5 things intercession is not
Early in 2012 we began intentionally making prayer part of our culture in our church community. We began daily prayers as well as encouraging our team to pray for everything - before they went out on mission anywhere and before making any significant decisions. Within the first month I had a dream where I heard an audible voice say to me: ‘a time of persecution is coming, but I am going to use it to unite your community in prayer.’
That week two of our community were held up at gunpoint and several other members of the community had things stolen. As I shared the encouragement I had received in the dream, we did unite together and pray daily for God’s protection and breakthrough.
Although not as intense as that week, over the next few years we saw many spiritual attacks on our community from all sides: thefts, miscarriages, sickness, relationship difficulties, as well as administrative frustrations (we live in a developing country!) and electronics breaking down at times when we were already exhausted and stressed. All these things became reasons to pray and listen to what God was saying and to intercede. When you are thrown into the midst of trying circumstances and wanting to see them shifted in prayer, intercession becomes key, but we soon learned over time that there were many practices that just were not necessary or helpful when it came to intercession and that is what I want to share with you today...
Firstly, how is intercession defined?
Intercession is the act of intervening on the behalf of another. It is recognizing that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against the forces, authorities and rulers of darkness and against evil spiritual powers. (Ephesians 6:12). Intercession is about us understanding our authority as children of God to ask God to intervene and overcome the areas of darkness in our lives and in the lives of others. Although some people may have a particular gift for intercession, we are all called to intercede, just as we are all called to share the Good News even if we are not all evangelists.
Intercession is spiritual warfare, but it is not about us going into battle presumptuously fighting everything the enemy is doing. That will just get us exhausted and weak spiritually, and leave us unprotected and vulnerable. The focus there is wrong. No soldier goes into enemy territory without a strategy and back-up. We are part of a body.
Here are 5 things that I have learned that intercession is NOT:
1. Intercession is not about our agenda
Our desires and hopes are sometimes God’s agenda - He loves us and wants the best for us. But that is also what we need to bear in mind when it comes to intercession - sometimes the timing and perspective God has is not the same as our personal agenda.
This is not a black and white issue, as we know that in the Bible there are times when God’s mind was changed (Moses, Hezekiah), but we also know there are times when it was not (David interceding for his baby son’s life).
The key thing here is asking God and learning to hear His answer, even if it is not what we hope for.
When I lost the first baby in utero at 16 weeks pregnant, the first thing I asked God was if we should pray for the baby to be brought back to life. I wanted to know if the situation was one where He wanted to have His glory through restoring the baby’s life. As I prayed I had a strong peace and saw a picture of a book closing in my mind, and I felt that God didn’t want us to pray for this baby’s life to be restored. It went against everything I wanted to pray and intercede for, but I felt God saying that He has other plans.
Another time we were praying for someone as a community who was very sick and it looked like he would die. Some people wanted to prepare for that in prayer, but I really felt a gift of faith on that particular occasion to declare victory and life over that person and that he would be healed. That day something shifted and there was breakthrough and he was better and home from hospital within a week, totally well to this day.
2. Intercession is not led by us
Intercession is best led by the Holy Spirit. So often we don’t know how to pray but the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us. Of course God wants us to bring our anxieties and issues to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6), but God wants to show us how to pray about those situations. There are times too when God initiates the prayer - I have had occasions when God has woken me up and caused me to pray for someone. In August this year my son Daniel woke up randomly sick in the night. He hadn’t been sick when he went to bed and he wasn’t when he got up the next morning. When he woke me up in the night I felt that I should pray for him and for protection over him - I had a burden in my heart to pray protection over him. The next day he was hit by a car. He managed to jump back just in time and although he needed five stitches in his wrist from a cut from what we assume was a wing mirror, he was otherwise fine. We really felt that God had preserved his life.
3. Intercession is not about us defeating the enemy
Sometimes when we think of intercessors we think of people shouting at demons and demonic forces. Unless that is a specific direction from the Holy Spirit (Jesus did tell spirits to leave people on occasions although I doubt he shouted), I think this is at least an unhelpful if not dangerous strategy to use as the main focus of intercession. Prayer and intercession is about us focusing on God and coming into agreement with Him, it isn’t about us focusing on the demonic and trying to overcome it by specific words. The enemy has already been defeated on the cross - it was Jesus’ work, not ours to defeat the enemy. We have the victory, which at times we need to claim and remind ourselves about, but shouting at demons (they are not deaf!) or focusing unduely on them just creates generally a culture of fear. If instead we focus on God and on His light, recognizing the enemy’s strongholds and we ask God to bring redemption and healing and restoration into those areas, we are naturally bringing light into the darkness - darkness cannot exist where light is present.
4. Intercession is not about us striving to make God do something (a.k.a. Witchcraft)
When we first began praying as a community and things came up to pray about, people would begin getting passionate in prayer in a way that sounds more like begging God. There was a general feeling that we had to keep praying passionately until there was a change. Certain phrases were prayed over and over again as if saying them over and over would suddenly make God change His mind. We had to move from a place of striving to a place of interceding in rest and trust in Him.
God is gracious and saw our striving hearts and told us it wasn’t the words or the amount of time that made our prayers powerful - rather it was just the turning of our hearts towards Him. We are told to ask God for our needs, and we are told to pray persistently, but God doesn’t want us to strive in prayer. Often in times where we felt we needed to push through in prayer we spent time worshipping rather than praying - allowing the worship to focus on God and His power and recognising that worship is a powerful weapon against the enemy.
Witchcraft is the use of formulas rather than relationship. When prayer and intercession become about doing certain things or saying certain things to get what we want, that is just a form of witchcraft - like a magic spell. God isn’t interested in our formulas but desires His children to boldly approach Him in faith and believe that we have received what we ask from Him and rest in Him.
This verse isn’t about a formula for results, but a recognition that when our hearts connect with God in prayer we will feel the confirmation and peace of the Holy Spirit in our hearts leading the way.
5. Intercession is not about ‘Works’
Just as striving and trying to force God into doing what we want are not intercession, intercession is also not about having to pray with a burden in our hearts. Intercession, although it can be spiritually draining at times (see Hannah in the temple, or Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane), is not meant to be something we have to do - a work we have to add to our list. We all find ourselves in distressing situations where intercession is appropriate and God desires to meet us in the midst of those moments, but He doesn’t desire for us to make intercession into distressing and emotional burdens.
Intercession is an invitation to relationship with God, where we understand that God wants us to use the authority and privileges we have as children of God to see the works of the enemy destroyed on this earth.
God desires to partner with us to see lives and creation redeemed, and prayer is the first step in seeing that happen - unless the spiritual realm is first aligned, then the physical realm cannot follow - prayer must proceed action for the action to be effective, just as sending troops in at a ground level is ineffective unless the battle for the air has first been won.
What have you learned about intercession? Have you noticed any unhealthy practices in the way you pray? How can you intercede for others this week in Spirit and in truth?
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