May 10, 2019

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Our faith calls us to ‘stand in the gap’ for one another

Kimberly Pohovey“Lord … help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:24]. At one time or another, we have all been there … that point of desperation from circumstances in our life that hurl us into chaos, leaving us fearfully in a state of doubt.

But what if it’s not our unbelief we worry about? What if we agonize over the unbelief of a loved one? In my experience, the only thing worse than your own pain is not being able to lift the excruciating pain of someone you love.

One morning as I was driving to church, I listened to a contemporary Christian music radio station. The radio show host was interviewing the musician who wrote the song they were about to play. I was intrigued as he introduced the song’s backstory.

He explained that he was inspired to write the words after he faced a serious illness that required surgery. As he awaited the operation, a nun came by to comfort him. He rebuffed her offer to pray, letting her know he was not a believer.

She replied, “That’s OK, I will pray for you, and while you aren’t in a space to ask God for your own intervention, it will be my job to ‘stand in that gap’ for you.” The lyrics of his song were about how her prayers healed him on many accounts because she stood in the gap for him.

I’ve thought about that so many times since. We all pray for others: when someone experiences a loss, when someone is sick, when someone has a need. But how much more powerful can it be to pray as if we are literally “standing in the gap” between that person and God?

I wondered if this notion of “standing in the gap” had scriptural significance, and I found that it did.

“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” (Ez 22:30).

I also found this: “You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the Lord” (Ez 13: 5).

If a wall became broken down at any point, these were called “breaches” or “gaps.”  In Nehemiah’s day, soldiers had to literally stand in those gaps to fortify the wall against their enemies, many times trying to rebuild the wall, holding a trowel in one hand while wielding their sword in the other. They had to stand in the gap and build up the wall at the same time, interceding for their nation to create a literal and spiritual wall of protection around the house of Israel. This image gives me a whole new outlook on the phrase “spiritual warfare.”

Have you ever had a loved one facing a painful time in his or her life? I have. I know this person I so dearly love believes in God but was in so much pain, he could not recognize God in his life. He said he didn’t believe. That is where I know I was called to stand in that gap between his unbelief and our God.

For as long as it took, I prayed and prayed for that wall to be fortified, for that gap to be closed. He didn’t experience a miraculous healing, but a slow and steady process of healing, as if God were literally building him up—one brick at a time until the gap gradually sealed.

Are you being called to “stand in the gap” for someone?

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of mission advancement for Archdiocesan Education Initiatives.)

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