There are different reasons to pray, and also different forms of prayer. One does not exclude the other, but it is very often true that the choice of tools helps in practical situations. We do not use a ladle to drive nails into the wall, nor do we use a hammer to stir a batter. Some may find this far-fetched, but the truth is that many believers struggle in their prayer life, also due to poorly chosen tools.
There is a world of a difference between your personal prayer life, worship, and intercession.
What I label personal prayer life, has a few major focuses.
Firstly, you pray to nurture and grow your personal relationship with the Lord. This is the intimate place where you and the Lord talk together and enjoy fellowship. Sometimes silence is involved.
Secondly, this is when you pray for personal needs, or the needs of your family, your friends, your church, or missions you are engaged in, or care about.
Typically for this kind of prayer, it flows with association. You are reminded of different things as you pray, and so you mention them to the Lord.
Thirdly, this is a place where you reflect on your spiritual life and of the things of the Kingdom. Issues from your bible-reading or a sermon may be involved, and you pray to connect those truths to your personal practical life.
More often than not, the different topics run through your prayers quite rapidly. Sometimes you pray as you are reminded of these things, and it may happen on the bus or in the shower. Sometimes you have set aside time for this, and regularly sit down to pray. And sometimes you pray with your spouse, your children, your friends, or members of your church.
There is generally a close connection between this kind of prayer and your personal life, which is why I name it personal prayer life. In many ways it is your life line with the Lord, where dependence and friendship are forged.
What I label worship may also have different focuses.
Basically worship has one direction: from the believer towards God.
This is where you lift up his name, and give him the glory he is due. You can do this through agreeing out loud with truths about God in his word. Those truths can also be set to music, and so you can sing them out, alone or together with fellow believers. This also means that you may listen to worship music, and agree with the lyrics in your heart, and in this way lift your heart to the Lord inspired by some worship leader or band.
When worship is on its purest, the “I” or “we” are absent. It is all about the Lord, with no focus on myself, my position or my needs. Not even the word “my” as in “my Lord” is present. This is probably why you find some lyrics to be a better vehicle for worship than others.
Worship also takes place when you proclaim the Lord’s name and glory out loud, opposed to powers and principalities whose intention it is to rob God of his glory, or man’s tendency to ridicule God or to replace him by human philosophy and unbelief.
Similarly worship also takes place when you choose God’s ways over your own will in practical life, in the work place, in your marriage, or your dealings with friends and neighbors.
Praise music in not worship – at its best it is only the sound of worship.
Worship is a matter of the heart.
Intercession is work.
It is a task for the mature, the strong, and for the enduring. It is a task for the long haul.
Living in a time in history where physical exercise has become a sign of a successful life, it amazes me that so many believers think that strength can be achieved effortlessly. To get a body of defined muscle and endurance, you spend hours upon hours exercising. It will cost time, energy, will-power, being goal-oriented, and you will have to endure pain.
To me it seems that so many hold the opinion that intercession is supposed to be fun. For most of us it is not. On the other hand, it is very rewarding and highly meaningful. Intercession has many traits that can be compared with building a huge brick building.
It is a skill. The people in charge must know what they are doing, while others can act on instruction.
It can be poorly built, out of plum and an eyesore, or it can be beautiful and a joy to watch. You can read the skills of the mason from the result.
It is definitely better to be a crew than to do it alone.
It takes time, a lot of time.
You lay one brick. Then you lay another one. Then yet one. It is tiresome, to the border of boring, unless you understand what you are building, and have the result in mind.
Leave it to weather and coincidence, and it will crumble and probably not present the planned result. Strong bodies and discipline provide a better result. And yet, bodies are strengthened through the work, and so is discipline, given endurance.
The point I am trying to make, is that intercession takes training, understanding, and will-power. Those who come to the task bringing those qualities, will develop the ability to stand the distance. The others will dwindle, show a lot of start-ups, and few follow-throughs.
In the following I will suggest a few techniques to help.
First you need to understand that intercession moves the hand of God. Some have the idea that if they intercede for their visions and needs, things will happen. Many of them have been disappointed.
Intercession cannot be based on our needs and ideas – such a starting point will put us at the mercy of coincidence. If we happen to light upon God’s will, thing will evolve. If not, most probably nothing will happen. We will then be witnesses of our own effort, but not of God’s intervention. This is void.
Your first question therefor needs to be what God wants. You need to see things from his point of view. When you do, you have the most amazing starting point for your endeavor. You have the promises both of being heard, but also of receiving answers to your prayers. This does not indicate that things will be easy. The most important things very often demand the most from us, and very often it takes both time and is hard work. Seeing God’s will unfold before our eyes, however, is among the most rewarding experiences in life.
