should wipe out his (Moses’) name first (Ex. 32:32).

When Miriam had done wrong and God made a leper out of her, Moses interceded for her (Nu. 12:10-13).  You find it when the fire was burning and God was about to wipe Israel out and Moses interceded (Nu. 11:1-3), or when Samuel said something akin to Israel, “I cannot sin against you by ceasing to pray for you.  I interpose myself for God’s mercy and for God’s grace” (1 Sam. 12:23).

Here is an interesting assumption – that something can happen in my heart that can make a difference in someone else’s circumstances and possibilities, in another person’s privileges and chances.  At the heart of intercession is the person who interposes himself.  There is no salvation in that person who interposes himself, but that person who interposes himself makes the saving power of God a possible opportunity for somebody.  That means that the key to every person’s well-being and salvation rests outside of himself in somebody else.

That runs counter to all our Western individualism.  But if I understand the Scriptures, the salvation and well-being of any person rests in somebody other than himself first, and there are the conditions that have to be met.  We know there is no salvation apart from Christ Jesus, who interposed Himself between God and us, and then that Christ who says to us in effect: “My Father sent Me; now I’m sending you.  And if they receive you, they get Me, and if they get Me, they get My Father.  And if they reject you, they miss Me, and if they miss Me, they miss My Father.”  In Matthew 10, where Jesus sends out the twelve, and in Luke 10, where He sends out the seventy [or seventy-two], Jesus is saying that we go together – you and I and the Father – into the world.

Story about Intercession

At Asbury College there are alumni meetings every year to refresh friendships, etc.  In 2005 the alumni were back and all who graduated in 1970 met together.  This was the 35th anniversary of the 1970 revival.  Their class president, Mark, led the sharing time.  Mark said, “I must be the one to share first.”  Mark was a missionary kid from Africa.  He graduated from Asbury and became a veterinarian and went back to Africa for a while and then came back to the States.  He runs a wild game refuge in Florida.  Also as a veterinarian his specialty is dealing with mares that are foaling .  In the spring of 2005 he was delivering a foal and as he delivered the foal, the mare kicked him and caught him right under the chin with her hoof and sent him sprawling.  He got up rather shaken but eager to get back and save that foal.  He staggered back and was woozy for a while and his wife said, “You need to go and see a doctor.”

What had happened was that the carotid artery had been split for an inch and a half, and the blood had congealed and closed it.  The doctors had looked at that and thought about trying to remove it but it was too risky.  They left it and gave him medication to dissolve it.   A few days later at 8 o’clock in the morning he was dressing to go to work and suddenly he knew he was dying.  He called for his wife and she didn’t hear him.  But at that moment an inner voice said to her, “Check on Mark.”  She went to the bathroom and found him.  The medication had dissolved the blood clot, that left the break in the artery open and he was dying.  She quickly called for emergency help, the team arrived and his life was saved.

A week or two after that he was in his Wednesday night prayer meeting and he shared how God had saved him.  A friend of his came up to him and said, “Mark, what time was that?”  Mark said, “It was 8 o’clock in the morning, right on the dot.”  She said, “Mark, I had just sat down at my computer to begin my day’s work and a burden for you came. It was so heavy I could not resist it.  I dropped flat on my face on the floor alone and prayed for you.”

I can tell you other stories like that, where the salvation of one person hangs on the response of another.  I don’t know a way to emphasize the importance of prayer more than that.

God Works through Mediators

God works through mediators.  First Timothy says, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  He was sent to do that mediatorial work.  On the evening of His resurrection, Jesus looked at His disciples and friends and said, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).  Is not our task the same – mediatorial?  That fits the hitpael – the hitpael of palal to interpose one’s self, to stand between.  That changes your attitude about some things.

When I was a young pastor and was concerned about my church and my community, there were certain people I would know and I would think, “If that rascal would straighten up and fly right, the whole world would be better off.”  Do you know that is pagan thinking?  He is not going to straighten up on his own.  The first thing I need to do is look at me.  The way to any person is through somebody else.

