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April 1, 2011

Spirit Led Prayer

Effectual Spirit-guided intercession for others is like most enterprises of the spiritual and natural world; the more something is exercised the more it tends to become a normative practice. Contrariwise, when we fail to exercise faith and Biblical understanding in praying, we often pray in opposition to the Spirit.

Prayer becomes effort without effect, ministry without a message, and desire without discernment. We grow spiritually dull, while whetting the blade of our soul on the rock of our intent. Eternal things grow flaccid and dull within our being and we’re at a loss to understand why.
To pray in the Spirit of God is a humbling thing to partake of for those who are in Christ. Praying “in” the Spirit is also praying “with” the Spirit. By praying in/with the Spirit I am referring to that place in prayer where we ask in faith, apart from ourselves (that is as much as humanly possible we stand outside of ourselves and our selfish interests), that God’s gracious will would be accomplished in not only our lives, but also the lives of others for whom we intercede. It is a place where artificial barriers and personal desires are swept into the background and we simply avail ourselves of Divine sufficiency according to Romans 8:26-27.

For years I tried very hard in intercession. Often I wearied myself with what I considered valid worry and concern for others in need, particularly those whom I was privileged to pastor. I desired to bear their burdens, to alleviate their loads, to mitigate their pain and suffering. Perhaps, I reasoned,  if I prayed, longer, harder and with additional fervency heaven would break through and deliverance would come swiftly and surely. Yet, in looking back through the years, I can well see that the very strength of my efforts caused me to miss much of what God was after in the lives of those I loved as well as in my own life.

 A prime example of how I missed this truth in my personal ministry can be summed up as follows: The area of northern Arkansas where I pastor is an economically depressed area where quality jobs and employment is at a premium. This is not a complaint just an acknowledgement of reality. So desiring to be a good pastor I have prayed often for my people along these lines, “Dear Lord, could you provide our men better jobs? Dear Lord, would you help this family be delivered from their heavy burdens, be able to buy that house they desire, send the kids to school, ect.” And often I’ve prayed this way as well. “Dear Lord, we could do so much more for missions if our people just had more….”  In praying earnestly for the very real and practical needs of my people (of which there is nothing wrong to pray for) I was, however, neglecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my praying. Yes, the practical needs were and are very real and demanding. But how much greater is the need of the heart among the saints?
How much more in line with the great heart of the heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ would my praying have been had I prayed in and with the Holy Spirit for a spirit of wisdom, understanding, charity and faith to be developed in my people? In the great intercessory prayer of our Lord Jesus in John 17 we find that He doesn’t pray for His disciples escape from their present troubles and tribulations in the world, but that the Father would keep them from evil, sanctify them and that they would be made one with the Father and the Son. We see again and again in the prayer greetings of the apostle Paul (Ephesians 1:15-18, Philippians 1:8-11, Colossians 1:9-11 for example) how he prayed in and with the Holy Spirit for these early churches. It wasn’t for economic improvement, impressive buildings or dynamic programs that he prayed! In II Thessalonians 1:3-4 he gives effusive thanks to God because of the Thessalonians growing faith and abounding love towards each other and he follows this in 1:11-12 with a continual prayer that God would be glorified in them and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ would be manifest in their lives.
How different is this from our intercession that focuses primarily on “self interest” and “man-centric” outcomes? Praying in and with the Holy Spirit is, indeed, a holy calling. It is praying with the interest and heart of God as our great concern. “Not my will, but thine be done O Lord” is effectual praying. Do we pray with a heart and mind that desires blessing for our heavenly Father and our Savior and King or simply for what we view as a satisfactory outcome in our estimation? When we pray in the Spirit and with the Spirit we are seeking the Divine interest above our own and Paul’s statement of truth in II Corinthians 4:18 becomes our own – our focus is eternal over the temporal. Do not fear loss beloved brethren in Spirit led praying. Consider Matthew 6:33 and Philippians 4:19 among the many promises that ours in Christ!

You see, I knew in my heart that when my people were blessed with good jobs and were giving good that it “lifted” a burden from me that I had been chafing under (although loathe to admit it). So, in praying for these benefits to accrue to them I was in at least some way expecting to be on the receiving end of their being blessed. After all, Lord, I have a wife and eight children to provide for and I have obeyed you in coming to the middle of nowhere and starting this church. This was my regular argument in my mind for my “righteous” prayers.

That said, however, I know me and this I know about me. Had these trying times not been my portion I truly doubt that the depth of sincere faith and love that God has blessed our family with would be present today. What I needed was help in the inner man more than the outer man. Yes, my flock continues to have many pressing practical needs, but I have learned to rejoice more in times of need, recognizing the Good Shepherd alone truly knows where the green pastures and still waters are. How amazing and refreshing to hear the saints testify in public as well as private of how God has grown their faith and understanding in seasons of distress. So learning to pray in and with the Spirit rather than against the Spirit has been revelatory to me through the years.
A man will never begin or, if having begun, will cease to pray this way except he walks in the Spirit and is filled with the Spirit. Because the carnal man (our flesh) is at enmity with God it is impossible to pray this way except we practice the truth of Galatians 2:20. Intercession, as Oswald Chambers has well stated, is having the

“mind of Christ formed in us” concerning the individual for whom we are praying.


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