Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, wrote: "Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. Beware of anything that stops the offering up of prayer."
Everyone agrees that we should pray, and many will admit they should pray more. Days seem too short to get everything done, and our prayer life suffers. Before we realize it, our restless sleep introduces us to the symptoms of burnout. It is amazing how busy we are with everything except our all-important communion with our Father.
As a pastor of a small congregation, I was constantly performing a balancing act. Restless sleep, stress, worry and fear catapulted me out of bed earlier and earlier. Before long my praying consisted of fretting about circumstances. Rather than fellowshiping with my Father, I prayed prayers filled with fear. I didn't want to fail.
Feeling drained and defeated, I complained about the intercessors who obviously were not doing their job! I reasoned that my teaching and ministry should be going more smoothly.
INTERCESSION IS A TEAM EFFORT
God answered me in an unspiritual setting. My husband and I sat in the living room, watching a football game. Needing to feel connected, I asked questions that were answered with measured patience.
Silently, I wondered why intelligent beings wanted to play this hazardous game. They deliberately slammed into each other, knocked each other down and fell in massive, tangled piles. But with my husband's help I started understanding the offensive and defensive strategies as they unfolded.
Suddenly I made a spiritual connection: The linemen were "intercessors" and those in the ministry of helps. They were in position, ready to charge the opposing line and open a path for their backfield to break through. Behind them stood the quarterback (the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher), who was responsible for properly reading the defense and calling the correct offensive plays.
Regardless of how well the linemen played, they were limited in their capacity to win because they neither called the plays nor carried the ball. Without the well-prepared, mentally alert, able-bodied quarterback, theirs was virtually an impossible task. And the quarterback could not lead his team to victory without proper preparation and willingness to follow his coach's instructions.
The light went on! I acknowledged my prayer slump and repented for transferring personal blame and condemnation to my teammates. The real fault was mine for having neglected the privilege to spend time conferring directly with my "Divine Coach" and to carefully follow His game plan.
In the body of Christ we are family--team members working together in harmony with the Holy Spirit and one another. Without prayer there is no spiritual success, and we need every member, including intercessors, working together for harmony in the church.
Our foundation is the Word; our standard, the banner of love; our clothing, humility. Through the power of prayer we make it possible for the church to be firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied. The quarterback cannot win the game by himself--he needs the team working in order, shoulder-to-shoulder.
But effective prayer doesn't happen automatically. Prayer is something that we purpose to do. Personal procrastination leads to prayerlessness, a sin of which we must repent. John Wesley said, "It seems God is limited by our prayer life--that He can do nothing for humanity unless someone asks Him." Unity in the church will become a reality when we assume our joyous responsibility of praying according to God's will for all believers and ministers of the gospel.
Responsibilities faced by pastors and ministry leaders can be overwhelming. Personal issues and others' needs can become so mountainous, they leave you feeling powerless. But we know the one who is all-powerful, and it is imperative that we schedule time to fellowship with Him. The Lord is our strength and wisdom, and in communion with the Holy Spirit we become intimately acquainted with Him.
When prayer seems futile and you don't feel like praying, tell Him. He knows how to help you and draw you to His side. Don't waste precious time berating yourself for a lack of prayer. Instead, purpose to respond, even if you have to cancel other less important activities. Stir up the gift within you by praying!
BUILD PRAYER SUPPORT
Jesus is our example, and even He asked for prayer support. Most often He prayed alone, and the supernatural pervaded the natural, the heavens opened, and the will of God was revealed. The natural was changed into the supernatural, and the Father was glorified. In His hour of greatest need, however, Jesus called three of His closest disciples to accompany Him, requesting that they stay awake and pray.
They failed Him--just as we often do (see Matt. 26:37-46). How sad that the Holy Spirit has to pass us by and look for others who will submit to His gentle nudging to pray.
Satan is not our problem, but he does understand the power of prayer. When we give him access, he reinforces unresolved personal issues that are protected by strongholds of doubt, unforgiveness or our lack of knowledge.
Intercessory prayer groups can be a great support to a church's ministry. But intercessors must receive instruction in spiritual growth and emotional wholeness. A simple prayer request can ignite raw emotions in one who has hidden, unresolved issues. The results may be either positive or negative depending on the spiritual astuteness of the prayer group leader.
Teachers who practice prayer can help others in the group develop. Learning the dynamics of "prayers that avail much" will help eschew prayers of manipulation, which cause friction and wound people.
If prayer groups are to be effective, it is necessary that a minister maintain close contact with the prayer group leader by giving (and receiving) wise counsel. A group led by the pastor himself has direct counsel and knowledge of specific areas of concern in the church.
Some churches have a minister of prayer on staff. Others have appointed prayer group leaders. The elder of prayer in one church where I have ministered provides a written report for her pastor each week. The pastor is aware of details that the intercessors may or may not need to know, and a prayer report may confirm or clear the way for another level of church growth.
The mistake made by some ministers is that of depending solely on one or two persons to pray and hear from God for the direction of the ministry. When this happens, the responsibility for guidance has been shifted from the God-appointed leader to a member of the flock. In this case, the person is placed in a position to dominate and usurp authority--falling into the error of dictating another's pathway of ministry.
We often fail because we do not wait on the plan of God or follow divine lines of authority. Inadvertently, we give others the power to oversee the vision of a congregation, and both pastors and laymen are wounded. A pastor is responsible to keep himself spiritually built up, and the intercessors are those who hold up his arms, support him and reinforce his prayers.
THE POWER STRUGGLE
Many of us have escaped rigid religious backgrounds where we have been under the control of humanistic traditions and dogmas. Renewal movements bring life, freedom and deliverance to us from religious bondage. But sometimes we are like children turned loose in a candy store--we become sated with power and zeal without understanding the responsibilities that accompany deliverance.
