For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. — Hebrews 4:12, 13
We can pray from our intellect (soul), or by listening to the Spirit and then praying what He prompts us to say. Many intercessors never get past their natural understanding — but we can learn, if we want to.
Most of us experience stressful times when we launch into prayer based on our own understanding — especially when we have distressing needs. As we continue to pray and cry out to the Lord earnestly from our hearts, He faithfully adjusts our prayers, causing anxieties to lessen and our faith to arise. These personal SOS signals we send heavenward are a normal part of prayer life. But they are not what I wish to address today.
Let’s talk, though, about learning to intercede from the spirit, rather than the soul, when the concerns are not quite as pressing, whether we are solo-praying or with a group. Our goal, as I have shared in my book, The Intercessor Manual, should be to pray like sharpshooters aiming for the bullseye, rather than randomly spraying buckshot all over the county, hoping to hit something in the process. The key is shifting into prayer led by the Spirit of God.
A first step is identifying what Spirit-led prayer feels and sounds like, compared to how prayers coming merely from the intellect sound. This takes practice, but we can become more adept as we keep at it.
Let’s look at some telltale signs that we are praying from a soulish perspective:
1.) Our prayers exhibit fear. When we carry on in an anxious, “Oh, I hope You can do something about THIS, Lord” vein, we are neither discerning His power, nor His willingness to answer us. We end up majoring on a lot of what-ifs.
2.) Our prayers sound like we’re parroting news commentators and political analysts. These prayers are usually coupled with fear — because spreading fear through sensationalism is what the news media does best.
Fairly frequently, I get e-mails from prayer warriors who have worked themselves into a tizzy about reports coming in from news services and watchdog organizations. They plead with us to pray very, very hard to keep the latest evil plot from happening.
It’s easy to climb on their hand-wringing bandwagon, but if we take time to ask the Lord, He may tell us that we can rest easy on the issue everyone else is hyperventilating about. It is already a non-issue with Him, and we can invest prayer energy elsewhere. Just because a news commentator or watchdog group tells us something is serious does not mean it is. Remember, a lot of these “experts” are not Christians, and of those who are, many of them are operating from a soulish perspective.
What we put into ourselves is what will come out in our prayers, so if we make a conscious choice to severely limit the clamor of these voices, and invest our time in absorbing the Bible instead, we starve soulish praying.
3.) Our prayers are very general. These petitions sound much like one of the lines in Away in a Manger: “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care….” Or, as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol said, “God bless us, every one!” I don’t mind either the song or Tiny Tim, but as a way to pray, this is not effective.
General prayers are easy to speak, because they carry no risk. They also have no teeth. With such all-inclusive, vague praying, we are bound to nick a few targets, even if we miss most entirely. But there is no way to measure whether we have received any answers. You won’t ever see a news headline screaming “PRAYER ANSWERED! GOD BLESSED EVERYONE IN OUR CITY TODAY!“
4.) Our prayers exude unbelief. The prayer group is asked to petition for a desperate need, and just how dire it is gets explained down to the last detail. By the time the explanation is finished, what little faith anyone might have had has flown the coop. From there, the whole tone of prayer becomes, “God, we’re asking because it’s the right thing to do, but we’re pretty sure already that You’re not going to intervene anyway, so Thy will be done.” It’s depressing — and it comes entirely out of a natural-minded mentality.
In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus told the father of a boy with an unclean spirit, “All things are possible to him who believes.” If we don’t have faith that He will answer, like that father, we should admit our unbelief and ask Him to fix us. We need to take steps to align our spirit with the Holy Spirit and then make our request.
5.) Our prayers are against people or people groups. If our prayers carry an attitude of hatred, or are asking for harm against someone, they extend beyond being soulish to being devilish. This should be obvious, but apparently it is not, as I have heard them prayed from time to time in gatherings I have attended. There is often a tone of anger accompanying such prayer. Pastors are criticized brutally. Minorities or people of different political, moral, or religious persuasions are prayed against and referred to as “those people.” Ahem!
If there are evil people holding political power, pray for God to deal with them His way. Ask Him to soften their hearts. Often it is best to pray for the removal or restraint of the specific evil itself, rather than going after the person(s) perpetrating it. Remember, our warfare is not against people, but unseen spiritual powers (Ephesians 6:12). Whenever we forget that, our praying goes awry.
We can also ask the Lord to remove those who need removing and raise up better people in their place. But don’t curse anyone or pray harm upon them. Let God deal with the when and how. We should take a lesson from the story in Luke 9:51-56, where James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You don’t 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.”
These are five identifiers of soulish praying. No doubt there are more. If you can think of any, would you please share them in a comment?
Next time, we will talk about how to identify and shift into prayer coming from a Spirit-led perspective.
The Intercessor Manual, by Lee Ann Rubsam
Your Intercession Questions Answered, by Lee Ann Rubsam