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Jesus Only . . . our source of connection

Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Phil. 4:6–7

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We negotiated for three months with the owner of our building. Our church had completely outgrown the facility, and we needed the vacant suite next door. However, the owner refused to give us a decent price for it, even during this recession. How should I pray: for a change of mind; for his business to do poorly; for unforeseen money to come our way?

On the same day, we received an update from a missionary friend. She and a short-term team were playing soccer with some children, and she sustained a deep muscle bruise. In subsequent weeks, blood clots had broken off, and partly because of her remote location, she faced difficult surgery and possible death. How should I pray: for healing; for medical knowledge for the doctor; for endurance?

The day after that, a young boy was brought into my counseling office for therapy. He suffered from psychogenic seizures, meaning there was no physiological reason for his ailment—and yet he wasn’t faking. The parents asked me to petition God, but I was at a loss: how exactly do I pray for this unusual disability?

In all three situations, I felt weak. Romans 8:26 captures this frustration: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Notice it doesn’t say “we don’t know what to pray for.” Most of us have shopping lists of things to pray for. That word “ought” means there is a correct way to pray and, therefore, an incorrect way. This is daunting, for in our insecurity we already feel like our prayers will fall short.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb analyzes many of the financial downturns of the last century. He says that 90 percent of the most serious setbacks were the result of unforeseen events—unpredictable disasters that shake the markets. Economists tremble as they recommend investments, fearing that the unknown will do more to shape the future of investing than the known. We are even more ill-equipped when it comes to intercessory prayer, for we pray for events both large and small, and all possible outcomes are veiled. As we explore the strengths of The Alliance, this one—intercessory prayer—intersects our greatest weakness: We do not know what we ought to pray for.

Paul reminds us that it is when we are weak that we are strong. This is no magic formula—it is only when we feel desperate and needy that we call out for God’s help. When I teach on strategic intercession, I draw a circle on the overhead. At the top of the prayer circle, I put the word “God.” This circle embodies Romans 8:26–27. All effective intercession starts in the heart of God. The Father alone knows the future, and He alone can direct the prayer troops to hit the target effectively. True strategic intercession gathers its strength and intelligence from God’s input. No one should intercede until the Holy Spirit steers them in the right direction.

One woman, a key prayer partner with my wife and me, asked God how she could pray for my ministry. This was the day before I met with the boy who had psychogenic seizures. As she prayed, God gave her a picture of a Lego set. She remembered a box of Legos in her closet that she had purchased for a nephew. She felt burdened to give it to me but could not understand why a grown woman should give a grown counselor a toy. But she obeyed.

The Spirit of God had directed this prayer. In the midst of my difficult session with this boy, at a point where he would not say more than a couple of words to me, he spotted the Legos. He asked if he could play with them, and as he did, I got down on the floor beside him. Because of this, he allowed me to pray with him. The Lord gave me some insight, and I prayed for a particular difficulty the boy was having. Then I asked him if he would like to pray.

My prayer partner was also praying during this time, and she focused on the boy’s inner man. Between us, we received enough information from God to pray His will. During the next week, the child did not have a single seizure.

I am reminded that if we ask anything according to God’s will, He hears us. But first, we must learn His will. That is where the Spirit helps us in our weakness. In every avenue of intercession He communicates the will of the Lord, who alone gets the glory. This has always been the strength of The Alliance—to seek the glory of the Lord in all things.

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