“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
For a dozen years, my spiritual vision has been heavily influenced by a passage in Isaiah 61, a passage I was “led” to several months before becoming aware that I would be offered the lead pastor role in my local church (a position I held for nine years and from which I retired 2 ½ years ago). At the time of this “leading” I was initially unclear as to why I felt so burdened and enamored with the words, some of which Jesus quoted when He began His public ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-20). Clarity came a few months later as I began the journey of leading a church. I would lean on the words from Isaiah through periods of joy, uncertainty and struggle; they were my north star.
One of the Isaiah’s declarations in that passage was that those who benefited from the spiritual freedom promised in the first portion of this prophecy (fulfilled in and through Jesus), would go on to become “oaks of righteousness.” The simple meaning of this is that those who received this great blessing from GOD would, in turn, extend it to others who had the need to be blessed with this same freedom themselves. In other words, we would “pay it forward.”
The responsibility of the believer extends beyond coming to the table to be spiritually fed (the purpose of worship, study and fellowship gatherings); it is also to do the work of serving the needs of others i.e. ministry. Recall the words of Jesus, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45). That’s a principle reason for the existence of the Church, to serve others (not just ourselves or our family and close friends). There are many, many ways to serve others, and my current responsibilities have allowed me to see some of the wonderful ways in which different church groups have taken this to heart with corps of people stepping into sometimes unfamiliar situations in order to help others.
One way of service I believe the world needs more of is intercession. The hardships faced by persons, societies and nations are profound. Whether in our personal relationships or more broadly, we don’t have to look far to see calamities dancing on the horizon (or closer), just waiting to interfere with our peace. It’s way past time for the sunsetting of the “I’m okay; you’re okay” individualistic philosophy prominent in previous decades. A lot of people are not okay, and they are not getting better. Who is there to stand in the gap between their need and their hope?
In one sense, the entire biblical story is one of intercession. Patterns of it flow throughout. GOD Himself interceded on humanity’s behalf in the Garden. Joseph interceded on behalf of his imperiled family who had previously done him dirty and out of them grew the people we call Israel. Moses interceded for the newly freed and disobedient Israelites when GOD was so frustrated with them that He considered doing away with them altogether. The Aaronic priesthood was established as an intercessory body for the benefit of GOD’s people. Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:24) was an intercession on behalf of those who brutalized and crucified Him and all those who condoned His death. Paul the Apostle tells us that even now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for His people (Roman 8:34). So, if He is doing that for us, we can do it for others. Right?
The Church of Jesus Christ (all Christian churches regardless of branch or denomination) was established as a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9). As priests of the Lord, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to stand in the gap that separates the deepest needs of others from their deepest hope. Our relationship with the risen Lord enables us to be hedges of protection others need in times of difficulty and darkness and the arrow which can point them to that place (Person) in whom true and lasting freedom is found.
This too is the work of our Father which we can be about. Pick someone you know who desperately needs someone to pray for them and commit to doing so until GOD does something powerful in their lives. They don’t even have to know you’re doing it. Be an oak of righteousness for their sake.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2020. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.