A Friend in the Middle
A Friend in the Middle
February 5, 2006
The voice on the telephone sounded desperate. "My store keeps getting robbed, and there are drug dealers in front of my place day and night. I'm calling you, pastor, to ask you what you are going to do about it." No one was more surprised at this abrupt question than Alex, the Pastor of Park Slope Christian Center. Park slope had always tried to care for the needs of the community but had never received a call like this from a non-believing storekeeper. Pastor Alex's first question was "Why don't you call the police?" to which the storekeeper answered, "I did call the police, but they don't know what to do about it, so I am calling you."
Then Pastor Alex remembered the Lighthouses of Prayer that his church had begun planting in the neighborhood. "I'll tell you what," he said, "if you will let me come down to your store once a week with a group, we will pray that God will intervene. Is that okay with you?"
The storeowner agreed, and that Thursday afternoon, shoppers looked curiously about as they heard a strange sound coming from the back of the store. Pastor Alex and his group prayed in earnest that God protect the store and that the drug dealers would be dealt with. Within four weeks, four drug dealers were arrested! Not only that, but two families that
frequented the store were led to Christ, and one began attending Pastor Alex's church.
Did you notice that there were three main participants in this drama—a person in need, persons who interceded, and a Person who met the need? It's a story that closely parallels the story Jesus told about a friend at midnight; a story I like to call "the friend in the middle" story. Jesus' story in Luke 11:5-8 is an object lesson, a kind of word picture, of the place and ministry of an intercessor.
Turn in your Bible to Luke chapter 11 and follow along as I read starting at
verse 5: Then, teaching them more about prayer, Jesus used this story:
"Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend three loaves of bread, because (a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him. '
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don 't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can 't get up and give you anything. ' But I tell you, this, if you keep knocking long enough he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence”
Persistence in prayer is for our sake not God’s. It changes our heart and mind, not God’s. It helps us understand and express intensity of our need. Persistence in prayer helps us recognize God at work. When we are persistent we watch for the answer to our prayer, don’t we?
An intercessor is a friend-in-the-middle who, on behalf of another person, pleads persistently and boldly for help with the One who can provide.
1. The Friend in Need
• Here are some first-century realities
Travelers relied on the hospitality of friends. There were no motels or 24/7 convenience stores in first-century Palestine.
It was not unusual for people to travel at night to avoid the heat of the day, so it may be common to be woken from your bed to look after a need.
Each household baked its own bread which, without preservatives, lasted only a couple of days. Travelers needed regular stopping points. In B.C. you can still visit the remnants of wayside inns placed strategically along the gold-rush trail. Mind you, these inns did charge for their provision of a bed and meal plus board and feed for horses.
· Bur Hospitality—providing lodging and food for a visitor—was considered a sacred duty in Bible times. They were needy people, but
· We still live in a very needy world, don’t we?
800 million people worldwide live in abject poverty; 100 million have no shelter; 10 million are refugees.
In the United States 6.5 million are enslaved to alcohol; 1 out of 400 persons is in prison; over 100 million do not know Jesus Christ as Savior.
Closer to home, hundreds of people right around us are physically or emotionally ill, experiencing relational difficulties, loneliness, anxiety, fear, or addictions.
· We cannot meet most of the needs of the people around us.
- The needs of our world seem overwhelmingly beyond our reach. Loved ones who do not know the Lord will not listen to us. What can we do?
- Friends have marital difficulties or get divorced, and we stand by helplessly.
- People in the church are depressed and discouraged, and nothing we say seems to make a difference.
Like the friend in Jesus' story who beat on the door of his neighbor because he wanted to help his friend, we have nothing to set before them.
2. The Friend with Bread
In a small Palestinian village first century neighbors would likely know who had bread in the house and who didn't. But these house wouldn’t be like ours.
- Homes were typical one-room structures, and the whole family would sleep on
the floor in the same room.
- Doors were open during the day and closed at night.
- Opening a door was a noisy affair that could easily waken a whole family.