Some believe that no one but the Holy Spirit should be designated as "head" of any assembly. Others desire godly leaders, but when those leaders began to exercise their God-given license to make decisions, problems arise.
Clashes and conflicts occur in a struggle for control. In this environment, hidden personal agendas are exposed, misunderstandings arise, and people of opposing views fail to communicate properly. They talk at each other rather than with each other. Intercessors justifying their rebellious behavior have left churches over this issue.
Communication is confused because of wrong mind-sets. We begin establishing strongholds to protect our wrong attitudes and motives, thinking, Because I am an intercessor, I have already heard from God, and it doesn't matter what you have to say about this issue. But any truth that God reveals will stand the test of discussion.
The ministry leader is the overseer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Does this leader sometimes make mistakes? Certainly! But he is still the overseer. Intercessory prayer groups should pray for the minister--not criticize or air personal grievousness. God is greater than our mistakes; He looks at our hearts.
In our ministry I am blessed with a prayer coordinator, whose wisdom I value. If we are patient and stay where God has planted us, He will work with everyone involved. God has given us the responsibility of striving "earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace" (Eph. 4:3, Amplified).
LEADERSHIP IN PRAYER
Where a leader is lacking, God will provide strength and balance through the talents and abilities of others. The apostle Paul said, "Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities" (2 Cor. 12:9b, TLB).
It is the leader's responsibility to receive and channel another's gifts for the good of the ministry and to the glory of God. The ones called alongside the pastor-leader will act as Aarons and Hurs (see Ex. 17:8-13), assisting and serving. Everyone is important, and everyone will reap the rewards of a job well done. We need the five-fold ministry gifts, the ministry of helps and intercessors. We need one another!
The intercessory prayer group is often an open door for new Christians. It is wise to require preparation classes before anyone is included in an intercessory prayer group. This can be a safe place, especially in a large congregation, for a young Christian to be trained in the ways of God, if they are willing to follow the guidelines of the group.
Where there is direction and harmony, unity prevails. Understanding the vision and submitting to one another ensures answered prayer.
In our prayer groups we learn to cooperate with one another, and we have opportunities for growth. Honesty in prayer groups requires us to confess our shortcomings and sins to God and to each other. Then, as we pray for one another, we are healed and restored.
THE BENEFITS OF INTERCESSION
1. Prayer brings restoration. Earnest, heartfelt prayer will produce results and bring restoration to the wounded. God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. He wants His wounded ones restored. We cannot fix one another, but prayer prepares the way for God to undo our erroneous efforts to keep everything together.
2. Prayer prepares us for revelation and destroys strongholds. Prayer and sound teaching prepare hearts to receive revelations that displace wrong mind-sets, attitudes and motives. Prayers of manipulation are replaced with Spirit-led prayer. Accusations no longer fly back and forth like some sort of spiritual badminton game. Emotional wounds are healed, and old emotional and psychological patterns of protection are brought down. Strongholds that emotionally isolate us are destroyed, and we learn to trust one another.
An overloaded pastor welcomes a willing heart that commits to pray and lead others in prayer. We who intercede should honor the one who brings us the Word of God, and imitate their example, following them as they follow God.
Many believe that prayer alone can resolve any issue, forgetting that faith without actions is dead. One pastor called our office asking how to pray to avoid meeting with an opposing church member. Prayer prepares the way for an encounter, but it is no substitute for resolving conflict when a face-to-face talk is needed. We must walk together in agreement, and this requires honest, open discussion, a listening ear and an intense desire to understand another's viewpoint.
"Moreover, when you are working with someone and you do not see 'eye to eye' mentally, you can still be of one spirit if you walk after the Spirit. Understand this, and you will delight in discovering all the different points of view God gives His children. God is the only one with an infinite mind. If you remember that you have only a finite mind, you will not want everyone to see eye to eye with you in everything" (The Spiritual Warfare by Jessie Penn-Lewis).
3. Prayer develops unity. If we are to develop healthy relationships within our church families we have to hold the same vision, be of one mind and in one accord. In God's presence we learn to esteem others; our respect for ourselves will be reflected in our respect for others. Then we will have wonderful fellowship and joy with each other, and the blood of Jesus willcleanse us from every sin (see 1 John 1).
As a family we acknowledge our flaws, making ourselves accountable: "and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored--to a spiritual tone of mind and heart" (James 5:16, Amplified). Control issues must be resolved or the results will be detrimental to the pastor or ministry leader--and the intercessor.
It is not the responsibility of the team members to make decisions apart from the leadership. When the "church intercessor" accepts the responsibility of hearing from God for a church or any other ministrywhether that responsibility is self-imposed or delegated by the ministry leaderlines of authority become convoluted. People in the congregation don't know who to look to as their spiritual authority.
THE CALL TO PRAYER
The time has come for everyone to answer the call to prayer. God called us to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (see Eph. 4:3). Prayer will usher the church into the unity of the faith, under the direction of God-appointed leadership. Scriptural prayers from pure hearts, in an atmosphere of harmony and agreement, will avail much.
Although there are certain "called-out" ones who serve as intercessors in the church, everyone is called to a lifestyle of prayer. In Matthew 21:13 Jesus noted: "'The Scripture says, My house shall be called a house of prayer'" (Amplified). Individually, each person is a temple of the Holy Spirit, or a house of prayer. Together, we make up one great household of prayer (see Eph. 2:20-22).
When each of us assumes our respective positions on the team, esteeming one another, miracles take place. The plan of God will unfold. We become one in Christ so that the world will know that God the Father has sent His Son for their salvation. In this the Father is glorified!
Germaine Copeland speaks and teaches widely on prayer. She authored the immensely popular Prayers That Avail Much (Harrison House).