Intercession: Pleading for Undeserved Mercy

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We serve a holy God.

In our day, so far removed from bloody sacrifices and curtains and priests, we sometimes overlook the true weight of our sin and its consequences. Our God is holy, holy, holy – and we are oh, so very sinful. God, in His incomprehensible grace, has offered us spiritual restoration through Jesus Christ – but sin still has consequences.

I am often burdened by the glib way we approach our holy God in prayer. We have been taught that we can have intimacy, access, friendship with God – and these things are true. However, our God is still holy, and sin is serious.

In Nehemiah chapter one, we find Nehemiah responding to terrible news about the state of God’s people and God’s city {a situation which was a direct result of God’s punishment for their continued rebellion} in a beautiful prayer. We are in very different circumstances than Nehemiah – a different land, a different people, a different covenant… but we have the same God, and sin is still ever-present! There is much we can learn from Nehemiah about godly intercession.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Then I said:
“O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (v. 4-7)

Before approaching God on behalf of his people, Nehemiah mourns, fasts, humbles himself – for days! This man has a tremendous sense of the holy and awesome nature of the God he approaches. There is no “name it and claim it” attitude here. Nehemiah is preparing to plead for God’s mercy, and he understands something that we seem to too often miss: mercy, by definition, is undeserved. Mercy is not something we can “claim;” it is something we can only humbly ask for from the ashes of true sorrow over sin.

And so, Nehemiah humbles himself. He mourns over sin – his own sin (no self-righteous attitudes here!), the sin of his family, the sin of his people. He confesses these things before God in humility and doesn’t mince words; they have acted “wickedly.”

I have shared on my personal blog in the past that I find it very difficult to join in boisterously singing “God bless America.” It seems to me that American Christians sometimes display a sense of entitlement to the blessings of God… as though we have earned it. My friends, we have not earned blessings, and we do not deserve mercy. Before approaching God with open hands glibly asking Him to bless us, we must consider seriously how to mourn over sin, humbly pray, and confess our own sins and those of our countrymen.

Remember, mercy is not something we can claim.

As we intercede on behalf of our children, our churches, our country, and our world, we would be wise to remember Nehemiah’s model of true humility and personal repentance.

  1. We need to dig into the Word and seek to develop a proper perspective of our God.
  2. We need to take sin seriously. We need to mourn over it, repent from it, and cling to what is right and good in God’s sight.
  3. We need to approach our holy God with sober respect, rather than glib and demanding attitudes.
  4. We must remember: mercy isn’t deserved, it isn’t earned.

As we read on through Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one, we do find him praying God’s promises back to Him and recalling God’s faithfulness. We find him asking for favor and seeking to act on behalf of his people, pleading for God’s favor and blessing as he went forward. It is often these “later” steps of intercession that we think of – but true intercession begins in a broken heart of humility.

Who or what are you bringing to God’s throne today? What would it look like to do so with a humble spirit like Nehemiah’s?

Kristi Stephens

Kristi Stephens

Kristi Stephens

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Kristi Stephens

Comments

  1. “It seems to me that American Christians sometimes display a sense of entitlement to the blessings of God… as though we have earned it. My friends, we have not earned blessings, and we do not deserve mercy.”

    I have felt that same thing, Kristi. What a powerful reminder. I feel sometimes that my life has become a continual prayer of confession … moment by moment laying down the sin that “so easily entangles.” Even in the mundane tasks of my day I find myself aware of the attitudes and thoughts that distance me from the heart of God. The challenge of intercession is realizing our own desperate need for forgiveness, grace, mercy … long before we can pray those “effective prayers” that “availeth much” we must lay down our own sin, our own pride, our own loathesome behaviors. Thank you, friend, for saying so well a message that needs to be heard … and applied.

  2. Thank you Kristi for reminding us of the holiness and justice of God. Not only do we forget that we do not deserve mercy we also forget what our forgiveness cost God – nothing less than the life of Jesus Christ. He is the cost of our forgiveness.

  3. “Mercy is not something we can ‘claim’…” how true! We can beg, but we cannot demand. Thank you for this real reminder to humble ourselves and continue to battle the sin of entitlement.

  4. Wow. This is great, Kristi. In light of this Scripture, I would approach God on my knees, with my head covered, asking for that mercy.

  5. “We need to dig into the Word and seek to develop a proper perspective of our God.”
    This is an area that I’ve been working on lately. Starting each day with a study of WHO GOD IS – having a proper view of God makes a huge difference in how I live my life!

    “We need to take sin seriously. We need to mourn over it, repent from it, and cling to what is right and good in God’s sight.”
    I struggle with this. I think I err on the side of grace too often. I tend to pray an umbrella prayer – Lord forgive me for any sin I may have committed today – if I pray anything at all, rather than taking each sin before God individually and finding remorse over it.

    “We need to approach our holy God with sober respect, rather than glib and demanding attitudes.”
    Having a proper view of God is truly key in this. God is SO holy, and yet we tend to approach Him more like a buddy than a holy God. I need to work on this in my life!

    “We must remember: mercy isn’t deserved, it isn’t earned.”
    We have NO rights, and yet our world tries to tell us otherwise. Mercy is an incredible blessing – may we learn to see it as such!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Kristy. I needed this reminder today!

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