“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Standing in the Gap, by Randall D. Kittle


Many of the famous men throughout history had to overcome great obstacles and disappointing hardships before accomplishing the great tasks for which we remember them. Abraham Lincoln had to overcome a tide of adversity before becoming president and “Father of the Union.” Even as a child, his life was marked with calamities. His younger brother, Thomas, died in infancy. Abraham’s mother passed away in 1818 when he was only nine years old. His older sister Sarah died during childbirth. After moving to Illinois, young Abe was a partner in a country store that went broke. It took him fifteen years to pay back the debt. Twice Abraham Lincoln ran for the house of representatives and lost. He also ran for the senate twice, and was defeated both times. His son, Edward, died in 1850 at only four years old. Even Lincoln’s most noted political achievement, being elected to the presidency, was marred by the fact that he received less than forty per cent of the popular vote.

Truly Abraham Lincoln passed through the refining fires by the trials of life. Yet, instead of these setbacks making him bitter and resentful, they helped form in him a heart of gold and a will of steel. Overcoming these obstacles worked into his life a persistent and persevering strength which helped him walk our country through its darkest hour. This depth of character, however, created more than just the hardness of steel. It also formed a heart of gold — a heart that was genuine and soft and caring.

The Rewards Of Vigilance
Once while Abraham Lincoln was president, a woman came and stood day and night in front of the White House asking to see him. It didn’t matter if it was cold or raining, day in and day out she came just the same, petitioning the guards to let her speak with the president. This was in the midst of the Civil War at a time when the war was going poorly for the North. Week after week passed and still she stood at the gate, her request unchanged and unanswered. One day a guard explained the impossibility of meeting with the president due to his hectic schedule with the war. He offered instead to arrange for her to see another official who might be able to help. Thanking him she declined, insisting that only President Lincoln himself could help her.

Although she was hard-pressed and things appeared hopeless, her vigil hadn’t gone unnoticed. President Lincoln began to inquire about this “woman at the gate.” His inquiries proved fruitless. No one knew what she wanted to speak to him about, since she insisted he was the only one who could help. Finally, President Lincoln told the guards to invite the woman into the White House. Upon meeting the president the woman fell to her knees sobbing — imploring him to pardon her youngest son. The woman’s husband and two oldest sons had already been killed fighting in the Civil War. Her youngest son had then enlisted, but when the battle began he had become frightened and ran off. They had caught him, tried him for desertion, and he was even now awaiting execution by firing squad. “He’s all I have left,” she cried, “I can’t give any more to save the Union!”

The woman’s persistence had won her an audience with the president, and her story was heard by one who cared deeply and could understand. With a tear in his eye President Lincoln responded, “I may not be able to save the hundred who fall in battle this day, but I can save this one.” And with that he wrote a letter of clemency — pardoning the woman’s son. Because of her persistence and the president’s caring heart, her son was set free.

Because Of His Persistence
As believers, we are called to be like this “woman at the gate.” The Bible says that God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Notice this verse does not say He is a rewarder of those who seek Him — but those who diligently seek Him. God delights in those who persist in petitioning Him with their requests.

One of the most popular Bible verses on prayer is
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). This verse has been quoted so often that it might be useful for us to step back and see it in context. Jesus said this in conclusion to the parable of the friend at midnight. In that parable the Lord said if you have a friend who comes knocking on your door at midnight asking to borrow some bread because someone has stopped in for a surprise visit, you are likely to respond “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything” (Luke 11:7). Nevertheless, if they continue to knock on your door “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:8). God is saying if you knock … and knock … and knock, you will receive because of your importunity.

When we seek something in prayer, we so easily become discouraged if the answer doesn’t come right away. We might knock — and knock again, and then say “Well, I’ve asked. Now it’s all up to God.” But we are to diligently pray prayers of faith, not just mouth prayers and then faint. Jesus said
“men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Then He told the parable of the wicked judge.

“There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily’”
(Luke 18:2–8).

Even a wicked judge will give justice to a widow who continues to trouble him, just to get her “off his back.” Surely God, Who is the only righteous Judge, will quickly bring justice to His own when they persistently cry out to Him.

