I've always understood (at least intellectually) the concept of standing in the gap. As a matter of fact, I've been called to do that on several occasions, unbeknownst to those who were blessed in the end. But it was the process of standing in that gap on at least one occasion that the gravity of the situation was made clear to me. From that point on, being the intercessor or the one who stands in the gap had new meaning, a deeper and urgent unction that made the process, at least to me, a reverent burden with catastrophic consequences should one be flippant, ignore or fail in their responsibilities.
You would think that in and of itself would be enough for one person, that the lesson had been learned. But I'm afraid that for me, it hasn't been. For on that one occasion (that is most memorable to me), I understood the problem at hand. I had lived it, I had made the same mistakes, said the same things, exercised the same misjudgements. But somewhere along the way, God revealed to me the sinfulness of my attitudes and that it had to go, that I must to die to self in that regard. So when I saw it in someone else, I understood it for I had lived it, and I was grieved because I knew it was something that the Lord despised.
I wrestled with it for about a day, and just at the point when I had determined that there was nothing I could do to change the situation (and there truly was not), and nothing I could do to change the person (and truly, there was not), I was ready to leave the whole mess alone and let God deal with it. And it was then that I remembered Moses (Exodus 32):
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
And I remembered Ezekiel 22:30:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.
And it was then that the Lord said, "so, you're just going to leave him be and not stand in the gap?"
I have no idea what the Lord had in mind for him should I refuse - and it doesn't matter. I just know that I spent two or three days in constant communion and prayer until the burden was gone and I was released from my responsibilities as a gap stander.
But as I have circled back to this gap standing doctrine, I have learned that there is something else that I was unaware of before:
The Identification of the Intercessor
I really didn't get this the first times through, but it's becoming clearer to me now. There are examples of this identification of the intercessor all through out scripture. I alluded to it above, in the quote from Exodus 32. But there's more to the story. A little later on, we find that
On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!”
This is one example of standing in the gap, of being the intercessor: it is a "take me instead of them" attitude, a "count me just as guilty as they are" and "account their guilt to me" position. When you stand in the gap, or protect someone else, you identify your whole self with them. It is this identification that is integral to the act of interceding on the behalf of another.
The apostle Paul said that
I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Cor 9:19-32)
Paul is speaking to the point of identifying himself with those to whom he was a witness and on whose behalf he interceded. In his case, he was identifying with or becoming one of the people to whom he spoke and to whom he lived out his life. In other words, he knew that from the perspective the Jew, the Gentile and the weak, an acceptable sacrifice was to become one of them, to understand their life, their hurts, and their perceptions of reality from their point of view. This identification gave Paul an authority in their lives, not because he was an apostle, but because from their point of view, he was one of them.
Jesus also identified Himself with us:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
These actions of Jesus resulted in Him sitting down at the right hand of God and living to make intercession for us. (Mark 16:19, Hebrews 12: 2). But don't miss the other points of these truths: it was for the "joy set before Him" that he endured the cross, which in the end enabled Him to take His place of intercession.
And in seeing the joy set before Him, how does one thereby endure the cross? By dying to self. For we all are to take up our cross daily, resulting in the same thing: dying to self. Intercession is not just about praying: it's just as much about dying to self as it is about living your life in such a way that another is edified, which is love, for "love edifies" (1 Cor 1:8), and we all know that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
I knew someone once, I'll call him Crosby, who took on the task of mentoring a young man, which we'll call Nash. Nash was your typical young college student who had definitive ideas about life and how the world should work. Crosby on the other hand, had been there and done all of that and had thus far, lived a long, full life in the Lord. He had been to seminary and earned several degrees. Furthermore, as being in his early 60's, he viewed himself as an Elder in the church, and as one who had earned some respect. He clearly believed he had a lot to offer in a mentoring relationship, or any relationship for that matter. Nevertheless, the mentoring relationship eventually broke down and the meetings ceased. It was explained to Nash's parents that the young man simply didn't provide Crosby the proper respect and that as such, the relationship couldn't move forward.
As a mentor or accountability partner (as we like to call it these days), it is not our place to choose the death, or the dying to self of the other person. How God chooses to work in some ones life is His business, not ours. Our job is to facilitate the process (Eph 4:15-16). If we enter into an accountability or mentoring relationship and start nit-picking this thing or that thing, then what we're actually doing is judging the other person. And any one who judges another person usurps God's authority makes himself a judge of the Law (James 4:11).
What Crosby did was fail to identify himself with his younger protege. He found a particular spec in his brothers' eye and neglected to see the log in his own eye. And having not removed his log so that he could better identify with his younger brother and help Nash remove his spec, his completely missed the opportunity to be an intercessor for his brother. (Matt 7:1-5)
You see folks, if you want to stand in the gap, if you want to be an intercessor for this or that, then you must get serious with God. You really don't have a right to tell someone to not steal or cheat or refrain from drunkenness when you yourself are a cheat and a thief and drink too much. If you really want to be the George Mueller of your generation, then pick up your cross and get busy with God and die to your selfish desires. Revival comes through and after repentance. If you truly want revival, then first find out what God wants removed from your life, those hidden, unyielding areas; give them up and remove them. And once God has brought revival into your life, intercede on the behalf of another, then another, and so-on until God gives you (and/or others) the authority to intercede for your entire church or community. That's what Moses did. He started with a burden for his people as son of Pharaoh's daughter, then spent a number of years in isolation from his people in Egypt where his vision for their freedom died and God made him in to a different man (Acts 7, Exodus 3).
So don't assume that this is an easy, overnight process. Bible scholars tell us that Jesus lived on this earth 33 years and we know that He spent at least three years of concentrated devotion for one purpose: to identify with His people so that He could go to the cross, die to self, fix His eyes on the joy set before Him, and live to make intercession for us all.
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:30)
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)