As I lived in the 70’s watching sporting events, he was always there. Most of the time, he had a seat in the stands right behind the goal posts at an NFL game. He had a knack for finding key locations where he knew the television cameras would be pointed. Rollen Stewart held up his sign: “John 3:16”. He usually had a multi-colored “afro wig” on his head. That verse Rollen held up is Christianity 101: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
If you become a Christian, you know this verse as an essential message from God’s Word. You also know that you don’t really deserve God’s love and you know that you don’t deserve God giving up His Son for you in His redemptive death. And certainly you know you don’t deserve eternal life.
But we get all this anyhow.
Because God loves us.
You also know that God has certain expectations of all of us.
He expects us to love others. W. Bingham Hunter* states “Christ calls us to respond to the needs of others as an expression of thanksgiving for God loving us” [Hunter, 137]. God expects us to pray for others no matter how “wretched their existence” or “how sordid their sins.” As He thought we were worthy of His Son’s life, we are to give our love to others free of merit. We are to love others, see them as valuable, nourish them, protect them and cherish them.
We are to intercede for them.
And it is not easy. Love for others is a test of faith because we might not feel inspired to pray for them. We might not approve of their lifestyle. Maybe someone has offended you. Maybe they have taken advantage of your generosity. Luke 6: 32-36 says “If you love others who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,” expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
This practical love for all is connected directly with prayer. We may not be able to give vast sums of money or devote hours of labor to help someone, but if you can do nothing else, you can pray for someone. We can ask God to help others when we cannot. God knows their situation and what kind of help they need and God knows how that help needs to be administered.
Hunter says intercessory prayer should be a regular part of the Christian experience. He recommends an “open prayer” so the needs of others can be met by the Lord. Have a list of people who need prayer so your mind can be focused. Be as specific and systematic as you can be and if you can, follow up on your prayer to see if it has yielded fruit. Many intercessors never know if God has acted or not and it is encouraging to see God acting to help others.
Hunter further states that the saddest thing is that many Christians only pray for themselves. Many people who need to be blessed miss God’s blessings because of Christians who are selfish with their prayers.
Take to heart the words of Samuel who said “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” [1 Samuel 12:23].
Some might say that the Christian who fails to pray for others is sinning, that this sin falls within the scope of these words from James “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” [James 4:17].
A popular old expression we hear from time to time is “pay it forward.” This is opposed to the expression “pay it back.” Maybe paying it forward is what Christians ought to do, since we have received the gift of love for God and eternal life. Through our acts, we should share God’s unmerited favor with others and we can share it through intercessory prayer.
It is so simple…
God loves you, you love others…
*the author of The God Who Hears