INTERCESSION AND CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN NIGERIA

INTRODUCTION

The 13th Biennial Conference of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) is holding at a crucial time in our nation’s history. Both the Church and the nation are facing unprecedented challenges that demand appropriate response. These times call for the Church to either become an aggressive voice against the evil one and his works or settle for a life of defeat at his hands. Whenever the Church does nothing, the enemy concludes that she accepts what he is doing.

The most powerful weapon God has given the Church is the weapon of prayer. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Through prayer we can influence events in the nation, we can govern from our prayer altars. As E.M. Bounds has said: “God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.”

DESCRIPTION OF INTERCESSION

Intercession basically is prayer made on behalf of others in the direction and power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:27). It could be for individuals, groups or a nation. One of the clearest reasons for intercession is stated in 1 Timothy 2:1-5

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Here we find intercession mentioned as a distinctive type of prayer. It is to be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority. If we pray, the result is that we will lead a quiet and peaceable life. This means that our prayers can affect any government and its policies.

STANDING IN THE GAP

Intercession is a medium that God has ordained for man to influence events on earth. An intercessor acts as an intermediary between God and people. This sense is aptly conveyed in Ezekiel 22:30-31:

“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God.”

When a nation sins against God, what follows is judgment. But judgment can be mitigated or averted if God finds people who are willing to ‘stand in the gap.” An intercessor is literally a person who stands in the gap. Abraham was the first intercessor we find in the Bible. He stood in the gap for Lot and Sodom (Genesis 18). God could have gone straightaway to destroy Sodom but He left open a door for intercession. Abraham pleaded with God to spare the people. Interestingly, God patiently waited as Abraham continued to ‘negotiate’ with Him. God only left after Abraham had stopped his plea. Even though God could not find even ten righteous people in Sodom, yet He spared Lot because of Abraham: “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt.” (Genesis 19:29).

From the above incidence we see a pattern for intercession: a person who has a relationship with God coming to Him on behalf of others. Whenever there is a problem in the land, God waits for what His people would do. “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

That is what we find Moses doing for Israel at least on two occasions as they journeyed through the wilderness. Moses had gone up to receive the tablet containing the Ten Commandments. He was away for 40 days. Meanwhile, Israel had gone into idolatry. “And the Lord said to Moses,Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves” (Exodus 32:7). Notice that God now refers to Israel as ‘your people.’ Sin had separated them from God. God was ready to send judgment upon the people. He said to Moses “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). In God’s statement we can see the power that an intercessor wields. God said ‘let me alone.’ The imagery it conveys is that of Moses holding God back from taking action. Imagine someone about to go into a fight and a friend is holding him by the waist to stop him from engaging the opponent. But Moses began to plead with God on behalf of Israel. As a result, God pardoned their sins and spared them. Moses would do the same after the spies came back with an evil report and God was ready to disinherit Israel. Moses interceded and God relented (Numbers 14:11-20). The Psalmist captures Moses intervention in Psalm 106:23

Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, To turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them.

It is difficult to comprehend, but that is how much power an intercessor can have with God. As long as God can find people who can effectively stand in the gap, He will relent in executing judgment. No wonder, He had to say to Jeremiah “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:16). When God forecloses prayer then the situation is hopeless!

THE PRIEST AS AN INTERCESSOR

We see this idea reinforced in the institution of the priesthood. The priestly calling had intercessory responsibilities, they stood in the gap between God and the people.  The high priest appeared before God on behalf of the people. On his shoulder piece he carried a stone engraved with names of the twelve tribes of Israel; over his chest he also had those names in the breastplate. (Exodus 28:7, 9, 12). Symbolically, he carried the nation on his shoulder and on his heart. We also have been made priests (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5). Intercession is part of our priestly function. The spiritual authority we exercise over the nation is in direct proportion to the extent we have carried the nation on our shoulders! “…And the government will be upon His shoulder…” (Isaiah 9:6).

KNOWING WHAT IS AT STAKE

For there to be burden for intercession, a person must realise what is at stake. When David showed up at the battlefield and Eliab, his brother, questioned his motive for coming, David’s reply was ‘is there not a cause?” (1 Samuel 17:29). Unfortunately, many times, the Church does not seem to know or appreciate the magnitude of the challenges she faces and the consequences of inaction.

Imagine what would have happened to the Jews if Mordecai was not abreast of events in Shushan: “When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry” (Esther 4:1). Haman had conspired to destroy the entire Jewish population and the king had given his royal consent. Mordecai had to enlist the support of Esther in order to thwart the plans of Haman, the enemy of the Jews.

Esther, like many Christians, was initially complacent. She probably felt that she was more secure in the palace than the rest of the Jews. Mordecai had to rouse her into action. He reminded her that her royal position may have been God’s redemptive plan for the Jews: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). She eventually realised what was at stake and replied Mordecai:

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” Esther 4:15

Desperate situations demand desperate action. The Jews fasted and prayed, God heard them and arranged circumstances that led to the reversal of what was intended against them.

Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them” (Esther 9:1).

NIGERIA’S PROPHETIC DESTINY

The destiny of Nigeria has always been under contention but it is more so now. There have been several prophecies about the Church and Nigeria from credible prophetic voices in the past. All of them point to the fact that Nigeria is a chosen nation in God’s plan. For instance, God said through Pa. S.G. Elton that “The Church of God in Nigeria will not go underground, instead it will explode.” Also, God showed him a vision of revival beginning from southern Nigeria and spreading to the entire nation.