God wishes all to be saved.  Why doesn’t He just save them?  He put limitations.  When God made us, He made us persons.  The two words “person” and “self” are not fully synonymous.  They have two different histories.  The word “person” and the words that come from it, like personality, personable and personhood, came from the problem the Church had in the third and fourth centuries answering the question, “Who is Jesus?”  The Latin word “persona” was picked out to say that He is one of the three persons in the Godhead.  They also said that the Father is not all there is of God.  He is a person.  But all there is of God is in the Father.  The Father, Son and Spirit are One.  The Son is not all there is of God, for God is three persons, but all there is of God is in the Son.  God is one.  The Spirit is not all there is of God but all there is of God is in the Spirit.  The Spirit is not all – He is a person.  To be a person is to be incomplete, and your completeness is found in somebody else.

The only way you can be a son is to have a father.  The only way you can be a father is to have a child.  You have to carry that same logic to the Spirit because He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.  God made us a person.  No person originates his own life.  Every person started in someone else’s body.  I see one person and I know there are two parents somewhere, and you find the two more and you say, there are four more somewhere.  You find the four and you say, I know there are eight more somewhere.  There is no way you can explain this one without the two and the four and the eight and you can keep on going.  I am Dennis Kinlaw.  I didn’t choose that name.  I am a Kinlaw because my father and mother were Kinlaws. A person’s self-identity is always drawn from somebody else.  I like that because I get my identity from my Father, and I am a child of God.

Personal relationships are not like relationships between things.  Relationships between things you can handle on a cause-and-effect basis.  Punch the button and the light goes on.  Personal relationships work differently.  The key to that is, what happens in one person determines what happens in another person, whether it is in a mother’s womb, or in a Christian’s heart.  We might say we are “twice born.”   My mother bore me in her body and then she bore me in her soul and wept over my salvation.

That is what a pastor is.  He is to be a bearer.  If this is true, this is the importance of revival, because if the way to my neighbor is through me and I am clogged up, what happens?  If I’m not clean, what about my neighbor?  If the pastor is not clean, what about his people?  We are “flow-throughs.”  We are not the answer to anybody’s problem.  We’re the channel through which that answer can come because the answer is in Jesus Christ and His Spirit and the Father.  God can come and dwell within me, but if He can’t get a person who stands between Him and me, then I’m lost.

One wonders what the judgment day is going to be like, when we find out whose keys we had inside us and we never turned them.  How do you turn them?  The only way you can turn the key is if Jesus is the true key and all the rest of us are images of Him.  He did it by laying down His life for us.  He came to the place where He cared more about us than He did about Himself.

We ought to get down before God and say, “God, You talk to me about this.”  The only way intercessory prayer will really work is when we’ve come to the place where somebody else is more important in his well-being than we are, and we are ready to pour ourselves out like a drink offering as Paul says, or are ready to lay our life down the way Jesus did, for somebody else’s well-being.

If we come to the place where we let God put in us that kind of concern for somebody else, that other person’s circumstances automatically begin shifting, and possibilities go there that were not there before that person became our burden.  That’s the reason for the commandment to love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.  How are we supposed to love ourselves?  Secondarily to God and our neighbor.  We want God’s will for ourselves more than anything else, and so we want God’s will for our neighbor more than anything else.  That means God and His will is the center, and that’s what He’s after.  That’s why Jesus can say that if we pray in His name, we’ll be heard.  That’s an incredible condition.  It is pretty hard to ask in the name of Jesus Christ for our personal desires if they are not in the will of God.

Travailing in Birth

Is this figure of travailing in birth I’m using a legitimate and a biblical one?  There are two passages of Scripture that have now come together for me.  One is Paul dealing with the Galatians in 4:19.  These who are his children had turned away from Christ and they had mixed works with grace, and that nullified grace.  So Paul said, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you….”  I think you are about as close to the heart of Paul in that verse as you’ll ever get.  It is one thing when he goes as an evangelist to tell the Gospel for the first time; it’s another thing when he sees his own children turning away from the faith that he brought them to, and says, “My little children, for whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you….”