Practically, when you come together for intercession, I would suggest that you rise to your feet and walk about. I have a rule saying that everyone needs to be on their feet when we start, but can sit down whenever they choose to do so. By rising to our feet we tell our brain that we are ready for effort, and it helps us getting started. There is nothing spiritual in being on your feet, beside the fact that you start working. I personally find it better to be on my feet throughout the whole process – it helps me going. Most of this is habit. Once you challenge your previous habit, a new one can come into place. So choose one that helps.
Before intercession starts, agree on a few things.
Speak out loud what you are actually praying for, so that everyone is on the same page, regardless of whether the group is already informed or not. Doing this places the work at hand in focus.
The important issues need to be prayed through over time. So you meet again and again to pray for the same thing. For how long? Until you see the prayer has been answered!
Do not talk away the time, or get involved in fellowship or worship. If you have come together for intercession, then intercede. Throw yourself into work!
Take turns praying, and never let silence last. There is nothing spiritual in keeping sound flowing, but it functions as a support system. You help each other staying focused and keeping momentum by taking turns. Do not wait for someone to take initiative – be eager to link your prayer to the previous one.
Each individual should not pray for a long time, covering different issues. Keep your prayers in the shorter category, and rather continue a little bit later. So what is a long and a short prayer? There is no rule, but a prayer that lasts for more than 3-5 minutes feels more like a sermon. The others in the group have a tendency to retract to silent prayer when this happens. Then you get parallel prayer. This means that a number of people pray simultaneously, several under their breath, instead of forming a unity where one person at the time words a common prayer, and the rest supports and encourages the intercessor all the way through. Pray together, not separately in the same room!
If you speak in tongues, use is constantly under your breath and out loud. If you do not, I submit to you to ask for this gift in your devotional time. You could also have someone pray for you in a different setting. Praying in tongues is a huge asset in intercessory work.
Develop an understanding that praying for an issue has many facets. It goes without saying that if you gather to intercede for something on God’s heart, it is not explored in one sentence or one prayer. It is multifaceted, and there are much to be prayed about. So take hold of the issue, and keep it in focus for as long as it takes. The more crucial the issue is, the longer it will take to pray things through. Do not take it lightly, but twist and turn it, explore it, develop it, attack it from all conceivable angles. This does not come to you easily – you need to practice to get into it.
Be patient. It takes time to develop the skills needed to remain interceding over time, but it is a skill well worth learning. Try to keep the image of building muscle in your mind. To do this you need repetition and you need resistance. The more you feel that this is demanding, the more you actually build “your intercessory muscle”.
Intercessors are collaborators with God, and their most vital work is invisible. They struggle to prepare ground for the work of the Spirit. They dig foundations and make them firm. They are rarely rewarded, apart from seeing how the will of God slowly builds in the physical world. Retrospect they know that they have been part of his work, but they also understand that he is the initiator and finisher. They develop an understanding of God’s timetable, and how different it is from man’s. And so they train endurance.
Strive to make your intercessory language active. By this I mean using the active tenses of the verb, but also maintaining an understanding of the believer as an active partner with God in spiritual life.
“Make us pray!” sounds spiritual, but is actually not. The passive construction of the sentence reveals that you do not understand that you are responsible. The Lord has told you to pray, and so you do it.
“Give us strength and we will do your will!” sounds active, but the sentence presents us as passive until we have received strength. It is also conditional. What if God chooses not to give you the strength you ask for, does that mean that you are exempt from doing his will? It does not correspond well with Scripture.
“Teach us to enter into your presence!” Again a passive sentence. According to the bible Jesus opened the way to God’s presence and expects us to enter. Your prayer should rather be: “I come into your presence.”
“Make me your servant!” The sentence is passive, and also you already are God’s servant. Let your words reflect this fact: “I am your servant!”
“Let us be part of your strategy!”. Again it sounds spiritual, but God has made you part of his strategy. The Great Commandment stands. “I will do your will!” is more along biblical lines.
I suggest that you pay attention to how prayers are worded, because they reveal the thought pattern behind it. The passive prayer language is a result of an effort to sound humble in the Christian community. The problem occurs when we turn the Lord’s calling to an active and holy life into passivity. Man’s thought patterns form his attitudes, which again form his actions. Chase and arrest the wrongful passive prayer language, and turn it into the active tenses and understandings. It will change your attitudes, and eventually your actions.
God needs intercessors in our time, men and women who choose his will before what is comfortable, convenient, and fun. This is a time for the mature to step forward and take responsibility.