A Disciples Spiritual Fitness Course, Pt. 3
Study Guide, February 19, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
As I was thinking about our next discipline of spiritual fitness, the discipline of intercessory prayer, I was looking at some various articles, studies, verses, and such in thinking about how to organize it. I couldn’t quite figure how to approach all the information on prayer. And then an idea came to me; Pray about it… You know, sometimes you just trip over the step you’re supposed to walk on…
Now, since this series is about how we can keep spiritually fit, it needs to be laid out in such a way that’s easy to remember and practical to do. That’s why each of the first letters of each of the 5 disciplines go together to make a word that’s easy to remember: BIBSG. That is not a word, but hopefully if you repeat it enough, it’ll get easier to remember over time. But each one is very practical to do because God created us to practice these disciplines. And we’re going to review all five in each study so as to engrain them into our thinking, along with our theme passage.
1 Tim 4:8,9- “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it.” NLT
And the 5 Disciplines of Spiritual Fitness are:
The Discipline of Bible study training.
The Discipline of Intercessory prayer.
The Discipline of Body life and service.
The Discipline of Sowing the seed of the Gospel.
The Discipline of Giving; tithes and offerings. BIBSG
So there is it, a new word…BIBSG! It even has a vowel. But now, let’s examine the discipline of intercessory prayer. What is intercession? Right, it’s intervening on behalf of another person. It’s like when there’s a huge spider in the kitchen and your wife calls for you to come and fellowship with it…or do something with it. Well, not exactly, but Intercession is basically being the mediator between two parties, especially acting on behalf of one party to the other. There’s actually a picture of intercessory prayer in Scripture. Look at this: Mark 2:3-4- “And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.” NASU That’s intercession! So intercessory prayer is like carrying people on a pallet or a mat to the Lord with whatever request you are making on their behalf.
But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here, so let’s back up the wagon. There is something very crucial here in this whole picture of intercessory prayer, and it’s this. Maybe we could put it this way; Purpose and function follow what? For a follower of Christ, purpose and function follow ‘Identity’. A key teaching in the Scriptures is that who you are determines what you do. Interestingly enough, for each of the disciplines that we are to practice there is a corresponding identity. In the Discipline of Bible study training, we are a ‘Disciple’, a learner, a student of the Word of God. We’ll explore the second in a moment, but in the third, the Discipline of Body life and service, we a ‘Family Member’, or a ‘Brother or Sister in Christ’. And we are our brother or sister’s keeper. In the Discipline of Sowing the seed of the Gospel we are ‘a Sower’. It is the function of the Sower to set out each day to sow the seed. And then in the Discipline of Giving tithes and offerings we are the ‘Cheerful Giver’. 2 Cor 9:7- “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” NIV We notice here that the percentage of our giving is not compulsory, but the discipline is mandatory. And we’ll explore more about that later. And so now, for our study today, we find that the identity the Scriptures give us for the Discipline of Intercessory Prayer is that we are a ‘New Testament Priest’. 1 Peter 2:5- “And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please Him because of Jesus Christ.” NLT
You knew that about yourself didn’t you, that you are a New Testament priest? One of the chief functions of the priest was intercessory prayer, praying on behalf of others. Samuel was both prophet and priest and remember what he said about his discipline or responsibility to pray for the people? 1 Sam 12:23- “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.” NIV
Somehow, a lot of Christians tend to think about praying for others as something that’s optional. If they think about praying for others, or feel like praying for them, or get around to praying for others, then they do. Otherwise, they don’t. Not so for a New Testament Priest. Failing to intercede in prayer for others is sin. Intercessory prayer is not an option; it is what priests do! Intercessory praying is priestly duty. Our identity determines our function, remember?
Okay, so how do we practice intercessory prayer? How can we keep spiritually fit in intercessory prayer? Well, a main part of it is our vision. What do we mean by that? What kind of vision do you have…20/20, 20/10…? By the way, have you ever wondered what 20/20 vision means anyway? Basically, by looking at lots of people, eye doctors have determined what a “normal” human being should be able to see when standing 20 feet away from an eye chart. If you have 20/20 vision, it means that when you stand 20 feet away from the chart you can see what the ‘normal’ human being can see. In other words, your vision is ‘normal’ — most people can see what you see at 20 feet. If you had 20/40 vision what a normal person could see at 40 feet you would have to see it at 20 feet. 20/200 is the cutoff for legal blindness. But if you had 20/10 vision then what others saw at 10 feet you could see at 20 feet. And if you had 20/2 vision, then you would be a Hawk. Birds have that vision, people don’t. That would be great, though, wouldn’t it? ‘Hawkeye vision’
Anyway, the kind of vision a New Testament priest is supposed to have is ‘Prayer Vision’. You and I are supposed to see people through the eyes of prayer. That’s how the Lord Jesus saw people, remember? Matt 9:36- “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” NASU
When Jesus looked at people, He didn’t just look at them in terms of their appearance or their accomplishments or their reputation. He looked at them in terms of their ‘needs’. When He saw ‘people’, He saw ‘needs’. That’s how we are to look at people, in terms of what needs there might be in their lives. Now, certainly Jesus could see far more than we can see. But still, we can practice looking at people in terms of their needs, of what those needs might be, and then, through our prayer vision, intercede for them in prayer based upon their needs. And since we are priests, that’s what we do…priests pray!
