Hearing God: The Prayer Example


YieldI was going to post this as a comment in my "Hearing God" post today, but I elected to break it out.

There's been some mixed discussion about whether God guides people by speaking to the believer through some means apart from the Scriptures. Some folks claim that doesn't happen. For those who claim that God doesn't work this way, I have to wonder how we pray for anyone.

Your church has a prayer team that prays for people after the meeting. A woman comes up to you and through tears requests prayer. She's very upset and can't really express what is going on. If your prayers for her are not specifically directed by God, how then do you pray or even know what to pray for?

There are myriad prayers in the Scriptures. Do you choose the Lord's Prayer? The prayer of Jabez? A table grace? Do you simply pray a Scripture promise such as the truth that God keeps in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on Him? How do you know which is appropriate for this woman? If you do find an appropriate passage, wasn't it God who guided you to it? If you pray something that isn't exactly verse by verse from the Bible, aren't you then relying on some other form of extra-biblical guidance?

If we believe that without Him we can do nothing, then even our prayers are directed by God and therefore must reflect guidance from Him that is revelatory in nature.

Even more interesting is when you get someone who comes up and requests prayer for an issue, but it's clear the root of the person's problem is not what they request prayer for. Anyone ever experience this? Is it your own wisdom revealing this to you or is it God guiding you? If you don't get at the root—as God reveals it to you—have you truly prayed rightly for that person?

My own experience having been in charge of a prayer team at one of the churches I attended is that more often than not when someone comes up for prayer their needs are deeper than what they tell me. If that is true, how can God meet that need through prayer unless He gives specific guidance for that person's root problem? So I ask God to reveal that deeper need and I ask Him for guidance on how to pray. Then I say nothing until God gives me the prayer I need to pray.

When I talk to people who are intercessors, the one startling truth that comes out time and time again is that the people they pray for often ask, "How did you know to pray about that?" The simple answer is that God guided that prayer for their specific need.

If God does not guide our prayers by speaking to us, how then do we know what to pray, when to listen and be silent in prayer, and if there is a deeper root in an intercession that must be addressed even if the person did not share it?

Something to ponder.

Tags: Guidance, God's Will, Prayer, Intercession, Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God

9 thoughts on “Hearing God: The Prayer Example

  1. Michael

    On a related topic, Mark Driscoll in a recent sermon, claims that God spoke to him audibly telling him to start his church. Thought I’d add that to the discussion.

  2. Steven S

    I’m with you Dan.
    Christian often tag the line “we pray this in the name of Jesus” at the end of their prayers as if it was a magic incantation which somehow sanctified whatever they said. In reality, that statement is a claim that what you have prayed is Jesus’ will in the situation � what He would have prayed. So how can you claim that unless you give Jesus a chance to tell you what His will is in the situation? I’ll grant you that there are some general principles you can apply from the scripture that help; but real-world situations are often fare more subtle than that. If my own wisdom was good enough to know what God wants, then isn’t that saying I’m as smart and informed as God?

    The most “interesting” situation I ever had was when someone came to me for prayer and as they told me their story, the Holy Spirit was telling me “they’re lying” � and didn’t choose to tell me anything more. So I just kept asking the person for details and eventually they started tripping over themselves and it all unraveled and they admitted it was a fabrication (they had hoped to talk me into more tangible help after the prayer). I did pray for them; but about a very different problem.

  3. Ken Fields

    “If God does not guide our prayers by speaking to us, how then do we know what to pray, when to listen and be silent in prayer, and if there is a deeper root in an intercession that must be addressed even if the person did not share it?”

    I’ve always been taught that this is when Romans 8:26-27 comes in to play:

    “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

    I believe this passage teaches us that it is the Spirit who intercedes on our behalf…when we don’t know how or for whom to pray. It’s not so much our praying as it the Spirit’s praying…

    Please correct me if I am wrong or misunderstanding your position.

  4. Ken,

    I’ve seen the interpretation of the Romans passage vary depending on which denomination is preaching on it. Within the charismatic realms, you are likely to see it paired with praying in tongues, with reference to the following:

    For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
    —1 Corinthians 14:14-15 ESV

    That’s another side of it. The idea there paired with the Romans passage says that praying in tongues is the way that we can join with the Spirit in praying when our words fail. I can see that point and I can also see issues with it. I put it out there as food for thought.