There was also a prophecy that “Nigeria shall fulfil my counsel for the black race. The race that has been despised and enslaved shall shine in my glory. I will show forth my glory on the despised and enslaved.” It is not surprising that the devil is very jittery about Nigeria. He knows that if this nation were to rise to its full potential, the kingdom of darkness will be in trouble. That is why he is putting all kinds of obstacles on the way. The Church needs to engage the enemy standing on what God had spoken concerning Nigeria. “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).

MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE

It is therefore not a coincidence that the Biennial Conference is holding at “such a time as this.” This is an auspicious moment in the history of our nation. In a matter of weeks a crucial election will take place that will determine the direction of our nation for the years to come. The Church can influence the outcome of the elections through our prayers. We can affect what politicians think and the decisions they make. The Church has power beyond the voting booth; our prayers can frustrate the plans of the enemy against the Church and the nation.

 2015 – A CRUCIAL YEAR!

Fifteen years ago, an international agency predicted that by 2015 Nigeria will be a ‘failed state’. As this year approached, circumstances began to conspire to make their ‘prophecy’ a reality. Our nation has never been as ‘factionalised’ as we are now – and it is affecting the Church and our ability to speak with one voice. The ‘body language’ of some nations suggests that this may actually be their desire for Nigeria. But Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, When the Lord has not commanded it?” (Lamentation 3:37).

POLITICAL SITUATION IN NIGERIA

The forthcoming election has generated so much heat in our nation. The nation is now divided along religious and ethnic lines. Nigeria is literally sitting ‘on a keg of gunpowder!’ With the backdrop of what happened after the elections in 2011, only God’s intervention can save us from the looming danger in the horizon. The pockets of violence across the nation is a foreboding of what can happen if the Church fails to pray.

We are reminded of what happened in Israel when a new government was to be ‘elected.’ David was about to leave the scene (See 1 Kings 1). Adonijah decided that he was the heir-apparent and gathered some of the leading men in Israel for his coronation. Surprisingly, even people like Joab and Abiathar who should know better fell for this charade! When David heard about the plot, he immediately anointed Solomon as his successor. Adonijah himself would later testify:

Then he said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and all Israel had set their expectations on me, that I should reign. However, the kingdom has been turned over, and has become my brother’s; for it was his from the Lord” (1 Kings 2:15). The position of the Church must be that only the person ordained by God for this time will ascend the throne of Nigeria.

 INSURGENCY/TERRORISM

The Nigerian Church (especially in the North) is facing an existential threat from radical Islam. There are Muslims with the obnoxious dream to stamp out Christianity from Nigeria. What they have not been able to achieve through political manipulations, they now want to achieve through terrorism. Most of the territories where missionaries laboured and died are now in the hands of Boko Haram Islamic terrorists. What has happened in the past decade is a reversal of the gains made in missions for over a century.

Boko Haram is allied with ISIS and other terrorist groups with an agenda to establish a global Islamic caliphate. Nigeria has always been their prime target because, in their thinking, if they conquer Nigeria then they can conquer the black race! Boko Haram receives their backing directly or indirectly from people who are sympathetic to their perverted ideology. It has been alleged that the reason why our military has not succeeded thus far in the war against terror is because of sabotage within their ranks.

THE KIDNAPPED CHIBOK GIRLS

These girls, about 300 and mostly Christians, have been in captivity for about ten months now. This has remained a reproach on our nation. Since their kidnap, several other boys and girls have also been kidnapped. This has become a new strategy by the jihadist to seize Christian youths and either kill them or forcefully convert them to Islam. It is a subtle way of changing the religious demographics in Northern Nigeria.

GOD HAS HELPED US IN THE PAST

In the words of the hymn writer “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come…” Nigeria has been to the precipice many times in her history but God has always helped us. After the June 12th elections of 1993 Nigeria was thrown into a chaos. There was palpable danger and it seemed that the nation was going to be torn apart. Fear reigned in the land, people relocated from some parts of the country because they felt unsafe.

The situation drove the Church into prayer. Between 1993 and 1998 the Nigerian Church prayed. For instance, in 1995 there was the National Committee for Repentance and Reconciliation which mobilised the Body of Christ for a day of repentance and reconciliation which took place on 1st October 1995. The next year God raised up General Yakubu Gowon and through Nigeria Prays, he mobilised the Church for another season of repentance and intercession. These prayer initiatives roused the Church to concerted intercession that lasted for many years.

No doubt, the cumulative effect of the prayers was that God resolved the impasse in the land in a way that no one anticipated. The principal figures in the crises were taken away in quick succession leading to the return of democracy. The Church in many parts of the nation has experienced unprecedented growth and Liberty in the past 16 years partly because we have had governments that were tolerant of the Church. We must not lose this freedom.

We have been through this way before and God saw us through because the Church responded in an appropriate manner. Let us not ‘fiddle while Rome burns!’ Nigeria is presently on a dangerous cliff, only prayer can save us from the hand of the enemy and all the expectations of nations that hate us (Acts 12:11).

 CONCLUSION

This Conference is ‘a stitch in time!’ When South Africa was preparing for their first democratic elections after the apartheid era, the nation was quite tensed. Foreigners left the country because the general forecast from the international media was that South Africa would boil over into violence. The Church took up the challenge and resorted to prayer. The world was amazed that the nation had a peaceful election and has been stable since then. Nigeria has always been an enigma to the international community. They wonder how we always come through. The secret is that the Church knows when to resort to prayers in times of difficulty. Let us rise again and pray for our nation.

# Paper I delivered during the workshop sessions at the 13th Biennial Conference of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, held from 4th – 6th February, 2015 at TREM Headquarters, Lagos. PFN is the association of all Pentecostal ministers in Nigeria.

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