Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
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A church prayer leader recently asked me a great question: “Is there a way our prayer ministry can incorporate listening prayer into our times of intercession for the church body?”
In her local church, the prayer team typically receives dozens of prayer requests each week for the needs of the congregation. Unemployment, illness, wayward children, and relationship issues usually top the list. The people submitting the prayer requests generally know what they would like God to do: They would like Him to fix, heal, and make the pain go away. If we’re honest, that’s what we all would like God to do when we’re anxious and hurting—no matter how mature we are. However, those of us who have walked with the Lord for a while also realize that God’s perspective and plans are larger than ours. In spite of how good and loving He is, making the pain go away is not always His first priority. He knows what we need far better than we do, after all.
So this prayer leader wanted to know how to handle the prayer team’s prayer times. Should they get together and pray through the prayer requests one by one, asking God to do exactly what the person making the request wants Him to do? Or is there a way to listen for God’s heart and see what He might want to add or how He might want to redirect?
I suggested that she group the prayer requests into categories. These would vary according to the requests submitted, obviously, but general categories might include: marriages, health, finances, wayward children, salvation of friends and family, and so on. Then when the prayer team gathers to pray, they could select a category, quickly read through all the requests in that category, and then begin praying by asking something like this: “Father, you hear these people’s hurts and hopes. We know You are good and You want to answer their requests with good gifts. We also know that Your ways are higher and wiser than ours. So what are You thinking You’d like to do for these children of Yours? Is there something You’d like to do in addition to what they’ve asked for? Are there things You want them to learn about You and Your purposes for their lives as they go through this trial?” (Or other similar questions the Holy Spirit may lead you to ask.)
Then, and this is important, then wait. Expect God to answer. Allow for at least five minutes of silence. Encourage your prayer team to write down impressions, Scriptures, pictures, or anything else that comes to mind as they are listening to God. After five minutes or so, invite your prayer team very briefly to share what they heard. Encourage them not to editorialize or elaborate beyond what they specifically heard. You don’t want to take up a lot of time with this part. The main thing is to see if there is a trend in what is being heard—if so that’s often a confirmation of God’s leading. So limit this time to two or three minutes at the most. Then spend the next ten minutes or so praying according to what you sensed God was saying.
You can repeat this process with the other requests. Or, if time is running short, you can divide your team into smaller groups, divvy up the remaining requests, and finish praying through in a more “conventional” way. Then next time you get together to pray, you could choose a different category to pray about so that over time, the various needs get prayed for in this more in-depth, “listening” type of prayer.
So there is one idea for how to combine listening prayer into a time of corporate intercession. But I’m sure there are others. I would love to hear from those of you in prayer ministries who also have thought about this interesting question—so if you have other ideas, please share them with us! Let’s learn from one another!
Sally, thank you so much for this interesting perspective! I would love to hear more about your experience--both what made you hesitant (or even hostile!) and what you needed in order to see that listening prayer is valuable. What obstacles did you face? How did God help you overcome them? I'd really like to learn from you.
We have a monthly prayer huddle at our church that operates something like you are suggesting. It's a continual growth experience for us - jumping in and praying our own ideas is so easy!
Generally, each month we invite a church staff member or key volunteer leader to come to the Huddle. We invite them to share anything that God lays on their hearts - personal, ministry, etc. We prepare ourselves a bit beforehand so that we're listening not just to what the person says, but also to the Holy Spirit's whispers while the person speaks. When our guest is done speaking, we take a few minutes of silence before praying. And even when we pray, we value times of silence as being times when the Holy Spirit can speak to us (we explain this to our guests so they don't get too uncomfortable with the silent times).
We've never really taken the time for sharing about how the Holy Spirit speaks to us like you mentioned; that's an interesting twist. We do a bit of a "debrief" after our guest leaves, though, to set the stage for ongoing prayer during the month for our guest, and often during that time we will discuss how we felt the Holy Spirit moving as we prayed.
By the way, I totally agree with Sally's comment that God does not need us to make sure that nothing is neglected. We often remind ourselves that God is not waiting for our prayers to free Him from unseen shackles that bind His power unless we happen to pray specifically for "just the right thing". He is totally sovereign, and totally in love with our guests - so He knows not only how to lead us to pray, but also how to intervene in our guests' lives.
