The Agony and the Ecstasy
Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 78:56-64 | 2 Chronicles 17:1 – 18:34 | Romans 9:22 – 10:13 | Proverbs 20:2-3
Today’s Scripture Focus: Romans 9:22-10:13
“Brothers my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1 NIV)
Do you know the agony and ecstasy of being an intercessor? Paul did. He clearly understood that intercession was at the heart of the work God had called him to. Yes, it was often a struggle to “pray through” as he stood in the gap for those he ministered to. He knew the agony of intercession—but he also knew its joys. Paul knew that intercession (praying faithfully and intensely for others) was essential to ministry—he couldn’t do ministry in his own strength and power. He had a prayer burden: “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (10:1). He needed to pray.
He describes the agony of intercession earlier when he wrote: “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. (9:1-3) That’s agony: Great sorrow and unceasing anguish and a willingness to be cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of those he has the prayer burden for.
To the Colossians Paul wrote: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you.” When God gives us a prayer burden to intercede for others we should know that it is hard work. When God trusts us enough to give us such an intense prayer burden, we know that we have been growing in our prayer lives. Many of us know little of prayer burdens. We haven’t grown deep enough and close enough to the Father’s heart to be able to feel his sorrow and anguish. But as we grow in our prayer lives, he will begin to give us prayer assignments and prayer burdens. As we prove faithful, those assignments and burdens will likely grow into bigger assignments with even greater prayer burdens. Do you know the agony—the struggle—of really standing in the place of another in prayer?
Thankfully, there is more than agony, there is also the ecstasy of intercession. To the one who has wrestled in prayer—to the intercessor who knows the agony of spiritual battle on behalf of others—God also gives great joy as they see the fruit of those prayers. “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:4). There is great joy when we have prevailed in prayer and see the answer.
But that joy is overshadowed by the joy of just spending time in the presence of the one who loves us most. “In his presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11 KJV) said the Psalmist. The intercessor knows that truth deeply and experientially (and often wonders why others are in such a hurry when they pray).
Intercession is both agony and ecstasy—both deep struggle and “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Open your heart to Jesus, feel the burdens of his heart and allow him to teach you to pray. He has much to teach you. The ecstasy makes all the agony worthwhile.