In this story Jesus is teaching us that his heavenly Father (see Luke 11:13) is the One who is always able to supply the needs of those around us. He is the Supreme Friend with bread.
- We can come to God at the most inconvenient times and expect to receive what we ask.
- While we are impotent when it comes to meeting a need, God is omnipotent. He is the all-sufficient One able to supply any and every need that can possibly arise on earth.
· The gracious response of the Friend with bread
God, more gracious and more willing than a reluctant earthly neighbor, is never reluctant or bothered when we ask for help. He is always willing to hear us and is eager to meet our need (see Luke 11:9-10, 13). Luke 11 continues in verse 9. Read with me, “And I tell you, keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God wants to be asked because he wants to give in response to our asking. The Father's willingness to hear and his ability to provide are foundational
to intercessory prayer
3. The Friend in the Middle
The story of the friend in the middle is Jesus' portrait of an intercessor—one who pleads with the Person able to meet the need on behalf of the person who has the need. This person stands "in-between."
In the first century, people ordinarily went to bed at nightfall in order to save lamp oil. By midnight this neighbor may have been in bed several hours. As you know, it is not easy to fully wake up when you are sound asleep. Marcy and I live 100 feet from the train tracks and are never awakened by the shrill whistle outside our walls.
But hospitality in the first century was such a strong obligation that a person in this predicament would naturally be driven to shameless persistence to meet the need of another.
Let’s look more closely at the intercessor. First,
· The position of the intercessor
Intercessors are "in-betweeners." They stand between the friend in need and the Friend with bread—God, who is able to meet the need. It's as if the intercessor has one hand reaching down to a needy world and the other hand reaching up to their gracious God in an attempt to link the two together. Their bold pleas release the grace to meet the need. That is the figurative position of an intercessor. Imagine yourself with one hand on the head of your unsaved relative or friend and the other hand reaching up to heaven. That is what an intercessor does.
· Now let’s look at the heart of the intercessor
The friend in the middle cares so much that he/she is willing to risk being shamelessly intrusive in order to help meet the need.
The friend in the middle gives no thought to his or her needs and is willing to sacrifice time and energy to secure the needed bread.
Compassion lies at the heart of intercession. Intercessors are willing to share in the griefs and burdens of others regardless of the personal cost. That is the heart of the intercessor.
· The faith of the intercessor
The friend in the middle was so sure that his neighbor friend could and would meet the need that he went out confidently in the middle of the night.
Intercessors go to God with the confidence that he is willing and able to meet the needs of those for whom they pray.
- Faith is believing that God will always act in character and according to his promises.
The faith of the intercessor is clearly a factor in God's response to prayer. (See Mark 2:5: "Seeing their faith, he said to the paralytic, `Son, your sins are forgiven.')
We have now looked at the position of the intercessor, the heart of the intercessor, and the faith of the intercessor. There are two more qualities of an intercessor to look at.
· The boldness of an intercessor
- The friend in the middle boldly presses his request for his friend until he breaks through ("because of the man's boldness"—Luke 11:8).
- God wants us to know that in prayer all will not be easy. There will be times in prayer that we need to be bold, shameless, and persistent. We should expect delays as God’s perfect timing is worked out and obstacles to increase our faith. Intercessors cannot be hesitant or timid. This point is central to the message Jesus is teaching us in this parable.
Now, let’s look at the last quality of an intercessor.
· The effectiveness of an intercessor
The friend in the middle got what he came for ("he will get up and give him as much as he needs"—Luke 11:8).
Intercessory prayer is effective. James reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person is "powerful and effective" (James 5:16). The New Living translation puts it this way. “The earnest prayer of a righteous has great power and produces wonderful results.
Something always happens when we pray. It may not always be exactly what we pray for. We may not always see the answer, but God, true to his promise, acts in response to our prayer in ways that are in line with his character, his promises, and his good plan for the lives of the people we pray for.
