Many people are glass-half-full people. Generally optimistic and cheerful, they are often satisfied with "good enough." On the other hand, glass-half-empty people are considered pessimistic and critical. True prophets are often accused of this - of only seeing the glass-half-empty, nit-picky and too particular. That's because they are concerned with obeying all of the details of God's instructions. Look at the following biblical examples:
- King Saul had a "good enough" mindset. In fact, he was happy when Samuel came to him after winning a great battle. With great boast he told the prophet, "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (1 Samuel 15:13). But Samuel was not so happy. In fact, he was so grieved that he reprimanded Saul and pronounced a severe judgment on him - one that Saul fought against for the rest of his life. In true prophet fashion, Samuel made his now-famous statement, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22). As if that weren't harsh enough, Samuel went on to point out the root of Saul's "good enough" attitude which is rebellion. He explained, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry (vs. 23). Whoa! That would be hard to hear, wouldn't it?
- After a succession of wicked kings, Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah (2 Chronicles 29-32). "He did what was right in the sight of the Lord (29:2). Because he followed his heart with action, he was able to turn the nation around, drawing the people into the prescribed worship of the Lord. God blessed to the extent that "he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter" (32:23). Unfortunately, he became sick and was near death. Fortunately, "he prayed to the Lord; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign" (vs. 24). Unfortunately (again), "Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem" (vs. 25). Fortunately, the King repented but the damage had been done and the glass was still half empty because of his period of pride. The Lord's prophetic pronouncement was that the wrath of God wouldn't come upon the people as long as Hezekiah lived but would take place thereafter (vs. 26). Whew! Hezekiah escaped. But to a culture that was very mindful of the generations, this was just as harsh a consequence as that given to King Saul.
Sometimes things are "good enough" and even prophets have to learn to live with "it" - whatever "it" is. But when God tells us to do something, that becomes a matter of simple, detailed obedience. These two stories are good examples of how and why God requires the true prophets to be so "nit-picky." They are not an excuse for those who claim a prophetic gifting to go around criticizing people. We must note that the prophet Samuel was so grieved about King Saul's actions that he spent an entire night crying out in intercession for the King (1 Samuel 15:11). This kind of response can be seen in every case where a prophet of God is required to reprimand someone. It comes from a heart of love and the fear of the lord. Even then, each prophet had to wait for the Lord to tell him IF he was to speak to the matter, HOW he was to speak if the answer was, "Yes," and WHEN he was to do so.
Such is the case with this lesson. As prayers and intercession has increased across the nation, many pray-ers are being called to lead prayer groups either by their church, ministry leaders or directly by the Lord. Willing to serve, these leaders are often ignorant as to how to help their group grow deeper and more effective in the work of prayer. Therefore, God has pressed me to share with you what I have learned - to date. I'm expecting various responses all the way from, "Preach on, sister!" to "You're just being critical" or even asking me to take them off my mailing list. That's all OK. I just gotta write what God has told me to share at this time.
#1. The first thing that must happen for a prayer group to grow in effectiveness is a willingness to discipline themselves so they can move from prayer into intercession. "What's the difference?" you may ask. Prayer is talking to God, praying scriptures you are familiar with and lifting up needs based on what we know. Intercession happens when we lay all that aside, worship Him and wait on the Lord to show us what He wants us to pray. The prayers come directly from the Spirit of God and agree with what Jesus is praying (Romans 8:27, 34). He may give us scriptures, prayers, prophecies, visions or even prophetic acts to perform. But it all comes from Him, not our flesh or knowledge. An example is when Gary and I were in a part of such a prayer group. After waiting on the Lord, we were led to pray for people in the area around the Black Sea. Sound strange? It did to us too. Nevertheless, the group obeyed by following God's guidance as to how to pray. No one grasped at straws to figure out what to pray, we just waited for the Lord to give us direction. By the time we met together the next week, we learned that U.S. troops were being moved onto land bordering the Black Sea in Turkey. We were the forward guard for them.
When teaching on how to hear the voice of God in a third world country, I asked for a time of silence so all could hear whatever the Lord might want to speak to them individually or to the group. Instead of silence, the group of 5-600 women began to pray out loud as their custom was. When repeated pleas for silence went unheeded, I resorted to a term that my mother taught me was never "proper." At the top of my lungs, I yelled, "SHUT UP!" I was horrified of what I'd done. But the room got quiet. The Holy Spirit fell and prophetic words began to arise out of the group of women as they heard God speak to them directly. They learned that day, that it's easier to hear God speak when we aren't speaking ourselves.
Another time, a mature group we were in worshipped the Lord, then waited for direction. We waited, in silence, for an hour and a half! At the end of that time, the Lord prophetically told us that because we had refused to be uncomfortable in the silence but took our comfort in His Presence with obedience, we'd thwarted a major attack the enemy had planned against our city. We were all amazed. Surely the ways of the Lord are not our ways.
