“Isn’t it curious that the more the Bible is translated the less it is read?” – C. S. Lewis
It is indeed interesting that as certain things are given more and more attention, the thing under discussion begins to disappear. For example, I’ve observed that the more often ‘spiritual authority’ is the topic in a local church setting, the less it is actually present there. True spiritual authority need not be trotted out repeatedly before a congregation; when it is present it will be recognized by almost everyone.
There are two important but relatively obscure topics presently circulating in Christian conversation which fall into this category. For our purposes let’s call them The Intercessors and The Remnant.
The organized prayer movement of the past twenty five years or so is an effort, no doubt, to systematically and strategically direct prayer toward the pressing needs of the times. Acts 1:13, 14 demonstrate the value and power of occasional sustained, concerted prayer, evidenced by the events of Pentecost a few days later. To the degree such movements encourage folks to pray, we should value them. Many of those involved in these movements, including their leaders, refer to themselves as ‘intercessors.’ The term is lifted from Isaiah 59:16.
The Apostle Paul urged Timothy (1Timothy 2:1) that “intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,” but generally the term in scripture refers to Jesus the Messiah, or to the Spirit. (Isaiah 53:12, Romans 8:26, Hebrews 7:25) More recently “Intercessor” has been used much like a ministry title, such as Pastor or Elder, though the scripture does not support that.
While there are folks with a special calling to prayer, due to the nature of the assignment, it doesn’t come with a title. Titles are not useful when one’s ministry is carried out “in your room” with the door shut. The prayer Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-15) is powerful and influential (James 5:16b). It is not public prayer or a prayer movement; it is quite purposefully private, a personal engagement with the Creator. It is the antithesis of the prayers of the ‘pretenders’ (vs. 5, mg.) who do it to be seen. The emphasis is on simply being there alone, not on any particular posture or a particular kind or quantity of words. There is little need for explanations or agendas. “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
Private prayer is at the same time a command and an invitation. It is about presenting one’s self for personal refinement; a two-way transaction requiring the quiet and solitude that facilitates listening and response, as well as devotional worship and petition. Those who answer this calling are uniquely motivated and persevering as they serve God in relative obscurity. Just as the greatest preachers are not on television, His intercessors are mostly anonymous saints in places, and from traditions, that might surprise us.
The tendency within the church to organize and systematize matters of faith may, in fact, cause some folks in the prayer movement to damage the very thing they most value. The more prayer begins to involve conferences, clinics, certifications, titles, and spiritual luminaries, the more we begin to lose the thing Jesus was teaching about.
Private prayer, the primary assignment of God’s intercessors, is a course that comes with its own study guide and teacher: The Word and the Spirit. Corporate prayer is important to church life, but most of the great answers to prayer in the Bible were in response to the petitions of individuals. (2 Kings 20:9-12; Joshua 10:13, 14; James 5:16b-18)
The Remnant (that which is left over), is an Old Testament term for the relatively small number of faithful souls who did not follow the majority of the Nation of Israel into compromise and apostasy. In Romans 11:1-5 Paul speaks of a Jewish remnant which God has “reserved for Himself” in every generation; a ‘seed,’ so to speak, which enables the spiritual life of the nation to regenerate at a certain time, and thereby be preserved.
Believers today discuss the same concept in regard to the church. Feeling that much of organized Christianity has followed a path of compromise and worldliness, they strongly identify with the idea of the Remnant. Understandably, they hope to be among those who remain true to Christ, and to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3b) The problem comes when groups or movements begin to refer to themselves as “The Remnant,” a kind of self-certification as the pure few among the defiled many.
Elijah, a man with considerable insight, nevertheless mistakenly concluded he was the only faithful person left in Israel (1Kings 19:10). His many challenges and hardships had affected his perceptions. “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal . . .” the Lord said to him. Elijah was a remnant fellow all right, but, as it turns out, only a small part of it!
Two things are noteworthy in this passage which generalize to the larger topic of the Remnant in our time. First, it is clear that the preservation of the seven thousand was God’s doing alone. As Keeper of the hearts, He was the only one who could know who was faithful and who wasn’t (2 Tim. 2:19a). Second, God never revealed the identity of the faithful remnant. It was enough for Elijah to realize they were there; a precious reserve for the Living God.
In the same way, we may recognize a Remnant exists today; faithful souls amid the complacency and compromise of our time. By God’s grace, we may be among them. But we can never draw a circle around them. Precisely who they are, and where, is quite outside our range of vision. Some folks may claim the title, but that’s a lot like Catalina Island claiming to be California. Some shred of truth in it, but mighty presumptuous!
Yes, The Intercessors and The Remnant of every generation have an important part in the advance of God’s Kingdom. But neither are populations that thrive with a lot of exposure. The more they become the point of focus, the more elusive and out-of- focus they become. Like the rose, they’re beautiful and fragrant but don’t hold up to much ‘handling.’ They are Kingdom realities that are savored and managed by God Himself, at His discretion and for His pleasure.
We may remember God created quite a few lovely organisms that flourish best away from the light.
R. J. Staub, November, 2008