Dutch Sheets, who has written a number of books on prayer, relates the following: I knew the person I was going to pray for was very ill. What I didn't know was that she was comatose with a tracheostomy in her throat, a feeding tube in her stomach and had been in that condition for a year and a half. Seeing her for the first time was like expecting a prescription and receiving brain surgery. Her sister, who had asked me to visit this young lady, had not given me the whole story for fear I wouldn't go at all. She knew if she could just get me there once, I'd probably go back. She was right!
The doctors gave Diane (not her real name) no hope for living, let alone coming out of the coma. Even if she did regain consciousness, she would basically be a vegetable because of her extensive brain damage, or so the doctors believed.
Have you ever stood beside someone in this kind of condition and asked God for a miracle? To stand beside death and ask for life can be intimidating. It can also teach us a lot—about life, about death, about ourselves and about our God. Especially when we stand beside the same person 60 to 70 times, for an hour or more each time, throughout the course of a year.
It didn't work out as I expected. Life rarely does, does it?
I expected the Lord to heal this young lady through our prayers in a dramatic, easy, quick way. After all, that's how it happened with Jesus.
• I didn't expect to have to invest three to four hours of my life each week for a year (including the travel time).
• I didn't expect humiliation and insults from the staff of the extended care unti where she stayed.
• I didn't expect to cry so much.
• I didn't expect to be so bold at times.
• I didn't expect to be so intimidated at times.
• I didn't expect it to take so long.
• I didn't expect to learn so much!
Yes, God restored Diane! He healed her brain, the outer layer of which the doctors said had been totally destroyed by a virus. Every part of it was covered with infection. "No hope," they said.
The front page of thenewspaper read, "Woman Awake, Alive, Healthy After Two Years in Coma." The doctors called it a "medical miracle." "We have no explanation," they said, though they stopped short of giving God the glory.
It actually happened on a Saturday morning when she was all alone. Earlier that week Diane had been moved from the extended care unti to a hospital for treatment of an infection. After administering more tests, the doctors determined her condition had grown worse and informed her family that she would probably die soon.
When Diane's sister relayed this information to me, I dashed off to the hospital.
Knowing comatose people can often hear and understand everything happening around them, I spoke much to her. As we later learned, because of the damage to her brain Diane was not hearing me. But on this Wednesday afternoon, I spoke to her as usual.
"This nightmare is almost over," I said with tears streaming down my face. "Nothing can keep us from receiving our miracle. Nothing!"
The memory is forever imprinted on my mind. As I exited the hospital weeping, I remember saying to myself again and again, "Nothing can keep us from our miracle. Nothing!"
It was not just a strong hope I had at this point but a great faith. I had turned to God many times throughout the course of that year asking Him if He had really sent me to this little girl. Each time I received His assurance: "I sent you. Don't quit."
The Power of Persistence
Now, I've been accused of being quite a stubborn fellow, and I suppose that's true. In fact, I've "stubborned" myself into a lot of trouble, including two major concussions playing football when a couple of fellows had more size and muscle behind their "stubborn" than I did.
Stubbornness, however, can be channeled into a righteous force called persistence or endurance. I've found it to be one of the most important spiritual attributes of the Christian life. Charles Spurgeon said, "By perseverance the snail reached the ark."
A lack of endurance is one of the greatest causes of defeat, especially in prayer. We don't wait well. We're into microwaving; God, on the other hand, is usually into marinating. So I persisted for a year, and as I did my faith grew until I knew deep inside we were going to win. My motto had become Galatians 6:9: "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."
My persistence was rewarded when, three days after that Wednesday in the hospital, Diane woke up with full restoration to her brain. News about the miracle spread to other nations. In fact, the hospital where she had stayed received inquiries from Europe wanting to know about her incredible recovery.
Every hour and every tear I had invested became worth the wait when I saw Diane awake and heard her speak the words, "Praise the Lord."
What did I learn from that year-long endeavor? Much, plus a whole lot more! And I'm still learning.
In "The Last Days Newsletter," Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this village?”
