Prayer is one of those topics where there is no limit to the number of ways people can be made to feel guilty about not measuring up to “what they ought to be doing.” As I enter the final quarter of the race of my mortality (starting to push fifty years a follower of Jesus) my life-long puzzlement over the matter of prayer just gets deeper. These days my prayers are less frequent, shorter in duration (A couple of orders of magnitude less from the days of my youth!) and I don’t say much (I use to think it was my job to inform God about all the things He should be doing). Yet my prayer life is richer and deeper than ever. I think I may be on to something.
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:
What are some New Covenant “updates” that need to be considered when we approach the topic of prayer and intercession? I suggest at least four. If the significance of what Christ has wrought at the cross and in His resurrection and ascension do not form the foundation of all that we do in prayer, we will end up in with some very unsound beliefs about, and bizarre practices of — prayer and intercession.
Prayer and intercession (along with praise and worship) have become a cottage industry within large segments of Evangelical and Charismatic brands of Christianity. Prayer and intercession can so easily be leveraged to create guilt in believers. On the other hand prayer and intercession can also be a platform to create an elitist class of alleged intercessory specialists. People take their sense of identity and personhood from a reputation as an alleged prophetic prayer warrior, just like many take their sense of identity from being a pastor (or any other traditional ministry expression for that matter). In this three-installment blog series, I take a look at intercession from a new creation, New Covenant perspective. What does the resurrection and ascension of Jesus do to our understanding and expression of intercessory prayer? It changes everything.
Having a passion for prayer, in and of itself, means nothing. There is no spiritual virtue inherently associated with a passion for prayer. Jesus said: “Hypocrites love to pray [at length] and in public.” Most of Jesus’ public prayers (that we know of) can be said in five minutes or less. If He really is our example, if we really believe WWJD, we need to give serious reconsideration to some of our prayer beliefs and practices, particularly in “prophetic” communities.
Though emotionally intense and perhaps sincere, a good bit of our prayer belief and practice is rooted in unbelief and a lack of the assurance of sonship.
Any passion for prayer must be grounded in the new creation and a thorough understanding of the New Covenant truths regarding identity, sonship, and the finished work of Christ—risen from the dead. If it is not, it will degenerate into very unhealthy and spiritually unstable practices of bondage and deception.
The Scriptures are the objective element of our faith. They are the more sure word of prophecy that speak to our redeemed rational faculties. Prayer, worship, and communion with God via the Holy Spirit are the subjective elements of Christianity. The voice of the Good Shepherd speaks to our spirit-man, sometimes referred to as our hearts. Vital Christianity requires the presence of both aspects in proper relationship to each other.
For centuries, Fundamental and Evangelical Christianity have emphasized the objective to the near extinction of the subjective. The Charismatic Renewal was (in part) divine remediation for the historical imbalance. However, unbridled, undiscerned, and unrestrained subjectivism is a plague in the church. Objective truth validates subjective and intuitive leadings. Subjective experiences put flesh on objective truth. We must have both.
This is hardly a newsflash. However, this fact is regularly violated and abused by many innocent and well-meaning believers, and others not so innocent nor well-meaning.
We do not need to “pray about” that which God has made clear in Scripture!
It is inappropriate to pray when God is asking for responsive obedience. I regularly interact with Christians who use a pseudo-spiritual cloak of prayer to cover impenitent self-will, rebellion, and disobedience. It is a particular plague among prophetic believers. By prophetic I mean Christians who believe, as I do, that the voice of God can still be heard and discerned in the redeemed human spirit. The closed Canon does not render God a mute.
For example, consider an individual hurt in a local church by dictatorial or carnal leadership. He or she usually reacts, withdraws, pours out his or her complaint to others, seeks God, and receives a revelation something like this: “God told me I do not have to follow any man, only Jesus—I must be led by the Holy Spirit and not man.” This has a germ of truth, sounds spiritual and noble but is in open contradiction to explicit Scripture. Dear reader, it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be about this (or something similar in which the Scriptures are explicit)—you may be sincerely wrong.
Believers often engage in a manipulative spirit of control when they say things like: “I have prayed about it, and the Lord told me I must . . .” This is not the language of mutual respect and dialog. It is the language of spiritual ultimatum—spiritual blackmail—a legitimate truth (hearing God for one’s self, and obeying) energized in the old creation nature and pushed too far. It is impossible to talk to people who cavalierly use this type of language, without stepping all over their prayer life and self-perceived spirituality. There’s just enough truth contained in it, to ruin relationships when expressed carnally.
