In this excerpt of our Holy Ground devotional, read about how a South Los Angeles community experienced God's mighty deliverance through intercession
Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." - Exodus 3:7-10 ESV
Bree Devones Hsieh prayerfully walked through the South Los Angeles neighborhood where Church of the Redeemer, a Servant Partners church, was planted. As she approached a large lot surrounded by a concrete wall, she sensed God say, “I will give this to the church, redeem it for the kingdom, and use it for my purposes.” She didn’t understand, but agreed in prayer.
Thirteen years later, community members learned that the walled lot was actually an oil and gas drill site that pumped thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground beneath neighbors’ homes. God led Redeemer Community Partnership, a Christian community development corporation, and Church of the Redeemer to organize the community against the site and environmentally racist policies that allowed it to exist. Intercession was central to this campaign, as the community asked for God’s will to be done at hearings and protests.
After five years of slow, faithful organizing and prayer, the city mandated that the drill site must close and fully clean up its toxic
footprint. Now, the community is visioning together to transform the site into a park and community space. God brought environmental justice in South Los Angeles through action and intercession, keeping a promise given to Bree nearly 20 years before.
While Moses is revered as the one who led Israel out of Egypt, his contribution to their liberation was late coming. God appears to Moses at the far side of the Midian wilderness and declares that, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people… I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8). Long before Moses saw the injustice, and long before he acted, God saw, God knew, and God came down to deliver the children of Israel into new life. The role that Moses played in liberation came only from listening and seeing what God was already doing and joining in.
God is at the very center of justice and liberation. While faithful individuals play a vital role in doing justice, it is God who is the core actor. Before, during, and after we participate in a campaign or action, it is God who began and sustains the journey of justice.
Archbishop Óscar Romero was a man of deep faith and courageous action. He used his pastoral role with Catholic church in El Salvador to speak against violence and oppression of the poor, while never failing to call for the repentance and conversion of pro-government forces that kidnapped and tortured thousands. But even as the head of the church and deeply respected as a leader by the Salvadoran people, Archbishop Romero recognized it was God and not he who would deliver El Salvador from violence and injustice. After Romero’s assassination during a mass in 1980, a prayer for departed priests became known as the “Romero Prayer.” It reminds: “We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
Intercession is prayerfully watching and listening for what God is doing, and then asking for it to be done. Intercession cannot be separated from action, but it recognizes that long before we saw or acted, the Spirit has been stirring.
A Servant Partners staff member once wrote: “We cannot lead God’s people without God’s intervention. This is our leadership first and foremost. First we intercede, then we act. We have God-sized problems and we need God-sized help. The depth of ministry we long for, and the quality of fruit we desire suggest intercession, and the hand of God as a necessity. Our solutions and work, no matter how brilliant, will never be enough.”
Jesus’ disciples came to him and said “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). As disciples of Jesus, we too can simply say, “Lord Jesus, teach us how to pray about this unjust official... this exploitative system… this policy that harms the poor.” Then, our community of disciples waits and listens, we see what the Spirit reveals, we see what Jesus is already doing, and we agree with it in prayer and action.
To practice this, gather your community to listen about some pressing situation or issue. It may be an injustice you have long organized around or something that has newly captured your attention. Begin with worship, recognizing the faithful love and great power of Jesus, and then open yourselves to listen: “Lord Jesus, teach us how to pray about this. Show us what you are doing and how we should respond.”