I wrote this article years ago and, though it’s not specifically about prayer, has a good lesson in it for intercessors. A situation came up again recently when I was counseling a friend that made me remember this article and think to post it. This principle has inspired me time and time again over the years. ~Arlyn
I remember a time, years ago, when I was alarmed by a decision some of my church leaders made. It wasn’t that it was anything that might be considered sinful or wrong. But because I was deeply involved in the ministry affected in the decision, and had been interceding fervently for it, I had a significant emotional investment in its well-being. I was also keenly sensitive to some spiritual schemes against it, and I saw the decision (in my eyes, anyway), as a potential destruction opportunity for the enemy as opposed to a growth opportunity for the church.
“What are they doing? What are they thinking? Don’t they realize . . .?!” I gasped and sputtered to my husband. Then I called a friend and ministry colleague and lambasted her with my distress as well. I was upset, I was fearful, and worst of all, I was critical.
Ironically, just that morning I had been reading in Judges 4 and 5 about Deborah, noting her response when the leaders of Israel didn’t do things the way she thought they ought to be done. Barak made a decision that, based on what Deborah seemed to be hearing from the Lord, didn’t sit right with her.
It would have been perfectly understandable for her to be irritated with him. Maybe she was. She may even have been tempted to criticize him, berate him, or separate herself from the whole situation. But she didn’t.
Instead, Scripture says, “Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors marched up with him. Deborah also marched with them” (Judges 4:10, NLT).
Deborah didn’t criticize, nor did she distance herself — both of which would have been temptations for most of us. Neither did she smugly think to herself, Well, this will never work. Deborah supported the decision and marched in unity with Barak and the rest of the company. Ultimately, God did deliver the enemy into their hands (in a shocking way!), and God‘s Word and purposes were accomplished. What was Deborah‘s response to all this? She sang, “When Israel’s leaders take charge, and the people gladly follow—bless the Lord! My heart goes out to Israel‘s leaders, and to those who gladly follow. Bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2,9, NLT)
I was fairly young in my faith and ministry experience when the original situation that prompted this article occurred. In the years since then, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. What I realize from the vantage point of time and maturity is that the real scheme in these situations, more often than not, is not the differences in opinion and practice that inevitably occur in Christian ministry. The real scheme is the offense that can rise up in our hearts, if we let it, and bring disunity and mutiny in the body of Christ.
So what do we do then, as intercessors, when we see leaders making decisions that seem unwise to us, or appear to be in tension with what we are hearing from the Lord? I believe we can learn some good lessons from what Deborah did.
- It’s not our responsibility to make sure God‘s will is carried out. When we receive a word or an impression from the Holy Spirit, it’s our responsibility to intercede, and to share it only if there is clear direction from the Lord to do so. If we do share it, it’s not our job to enforce it. Our job is to pray.
- When we do share, we need to remember that it’s God’s word, not ours. When my husband prays with people and has an impression from the Lord to share with them, he says, “I’m like the old FOX News motto: I report, you decide.” That means when he shares, he only relates what he senses the Holy Spirit is saying. He leaves it up to the other person to decide what to do with it, without imposing his own expectations. That’s a great policy!
- Our responsibility as intercessors should be balanced with our responsibility as submitted members of the body of Christ. We are just as subject to all of God‘s commands as everyone else, even if we think we have special insight into what He’s doing. Scripture tells us, “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17, NLT). Submission is a high priority in God’s economy.
- We need to trust that whatever decisions are made, God‘s plans and purposes will prevail. “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV), and, “The people make their own plans; it’s the Lord who determines their steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV). The bottom line? God is sovereign.
As I talked and prayed through my frustration and anxiety with my ministry colleague in that situation, the Lord made it apparent that the Holy Spirit was revealing a scheme of the enemy so I could intercede against it. But He also showed me that as I interceded, I needed to humbly and cheerfully submit to the decision that had been made—and march in unity with the rest of my church family.
Then and only then would I be able to join the victory celebration when God’s purposes finally prevailed, which I knew they certainly would—and be able to say with all my heart like Deborah did, Bless the Lord!
(c) 2018 Arlyn J. Lawrence