The old man replied, "Nope, only babies."
I've learned that no one is born a prayer hero. They are shaped and refined on the practice field of life.
A Hollywood talent judge said of Fred Astaire, one of the top singers, dancers and actors of all time: "Can't act. Can't sing. Can dance a little." I'm sure Satan has passed his judgment on me at times in my life: "Can't preach. Can't lead. Can pray a little." Thank God for His grace, patience and commitment to me. I've stumbled forward more than backwards in life.
So Many Questions
Through hundreds of hours of prayer and study, I've asked God many questions about prayer, many questions such as:
• Is prayer really necessary? If so, why? Aren’t You sovereign God? Doesn't that mean You accomplish what You want, when You want? If so, why pray?
• Is Your will for a Christian automatically guaranteed or is it linked to prayer and other factors?
• Why does it often take so long to get a prayer answered? Why is persistence required? Jacob wrestled with you God. Is that what I am to do in prayer? I don't like the thought of wrestling with You God.
• What about prayer for the lost? How can I be more effective? I get a little frustrated trying to think of new ways to ask You, Lord to save people. I thought You wanted to save them. Then why do I feel as though I'm trying to talk You into it? Is there a better way? Do I ask for their salvation again and again or simply petition You once and then just thank You, Lord in faith?
• What about spiritual warfare? If Satan is defeated and Christ has all authority, shouldn't we just forget about the devil? Do You God, bind the devil or do we?
• What exactly is intercessory prayer? And don't just tell me it's "standing in the gap." Enough religious quotes and spiritual jargon. I know the thought is taken from the Bible, but what does it mean Lord?
• What about protection? Is everything that happens to me or my family simply allowed by You? Or is there something I need to do to procure our safety?
• How do we "bear one another's burdens"? (Galatians 6:2).
• Is there a right time for answers to prayer or does the timing depend on me?
Do you think God gets tired of all my questions? Are you getting tired of all these questions? I know I am—so I'll stop. You may even be tired of asking some of them yourself. I know I was. Many people stopped asking them long ago, and probably stopped praying, too.
Please don't do that!
Keep asking! I've discovered that the right answer begins with the right question. I've also discovered that God is not offended by a sincere question. He won't satisfy the skeptic and He is not pleased with unbelief, but He loves an honest seeker. Those who lack and ask for wisdom He does not rebuke (see James 1:5). He is a good Dad – ABBA, Father. Will you pray this prayer with me?
Father, we need more understanding—not more knowledge. We have so much of it now that we are becoming confused. Yes, and even cynical at times because our knowledge has not always worked. In fact, Father, our Bibles often seem to contradict our experiences. We need some answers. We need a marriage of theology and experience.
We've been encouraged by the stories of other great prayer warriors—like the apostle Paul. But frankly, Lord, it gets a bit frustrating when our prayers don't seem to work. And intimidating as well because we don't know if we will ever be able to pray two to three hours a day, as great intercessors do. We need more than inspiration now. We need answers.
So, as Your disciples did, Lord, we say, "Teach us to pray." We know it often requires hard work, but can't it also be fun? We know there will be failures, but how about a few more successes? We know "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7), but couldn't we see a few more victories?... A few more souls saved?...A few more healings?
We are tired of cloaking our ignorance in robes of blind obedience and calling it spirituality. We are tired of religious exercises that make us feel better for a while but bear little lasting fruit. We are tired of a form of godliness without the power.
Help us, please. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Let me summarize what we have just learned about intercessory prayer.
In our needy world .. .
· God wants you to be a friend in the middle, an intercessor linking his willingness to give with the needs you know.
· Many people who are needy cannot pray for themselves. Some of them don't know how to pray. Some don't have access to God's throne room because they don't know Christ. You, as a believer, have that access. God wants you come to him on behalf of others in need—come boldly, compassionately, and in faith.
· Are you willing to be that friend in the middle, reaching one hand down to a needy world and reaching up the other hand to bring heaven's blessing down to a needy world?