Okay, so priests pray. Of course, we are aware of some of the needs of our family and friends and such that we know, but how are we supposed to know what the needs are of people that we don’t know very well, or don’t know at all, like people on the streets around us that we see from day to day? How can we intercede for people we don’t know? There is a help for us in thinking about what the needs of others are.
There is a way that we really can look at everyone around us through the eyes of prayer, with prayer vision. It has to do with ‘image’. And no, not ‘image’ in terms of someone’s external image or their reputation and such, but another kind of image. This is the image we are talking about: Gen 1:27- “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” NASU That’s the image we are talking about. And though that image was effaced by sin, it was not erased, as Dr. Norman Geisler often said. And so that’s the image we are to be praying about, interceding for others concerning things about that image in which God created them, as we carry out our priestly duties of intercessory prayer.
So what is the image? There are five areas of the human being that reflect the image of God, although one was still future when man was created. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that when God was creating Adam and Eve, He was creating the body that not only mankind would indwell, but He was also creating the body that He Himself would one day indwell for the rest of Eternity? Amazing! He was creating a body also for Himself, for the day when God would become flesh, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and would forever remain in the human form, resurrected, yes, but forever being both physical as well as spiritual. So that gives us five areas that make up the image of God. And they are: Mental, Emotional, Volitional, Spiritual, and Physical. Certainly, the image of God Himself in Genesis did not yet include the physical, but it sure does now in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ!
What we are saying is this: When we see people we should see them and think of them in terms of their image, or in terms of what their needs might be in these five areas of their life. What might their needs be in the mental aspect of their life; the way they think, what they’ve learned, what kind of ‘worldview’ do they have? Do they show that they have a Biblical Worldview, or something way off from that? Does it seem they have conformed more to the world than to their Creator? How about praying that they would “…not be conformed to this world, but (would) be transformed by the renewing of (their) your mind, so that (they could discover) you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:2 NASU
Or for your brothers and sisters in Christ you could pray what Paul prayed in Eph 1:16-18 NLT: “I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future He has promised to those He called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance He has given to His people.” I’d love to have people praying that for me!
Then, what might their needs be in their emotional life? What’s their emotional health like? Are they discouraged, distressed, lonely, fearful, and so on? You could pray Isaiah 61 for their emotional life: Isa 61:1-3- “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” NIV
Or then, What do you see in the volitional aspect of their life? Do they seem willing to do the Lord’s will? Do they exhibit a surrendered will to their Creator, or is there a lot of self-will on display in their life, one that needs to be broken and humble in order to be in right relationship with God and others? Like this from Phil 2:5-8 NASU: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That’s the kind of surrendered will that you should pray about for everyone to have.
And then what needs are you aware of in this person’s physical life? This is of course the most visible, and we can pray for their healings or other physical needs, financial needs, and so on. Remember the Apostle John’s great prayerful greeting about this? 3 John 2- “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” NASU This is also a great way to start or end a letter to other believers. It’s prayer-talk!
And of course, then think of what this person’s spiritual needs might be. And I encourage you to always start with praying about a person’s spiritual needs. Pray first about their spiritual life. Pray they have been born again. Every person’s greatest need is the need to be made spiritually alive again, to be spiritually reborn. John 3:3,5- “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” NASU So When you see someone, anyone, think and pray something like: “Lord, I wonder if this person has been spiritually reborn? I pray that this person is born again. If not, may this prayer help lead to his or her being born again into the family of God.”
This spiritual relationship with God is what was ‘lost’ in the Fall of Man in sin. And subsequently then, their holy moral nature also. The New Birth restores the eternal spiritual relationship with God at salvation. For that is a spiritual rebirth that occurs when a person turns from sin and self in repentance toward God and trusts in Jesus’ sinless life and substitutionary death for their forgiveness and their eternal life in Christ. (Turn and Trust…Turn from sin and self, trust in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life) But the other part of the ‘image of God’, the ‘holy moral nature’…and that is an ongoing, life-long pursuit. This requires a life of ‘sanctification, in which the Born-Again believer grows and develops over time in godliness and holiness, as he or she commits to allowing God the Holy Spirit to be more and more in control of their thoughts and deeds.
Let’s wrap this discipline up for today.
Again, the point of our identity as New Testament Priests is that it is our duty to practice intercessory prayer. As we see other people or think about other people, we should think of them in terms of their image, that is, their created image, the five areas of their life, and then how we can pray about those areas. Look at others through your ‘prayer vision’. Maybe that vision is not yet 20/20 prayer vision…maybe more like 20/40 or 20/80, hopefully not 20/200. But the more you use your prayer vision and practice praying for people’s mental, emotional, volitional, physical, and spiritual needs…spiritual being first of course, the better your prayer vision will be, maybe more like 20/10 or even sharper, 20/2, like a hawk’s or eagle’s vision. God says He will enable us to spiritually mount up like with the wings of an eagle for spiritual living, remember? No doubt that includes our prayer vision!
But also, the more spiritually fit you are in intercessory praying, the greater your eternal influence will be on the lives of others around you, as well as the greater the change will be in you in becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ, Who, Himself, saw others through the eyes of prayer.
1 Tim 2:1-5- “I urge, then, first of all, 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.” NIV