"Prayer Alert:
Watching in Prayer"

Advocates
in
Prayer

 

 

Introduction

ON A MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS SEASON in the early nineties, I was getting in an exercise walk in Chesapeake Square Mall when I noticed a Christmas attraction in the center section that was drawing lots of attention.  There were about a half dozen easels holding canvases of what appeared to me from a distance to be the latest in abstract art.  What most caught my attention is that at least two or three people were standing before each one studying them carefully.  I couldnít resist the temptation to stop walking long enough to see what everyone found so fascinating.

I walked up to one of the canvases that was being admired by a husband and wife and stood there staring at what appeared to me no more than a series of jagged horizontal lines stacked on top of each other for the full length and width of the frame.  Obviously, I was missing something.  So I asked, "Whatís this supposed to be?"  

The husband replied, "Itís the Statue of Liberty."  

"It is?" I asked.  "All I see is jagged lines of different colors," I said.  

"Itís a new art form called Envision Graphics," he said.  "Itís designed with computers, and each one has three dimensional images in it.  This one is the Statue of Liberty."  

The wife then began pointing at different parts of the canvas. "Here she stands," she said.  "And right here is her left hand holding the scroll, and there is her right hand lifting the torch. In the background you can see the buildings of Manhattan with the Empire State Building towering over them all.  And in this corner, you can see the sun setting."

Intrigued and baffled at the same time, I asked, "And how are you supposed to see it?"  

The husband replied, "Just donít look on the surface.  Allow your eyes to blur, and look deeper than the surface like youíre trying to look beyond the canvas.  The 3D image will jump out at you all at once."  

I did; it didnít.  I stared and blurred and even crossed my eyes and still didnít see anything.  Finally I gave up and continued my walk.

The next day, I went back for another walk and noticed even more people gathered around the canvases.  A different couple stood before the Statue of Liberty, and I joined them without saying anything.  In a few seconds, the husband broke the silence.  "Excuse me," he said.  "Do you know what this is supposed to be?"  

"Why sure," I said.  "Itís the Statue of Liberty.  You see right there she stands holding the scroll in her left hand and the torch in her right.  Behind her and to the left is Manhattan with the Empire State building towering above the others.  To her right you see a large sun going down over the horizon."  

"You see all that?" the wife asked.  

"No," I said.  "I donít see any of it.  But, there was a couple here yesterday who saw it all and told me about it.  And, others saw it too!"

After a couple of minutes, I walked around and looked at some of the other canvases.  I overheard a bystander point to one and say to his friends, "That oneís Jesus standing in front of the tomb after his resurrection."  

I thought to myself, If Iím going to see any of them, thatís the one I want to see.

About that time, it occurred to me that maybe the reason I couldnít see the images is that I have some astigmatism in one eye.  Maybe I needed to be closer than most people did to see it.  That presented a problem.  Several people were gathered around the one of Jesus, and I wanted to get real close without blocking their view.  So, I walked up in front on them, knelt down so they could see over my head, took off my glasses, and looked up into the canvas.  I blurred my vision, tried to look a little deeper than the surface, and in a few seconds felt as though my eyes were winding through a maze.  Then, suddenly it happened!  The image jumped out at me as plain as day.  I saw Jesus standing in front of the tomb with outstretched hands. I could see his robe, his beard, his eyes -- even the tomb in the background with what appeared a wooden lintel over the entryway.  

Excitedly, I said out loud, "I see it!  I see it!  I see Jesus!!"  

The fellow standing behind me said, "Yeah man, but you cheatiní.  You prayiní!"

Iíve gotten a few laughs out of this experience.  But for me it drives home an important spiritual lesson.  Just as I had to position myself up close and focus in order to see what was there all the time, so prayer is an exercise in positioning ourselves up close to the Lord and getting spiritually focused so that we can see what He wants to show us.  There is a reason that Jesus exhorted the disciples to "watch and pray."  (See Matthew 26:41.)

Often prayer is a struggle.  When we start to get serious about developing a daily discipline of prayer, we might find our minds tending to wander to all the things we need to do that day.  We don't allow ourselves to really settle in up close to the Lord and focus on what He wants to show us.

This lack of focus in prayer is tragic.  I say this because to engage in prayer is to engage in spiritual warfare, and yet we often leave the prayer closet without having seen the battlefield.  In prayer, we are to exalt the Lord and defeat the Adversary.  Through prayer we are to experience victories in our own lives and breakthroughs for those we pray for.  To be effective in prayer, we must learn to watch and pray.

This teaching is titled "Prayer Alert:  Watching in Prayer."  Whether we are praying for ourselves or for others at any given time, God wants to alert us in prayer to the tactics of the Enemy against us and to the provision of the Lord for our deliverance and blessing.  That is, He wants us to see the true battlefield on which we are waging spiritual warfare so that we might be able to press through to the breakthrough needed.  In a sentence, to watch and pray is to see the battle and to seize the victory.  I believe that in this teaching God wants to inspire us to watch and pray regularly so that we might perceive God's purpose and release His will in our lives and the lives of those we pray for.    

