Prayer and intercession ministry can have some common pitfalls to avoid. I understand that not everyone involved in prayer and intercession has issues in the areas I am about to mention. However, many do. After having had exposure for over forty years to prayer and intercession movements across the world, I believe (and have seen) that those given to intercession can be uniquely vulnerable to the following harmful beliefs and practices:
1. A lack of a New Covenant understanding.
We have covered this at length in parts one and two of this series. It’s a mistake to approach prayer and intercession, in theory or practice, without a thorough New Covenant understanding.
2. Looking for the enemy more than looking for the Lord.
There can be an unhealthy fixation in some prayer and intercession circles upon spiritual warfare and “the devil.” If we allow for the Old Testament watchman motif as a typological counterpart to intercession (I have said previously, it is debatable, but since many do, I will use the term and the metaphor here), we know that the watchmen were not just on the lookout for enemy activity. The more important activity was to announce to the elders of the city, the approach of the king. Our focus does not need to be on the devil this, and the devil that. Our task is to share in the mind of Christ and counsel of God, and pray it into existence.
3. Metron (sphere of authority/jurisdiction) violation
Each watchman on the city wall had a specific “watch” of the night and a specific station on the wall. Sometimes people given to prayer and intercession can take on responsibilities that are not theirs. It can be quite spiritually exhilarating to believe that the destiny of a city or nation is bound up in one’s prayers. The seven sons of Sceva learned the hard way about spiritual metrons. They didn’t have one. Many intercessors don’t either. Energy, intensity, soul drive, passion, yelling, volume, etc. are often used to give the impression of jurisdictional authority when none actually exists. Our might is not in our strength and determination. Our strength and authority is based on quietness, confidence, and rest, in the finished work of Christ, not frenetic “prophetic acts and decrees.”
Watchmen had no authority to open the city gates. They gave information to the elders of the city. Intercessors communicate information. Watchmen do not bring correction to the city. Elders do that. The privilege of spiritual perception can sometimes be used as a manipulative tool. I have seen multiple scenarios where so-called intercessors developed a disproportionate influence in a congregation through the power of their personality or the perception that they had spiritual “inside information.” If unrestrained, this can border on, or develop into witchcraft. Their ministry is no more significant than any other gift or ministry.
5. Spiritual superiority and elitism
Intercessors can frequently develop a condescending attitude toward others, including leaders who they deem to be not spiritually sharp. Thinking oneself to be the most spiritually astute person in a group because of alleged 3rd, 7th, or whatever heaven visitations and insights is a common danger. It is illogical and incongruous to claim to have seen or been to heaven and have nothing of the aroma of Christ on one’s person, or the humility of Christ in one’s character as a result of the experience. Accurate perception into spiritual realities does not define spiritual maturity. Living in right relationship with God and humanity does. (See 13 below)
It is very easy to believe oneself to be spiritually significant in a way that is objectively unverifiable. Believing I am changing the course of history with my intercessory decrees while I am divorcing my husband, ignoring my neighbor, cheating on my taxes, in conflict with my boss, and alienated from my children is spiritual delusion. Ethics matter, not ecstasy.
6. Legalism and Performance
I know of a situation where a leader of one of the largest intercessory ministries in the world wrote in a newsletter that the reason a tragedy did not happen in their city, but in a city down the road, was because “her” intercessors were at their post and prayed away the “curse.” The fundamentally legal and arrogant mindset behind this thinking should be self evident, but it’s apparently not as tens of thousands follow this ministry.
Would it not more accurately reflect the heart of God that if someone really had intercessory authority in the spirit realm, that he or she would STOP the atrocity from happening, not just kick it down the road to the next city that isn’t quite as “worthy as my own, because of our superior prayer prowess!?” Honestly, I find this not only an ignorant belief system, but spiritually and morally offensive. It’s the norm in most prophetic intercessory circles.
