Yesterday morning after watching the news I was reflecting on just how many massive topics there are for prayer across so many issues and nations. The challenge is to stir our spirits up on behalf of the people and matters the Lord lays on our heart, without feeling overwhelmed and switching off altogether from praying about them!
Most of us are capable of bearing more burdens in prayer than we currently do, but we may not always know how to. Praying in tongues is something that can help enormously. If you have this gift, let’s be sure to make good use of it!
Another practice I have shared many times before, is how helpful it can be to start by focusing on one or two people or situations as representative of whole communities, professions and nations, because it is generally easier to visualise the personal and get to grips with how lives are being affected. For example, use the pause button on your TV or phone to freeze the frame on some of the people and images coming out of Beirut as as an aid to prayer.
This is often a ready-made way to access wider issues. It is like walking through ankle-deep water and then gradually moving out into deeper water – and so very much better than doing nothing.
Keeping our spirits free to enable the burden of the Lord to flow through us freely is so important – but so too is our overall direction of travel with regard to prayer. It is so easy to default to praying only about matters close to home and heart. There are special blessings, though, when we harness the friends and spiritual resources the Lord has given us and venture wider It is amazing how much happens simply because we determine to make the most of opportunities and say to each other, ‘Let’s pray together!’
Even genuine burdens that the Lord has laid on our hearts can slip from the spirit into our soul. If we find our concerns endlessly circling round in our soul, chafing and grating like a brake that is catching, we can end up meeting more with our problems than with the Lord. We need help to adjust the burden! But how can we tell when our burdens are starting to slip from the truly spiritual to the soulish? May the Lord alert us to the warning signs!
At the same time we must take care not to take on too much responsibility. Some of us would do well to heed the advice of John and Paula Sandford, and ‘resign the General Managership of the Universe!’
If our ability to function in the Spirit is impaired, and we find that we are becoming consumed by some cause, or that our emotions are increasingly influencing our thinking processes, it may well be a sign that we would benefit from asking the Lord to reposition the burden. He is so willing to do this, but we may need to enlist the help and ministry of faith-filled partners, friends and elders from time to time – rather as we take our cars for regujlar servicing. These God-given partners in faith are able to speak with authority into our lives, and help to disentangle burdens that have become too tightly wrapped around our souls, choking the flow of the Spirit with our own concerns and over concerns.
With experience and faith, these friends and ministers can apply the living and active Word of God for us, wielding a blade so finely honed that they are able to cut between soul and spirit, leaving no scar to tell the tale. (Heb. 4:12) Pray to know who to turn to when you are in need of such ‘servicing’ in order to reposition the burden – and pray to be such a servant yourself to others!
At other times all that is really needed is just to take time away from the soul front and our burdens altogether. Even a few moments of rest and retreat (a few pages of a good book, a walk, or whatever best unwinds and refreshes you) can do wonders to restore our perspective, and to enable us to return to the spiritual fray reinvigorated. By God’s grace we soon find spiritual burdens flowing unhindered again through us to the throne of God via the ‘stopping place’ of the Cross.
How precious it is to be able to ‘roll’ our burdens onto the Lord rather than letting them weigh our souls down. (Ps. 55:22 NASB) The literal meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘roll’ is ‘to trust!’ May the Lord revitalise every pore of our being to let the river of trust flow freely through us, sweeping aside every impediment, so that neither fear nor overfamiliarity with the matters we are seeking to bring to the Lord causes them to slip and tangle in our soul.
It is inevitable that the enemy of all that is good will seek to disrupt this process. After all, he has had many centuries of being clobbered by the power of prayer, and is skilled at diverting believers from their task, and from using the authority that the Lord Jesus has given. May we see through these tactics and refuse to consider whatever viewpoint or assessment of a situation he suggests. The Lord needs us to be sharp and incisive in this spiritual battle, handling the sword of the Spirit with confidence and full assurance of faith.
So how can we increase our effectiveness in prayer? Here are a couple of simple thoughts to aid us on our journey.
When we are watching the news, try using the pause button to freeze the frame, and take the image on screen as a starting point for prayer.