The only Bible Paul had was the Old Testament.  Where did he get his patterns for thought?  He got them out of the Old Testament.  Does this reflect an Old Testament pattern?  In Numbers 11, Israel has received the Law at Mt. Sinai; they’ve had the disastrous experience of the golden calf; Moses has interceded for them, and now they have received instructions about the tabernacle and worship, and they are ready to head for Canaan.  Just as they started, the people who came along with them who were non-Hebrews felt they should have stayed in Egypt.  They began to complain and the Hebrews picked it up.  When Moses looked at the camp, standing in the doorway of every tent was the man in the family weeping, saying that they were fed up with manna.  Moses said in effect, “I’ve put up with this long enough.”  Moses talked to God.  He said, “Did I conceive all these people?  Did I give them birth?  Why do You tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant?” (Nu. 11:12).  Seven times in that passage you get the verb or noun form of nasa’, to bear, carry in a tray, or a mother carrying a fetus or Jesus on the cross bearing your sin.  It’s a strong word in the Old Testament for forgive – an incredible word.  I wonder if Paul might have had that passage in mind when he wrote Galatians 4:19: “My little children for whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you….”

That figure runs through Scripture.  The whole purpose of human history is to give God a family.  Read Ephesians 1.  What is the purpose of predestination?  To give God a family.  What is the purpose of the Creation?  In the bosom of Eternity, the Trinity enjoyed fellowship one with another – agape love, joy in each other, fulfillment in each other.  They wanted others to enjoy this with them, and God created the universe to add people to that fellowship.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:  if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.  To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:20-21).  On the last night with His disciples, Jesus said that He wanted them to be with Him where He was (John 14:2-3).  He wants us as children in a relationship with the Father, like the Son.  That is what it is all about.  How do you get children?  Physically, they have to be borne in someone’s body.  Spiritually, they have to be borne in somebody’s heart.  You cannot impregnate yourself.  A woman cannot produce children.  She has to be impregnated.  The Holy Spirit was responsible for the conception in the womb of Mary, of the redemption of the world.

The Holy Spirit’s Enabling

In the Numbers 11 passage, when Moses feels the burden of the people too great to bear, God responds to him, saying in effect, “You can’t make it?  You can’t bear all these people?  Pick out seventy men and bring them to the tabernacle and I’ll take the Spirit that I’ve put on you that enabled you to bring them this far, and I’ll put it on them, because it is not you that enables you to bear them in the first place.  It’s the Spirit that rests on you” (vv. 16-17).

That’s only the second time in the Bible there is a reference to the Spirit on a person.  The first time is when it is on Bezaleel to build a physical habitation for God in space (Ex. 31:1-5) and this second one is on a man about building a spiritual habitation for God in hearts, and it’s a work of the Spirit.  It is not your burden you need to bear.  If it’s your burden the end result will be like sandcastles when the waves hit them.  Gone.  But if you let Him put His burden on you, the burden that He wants you to bear, it has possibilities of birth and new life.  Christ carried the world in His heart. God expects you to carry a part of that for Him – a parent, a family, a pastor, a people, a neighbor, a teacher, a student, and keep on going.  ­­

­­­­­­­­­­There are a lot of abortions and miscarriages spiritually in the world.  You get in the middle of bearing a burden and it gets difficult.  Don’t walk off.  Pastor, don’t look for another church.  Parents, don’t give up on your children.  God’s timing is not your timing, and you want a delivery when it is right.  Then it will be glorious!

If God’s people across the country, would say, “God, what’s the burden You want me to bear?” and embrace it, I think that would come closer to producing a revival in this country than anything I know.  Be sure it is His burden and embrace it; then bear it.

Where do you stand in terms of the Spirit and His burden for you?  Do you need to talk with Him, or do you need to listen?  Sooner or later it should be both.  You are to let Him define for you His call on you, and if you’re His child, you’re called, and you ought to consent to it and commit yourself.  Embrace and then bear it until the fruit comes.  Do you know where fulfillment is?  It will never be in you.  That is the nature of personhood.  Fulfillment is when we have been of significance to someone else.

Prayer - Front CoverThis article is adapted from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A. Dr. Kinlaw’s book, Prayer: Bearing the World as Jesus Did, expounds on this topic.
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