    I would also say that you don’t have to go with that interpretation to get the idea that REAL prayer, not some of the wordy babbling we hear many times, is being solely directed by the Spirit. I’m not looking at the passage and thinking none of us know how to pray. Taking that perspective would nullify Jesus’ instructions to pray according to the Lord’s Prayer! But I also believe that sometimes things go so deep that everything we can think to pray pales in comparison to what the Spirit does on our behalf. You standard “Help me, Lord!” prayer said in times of utter perplexity would fit that bill, especially in light of the idea of “our infirmities.” Still, Jesus asks us to pray specific prayers, so like I said, there are a lot of interpretations to what the Romans reference means and what it looks like when practically operating. Pull out a number of different commentaries and you’ll see that no two take the same perspective on this passage!

    Questions for you: What does the kind of prayer you allude to look like when actually practiced? What would you say its characteristics are? Should we assume that all prayers are completely Spirit-directed or not?

    Not trying to put you on the spot, I’m just interested in knowing what your experience has been.

  5. Dan, as a pastor I pray with & for a lot of people. I have always relied upon & taught the Romans 8:26-27 passage. So often, I simply do not know how to pray for a person or a situation. What do you do when the request seems cleary against the will or word of God? So, I ask the Spirit to lead and direct my prayers according to His will. Bless you my brother.

  6. Ken Fields

    “Questions for you: What does the kind of prayer you allude to look like when actually practiced? What would you say its characteristics are? Should we assume that all prayers are completely Spirit-directed or not?

    Wow…some tough questions. While I gather my thoughts, here’s a lighthearted response. This is the kind of prayer that happens when a bunch of Baptists, not knowing how to pray, are bowing their heads and mumbling because they are incapable of speaking in tongues!!

    OK, enough of that. I’m not sure what this kind of prayer looks like, feels like, or sounds like. But I do believe the Spirit intercedes for me (specifically when I don’t know how to pray) because God’s Word says so.

    I guess I would say this prayer�s characteristics would include an acute awareness of my ignorance and God-dependency. Although I know how to pray (from Jesus� example, as you said), there are times when I have a difficult time discerning God�s will in a given situation.

    Let me give you an example. Today I read Scripture and prayed with a member of our church who has endured a severe stroke. This man is barely able to lift an arm to shake my hand, and he is completely paralyzed on his left side. When I prayed with him and his wife, I prayed that God would heal him (yes, even a Baptist prays this way). Do I know if God will heal him? Do I know if this is God�s will? No�but does the Spirit? Yes! And so, I believe that the Spirit of God took my prayer and knowing God�s will for this man, transformed it to be in accordance with the Father�s will.

    Having said this, I do not believe that all prayers are completely Spirit-directed. According to Psalms, �if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.� 1 Peter says that husbands should love their wives well in order that �your prayers won’t be hindered.� Certainly, in these two instances, these prayers would not be Spirit-directed�due to the condition of the pray-er. I believe there are conditions on our part which must be met in order for a prayer to be spirit-directed.

    Thank you for the dialogue on this issue�it�s a stimulating conversation. Thanks for sharpening me!

  7. Ronni

    Michael, something similar happened here and that is why we are part of a new church plant… God told them “it’s time”.

    My experiences are that when I was a Baptist and told that the Holy Spirit wasn’t active today (tounges, etc) that I found myself walking in circles in prayer… I tried to cover that person but couldn’t allow the HS to tell me the direction He wanted me to go.

    Now that I’m spirit filled… the HS will outright give me a vision or picture of what that person needs, give me direction and my prayers are more effective because of it… even in group prayer when many others pray over someone I’ll hear “this needs said outloud” or something and then I’ll pray it and I feel the spirit agreeing. Other times I’ll pray in the spirit and He will show me something about someone that I need to pray specifically for. I believe the baptism has made me a more effective prayer warrior and has also strengthened my walk.

    That’s my personal experience at least.

  8. Mike

    The topic of “hearing God” is something I have been researching a lot lately. Lately I have been leaning most toward the wisdom model discussed in “Decision making and the will of God”.

    I have a question for you on the topic. Can you give me one example from the New Testament where someone asked God what to pray for and then waited for an answer. Or even better, maybe an example where someone asked for direction and waited for an answer before proceeding?

    Don’t get me wrong. I ask the question so I can try to understand the contrary view.

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