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Standing in The Gap

With that image at the top, you may be expecting something inside the topic of clothes shopping; and those who know me, know I do love to express myself through what I put on! But what I am excited to share with you is inside the topic of how we can support or love those in our lives: by standing in the gap for one another.

I did some googling and surprisingly, found several definitions for this phrase. The one that fits my usage here is:

To stand in the gap is to expose oneself for the protection of something (or someone); to make defense against any assailing danger; to take the place of a fallen defender or supporter.

ChatGPT answered the question of What is standing in the gap? with this:

To ‘stand in the gap’ for someone means to act as mediator or advocate on their behalf. It typically implies that the person standing in the gap is taking a position of responsibility and support for someone else, often in a difficult or challenging situation. This can be used in a variety of contexts, from religious or spiritual contexts, to more practical or everyday situations.

I’ll bet you have done this – many times – in your life for loved ones or a cause about whom or which you are passionate. Times when you took responsibility for the support of someone in crisis. Maybe you took meals to them, shopped for them, took them to appointments, cleaned their house, listened to them as they shared their pain, supported them financially...Maybe you did several of these acts of service for the same person(s)!

In the context of this blog post, I’d like to touch on the idea of prayer as one way of standing in the gap. This has been one of my top love languages to care for those God brings into my life. And - how precious the gift when someone who knows me, my heart, offers to lift up my causes to God on my behalf.

There are many types of prayer. I am not attempting a study of prayer in the small space of this post. But there is a specific type of prayer that is near and dear to my heart because I have experienced both sides of it – the giving and the receiving. I’m talking about intercessory prayer.

Once again, googling produced a plethora of definitions and concepts about intercessory prayer. I also did a cursory search in scripture on the topic. I’ll share just a few thoughts here...

My own initiation into this type of prayer came through a young moms’ group I was a part of when my kids were preschool-to-grade school age. We shared our zeal for learning more about God as well as our stage of life. We studied the topic of prayer together and then we practiced it as a group – standing in the gap for one another through prayer.

I can’t tell you how meaningful it was to know there were other moms praying for me, motivated by their own experiences of parental anxiousness, when my kids (and I) were up all night due to a high fever or a croupy cough. I felt seen, heard, known and cared for. I believe that tangible act of love – interceding on my behalf – got me through those early years of mothering.

Let me share one definition of intercession I found:

Pleading with one party on behalf of another, usually with a view to obtaining help for that other.
Another added this: Intercession implies, first, a distance between suffering believers and God that must be overcome and, second, a mediating party who bridges the gap.

So, you may be wondering, what is the difference between praying for someone versus interceding for them? Well, that doesn’t have a short answer, if you want a comprehensive one. It would be a worthy topic for study. There are dozens of scriptures that refer to prayers and intercessions as two distinct forms; and many books written on the topic of types of prayer.

One easy-to-grasp distinction that I found to ring true is in the duration. That is to say, we can pray one prayer for someone, at one specific time, and will have fulfilled the practice of prayer. But, with intercessory prayer, it almost always goes on for a longer period of time – days, weeks, months...even years of lifting to God a person or situation for which or whom He has given us their burden.

It was as a young Christian woman, I began the journey of learning how to pray, which eventually led me to this practice of intercessory prayer. What I found to be helpful for me to distinguish this type of support prayer from general supplication, was to delineate this concept:

I can pray for someone, or as someone. Hmm...perhaps the former is prayer, and the latter is intercession.

Reflect with me on the initial definition I shared for standing in the gap – it included this phrase: to take the place of. That’s what I’m talking about here: to be in the stead of, whether in the form of beseeching or thanking – to take the place of another before God. It is in this posture I learned to ‘take on’ the concerns or gratitude/glad heart of the one I’m interceding for; perhaps not unlike an actor becomes their character. The prayer intent and wording take on a different intensity and focus. It becomes easier to separate my desires for this person from what may be God’s will for her or him.

Perhaps an example would help convey my thought here:

Let’s say a friend shares her concern about some bullying her son is describing going on at school. I can pray for the situation: Lord, You see Sarah’s anguish re: this situation at school involving her son. I ask You to intervene on Tommy’s behalf, change the heart of the one(s) doing the bullying, and bring Sarah peace...Thank You.

But what also could transpire: The Lord invites me to take on Sarah’s burden. To step into her shoes – take the place of her - and view this situation through her eyes, her mother’s heart. I might start by asking myself this: What would my prayer sound like if it were my son who was the object of the bullying? That prayer will be impassioned – and will go on until I see the change for which I am praying.

May I share one other definition and analogy re: what intercession or standing in the gap (or the breaches) can look like? Both of these passages are speaking of the role of intercessors:

Ezekiel 13:5

You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord.

Isaiah 62:6-7

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.

I found a beautiful wall analogy by Reverend Linda Smallwood, that creates a simple image to illustrate the role of standing in the gap through intercessory prayer:

The word "intercede" comes from the Latin "inter" meaning "between" and "ced" meaning "go". So it literally means "go between".
(Now) think of a brick wall, in particular, the mortar in the joints between the bricks. That mortar "goes between", or "intercedes", between the bricks to bind them together and strengthen them. Without the mortar "going between" the bricks, the wall would collapse.

So when I intercede for another, my intercessory prayer is the mortar filling in those gaps = strengthening their spiritual wall for whatever battle they are or were in. I like that analogy; I can grasp that image.

There is so much more to say, and scriptures to dig into, about this powerful form of love through intercessory prayer...Such as: God sent Jesus to be our Once-&-Forever-Intercessor – first by taking our place on the cross (Isaiah 53); then after His resurrection, promising to forever intercede on our behalf with His (and our) Father. (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25)

No one has a love greater than this, to lay down your life for your friends. John 15:13

There are an endless number of ways we can lay down our life for another, to stand in the gap as a form of loving them. Perhaps praying for others is one of your go-to ways of loving, or maybe your heart gets expressed through other venues or acts of service. Whatever the expression, our joy is sure to be full when we respond to an invitation from God to be used in His intervention in or pursuit of another’s heart and wellbeing.

[*Stay tuned! Intercessory Worship? ...In my next post.]

Might you consider...

What feelings, memories, images come up when you think about the topic of prayer?
Have you had someone in your life who has been an intercessor on your behalf? How did it feel to know another was spending their resources standing in the gap for you?
Maybe there are other ways that come easily for you re: standing in the gap for others. Can you think of one or two? What do you experience when you get to play a role in supporting another’s journey?

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Blessed to play a part ~


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