Sunday, August 29, 2010

Standing in the Gap for the Anonymous

It's always been troubling to me. The dozens of people who have passed through my life, most not even leaving a shadow of remembrance behind.

What about them? What happens when I forget their names? And what if I never knew them to begin with? There are literally faceless hundreds we pass each week as we shop in stores, drive down the highways, or sit to eat in restaurants?

As believers, we are admonished to pray for each other, but to pray for the lost souls more than anything. Yet, how can we effectively pray for those we don't know?

When I get to the part of my prayers where I pray for the lost peoples of the earth, it always seems so forced, like those words are merely bouncing off the ceiling. Some days, voicing the words, "I pray Father for you to redeem the lost" seems so cliche, so empty.

And yet, In Psalms 106, David relates the story of Israel and those who effectively stood in the gap for the multitudes of Israelites, most of whom were probably nameless to the prayer warriors.

In the midst of a history heavy laden with words like sin, iniquity, wickedness, and rebellion to describe the Israelites' post-enslavement-in-Egypt life, David first presents Moses' prayers for the unrighteous: "Therefore He [God] said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him, To turn away His wrath from destroying them" (Ps. 106:23).

It's a three step process. God wanted to destroy the unrighteous. Moses prayed for God's people, stood in the "breach" or "gap" between holiness and sinfulness. And God turned from His anger.

Scripture recounts that when leaving Egypt, there were "about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children" (Ex. 12:37). Donald Redford's Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times extrapolates from this figure that the total number of Israelites fleeing Egypt was around 2.5 million.

Knowing the numbers, Moses could not have known the name of every one of those individuals. Yet he prayed for them as a whole...and God heard.

Later in the same chapter, David recounts more evil among the Israelites. This time, God threatened to destroy them all with a plague: "Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, And so the plague was stayed" (Ps. 106:30).

Again, one man, Aaron's grandson, stood in the gap for the nameless millions of God's people. And it was an effective prayer.

As I read through the remaining eighteen verses, I kept looking for another named man who begged God to save His people. My vision was so narrow that I almost missed it:

"Nevertheless He [God] looked upon their distress When He heard their cry; And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness" (v. 44-45).

The pronoun "their" implies that an unnamed "they" interceded on Israel's behalf, and God was merciful.

This is you. This is me. We are that "they."

Perhaps we will not play a significant enough role in God's plan to have our individual names listed when what's to come is finally written down as history. Yet, even if you and I are lumped together under the heading of a vague pronoun, our role as gap-standers is still important.

Likewise, that we pray and what we pray for the lost masses is important to God. It may not feel like it at times, especially when the rest of our prayer time is spent raising specific names and needs to God's throne.

But God hears each word. God knows each name.

Keep standing.

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