Intercessors or other prophetic people often believe that “reality” is in the “spirit realm” which we govern by our prayers, decrees, and prophetic declarations, and that the temporal realm is not real. They view that “real spirituality” is in the invisible heavenly realms and that other ministries are “lower order.” At its root, this a Gnostic belief system. Jesus, in the incarnation, forever sanctified and brought meaning to the material order. The material world is where spiritual reality is worked out. We may pray into the unseen realms, but spiritual and moral significance is in the here and now, not in the mystical ether.
8. Prayer and intercession influenced by natural perceptions.
Intercessors can automatically assume that their pet doctrines, worldviews, and politics are identical to the Almighty’s. This can be intoxicatingly delusional.
9. Prayer and intercession influenced by personal factors.
Emotional, spiritual, doctrinal, and psychological history as well as bitterness, anger, and unhealed wounds, can influence prayer. The burden of the Lord is not necessarily based on what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears.
10. Unsanctified Mercy.
Unsanctified mercy takes up the wrong burden—the people’s instead of the Lord’s. We can have compassion on things the Lord is bringing discipline and chastisement to. We are usually merciful on the things that bother us the least and we are hard on others. Unsanctified mercy that is born out of human sympathy, is frequently in opposition to the Cross revealing and Cross in-working ministry of the Spirit of the Lord in a person’s life. Just because someone is a “sympathetic person” does not make him or her God’s intercessor.
11. Hyper-spirituality, spookiness.
There can be a tendency to see spiritual and mystical overtones to everything. Some things are just not that deep. Sometimes a flat tire is just a flat tire, not a cosmic event of the significance of anything.
12. Poor relationships within the Body.
Many so-called intercessors that I have met are some of the most relational dysfunctional people I know. They use the prayer closet as spiritual cover for retreat and escape from humanity, and the hard work required to maintain relationship with others. Because prayer and intercession is believed (falsely) to be a superior spiritual virtue, they use it as hyper-spiritual cover for their brokenness as humans.
It’s common that intercessors often have a lack of patience and tolerance for others who are deemed not to share their perceptions. They can embrace a sheriff and enforcer mentality or a messiah complex. Often those with unresolved leadership conflicts within a church environment will gravitate to parachurch intercessory groups where their ministry is believed to be recognized and released unlike their experience within a local church.
13. Lack of identity and insecurity.
Sometimes insecure individuals feel inferior because they might not be one of the Ephesians 4 ministries. They may carve out for themselves an identity as an intercessor. Our identity should never be based on our ministry. That’s true for all of us.
The Better Covenant and Intercession
What then is New Covenant intercession? It is standing in the good will of God on humanity’s behalf. Intercession is based on rest, not anxiety. Intercession is prayer that is prayed from heaven to earth, not earth to heaven. Intercession is the response of the human heart to the mind and heart of God when it is revealed. Intercession is the privilege of every son and daughter of God to enter into the co-regency of the universe.
God’s disposition toward humanity is favor. His provision is Christ. His requirement is faith. Our necessary response to the Christ-Act is to believe, receive, and activate our faith with obedient works. Works are not dirty. They’re the fruit of saving faith. For those who can believe it, (let him who has ears, hear) every day since the Day of Pentecost has been a day of revival. The Holy Spirit is out, alive, and active in the earth. He’s not skittish. The dove landed on the Messiah, fire landed on the church (We shouldn’t swap metaphors)! He’s not hiding from us, waiting for us to sing a magic chorus or magic prayer in order to release Him to action.
In our prayer for our neighbors, communities, and nations, we stand with, and in Christ, on behalf of them all. We pray that the grace and good will of God will be effective for them all. We pray that the goodness of God will lead them to repentance. After all, that’s how you and I entered the kingdom. He found us. We didn’t find Him. The glorious good news of the New Covenant is that revival isn’t dependent on our work of turning, but on His work of atoning.
We are as revived as we want to be.
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This blog series is an excerpt from New Creation Prayer available in electronic media format only here.