We can go two ways in prayer — the way of the soul or the way of being led by the Spirit. Whether we discern the world around us through our soul, with all its flawed natural thinking, or through communion between our spirit and the Holy Spirit makes a huge difference not only in how we act, but in how we pray. Continually asking the Lord to help us discern spiritually, according to His point of view, will increasingly lead us into more perfect praying, which receives answers.
The way of the Spirit is to be life-giving in everything we do, including our prayers. However, it is easy to slip into prayers which are not life-giving, if we do not correctly discern whether we are operating from the soul or the spirit, which is well illustrated in Luke 9:51-56. In this passage, Jesus was journeying toward Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to arrange lodgings in Samaria, but He was not welcomed.
And when James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?”
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man has not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Unfortunately, there are times when Jesus’ prayer warriors do not know what spirit they are of, either, and pray things which are not according to His heart. When we pray from a wrong spirit, guess which kingdom we are cooperating with? (Hint: It is not the kingdom of light!) How can we do better?
First of all, we can ask ourselves some heart-searching questions:
1.) Do I have love and compassion for those involved, or do I possess a heart that is vengeful, angry, and judgmental? During and right after the last presidential election, there were a lot of contentious, judgmental Christians speaking their mind. That carried over into how many prayed. Politics can be quite a hot button, especially if moral issues are at stake, and therefore well illustrates how easy it is to slip into praying out of an angry, judgmental heart. Church disunity is another example of where we can fall into this pit.
It is possible to have a genuine revelation of truth, and yet apply it to prayer out of a wrong spirit, thereby aligning ourselves with the kingdom of darkness, all the while believing we are in union with Christ’s kingdom. I realize this is not the intent. It was not James’ and John’s intent in Luke 9, either. They were upset on Jesus’ behalf, mistook the offense of their hearts for righteous indignation, and were ready to use their spiritual authority to cut down and kill. We have to watch ourselves, so that we don’t operate in like manner.
2.) Do I want what is best for everyone concerned, or am I only interested in what brings advantage and comfort to me? What was going on with James and John? Loyalty to Jesus was present, but there was something of a dark nature motivating their desire to destroy. I would guess it was prideful ambition: How dare they refuse us hospitality? Don’t they know who we are? Throw in with that a desire for immediate gratification of physical comfort needs, and you’ve got a good soulish reason to react as they did.
Philippians 2:3 gives us guidance on the motives which should govern our prayers: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves.” Several translations word “strife and vainglory” as “selfish ambition and conceit.” Strife has also been translated as “a party spirit” or “a faction.” We need to guard our hearts from such attitudes, so that they do not enter into our prayers.
3.) Am I following Jesus’ instructions to bless those who curse me and pray for those who despitefully use me (Matthew 5:44), or am I just concerned about my own vindication?
Using 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, the charitable love passage, as the standard for how we pray will greatly help us. Of course, we live by the whole of Genesis through Revelation, but if we will align ourselves with this particular passage, we cannot go very far wrong in our prayers.
One of the principles of prayer is that you can’t help but love those for whom you pray. Pray with the understanding that Jesus loves and died for the people who are giving you a bad time. You might have to grit your teeth at first, while you consciously pray blessing upon them, but as you obey the Lord by doing so, He will fill you with His perspective and with creative prayers for them which are straight from His heart. You will gain insight into why they behave the way they do, and your compassion for them will be ignited. As time goes on, you will find that your forgiveness toward them is not just a decision, but a heartfelt emotion, too. You may even see them soften and change — but at the very least, you will soften and change.
This goes for people you personally deal with in life, but it also works in praying for morally corrupt political leaders.
We’ll continue this list next time.