the surprising joy of interceding for the world

One of the questions we frequently get asked by people hearing about the Sanctuary – and particularly its outward focused rhythm of prayer – is how our hearts cope with all the heaviness of interceding about the brokenness of the world every day. But our experience of sharing God’s heart for the world and each one in seven billion he so loves is radically different from the reality those asking this question must be imagining. In fact, it has surprised us too…

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Firstly, sharing God’s heart means coming close to God and lingering with him long enough to be able to listen to – and catch – his heartbeat.

It is therefore first and foremost an act of intimate worship – of choosing to prize and prioritise what matters to him… of letting the conversation be led by him, as he shares who he is and who he loves, with us.

It cannot help but be infinitely intimate and precious. Because it’s about close discipleship and a desire to be closer still; and the more we encounter him of course, the more we get to know what he is like. And knowing him is the greatest joy we can experience.

In seeking to bless him and others through interceding with him, we find we end up receiving greater revelation of who he is, and a deeper sense of his presence with us.

He confides in us as we listen; and then we get to see what he has spoken become reality. And this leads to more worship and closer fellowship still… and so much joy.

This shouldn’t surprise us of course, because the whole reason we wanted to share his heart in the first place was because we were caught up in a life of worship and wonder that led us to seek more of his heart and company.

But it does surprise us. Again and again. Intimacy between us and God leads to intercession for others – we learned that at the start of this journey. But intercession leads to intimacy – and we’re still processing and marvelling at that truth.

Secondly, sharing God’s heart primarily means sharing his love

It is about catching his passion for each precious person in the world, rather than developing a focus on all the problems of the world.

It is about always looking at everything through the perspective of the one who knit each one together in their mother’s womb, the one who placed his image in each one, the one who died for each one, the one who is pursuing each one – the one who values each one (including us!) infinitely more than we can imagine.

This love does include many tears over one individual’s heart-break or another’s distance from him. It does lead us to anguish at the turmoil of nations and the relentless barrage of suffering that this broken world will continue to face until he returns.

But none of this is our central focus. Love is our central focus.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love always hopes and it always perseveres. And it also tells us that love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.

The truth is that God passionately loves each one in seven billion alive today – and all those who have gone before and will come after. And this truth sets us free. It enables us to see through smoke and mirrors rhetoric and complex or desperate situations to the infinite value of people.

It enables us to care about what happens to these people – and if that is suffering, yes, to mourn.

It also leads us to marvel at the God whose heart is so desperately torn between returning to end all suffering now, and holding back so that none might miss out on entering into the end of suffering forever…. The God who is so endlessly merciful and hasn’t given up on us or walked out on us, even when so many reject the incredible free gift that he offers to put everything right, or exploit others who he died to win that gift for.

Thirdly, sharing God’s heart means an expansion of ours – and a huge increase in our reasons to rejoice as well as our reasons to mourn.

We are told to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Why? Because this is a huge part of love and it is a reflection of what God does as he comes alongside people.

But it’s funny how often people forget the second half in respect to God’s heart towards the world, and us catching it as we intercede with him.

People ask God to break their hearts for the things that break his. This is a great prayer! But how about also asking him to make our hearts celebrate the things that thrill his?

There is a lot of rejoicing going on in the heart of God! Because there is so much to rejoice over in his world:

Beauty and births; creativity poured out and callings taken up; people discovering, responding and returning to their God; hearts being softened to undertake generous acts of mercy or extraordinary feats of courage and bravery; people who love him and want to worship him by sharing his heart and interceding with him.

His government is increasing without end. He has won the victory forever and his kingdom is breaking in all over the place now. He has a worldwide church who are being transformed into his likeness day by day. His mercies are new every morning.

And so the more we share his heart – the more we look out at every one in seven billion with his love – the more we have to rejoice over, as well as weep over, too.

But very few people ask us how each of our small, individual hearts cope with all that rejoicing! Especially when it’s rejoicing for nations that spills over from the heart of God and is simply too huge for our smaller, imitative hearts to hold.

Sometimes, it really does feel as if our hearts will burst with the weight of joy – as well as sorrow – because others’ stories and his-story become part of our story too…

For example, last week, Myanmar elected it’s first non-military leader in fifty years. Change has come slowly and surely to this nation. And it was an incredible day for its people. But it was for us too…

Because we had asked a bishop from Myanmar how we should pray for his nation, and listened to him share his heart for slow change (inspired by one of the trickiest scriptures in the Bible about slaves obeying their masters – therefore dissolving the system through grace by creating subversive equality).

We had followed his request to pray for that again and again and again – and discovered the wisdom of his words as other nations sought rapid regime change. And then of course we had caught just a fraction of God’s heart for them and their heart for their nation. So we have been overjoyed at the events in Myanmar over the last few months. These are not abstract, answered prayers, they are sing out loud moments.

We have had so many like this… sometimes the breakthroughs are so huge, and so long-prayed-for you are crying again (that certainly happened with the COP21 International Climate Change Talks in Paris last December) but with tears of joy and relief and amazement and poignant, redemptive triumph on behalf of some of the world’s poorest and most powerless nations and people.

Lastly, we have discovered again and again that it is simply not a negative thing to enter in to suffering with people – or with our Lord

It is an act of worship again. And it is also deeply Christ-like for it is a form of incarnation – even in prayer.

We are told that part of our privilege as followers of Jesus is to share in his suffering. And as it is his suffering that won our redemption and our joy, it is unsurprising that there are beautiful and life-giving results in sharing the heart-break of both God and the people he so loves.

To continue on from here, would invite a whole new blog article, and we think this one – from Sarita Hartz – says much of what we would want to, and more besides, brilliantly.

So we’ll draw our article to a close with just one quote from hers:

“Suffering is not a bad word in our vocabulary. It is our teacher, even our friend, creating caverns inside us to hold more of God’s love. God uses it to mature us, to build character, to build reserves of empathy.”

And a conclusion that yes, it really is a joy to intercede with him every day. Whether for individuals or nations, it’s not something to cope with, but something deeply precious that is transforming us. Like most things of worth, it’s not easy and it is certainly weighty – but it’s not heavy.

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