A Secret to Answered Prayer
Years ago, my prayer mentor — a dynamic, older southern woman — asked the Lord why He honored our little prayer team with answers to the prayers and petitions we made. The Lord spoke to her, saying in a Spirit-blown whisper, “Because you love each other unconditionally as I love My Son and He loves you.”
How had my little group attained to this level of love? I don’t think I would have cited love as the engine of our prayer. Had we somehow transformed from quirky prayer people into power intercessors? Not through any design or ambition, I can assure you. Our little group was comprised of four women. My mentor, limping from back surgery and overly interested in sugary treats. Another, badly twisted from a traumatic birth, whose medical issues were complex and numerous. The woman who led me to Jesus and who was weathering a bumpy transition from business to ministry. And myself, filled with worldliness and only a teenager (complete with acne and mood swings) in the Lord.
It was true we loved each other deeply, caring for each other’s needs — especially spiritual and emotional issues — even while we warred for our community and the larger metropolitan area. We spent a lot of time together, stepping in when another needed a practical hand of help. And though aware of each other’s foibles, we somehow overlooked them in the messy, joyful business of doing life together.
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This word from the Lord about the love we demonstrated for each other reminded me of the gospel of John. John was remarkably transformed by his relationship with Jesus. Rather than a legacy of Thunder, John left — through his lyrical writings — one of Love. Specifically, I thought of the Vine and the Branches when I heard the Lord’s whisper about our prayer group. This allegory from John 15 starting with verses 1-6 is a lesson in intercession.
Intercessors Abide in Jesus’s Life
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean (pruned, in the Greek) because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
In the Old Testament, the vineyard clearly refers to Israel. Here, Jesus applies the metaphor to Himself and the Church that will come from His ministry, saying He is the True Vine and the disciples are the branches. The fruit of the Church would flow now from those who remain in the vine — in relationship with the Lord through Christ.
There are many types of fruit in view here; the fruit of the Spirit certainly. But also the works of God’s People, including the results of intercession. And the fruit to which Jesus refers can also be the abundant life this very gospel promises in its theme verse: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10: 10b).
Being a practical person, my key question was what does abide in Jesus mean? In this metaphor, it seems that the very Life Blood…the nourishing sap of the Vine…must flow through to the branches. Other Scripture points to the same idea: Paul’s metaphor of the Church as a body, with Christ as head and disciples serving in various bodily capacities. One could do without an arm, perhaps, or even an eye, but hardly without the head. Abiding seems just as it says. Abiding is drawing upon the Life of Jesus for our own lives.
Lest this sound too ethereal, the Scriptures attest to sharing Christ’s life through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (1 Corinthians 2:15-16) and to renewing our minds so that we can know the perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). It is possible — and for an intercessor and a disciple, essential — to abide in Jesus’s Life.
Intercessors Abide in Jesus’s Love
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
I’ve highlighted some words and set paragraphs apart to illustrate the themes of this chiastic text from John 15: 7-17. The beginning and ending verses encompass Jesus’s teaching — Abide in Me — and the result of abiding — Answered Prayer. The middle verse — usually the main point in any Scriptural chiasm — speaks to Joy. The verses immediately preceding and following that key verse focus on the divine Command to Love.
This part of Jesus’s discourse asserts the ultimate result and reward of abiding in Him is His Joy — a river running through the abiding disciple’s life — regardless of circumstance and ministry results. Joy flows from remaining in — obeying —Jesus’s Love. Jesus’s Love flows from His Life, which flows from Abiding in Him. Love isn’t an emotion; Love is the Person of Jesus. We receive that Love — Him — by abiding in Him and allowing His Word and His Person in the form of Holy Spirit to abide in us. When we receive the Person of Jesus and grow in intimacy with Him, we receive His Love, His Obedience and, ultimately, His Joy. And He also shares in that Joy, just as He shares His Life and His Love.
It was clear to me this abiding was beyond me. So I prayed to Abide; I prayed for Jesus’s Life; I prayed for His Love; I prayed for His Obedience. And I surrendered myself to the Lord. Surrender was difficult at first and still is sometimes. But as the prayer of John the Baptizer took hold in my life (“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30), I began to experience joy in the obedience rather than grudging resignation.
Years ago, one of my prayer team was undergoing such a difficult emotional time that she had developed the stress-related condition of shingles. I went to the Lord and told Him I wanted Him to relieve the stress upon my beloved friend; I was desperate for her.
He answered my prayer.
I developed shingles.
Her symptoms disappeared.
As I lay in bed with pain stabbing my back along the thoracic nerve, I remember thinking my discomfort was not even a fraction as painful as the whips Jesus endured. The Lord allowed me to eavesdrop on a heavenly conversation; I heard in whisper words, “Gift follows gift as Joyce lays down her life for the Lord.”
Come, Intercessors, Abide in the deep lovely places with the Lord. Abide in His Life, His Love, His Obedience. And watch with Wondrous Joy as He answers your prayers for yourselves, your families, your community and your beloved America.
Lord, we come in humble expectation that Your Word is true. Everything promised in John 15 can be true for us. Help us abide. As the Baptizer prayed, release us of ourselves that Jesus become greater and we less. We desire to receive His Life, His Love and His Obedience. We desire to be so filled with Holy Spirit that we hear from Him the needful prayers and pray them back to You, sharing in the Joy of bringing the Kingdom to earth. In Jesus’s Name. Amen and Amen.
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Author Joyce Swingle is an intercessor and contributing writer for Intercessors for America. With her husband Drama Evangelist Rich, Joyce shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world through theatre and speaking. Joyce also has performed on screen. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Joyce worked for about 20 major magazines and now works in pastoral ministry and Christian counseling. She and Rich live in New York City. Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash.
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