Another way to help us carry ongoing weighty matters to the Lord can be to make use of a ‘visual’ aid. For instance, we might pray for those suffering from Covid-19 every time we hear a siren, or for refugees when we put on our shoes. We might place a pebble in a bowl to give tangible substance to prayers for a friend, or light a candle to ask that the Lord visit those waiting for some important news – or even on Death Row. I’m sure you can think of many more ideas to help and remind us to lift particular people and situations to the Lord throughout the day. Please do feel free to let us know how the Lord helps you to pray for wider matters!
Redirecting our focus
We are called to minister to people to ‘equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ (Eph. 4:12-13) Many of us have also received a call to press on into the heart of the Lord and make His interests our first priority, trusting that He will take care of our needs. This requires a deliberate shift of mind and focus, so that our time, our hearts, our skills, are all given to Him.
When we began our public ministry in 1980 (Hey, that was forty years ago!) it was with the desire to harness groups of committed intercessors to pray for matters that were on his heart, trusting that other organisations would be focussing on more personal issues. And the Lord who stirred this desire in us honoured His call. There were times when we would be deeply engaged in prayer for national matters issues, and people would be healed of long-standing issues themselves.
We longed to find ways to integrate focused worship with intercession. Worship is so important, for it proclaims Him as King over all, the One who has defeated every work and power of the enemy, and releases His power across the land. Anointed worship draws us into the very presence of God and releases His authority into lives and situations, but it is only too possible even for worship to become overlaid with self-indulgence.
We know that worship is about more than music, but most of us particularly enjoy musical forms of it, and recognise that music speaks deeply within us and is such a vehicle and vessel for carrying the power of God. But the power of music and rhythm can be used for good or ill, and even in the Church, there can be that which (though it seems good and enjoyable at the time) may bring no lasting legacy of life or vibrancy, but rather complacency and stale air.
Pondering this the other day, Linda Entwistle writes that,
“The ‘roar’ or ‘raw’ quality of gospel music in the past was such a driving force that it immersed those caught up in it into its narrative, giving them hope and courage and inspiring them into action. This has by no means been completely lost, and is indeed making a comeback, and some new worship songs have this quality too, along with new creative expressions of music, art and dance and other art forms that can reach all levels of society. Maybe the Covid-induced lockdown period has provided an opportunity with the temporary silencing of the mesmerising and humdrum tones of certain forms of worship music through this epidemic.
“I have been considering recently how centuries of the established church (Christendom) has had the effect of crushing the spirits of those with the potential to accomplish so much for the Kingdom of God. Sadly, that has included many really excellent musicians, who have been crushed and the voices and their music silenced. Wouldn’t it be great if those people were to rise up with their songs and melodies with a defiant ‘you cannot crush my spirit any more’? The new sound that would come out would be – will be – amazing.
“But I can also think of times when something weird happens in mass gatherings that dull the senses, something far removed from the Lord’s way of helping us to deal with stress and overload. I was in a worship gathering in Macedonia once, for example, when I sensed the worship team must have hooked into something strange (or be carrying a dubious spirit). I went out and couldn’t stop crying. Nobody but Keith, (my husband) could understand it. We are not immune from dark forces in large gatherings like that.
“I have always believed that the local church was meant to meet in small community settings. That way people’s gifts and contributions are more evenly spread. You could argue this is the ‘upside’ of the government’s decision of not allowing singing in churches. It won’t stop the creation of good music; in fact it is allowing those musicians who haven’t had much a chance before to get their music heard across more platforms. Small group settings are more encouraging for that too – as well as for writing songs that reflect aspects of the ways and work of the Lord that currently receive little or no attention in most choruses.”
This raises issues that may be difficult for some to accept – how can a worship meeting be infected by a dubious spirit? On the other hand, the article as a whole is about things that slip from spirit to soul, and what Linda is describing is exactly that.
Whenever we get together with other Christians we have the opportunity to ‘Look to the Lord and His strength; and to seek His face always.’ (Ps. 105:4) Father, bless each one of us as we do so now, we pray.