Pentecost: Myths About Intercession (Part 1)

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Pentecost: The Title & Its Roots

There’s so many different paths this series could take but over the next few posts, I’ll try to debunk some of the myths about intercession that tend to run rampant, especially in the circles from which I came. The question of differing beliefs (continuationism vs cessationism) about the Holy Spirit comes up here, again. I certainly couldn’t get away from this since it has so strongly shaped me.

I’m a continuationist. In other words, I believe the work of the Holy Spirit is still for today, including all the gifts, with no cessation or distinctions. However, I’ve seen many distortions of the Bible and this belief played out in the context of the local church. Strange Noises, this series, is largely based on this kilter. But first, why the title Pentecost?

Pentecost, comes from my upbringing in non-denominational and Assemblies of God churches (AG). There are many issues that go into the switches and moves that can’t and shouldn’t be discussed fully here (ranging from open, public, nasty church splits to leadership shifts). Around my late teens, I was considering leaving the local church. I visited another non-denom (ORU affiliations but a mixed up bag of unhealthy fascinations with Israel, yet not part of the Hebraic Roots movement, big on replacement theology, and a heavy bent for prophecies with absolutely no church government, structure, or discipline). They helped show me the door. I started back a few years later sporadically visiting SBC churches wherever I moved but remained a worthless, inactive attendance-only consumer. I came full circle by several twists despite myself. I ended up a married man on staff at another AG church. We are now at a Reformed, Charismatic church, New Life Community Church (part of the MPact Churches Network), where among many other things, we are learning as a family how to BE the church.

That’s a bit of my past; but this title also refers to the historical event recorded in Acts. I’m recognizing this portion of my past as the birth of my understanding of intercession just as the day of Pentecost was the birth of the church.

The both started with strange noises. In Acts, it was a mighty, rushing wind followed by tongues and all the many reactions to this act of the Holy Spirit. Yet that question lingers; “Why are sounds such an integral part of my conception of intercession?” My childhood memories in churches trying to recreate this moment always struck a dissonant chord in me. Something wasn’t harmonizing with the Spirit in me. We cannot go on experience alone though, we must look to the Bible.

Myth No. 1 – Strange Noises ALWAYS Accompany Intercession

The myth is that Intercession is a particular type of prayer. Prayer that is outwardly passionate is often labeled as Intercession, sometimes even if it is very personal and having absolutely nothing to do with others. In short, Intercession is loud!

What about all the commotion?

The groans! There is a tradition and expectation (highly valued) of demonstrative responses in corporate Worship within most of the aforementioned churches and their respective denominations and/or organizations. Most align themselves with the Pentecostal or Charismatic movement. All of these are on different ends of that spectrum. Most, not all, hold to a continuationist pneumatology.

I have many vivid memories of people actually physically, audibly moaning and groaning louder than a full band and the PA systems. I’m not hinting at or wanting to criticize or belittle this…well, maybe the time and the place for it. But that’s another altogether careful and different conversation.

What I’m pointing to is the way it shaped prayer and threw kindling in my heart for fervent, emotive prayer. Paul when speaking of spiritual maturity in terms of milk and meat, he goes on to explain that meat-eaters will be feeding (probably breast feeding) others. So, a sure way to know what you truly believe about something is not only how you speak but how you act. You will explain or teach something only to the level you have integrated it.

Here’s an example of how I once taught a congregation towards an earnest, visceral, Spirit-led, prayerful life. I remember encouraging the congregation to, “Give way to the groans!” as we opened up a service in prayer. This was not a manipulation or tactic to force people into speaking or praying with the gift of other tongues, although for some it will and does look like that. I don’t even believe it works that way, on command.

Side bar:
How could this verse be referring only to the speaking of tongues, when not all who have recieved the adoption of God have this gift? I’m dismissing the traditional Pentecostal belief of tongues as THE initial physical evidence. I see this as AN initial physical evidence, not the only one.

I’ve not seen an decent exegesis to persuade me that this man made clause flows from nor fits into scripture. Maybe someone can show me something more compelling. I welcome that.

I think it’s important to note that Paul doesn’t ask, when did you recieved the Spirit AND can you prove it with tongues? He also doesn’t outline this thought when detailing the understanding and order of how to operate in these gifts to the Corinthians.

We must be careful not to add regulations and requirements that scripture doesn’t prescribe. I’d say looking for a physical evidence in the first place is a flaw. Scripture tells us to look for fruits as evidence. Long haul people planted beside still waters, with deep roots, bear much fruit.
*For a more exhaustive and scholarly handling of this, check out our Pastor, Robert Clanton’s, book Empower.

This was speaking to the worship of their lives not just that morning but for the whole next week. Give way to conviction. Give way to correction, rebuke, reproof. Give way to the guidance of the Holy Spirit into all truth. Give way to leading of the Spirit into world, global missions, to accomplish His task to the uttermost parts of the earth. Give way to His ways of hospitality, not just when everything is tidy and ready. Give way to growing to knowing Him more and more deeply and making Him known, to becoming like Him. Give way to His lordship! This will guide you to intercession because He will do it through you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Where’s the mature balance?

Reactions to perceived mistakes usually result in an overcorrection by the next generation. So hopefully, within our lifetime, if we can manage to keep the pendulum centered we’ll be nearer the path of maturation.