And, while we try to seek the Holy Spirit's leading for how to pray specifically, we don't worry about asking for the "wrong thing". God can reveal His answers to "wrong" prayer just as easily as to "right" prayer, as long as the pray-er's heart is ready to receive His answer (even if it might not be the one we're looking for). Paul's prayer for God to remove his thorn in the flesh was "wrong" in the sense that it wasn't God's will to do that. But because Paul's heart desired God's will more than anything else, he was able to see God's answer when it came and to grow greatly from it.
I love these ideas, Andrew. How blessed your monthly guests are to have that kind of focused prayer-attention. Thanks for sharing this great idea with all of us.
We have a group that incorporates this kind of prayer into a prayer session for our pastor. Sometimes our pastor just has us stop and spend a few minutes listening to what we may be hearing over a certain issue. THen we pray aloud whatever scriptures,topics or insights the Lord has put on our hearts. We often see patterns in what we all are hearing.
I recently tried to incorporate this type of listening a couple times into our ministry team's weekly prayer meeting. One person's feedback (given later) was that he felt like he was able to "brainstorm" but did not feel able to confidently know what was from the Lord in five minutes. Any thoughts?
Katherine, this is an important question. When I first began trying listening to God, I was concerned that I'd hear wrong. But I soon realized that the alternative was to "lean on [my] own understanding" (Prov. 3:5) which never works out well for me! So I decided that if Jesus said His sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:27), then I was going to count on Him to help me get it right. Here are some things He showed me. If it's God's voice,
1. it will sound like God. How does God's voice "sound"? Well, He has a distinct tone of voice. We learn from Scripture that He is kind and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. He does not condemn or accuse (thought the enemy certainly does!). He is gracious and loving. He is holy and righteous. He is gentle. He is a good Father and faithful Friend. When we hear God speak, He speaks true to His character. How do we get to know HIs character? By reading His Word.
2. it will align with His written Word and will not contradict it. (It will frequently be more specific than Scripture, however. God wants to talk to us about whether to replace or fix our car, what medical treatment to pursue, and what church to join--but we'll have to get that guidance by listening to His Spirit because are not specific verses that apply to those situations.) This is another reason why it is so important to ground listening prayer in the written Word of God.
3. it will lead to good fruit. If you were to follow through on what you think God is saying to you, where would it lead in two, five, or ten years? (Mt. 7:16-20).
4. it will be wise, according to God's wisdom. What's God's wisdom look like? Check out James 3:17 to find out some of its qualities.
5. it will stand up over time. Ask God to help you see if what you are hearing will stand up in a storm or if, like the guy who did not listen to Jesus' words and built his house on the sand, it will come crashing down in the wind (Mt. 7:24-27).
6. it will be wiser and higher than your own thoughts. Often the things we hear from God are things we never would have thought of on our own. Sometimes He surprises us with His creativity. Often He challenges us with His "high road" challenges (when on our own, we would prefer to take the path of least resistance).
7. On the other hand, if we’ve known the Lord for a long time, then His Spirit has lived inside us for a long time, too. For as many years as you’ve trusted in Jesus, His Spirit has been living inside you, nudging, warning, comforting, counseling, guiding, teaching, and so forth. Chances are, you’ve already been hearing God for a long time. You may have confused His thoughts with yours because you’ve been hearing Him speak to your heart and mind for so long that His voice has become very familiar.
8. When listening to God in a group, what you hear will often agree with what others are hearing, providing confirmation. If it does not, that may mean that you all need to listen some more to get on the same page with each other and God. It could be that what you are hearing is a piece of the bigger picture and asking God more questions until He shows you how what you are hearing fits with what the rest of the group is hearing.
These eight tips have helped me tremendously as I've sought to become more consistent in hearing and trusting God's voice. Nevertheless, they are not foolproof. God has shown me that hearing from Him is not a science. I will never be able to prove with 100 percent accuracy that it's God I'm hearing and not my own wild imagination. Like every other aspect of my life with Him, hearing from God is an act of faith. However, I've come to realize that He wants me to hear from Him even more than I do. So it boils down to my willingness to believe that He, the Good Shepherd, will guard me from falling into a ditch. I can assure you that in the years that I've been practicing listening prayer, He's never let me down.