#2. The second principle to follow is absolutely necessary. For a group to advance, each member of the group, especially the leader, must spend time with the Lord in repentance BEFORE the meeting. This is part of what the Old Testament Priests and Levites did as they consecrated themselves to the service of the Lord in the Temple. The reason I say that doing so is necessary is that when anyone comes into the Presence of the Lord or the Spirit falls on the group during worship, we are immediately aware of His holiness and our uncleanness. Our natural inclination is to start repenting of everything that comes to mind. This is good and is of the Lord. BUT . . . . if people who desire to enter into the service of the King in a group setting, allow Him to show them what they need to confess and repent of before the meeting, this will not happen to them. When the Spirit invades the group, each member will be able to "press in" beyond themselves and into more of Him.
The first time I heard the term, "press in," was by a well known leader. I didn't understand what he meant. He'd started the meeting with worship. As the height of the worship grew, I didn't understand why he didn't start to lead us in prayer. Instead, he just kept saying, "Press in." Only later did I realize that prayer and intercession is, actually about us and life here on earth which takes the focus off of the Lord and onto things concerning the earthly realm. He was wanting us to press in to the Lord and go higher. It is, after all, from the higher realm, that, as we are "seated with Him in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 2:6) that we can hear His Voice more clearly.
This point is critical because failure to observe this discipline will short-circuit the efforts of the entire group. Leaders who do not prepare before the prayer meeting are often prone to begin to confess sin (often using general terms such as "we") and prevent the group from pressing in. I was in such a prayer group one time where the leader constantly used the group prayer time to confess her personal sins. Often she generalized under the false assumption that everyone else had the same besetting sins as she had, thus putting them on the others. If a leader is not able to discipline him/herself in prayer, they will not be able to stop a group member from doing the same thing if necessary.
I was privileged to be a part of a mature group of intercessors for 10 years. The Lord took us to the point that He literally told us that if we had not cleansed ourselves through repentance before we walked through the doors of the prayer room, our sins would be revealed to the entire group. One day, I met a visitor on her way to the prayer room. I told her what the Lord had said and showed her where she could go to prepare herself. She didn't believe it. Unfortunately, during the course of the meeting God showed the rebellion that was in her heart to the entire group. She was so embarrassed yet rebellious that she stormed out.
#3. When we pray in the privacy of our own homes, it is not unusual for our minds, and therefore our prayers, to move quickly from one topic to another. That's just us being us and is OK - unless the Lord tells us differently of course. But if a prayer group does this, it will cause the prayer time to fall short of what God wants to accomplish through them. Leaders must be very sensitive to this, which I call "tossed salad prayers." (You know, a piece of lettuce here, then a tomato, an onion, some carrot, and some more lettuce, all mixed together.) Unfortunately, many leaders engage in this type of prayer themselves so they certainly don't stop a group member from doing so. But, the leader's job is to help the group focus. Whenever the Body of Christ is together, we need to take advantage of all the giftings God has placed in our members (1 Corinthians 14:26). When a need is presented, time should be given for others to speak out and pray the leading of the Lord on the same matter. Experienced prayer leaders have been known to interrupt someone who begins to "toss a salad together" by saying, "Wait a minute. Does anyone else have a prayer that needs to be prayed on this subject?" Surprisingly, this never interrupts the flow of the Spirit. Instead, it facilitates what He wants to accomplish through the group. When no one has anything else to pray, they move on to another topic which is often what the "tossed salad" pray-er was going to pray next.
#4. At the conclusion of a prayer time, someone invariably goes up to the leader saying, "When we were praying about _____, I had a vision (or an insight or a scripture). I have concluded that either ignorance, pride, fear or an unholy view of themselves is the reason such people don't share what God gives them at the appropriate time. I say ignorance because such a person does not truly recognize the truth of 1 Corinthians 12:7. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. I say pride because they want the kind of recognition that would come if the leader were to specifically ask them for input. Fear can be of being wrong, of not speaking correctly or because of a past bad experience. This kind of fear requires inner healing to overcome. Finally, when we don't accept the view that God has toward His sons and daughters, it is disbelief that God means what He says about us and is therefore unholy. These things must be corrected for the proper working of any group.
When a prayer leader has such a person share in this way after the meeting is concluded, or when he/she begins to notice that certain members never pray, it is their job as a leader, to seek those people out and find out why. To follow scripture, every leadership position is given by God for the purpose of teaching, mentoring, mothering and/or fathering others (Ephesians 4:12). "We should no longer be children. . ." (vs. 14). Both leader and follower must grow up (vs. 15). That's because the Lord's goal is that the whole Body of Christ be "joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (vs. 16).
When these four principles for group prayer are followed by both leaders and members, amazing times of intercession invariably happen and the Kingdom of God is advanced. In giving these principles am I picking on leaders? YES!! Even our secular world knows that leaders of anything are responsible for their charges. Every leadership position incorporates the need to teach the followers whatever is necessary for the job at hand. Whether a leader fulfills his/her duty through the gift of teacher, exhortation, mercy, giver, etc., we receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1). We are accountable to God as to how we fulfill our assignment. That's why we need the whole Body of Christ with each member thereof functioning properly. After listing a whole litany of how we each sin and fall short of the perfection James gives as to why we need to be careful as leaders, he gave the antidote: Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10). Be sure to pay attention to the order in which each action is listed. It's important.
We/you/I can do this because all things of God begin with Him, with prayer, and back to Him again. Let's get it right and follow the guidelines given in Scripture and through the experience of others.