Praying for hours to bring revival, save souls, or whatever is useless if God is requiring active repentance and reconciliation. This is particularly true concerning interpersonal relationships. It is easier to talk and pray about unity and “revival” than repent and make right the breaches in relationship that prevent unity and “revival” in the first place! Most American Christians simply do not have the stomach for biblical interpersonal reality. They will leave a church rather than resolve relational difficulties. Someone once said: “We resolve our relational difficulties with good-byes.” (Of course, we pray for unity and revival at the next church we bless with our presence!).
The In-Working of the Cross
An individual undergoing the child-training discipline of God, or a crucifixion/resurrection experience, is not helped by the prayers of others for blessing and escape. Believers with an unsanctified mercy or compassion gift frequently err in this regard. Sentimental prayer based on human analysis of circumstances and a soulish desire to spare people from difficulty, often runs counter to God’s redemptive purposes. We must always pray in wisdom with a God-perspective. If we do not know how to pray, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to pray for us and through us! Get to know Him and let Him pray through you.
Endless prayer over the same issue or pending action, can be a cloak for unbelief, passivity, timidity, and faithlessness. Inappropriate prayer is often a manifestation of the carnal mind in rebellion against God, masquerading in religious garb. When God is calling for faith action, it is inappropriate to keep praying. Act. Don’t pray. When God is calling for responsive action, perpetual prayer can be a deluding spiritual narcotic used to cover disobedience. Since prayer is normally held in high esteem, we can feel good about ourselves in our disobedience. Moses at the Red Sea is a classic Scriptural example. When faced with an impossibility, he cried out for God to “do something.” God reproved him for his prayer and exhorted him to use what was in his hand.
Moses’ rod can represent many different things. Simply, it represents what has already been provided and what has proven effective. For the believer, this is the Word of God, the indwelling Spirit, and our confidence as His sons and daughters.
Vacillation and indecisiveness are not fruits of the Spirit. It’s better to be bold and decisive and have to compensate for mistakes, than to be immobile and right too late! No decision is a decision. God’s admonition to Joshua wasn’t: “Be cautious and be careful,” but “be bold and be strong.” Leaders and individuals who insist on “more prayer” may be yielding to a human (or demonic) spirit that requires absolute assurance in every detail before stepping out in faith. This is a religious manifestation of a perfectionistic, cowardly, and emasculated spirit, not godly virtue. The way of faith always encompasses a degree of uncertainty.
Pragmatism often masquerades in the church as wisdom. Many believers’ minds are deeply impregnated with worldly and culturally conditioned concepts of wisdom, prudence, and caution which impersonate godly virtues. The world’s wisdom is devilish, and inordinate caution is always the mantra of the fearful.
Godly wisdom and faith are two valid biblical virtues in divine tension. They are like a kite and string: wisdom is the string that enables the kite of faith to arise and stay in a proper sphere. The kite of faith keeps the string of wisdom from being earth-bound. Healthy Christianity requires both. However, the overall tenor of the New Testament is that faith is the superior and eternal virtue. Faith is the short-supply commodity the Lord seeks in His people and in the earth. If we must err, err to the side of bold faith. It is what the Lord is looking for.
The disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-13). He promised that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to that very end. We have the same confidence and more because the Teacher is within us. He is the resurrection life remedy of God for ill-advised prayer. He is present in us to teach us to pray. Let’s pray as sons and daughters, as insiders to the throne of heaven, not as outsiders, begging and hoping that an indifferent heavenly potentate will throw us some crumbs if we just beg him long enough. Our Father IS NOT LIKE the reluctant judge in Luke 18. He doesn’t have to be begged. It is an insult to what Christ has done for us to relate to our Father in that way.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.
 Matt. 6:5 – paraphrase; length of prayer is implied from what we know of Pharasaic practices at the time.
 He would sometimes pray longer privately such as in the selection of the twelve and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
 2 Peter 1:16, 19.
 John 10:27.
 E.g., 1Ti. 1:16, 1Co. 4:15-16, 1Co. 11:1, Ep. 4:11-13. The remedy for leadership abuse is not abandonment of leadership. It is healing and genuine relationship with trustworthy fathers and mothers in Christ, who have proven themselves through their laid down lives (not their demand for submission!) that they are worthy to submit to. This is all regardless of any ecclesiastical hierarchal structure, position, title, or lack thereof. We all must submit to Christ in one another in the fear of the Lord. Christianity cannot be lived biblically or effectively in relational isolation and independence.
 Romans 8:26-28