I’ve seen – or better yet heard – Spirit-led intercession as dissonance. I have faltered on the side of focusing too strongly on the imbalances of this view of intercession, with the Word. It’s no wonder my parents named me after the brother of Jesus, whose epistle tends to ask for this same obedience to scripture alongside passionate, diligent faith.

I, like most of my siblings, were drawn to those who lived by conviction, who saw all of life as Worship unto God, whose lives were well ordered, whose lives just “make sense”, who throw their lives down with – no strings attached – to being on God’s mission. We look for the fruits of the Spirit. With this balance, I wasn’t really left wanting for an explanation of how God redeems and unites opposite, yet strong personalities.

This leaves a sort of separation of these developments of thought in my mind. Naturally, I give it musical expression. The three movements I see through all these myths and all the Bible truths is as follows:

Sounds – dissonance, disorder, and distortions
Silence – overcorrecting distortions, lack of outward expression, a hint of emptiness rather than emptying
Symphony – a glorious, magnificent vision of God through His Word, a beautiful harmony

My dad was a quiet yet praying man. He tended to be more private in ask things really. He was just a more quiet person. His speech, including prayer, pithy. We saw him make decisions only after prayer. We saw him also step back and allow for my mom and her gifts to take a gigantic part in discipling their kids.

As I’ve become a father, my prayer walks are much less consistent. I am more challenged with getting out of the house for any reason, not just to pray but for all things. Trust me, coupled with my natural tendencies, this is a real struggle!

Having been removed from these environments, in a sense, I now find myself more often and more organically bursting into another Spirit-given tongue or Personal Prayer Language  (PPL). Strange noises at strange times, I’m there (seems like at times daily) especially in song.

*A few asides about something I’m really for the first time speaking about publicly:

When I say more organically, I mean truly spontaneous and many times this happens without any foresight; at the same time I feel no pressure to explain this away, especially since the Bible explains it well enough and plenty of great expositors have come along to shed light.

I don’t feel like I’m doing something “cultural”; I know I’m not. I also don’t ever hear or feel that I need to conjure up something on command. How could I? I can’t begin to do something that is brought on, out of my control. Lastly, I can control this once it has begun.

Now what?!

Then there are seasons like right now that I have to *”Pray myself into prayer”. We must stir our affections for God! When our disciplines wain and seasons feel “dry” we pray for rain. When we can’t cry, we lift dry eyes to the Father to fill us. And fill us he does, in His timing, with His heart for His children, His lost, bleeding, broken sheep (children) straying from home.

*Terry Virgo’s expression (excerpt from video in Myths: Part 2)

6 Comments Add yours

  1. James, these are excellent thoughts on the Holy Spirit helping and teaching us to pray. Like you, I have gathered with the Church at AG buildings, Methodist, Baptist, and non-denominational buildings. I have sat in a congregation and heard a Baptist pastor moan over and over as he prayed but would not or could not allow the groans to become uttered words of any sort. I can only say that my experiences in tongues has been as real or more real to me than any physical building. For months, I prayed for an hour every morning and for an hour every evening, not knowing why. I prayed in the natural and in the Spirit. Later, I had a catastrophic incident in my life, my 16 years old son was murdered. Had I not spent that time in praying in the Spirit, I can only imagine what that incident would have done to me. I believe, with all my heart, that there is more power that we need to access and we need to pray in the Spirit to get all that God wants us to have.
    I pray that you will stand firm and stay committed to praying in the Spirit every day. If others want to learn about the experience, that is wonderful. I have never believed that one human could teach another human to pray in tongues. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and he is excellent at doing His job. I think where a lot of Christians miss it is that they don’t understand that the Holy Spirit is a real person. We can grieve Him and we can hurt Him. But we can also be a source of great joy for Him as we walk and talk together.
    Talk WITH Him every day and follow closely after Him.

    1. Wow, sounds like we’ve had pretty similar experiences. A good friend of mine who sometimes drives around interceding for our city says he just did and moans and groans sometimes cause the broken is hurting him so deeply. He describes this Romans 8 passage will. He just is beside himself and can’t form words but must utter something. I think that’s so incredible and every bit as much the Holy Spirit as tongues too though. Would you agree with that or you of a different persuasion with that?
      Also, I was curious about your comment on everyday. I loved the encouragement but I find that there seem to be try seasons, just as in reading the word, that I’m not really experiencing the unction. I push through if course and these sessions though seemingly cold leave the warmest of memories after the fact. But I find myself struggling with the teachings on tongues that kind of leave the initiation process in the control of the person praying. Thoughts?

  2. ptl2010 says:

    I come from the background of AG, Pentecostal independent, and now Baptist.
    The verse that immediately comes to mind after reading your blog is
    Romans 8: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

    If we pray in the Spirit, we will groan too sometimes when words fail us.

    I believe that we receive what we have faith to believe. Many Baptists including pastors do not experience the benefits of intercession because they have shut out the Holy Spirit in their lives – so the word is spoken by human lips without anointing, they pray without power because they don’t believe and everything becomes just routine.

    However, I know Baptist pastors who believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit and are setting their churches on fire in experiencing God.

  3. ptl2010 says:

    Reblogged this on ChristianBlessings and commented:
    This series is about Intercession. It could resonate with your experience of a rich heritage or be totally new for your consideration.

    1. Thanks so much! You’ve been a blessing to me and I hope this becomes a blessing to others through you.

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