As I study the Bible, I find that the connection between watching and praying has strong roots in the Old Testament and is prevalent in the New Testament.  In both, these combined disciplines provided Godís people with discernment, protection, and empowerment so that they could fulfill their lifeís mission.  In this teaching, we will consider:

  • Watching and praying in the Old Testament

  • Watching and praying in the New Testament

  • Inspiring contemporary illustrations of watching in prayer

Watching and Praying in the Old Testament

The key passage from the Old Testament that links watching and praying is from Isaiah.  As was true of Old Testament prophets generally, Isaiah himself was a "seer."  That is, he knew what it was to sit in Godís council and be alert to the things that God was showing him.  As he watched what God showed him, he saw the future destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, the exile of the people into Babylon, the edict of Cyrus the Persian King allowing the Jews to return to their homeland, and the reconstruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple within her.  As he beheld in the Spirit the beautiful future city of Jerusalem yet to be built, he heard God say these words:

I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night.  You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. (62:6-7)

This passage links watching and praying.  God was speaking to a future Jerusalem that had not yet been built.  He said that he had already posted watchmen on the walls of that future Jerusalem -- walls that didnít exist yet.  Those watchmen would cry out to him day and night until he established this new and glorious Jerusalem that would be honored throughout the earth.  

Essentially, God was telling Isaiah that he had already chosen some intercessors who, like Isaiah, were seers.  He had already allowed them to see into the future beyond the destruction of the present Jerusalem, beyond the exile to Babylon, and beyond the return of the exiles to rebuild the city.  These intercessors were privileged by God to see the rebuilding of the city with large walls fortifying it against enemy attack.  They were enabled to see themselves standing upon these walls and praying into existence the very city they were seeing.  They would pray night and day until this vision became a reality.  It was as though these intercessors, these watchmen, traveled in time to a future Jerusalem and stood on the walls of that city to pray it into existence.

This depiction of intercessors as "watchmen on the wall" teaches us three important lessons about intercessors:

  1. They see the vision of God's purposes.

  2. They position themselves in that vision.

  3. They battle through prayer to the fulfillment of that vision.

Beyond these three lessons, other insights into intercession can be gleaned from understanding a little more about the role of watchmen in Isaiah's day.  In Old Testament times, cities were distinguished from villages in that cities were surrounded by walls that were often 20 to 30 feet thick.  Watchmen were stationed on the wall and in towers that stood by the gates of a city.  They worked in shifts to assure that the city was guarded at all hours of the day or night.  Their primary purpose was to keep an eye out for approaching danger and to alert the city with the blowing of trumpets when enemy troops were spotted.  They were the guardians of the city.

This added insight into the role of the watchmen in biblical times suggests three additional lessons about intercessors:

  1. They guard those they pray for.

  2. They are alert to the Enemy's strategies against those they pray for.

  3. They resist the Enemy's assaults against those they pray for.

This Old Testament depiction of intercessors as watchmen on the wall contains important lessons for our prayer lives today.  God invites us to be co-laborers with Him in the building of His kingdom on earth by seeing what He is up to and praying it into existence.  This time He is not building a physical city with an imposing temple and fortifying walls.  He is building His kingdom from the material of human lives.  The Apostle Paul writes that believers in Christ are "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."  (See Ephesians 2:22.)  The Apostle Peter writes that believers in Christ are "like living stones . . . being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  (See 1 Peter 2:5.)  God's vision for every person is to fill them with His Spirit and to help them find their greatest fulfillment in knowing and worshipping Him.

How do we co-labor with God in the fulfillment of this vision?  We do so through intercession.  It is through intercession that we:

  • Place ourselves in the vision of God's grand construction project.

  • Perceive the plan of God for those being built into His Church.

  • Discern the Enemy's tactics to hinder the spiritual growth of believers.

  • Guard others from spiritual attack so that their spiritual growth will be unimpeded. 

As we fulfill our calling to be our "brother's keeper" through intercession, we are participating with God in the molding of human lives, the building of His Church, and the shaping of history.

Watching and Praying in the New Testament

The key New Testament passage regarding watching and praying also contains important lessons for the life of intercession.  Like the Old Testament depiction of watchmen on the wall, it also links watching and praying with spiritual warfare.  It is a scene from the life of Jesus when He met the Enemy head-on in a strong assault against His resolve to do His Father's will.  Jesus used this encounter to teach his disciples the importance of watching in prayer.

Mark's gospel relates that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him when He went to Gethsemane.  (See Mark 14:32-42) It was there that Jesus experienced a grueling trial of His resolve to remain faithful to God's redemptive purposes at the expense of yielding His life to be executed as a criminal.  Only so could fallen humanity be redeemed from eternal separation from God.  Though there is no suggestion that Satan or any demonic spirits appeared to Jesus in Gethsemane, you can assured that the agony of Gethsemane was accentuated by a demonic bombardment of Jesus mind with suggestions that He should decline the bitter cup of suffering that was imminent.

