The Still Small Voice

Strategic Listening: Burden Bearing in the Spirit


Chapter Eight, Part Three

Burden Bearing in the Spirit

The world scoffs at the thought of a man weeping for his neighbour’s sins as if for his own, or even more than for his own, for it seems contrary to nature. But the love which brings it about is not of this world. (Angela of Foligno)

The Still Small Voice can ‘activate’ anything we hear, read of see, and call us to pray about it. This, in essence, is burden-bearing. It is a high calling because it originates with the Holy Spirit prompting us to intercede (as opposed to us going to God with our own concerns). As Angela points out in our starting quote, it requires both generosity of spirit and unwavering love to persist in this way of living.

As we cultivate the silence we spoke of earlier, people’s needs stand before us with clarity and vividness. The more sensitive we are, the more likely we are to pick up the hurts and tensions that people are carrying – even the ones that they themselves are unaware of. This puts a double burden on us: the prayer burden itself, plus the fact that the person is blind to it.

There is always a danger that something that starts out as a genuine burden from the Lord can end up becoming ‘soulish’ and weighing us down. If heavy burdens do not flow through us to the Cross, they can become attached to our soul – much as sticks in a stream can get snagged along the way. Soul ties and psychological transference can also occur, greatly confusing the burden-bearing process. Certain other emotions may feel profoundly ‘spiritual’ at the time, but prove later to have been based infused with something entirely different.

Another tendency that some of us may be particularly prone to is to internalize the tensions our spirit is picking up, and to assume that we must be in some way responsible for them. Although in some cases there may be elements of truth in this, more often than not the real source of the tension lies elsewhere. But unless we realize this, we can paralyze ourselves with condemnation instead of discerning clearly releasing faith into situations.

Shortly after we were married, Rosalind and I experienced an occasion when we became extremely tense and irritated with each other. It crossed my mind that the Lord might be using our experience to highlight the intense spiritual warfare that is being directed against Christian marriages.

I heard later that that the exact moment of our explosion, a man in our congregation had burst out in violence, and told his wife that he was leaving her. Mercifully he thought better of it. I wish I could say that we only get uptight with each other when we are identifying with other people’s problems!

To take another rather extreme example, we had just visited a woman in a psychiatric hospital who was displaying most unusual symptoms. Some hours later Ros began to manifest similar symptoms herself. We had forgotten to set ourselves prayerfully free after our visit. It took a several minutes of intensive spiritual warfare before Ros felt released.

On other occasions when we have been involved in spiritual warfare and have forgotten to ‘cut ourselves off,’ we have experienced disturbing dreams. It is right to be alert, but not fearful. God gives us the ability to take authority over all such things – but discernment helps us to pinpoint the source of the issue.

What we cannot do is to assume that we can ‘magic’ problems away from people who are not prepared to seek the Lord for themselves. ‘Burden bearing’ can lift off a percentage of people’s problems, but only to the point where they are sufficiently detached from whatever it is that has been weighing them down that they can choose from themselves how they will respond.

The more we identify with the people we are praying for, the more fruit we will bear – so long as we do not start making ‘substitutionary’ prayers. To put that more simply, this means not praying something like, ‘Let me take this person’s illness so that they can go free.’ Since Jesus died to set us free, it is not right (and can actually bring us into bondage) to interpose ourselves as mediators in such ways.

Neither should we underestimate the toll that burden-bearing takes on us. It is serious work, and so we need to deliberately take time away from the ‘soul’ face. The very same sensitivity that enables us to pick up on people’s hurts and needs becomes a liability when we start to feel overly responsible for their welfare.

Given the sheer amount of information that comes our way, we have no choice but to set up mental and practical boundaries and barriers. Information-overload, along with compassion fatigue, are all part of the devil’s attempts to exhaust us with burdens we were never meant to take up.

Apart from anything else, it is important for us not to derive too great a percentage of our self-worth from what the Lord does through us on behalf of others. God loves us for who we are – not only for the times when His Spirit soars and sighs through us in mountain-moving intercession.

Genuine fun and simple pleasures are likewise powerful weapons against the enemy. Even a smile can make such a difference.

As the Lord once reminded me, ‘When I made children with an instinct for play, I was putting something of My own nature in them. You are out of balance, My children, if you do not play!’

For Reflection and Prayer

‘Who is weak and I do not feel weak?’ asked Paul. ‘Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?’ (2 Corinthians 11:29, cf Romans 8:26-27)

The Lord calls us to pray for some people, professions, communities and nations on a regular basis, but to lift others to Him as and when they come to mind. who or what has He most strongly placed on your heart?

Lord, grant me the ability to carry burdens for You.

Free me from any hurts guilts or transferences
that would hinder me from being able to do so safely.

Disentangle genuine burdens from emotions that have choked the flow of your Spirit.

Reignite and reposition them;
and leave our spirits free to embrace new assignments.

Help me to carry them in the Spirit
until they are prayed through to completion,
or You release me from them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.