Importunity: The Power Of Change
Importunate prayer not only brings the answer, it can actually change the purposes of God and abate the stroke of His power. Matthew 15 tells the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus seeking deliverance for her daughter who was demon‑possessed. The disciples urged Jesus to send her away because she was causing a distraction. But instead Jesus tells her that her request is out of line. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Now we know the gospel was first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. Jesus was declaring the truth that His ministry was first and foremost to Israel. She understood His answer, but there was no where else to turn. And so the woman bowed down, and cried out to Jesus, “Lord, help me!” Jesus answered saying, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (Matthew 15:26). When others would have left hurt and discouraged, she pressed in with “dogged” tenacity. She did not argue or demand, but humbly implored “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27). Jesus’ first response had been “You’re out of line … that is not God’s purpose.” Next He told her that helping her would be like feeding some stray dog while your children went hungry. Yet, after she diligently continued knocking … believing … imploring — Jesus’ response was “‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Matthew 15:28). Not only was her daughter healed, she was commended for having great faith and contending with God and changing the purposes of God.

Sought After by God
This is what God is looking for when believers intercede. The word “intercede” is from the Latin “to come between.” It means to stand between God and man both in bringing man’s needs to God, and in intervening between God’s wrath and sinful man. Those who diligently intervene with God on behalf of others don’t have to worry about trying to find God, for He has declared these are the very ones He is looking for! Ezekiel 22:30 tells us that God is actively looking throughout the earth for those who will stand in the gaps. “And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” Because of His just character, God was set to pronounce judgment. And yet, in mercy He was looking for someone, indeed anyone, who through intercession was willing to give reason to stay the execution of His judgment. He was searching for a way to forgive and release from judgment … but sadly, He found none.

God has told us in His Word that
“mercy triumphs over judgment.” This principle applies not only to man, but to God. God is just, His judgments are always correct; but He longs for His mercy to be released to overcome His judgment. If this were not so, our heavenly Father would never have sent His Son to die on our behalf. The cross of Jesus Christ is ample proof that God’s intention is for His mercy to overcome His judgment. God’s heart of mercy is always searching for a reason to abate judgment: if there are five righteous men … if they will humble themselves and repent … if I can find one who will stand in the gap for them. The Church today seems to have difficulty comprehending the merciful heart of God, knowing that He is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” The reluctant prophet Jonah understood the merciful heart of God. “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2).

The sin of man tears down the walls of protection that keep out the enemy’s desires to
“steal, and kill, and destroy.” God is searching for those who will stand in these breaches and labor in intercession to help rebuild them. These gaps in the walls can represent any area that leaves others vulnerable. They can be as small as a subtle temptation or as wide as the gulf of separation that sin causes between God and man. This was the gap that Moses threw himself into — a divine foreshadowing of the only One who can fill that gap, Jesus Christ.

Moses Entreated the Lord
After the children of Israel sinned in worshiping the golden calf, the righteous anger of the Lord was against them. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff‑necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (Exodus 32:9). Moses came between God and the people as he pleaded with God on their behalf. Moses knew God, His character of justice, yes; but also His character of mercy. When the justice of God said “Judgment is required!” Moses’ response was “Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people” (Exodus 32:12). He did not say God would be unjust to destroy them, he called upon the mercy of God and prayed back to God the promises He had made. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13). Because of Moses intercession, God was able to relent from the wrath Israel deserved. “So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14). When Moses stood in the gap for the children of Israel, he was reflecting the character of Jesus Christ.

Blessing Those Who Wrestle
As strange is it may sound, God is pleased with those who contend with Him. He is not angry when we wrestle with Him. We can see this in the story of Jacob wrestling with God for a blessing. Jacob’s struggle was not only physical, but emotional. Hosea reveals to us how Jacob cried and pleaded God for His blessing. “As a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favor” (Hosea 12:3–4). As a result of this, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “he who contends or strives with God.” “And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:28).

It is interesting to note that the most common reference to the Jews as God’s chosen people is “Israel” or “the children of Israel.” This literally means that God chooses as His own those who wrestle with Him, those who contend with Him. Who are those God is seeking? Those who will stand in the gap. Who are those He has chosen? Those who will wrestle with Him. Please notice, God is pleased not only when we intercede to Him on behalf of others, but even when we are wrestling with Him on our own accord. Jacob wasn’t standing in the gap for others. He was seeking a blessing from God. Somehow in the mystery of God, He delights in those who contend with Him. Those who diligently seek Him, pursuing Him with a passion that will not let go!

Like the “woman at the gate,” let us come day and night to the only One who can help us. His ear is ever turned to hear us; His heart is ever soft and caring. Let us diligently ask for the mercy of God’s love to triumph over judgment. Standing in the gaps in intercession we will find we are the ones He is seeking. The Lord will delight to call us His chosen people as we wrestle with Him in prevailing prayer.

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