I was about to leave for a vacation with my family when I received news that a situation I’d been praying intensely for had taken a turn for the worse. I was devastated. All I could do was pray more, and put the whole mess in God’s hands – where I wish I could say I left it. Instead, much to my family’s dismay, my worries came along with us on our vacation.
I agonized. I wrung my hands. I carried a knot in the pit of my stomach. Sure, I was interceding. But I made myself and everyone around me miserable while I did it.
Finally, my husband pulled me aside and said, “Hey, this is ruining our family time. We need you. You’ve got to give this to the Lord — and leave it with Him!”
I was taken aback, but I realized he was right. In the process of interceding for other people’s joy to be restored, I had lost my own.
Where do we draw the line between carrying others’ burdens, which we are supposed to do (Gal. 6:2), and becoming overly enmeshed in the situations we’re praying about? Here are some ways to overcome this and other common joy robbers for intercessors:
The joy robber: taking too much emotional responsibility for other peoples’ problems
The joy restorer: surrendering the burdens to the Lord and not taking them back again
Sometimes when we’re praying intensely for something or someone, we can get so close to the situation that we get “stuck” in it ourselves. When this happens (and I’ve learned over the years to be self aware of it), I check in with the Holy Spirit and ask if my deep concern is His prompting to continue interceding, or my own human response of worry, fear, or unbelief. I find the difference usually lies in the presence or absence of God’s peace in my heart. If it is conspicuously absent—and if I continue to feel anxious—I know it’s time to turn over the situation to God, be thankful, receive His peace in exchange for my anxiety, and be joyful (Phil. 4:4–7).
The joy robber: not seeing the answers we’re looking for
The joy restorer: praising God for who He is and what He is doing “behind the scene”
We won’t always see the answers we’re looking for but that doesn’t mean we should get discouraged or give up. In Psalm 54, David prayed in triumph before he saw the answer to his prayers. He saw victory in the spiritual realm, not in the natural, and by faith he rejoiced in that (Psalm 54:6–7).
I once prayed at length for a neighbor, a new believer with drug addiction in his past. After a while, he fell back into drugs. His wife, too–also a new believer–began to turn to old, unhealthy patterns. When they moved away, I was especially discouraged. I continued to pray for them, but I wasn’t confident I would see fruit from those prayers.
A couple of years later, I ran into the wife at a community function. I was shocked at the transformation in her! She spoke with confidence, faith, and much joy. Her husband was clean. They were both serving the Lord and attending a wonderful church with an effective recovery program. I was deeply humbled. I had been tempted to lose faith, but God was at work the whole time.
When we don’t see answers, it doesn’t mean there are none. We just might not be seeing them—yet. This is where we rejoice and trust God (Psalm 33:20–21), being convinced by faith of things we can’t see with our natural eyes (Heb. 11:1).
The joy robber: focusing too much on what the enemy is doing
The joy restorer: identifying what God is doing and rejoicing in it
A prayer leader I know once asked a group of pastors to name 10 things the enemy was doing in their city. The group was all hands. Then he asked them to name 10 things God was doing in their city. It took them a while to come up with even a single response. It’s easy to do this with our children (and spouse), too. Too often we focus on where they’re falling short, instead of noticing where God is at work in their lives and rejoicing about that.
Whatever we’re praying about, we can often be all too aware of the enemy’s schemes and not mindful enough of God’s purposes and activities. Look for what God is doing within the circumstances, even if they seem discouraging. When we keep the big picture of His plan in our minds, we are less likely to allow the enemy’s arrows to become the focus of our emotions.
The situation I was interceding for on my vacation didn’t resolve quickly. But I was able to leave it in God’s hands. When I replaced the joy robber with a joy restorer, my mind was set at ease and I was able to enjoy the remainder of our vacation—and so was the rest of my family!
Have you ever felt more burdened after you prayed for something than before you started? Do a heart check: did you fail to release it to the Lord and let Him do His thing? Are there situations you’re currently interceding about that you are sensing Him encouraging you to “let go” — to pray and release?
© 2017 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.