For decades, Margaret Therkelsen (1934-2014) filled a tremendous need in the Wesleyan/ Methodist world: She modeled a life of relentless prayer. Like a bold frontier explorer, she would spend hours each day in prayer then emerge to tell others what she had discovered there. While she was an accomplished and exquisite pianist, she only wanted to be known as a woman of prayer. She would encourage the curious to join her in her weekly prayer meetings — which were profound and have influenced a generation of Christian leaders — and she was unfettered in her passion for seeking the Lord in “the deep.” Her journal was famous among those who knew her as the repository of her rich experiences with the Holy Spirit. One such experience made not only her journal, but a book. She called it The Love Exchange. That book details an extraordinary encounter with God — an “almost-overwhelming experience,” she called it — when she directly encountered God’s love for her. After that experience, she began to learn how to channel that love into her intercessions for others. This is one such story, in her words, sent to me twenty years ago when I asked her to describe the love exchange as a form of intercession for others:
About a year and a half* ago, I sensed a terrible need in my prayer life for more of God. I began to pray, “Father, open up my life in a new way. I want You to communicate with me more fully. I want to be more open to You.”
The great saints refer to this yearning as “the prayer of the heart.” In this type of prayer I stop making demands of God. My mother, who is a great pray-er, calls it “resigning from God’s advisory board.” The first thing He showed me was that I needed a lot of cleansing in my life. I’ve been in the academic setting for over thirty-three years, serving on various college and university faculties. Sad to say, education can make us very critical. The Lord told me I couldn’t truly pray through all that criticism because He cannot love through a wall of criticism. So I asked Him to show me how to break down those walls.
The answer came one morning as I was meditating. The Lord brought to my recollection Matthew 5:46, where Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you salute your brethren only, what do you do more than others?” Then these words from God: “You know there are three women whom you’ve held out on the edge of your goodwill. Sometimes they almost fall over the edge!” As I thought about that, I understood that the bottom line in love is goodwill toward everybody or you can’t walk with Jesus, because He is God’s sign of goodwill towards men.
Very clearly the Lord seemed to be saying, “You have envy, jealousy and sometimes hard feelings toward these women, and yet you want to walk the life of prayer.” I said, “God, I do. I want to be cleansed and I want to stay cleansed of those things which keep my prayer life from having true power.” And so He replied, “Then I want you to start praying for those three women as you would pray for yourself.” I was told to pray that in the lives of those women every good thing would increase: God’s ministry, power and victory through them. As soon as I started to pray in this way, I heard again that unmistakable voice saying, “As you pray and drink at the fountain of My love, I’m going to pour out My love through you to those women.”
So I prayed, “God bless them.”
The Lord said, “Good. Keep it up.”
From then on I prayed a daily blessing upon these women. Slowly, an amazing transformation took place. My offering prayers of goodwill toward them changed things. I began to love them! Now, months later — a tremendous wonder to me — two of these women are among my closest friends. With the third I have every expectation that our relationship will deepen to one of love.
I learned something through this experience. Prayer and true, godly love are one and the same. We will often pray for a person saying, “Lord I’ll love ’em. But I don’t want to get too close!” When you truly love someone, however, there is no distance between you — physical, emotional or spiritual. I am convinced now that many of my prayers have not been answered because I have been selective in my love. The temptation is to love only the important or famous or “good” people. My prayers have been more defeated by resentments and angers and a complete lack of love than by any outside spiritual force. And much of the time, I must admit that I just plain haven’t wanted to love. The conclusion I’ve drawn is that every one of us who would intercede for others must say to the Lord, “I’m willing to obey Your laws of love in a new way.”
You may be asking, “How do I love as God loves? How do I begin?”
Let me share with you the pattern the Lord gave me as I’ve prayed for my three friends. It comes from the apostolic church of the third century: The church has chosen to call this “contemplation” — a simple but very powerful word. After I have been quickened by the Holy Ghost to intercede for someone, I meditate on the Word of God. It might be one short scripture phrase like “I am hid with God in Christ Jesus.” Then when I am prayed out, I return to Him again — to love Him — to pour my love out to Him the way Mary broke open the alabaster box and poured her love out on Jesus. And as part of this exchange of love, I say to Him, “O God, I love you so much. I appreciate You, I adore You, I love You.”
Next there begins to well up in my heart this tremendous feeling of love for Him. It’s a painful thing sometimes. I may even move into a groaning type of prayer (Romans 8:26) where there are no words to say how much I love Him. When I am “in touch” with that feeling of love, I just let it roll. I just love Him and love Him and love Him, moving from the verbal into the nonverbal experience of that love. Then, quietly, I let Him love me.
Now all this may sound very emotional and overwrought. Let’s be clear. Most of the time there is no “emotion” involved. You see, God wants to take us beyond our emotions. He wants to meet with us spirit to Spirit. Many times I sit quietly and I say by faith, “Jesus, how You love me! You love me. Thank you for loving me with an everlasting love. You’ll never leave me nor forsake me.” There have been times when I have been drenched in the love of God. It’s changing me! It’s healing me! It’s restoring me! It’s altering my motivations. For it is in loving Him and being loved by Him that the power begins to flow.
A great thing happened six months ago* that proved to me the power of this type of prayer. I was in a powerful “love exchange” with God. We were so intermingled, spirit to Spirit, heart to heart. I had poured my love out on Him. He had poured His love out on me. I felt like He was living in me, loving me. Then in the midst of that tremendous exchange of love the name of a young man for whom I had been praying kept coming to my mind. This young man was in terrible need in every area of his life. In fact, in psychological terms, he had crossed the line from the normal into the abnormal. I said, “Lord, I’ll intercede for him, but not now. I’m just enjoying You, friend to friend. I’ll pray for him when we finish this beautiful exchange.”
But God’s Spirit replied, “Let’s take this love between you and Me and send it somewhere. Let’s pour it out on this young man.” And I said, “All right, Father. Let’s do that.”
From our conversations, I knew this young man didn’t believe God loved him. Now I saw Jesus with His arms around Him. That young man was pouring his heart out to Jesus, weeping on His breast. I saw Jesus restoring him, body, soul and spirit. I lost track of time as I stayed in that mode of prayer.
When it came to an end, I knew in my heart that my young friend was whole. Almost exactly one hour later, that young man called me. His voice was alive with excitement as he said, “Margaret, I’ve had an experience with God Almighty.” He was so emotional he could hardly speak. “I have been so loved by God. He loves me! Do you know that?”
I said, “Honey, I do know it! Praise the Lord!” That day, six months ago*, this friend of mine was healed in his mind. That is how I learned about another level of intercession. Intercession, as I see it, is pouring our hearts out in love to God, receiving the love of God, and then letting Him take that love and send it anywhere He wants to.
— Margaret Therkelsen
*As you read these “time stamps,” keep in mind that Margaret passed from this life into the unhindered presence of God in 2014. Her book, The Love Exchange, was published in 1998. Her first personal “love exchange” must have happened in the years before that.