I have found that the majority of prayer services are practiced only from an intercessory angle—in other words, many Christians only pray prayers that treat God as though He’s some kind of magical cosmic genie. They ask and they ask, repeating the same prayer over and over again with different words for ten minutes straight, as though this will make them more heard. Sometimes they don’t even use different words! We’ve all heard this before.
“God would you just come and heal Jim? You know God, just heal him? He would just love to be healed and you heal people so would you come heal him right now? Show him your healing power right now God. Just come and heal him. You know, with all the healing power you have. Heal him God, we ask. We ask that you would heal. In God’s mighty healing name, Lord God the healer. Your healing presence right now. Healy-heal-heal-healer-heal.”
We act as though the length of our words equals the depth of a prayer, but that’s not the case. Depth in prayer is found in the offering of heart, soul, mind and strength. And while all of that can be incorporated into intercessory prayer, when repetitious petition becomes our only form of prayer, we effectively prevent greater fruit from developing in and out of our prayer life.
The beautiful lesson that changed my prayer life is this: Prayer is not a one way conversation. God talks back. It’s a gifting that we Christians are all given. If we learn what God sounds like, we can hear Him.
Prayer is not simply crying your eyes out in repetitive intercession for others— it can be that and by all means should incorporate that—but prayer is much deeper than that. It’s offering spirit over to Spirit. It’s unprogrammed and conversational. It’s requests and miracles. It’s questions and answers. It’s tears, but also laughter. It produces growth and kills things. It destroys worldly conformity to create Christ-like conformity. It’s an ongoing conversation that can be picked up where it was left off. It’s peace and love. It’s the knowledge of being seen. It’s the reception of a small soft whisper.
Yes, the Bible shows us that we must make intercessory requests, but I think any prayer request that doesn’t create space to hear back from God can effectively cut prayer off at the knees.
Be free of trying to pray with fancy repetitive words. Be free of thinking God can’t hear you if you don’t shed tears. Be free of legalism. He is your Father and you are His child and fathers listen to their children.
Be free enough to hear His answer. Because after you’ve prayed your intercessory prayer, God might just tell you how you are to intercede on His behalf. You prayed that person would get the finances they need to pay off their bills and now maybe God is asking you to open your wallet. Of course, if He does ask you to do such a thing and you’re not listening, then how much of an impact have your prayers really made?
I used to think that Paul’s admonishment to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) was absolutely ridiculous. I already found it difficult to pray one prayer for ten minutes—how on earth was I supposed to continue doing it as long as I was awake? The very idea sounded like torture. I’d have to pay attention to normal life with one part of my brain while constantly praying with the other part. Was that even possible?
But after learning to make prayer a conversation, I realized one day that my life was looking a lot more like what Paul had said to aim for. Prayer had become an enjoyable two way street—like having a friend that I could talk to at anytime. If someone drove me nuts about something, it became habit to talk with God about it. If someone did something kind to me, it became habit to thank God for what they had done. As I drove around town it became common place to sort out my theological thoughts on issues and preach them out as I headed to my next destination.
So long as I can think, I can pray. So long as I can listen, I can respond. So long as I’m aware that I can engage the Holy Spirit, I can find prayer to be interactive. So long as I can talk with God, I can pray without ceasing— knowing that I’m not on a time schedule or have to obey some kind of law of magical repetition to get prayers to work.
My entire life can become a life that prays without ceasing and all I have to do is take any given moment and turn my attention on God. Prayer is not always vibrant or happy for sure, but the more you incorporate the prophetic into your prayer life, the more you will certainly enjoy it and the more effective your prayers will be.
And again, I don’t mean to belittle the importance of intercessory prayer here. It is absolutely essential to the Christian’s life as illustrated all throughout the Bible. Moses engaging in this kind of prayer saved Israel several times over. Likewise, Ezekiel demonstrated the importance of this kind of prayer when he prophesied that God
sought for a man among them [Israel] who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. (Ezek 22:30-31).
In other words, intercessory prayer could have saved Israel, but no one was open to engaging in it. Time and time again throughout the Bible, intercessory prayer reverses God’s judgment and saves lives (Ex 32:14; Num 11:1-2; 14:12-20; 16:20-35, 41-48; Deut 9:13-14, 18-20, 25; Judg 10:13-16; 2 Sam 24:17-25; 1 Ki 21:21-29; 2 Ki 13:3-5; 20:1-6; 2 Chron 12:5-8), so by all means we must do it. But if this is all your prayer life looks like, then there is much more to learn.