As I was preparing a series of lessons on the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross, I ran across something I had overlooked in the ministry of my own church. In His first statement, Jesus’ prayer for those who crucified Him rekindled in me the importance of intercessory prayer, but the conditions under which He prayed this prayer brought to my attention an aspect of intercession that I had never seen before.
Just as Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the cross and He was physically confined, many people find themselves confined--bedridden while believing for their recovery. Many have shared with me how they have been accustomed to witnessing, laying hands on sick people, counseling those who are weak or fallen, or taking food and clothing to the poor. Now they feel they can do nothing.
Through studying the prayer of Jesus on the cross, I have come to realize there is no time when the believer is useless and can do nothing. Whether we are healthy or sick, moving or bedfast, we are powerful because we can still pray. Jesus’ prayer from the cross was answered after He died! Our power is not in ourselves–-whether we can walk, lay hands on people, or speak a word in due season–-but in our reliance on the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not in bed because we are in bed. He is not sick or well because we are sick or well. The Holy Spirit does not die when we die. The Holy Spirit is bound only by our level of faith. The answer to Jesus’ intercessory prayer on the cross came after He had died. The Roman centurion received Him as Lord and Savior not through Jesus’ preaching but because of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit that came to him as a result of Jesus’ prayer.
It is a fact of life that as believers grow older they slow down. This is not unbelief, but something we must deal with according to God’s Word. Does the Holy Spirit slow down because we do? Of course not! The older Christians become, the stronger they should be in prayer for others. We have a great example of this in Anna the prophetess. She dedicated her later years to pray for others and give unending service to the church. She displayes for us the unlimited power of prayer that overcomesthe limited power of the body.
And there was one Anna, a prophetess...she was of great age...And she was a widow of about four score and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
Regardless of our circumstances, whether we are bedridden or able to run a marathon, whether we are young or old in age, we can always pray. And the Bible tells us even “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) This means our level of faith should increase every year, and as we grow older, our prayers should become more and more powerful.
Revelations Often Go to Extremes
One of the main tactics of Satan against the Church is to take a truth and run it to an extreme. He wants us to reach a point of frustration where we will disregard a ministry or gift or doctrine because of those who abuse it. His goal is to pressure us to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Through the years, we have seen every major doctrinal truth that has come forth, from salvation by faith to God’s principles of prosperity, jeopardized by those who took it to an extreme measure, abused it, or perverted it.
When the truth of intercessory prayer came to light, intercessors and prayer warriors were no exception. The lie Satan used most often to undermine this powerful ministry was that intercessors were superior to other believers and even leadership in the churhc. The attitude was they had a special private line to the throne room of God. Therefore, humility became a missing ingredient in these believers’ lives, which was apparent whenever they were confronted about their attitude. They usually became defensive and claimed they were being persecuted for the cause of Christ.
Whether you are a pastor or church member of many years, you have seen the abuses of intercessory prayer. Many prayer leaders have tried to dominate churches and influence the leadership through spiritual intimidation. Prayer warriors have often been led to think they are more spiritual than others in the congregation, and to see themselves as the true power of the church. They take credit for every spiritual breakthrough and they readily declare they saw in advance every spiritual catastrophe.
The root of the problem, however, is rebellion against those in authority. Satan uses this ploy again and again to divide and destroy churches. The people who enter into this deception have little desire for the furtherance of the gospel or the overall well-being of their church body. Their desire is to achieve spiritual superiority over others and not to see people saved, healed, and delivered. When their motives are questioned, they quickly leave the church for another where the leadership will let them “run their own show.”
On the other hand, there are genuine prayer warriors in our congregations who only need a little encouragement and a list of needs for which to pray. They are not to control the church, but to support it in quiet and unseen prayer. They will not take open credit for church victories, but secretly rejoice and give the Lord the glory. Nor do they gloat when a crisis arises, declaring they knew all along it would occur. Instead, they are the first to privately hit their knees and intercede until the answer comes and all is restored.
True intercessors follow Jesus’ example on the cross. He took His eyes off of man’s ways and focused squarely on the plans and purposes of God. Even though He was bound and all had turned their backs on Him, His thoughts were for others, and He interceded for them. Never was He concerned with His reputation as a prayer warrior, but His desire was to see the lives of lost and dying men transformed by the power of God through His intercession.
Some Principles I Have Learned
Hindsight is not only 20/20; it is also a great teacher. In my years in ministry I have learned from the Word of God and observed basic principles that hold true for intercessory prayer. Here are a few of the more important points:
1. Numbers do not represent power. Although there are some examples in the Bible where groups of people prayed for a need, such as the church praying for Peter’s release from prison in Acts 12:1-19, the majority of intercessors stood alone. Abraham interceded for Lot, Moses for Israel, Daniel for Israel’s future, and Jesus for the centurion. These are only a few examples of the power of one person praying for others. Numbers generate excitement, but not necessarily faith for answered prayers. At church prayer meetings I would rather have a few people who are walking in faith rather than a multitude in unbelief.
2. Prayer is not more powerful at the church. Although Anna lived at the temple, God did not. God is anywhere we are. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Abraham prayed in the plains, Moses prayed in the wilderness, Daniel prayed in his room, and Jesus prayed on the cross. God answered them all. God looks for faith, not our location.
3. Public prayer is not more powerful than private prayer. Jesus told us in Matthew 6:5-6 not to be as the publicans who prayed in the synagogues and on the street corners. They enjoyed being in positions where they could be seen by others. Jesus went on to tell us to enter our private chamber in order to pray to God in secret. Furthermore, private prayer is mentioned many more times in the Word of God than public prayer, so most of our prayer should be private, not public. In fact, public prayer becomes much more powerful and effective when our private prayer life is in order. The best intercessors at prayer meetings are those who pray faithfully at home.
4. Loud prayer is not more effective than quiet prayer. Although I enjoy hearing people pray aloud at church, this is no indicator of greater spirituality or more powerful prayer. In group prayer, praying aloud helps inspire others to pray and helps keep the fervor alive. But this, again, is no guarantee of answered prayer. The woman with the issue of blood spoke within herself when she went to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9:21). Yet, she received her answer as surely as many who cried aloud to the Lord. The Bible tells us God hears the cry of the heart as well as the lips and volume is not related to the level of anointing.
5. Public prayer does not eliminate private prayer. If the only time you opened your Bible was at church you would certainly be in trouble. If the only time you worshipped the Lord was during praise and worship service, your life would be a failure. The same is true with prayer. The weekly prayer meeting at the church does not excuse you from praying at home in privacy. It is during times of private prayer at home that the Holy Spirit builds a foundation of strong faith and intimacy with God from which you can join with others in prayer corporately. In order for your prayers with others to be effective and powerful, you must first have established your individual prayer life privately.
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Copyright 2009 by Bob Yandian Ministries.
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