At Gethsemane, Jesus experienced spiritual warfare as temptation.  He said to His disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. . . . Stay here and keep watch." (See verse 34.)  Just as Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry, he now attacked through overwhelming sorrow to get Jesus to guard His own life at the expense of the lives of humanity that were hanging in the balance.  The fact that this spiritual attack was indeed temptation is confirmed in Jesus wavering response:  "Abba, Father, . . . everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."  (See verse 36.)  He prayed similar words three times because He was being sorely tried.  The temptation was real.

At Gethsemane, Jesus warned His disciples of the warfare of temptation.  When He returned to the disciples periodically, He found them sleeping.  On one return, He said to Peter, "Simon, . . . are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."  Peter and the disciples needed to be spiritually alert and watchful so that they would be prepared for Satanic assault against their own resolve to follow Jesus and prove faithful to Him.  That assault would be a strong temptation to give in to the weakness of the body in its tendency toward self-preservation rather than the willingness of spirit to be faithful to Jesus and His cause even at the expense of death.  Jesus was seeking to prepare them to be prepared for the spiritual warfare that would take the form of strong temptation.

 The disciples failed in the warfare of temptation due to lack of preparedness.  When the moment of truth had come and Judas, the betrayer, showed up with a band of armed men to arrest Jesus, the disciples tried both fight and flight.  Peter drew his sword and whacked off the ear of the high priests servant, undoubtedly aiming for his head.  (See verse 47 and John 18:10.) When Jesus rebuked Peter for doing so and made it clear that this action was resisting the will of God (see John 18:11), the disciples then turn from fight to flight.  Mark's account says of them all, "Then everyone deserted him and fled."  (See verse 50.)  Because the disciples had failed to watch and pray, they did not see that the real enemy was Satan who would tempt Jesus, and them, to preserve their own lives at the expense of God's plan for human redemption.  They didn't see the real battleground.

While this passage from Mark's gospel is the key New Testament text regarding watching and praying, other New Testament passages emphasize the need to be watchful and alert in prayer.  A couple of them emphasize two lessons will put us in good standing as intercessors: 

  • We must see the battleground.

  • We must engage the Enemy.

1.  See the battleground.  The Apostle Paul wrote of the need to be spiritually alert to the times in which we live and the unique tests in life that accompany those times.  (See 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.) Specifically, he spoke of the time of the end when Christ would come to judge the earth.  It was the day of reckoning that the Old Testament calls the Day of the Lord.  Many, Paul said, would not be alert to this impending judgment.  He writes, "While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."  (See verse 3.)  Believers, on the other hand, are to be spiritually alert and prepared.  He writes that we are not to be "asleep" but to be "alert and self-controlled."  (See verse 6.)  We are to be equipped for battle in the face of such trying times.  Paul says we are to wear "faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."  (See verse 8.)  We are not to be caught off guard but are to see the battleground and be prepared for spiritual combat.

2.  Engage the Enemy.  The Apostle Peter also writes that we are to be "self-controlled and alert."  (See 1 Peter 5:8.)  He was writing to Christians scattered about by persecution for the faith.  But Peter did not reinforce the idea that political or religious zealots bent on persecuting them were to be viewed as their enemies.  Rather, he emphasized the spiritual battlefield.  He said, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."  These believers might have been physically scattered by persecution, but they were not to run from Satan.  Rather, they were to engage Him.  Peter admonishes:  "Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

We must not fail to notice that both Jesus teaching in the Garden of Gethsemane and these exhortations to believers from the apostles Paul and Peter emphasize the necessity to intercede for ourselves.  Our ability to be aware of God's purposes for us and Satan's strategies against us and to resist the temptation to give up our resolve to follow the Lord depends upon our own faithfulness in watching and praying.  We should never depend upon the prayers of others for our spiritual well-being.  However, Christians should not live selfishly or prayer selfishly either.  We should live to serve God and His people and should be faithful to watch and pray for others as well.

Contemporary Illustrations of Watching in Prayer

Many reading this teaching may desire to embrace a lifestyle of prayer and intercession but have difficulty seeing just how the whole concept of watching and praying can be incorporated into their prayer lives.  What sounds good in print may seem quite distant from their own personal experience in prayer.  After all, it is not the average Christian who receives prayer alerts from God when praying.  Right?

I believe all Christians can and should receive prayer alerts when we pray.  We should be guided by God in prayer.  Without such direction, intercession is impossible.  After all, our prayers are not meant to enforce our will but God's will.

Contemporary illustrations of how God works through the prayers of His people have a way of inspiring us in our own prayer lives.  I'd like to provide a couple if illustrations here that will help us grasp just how God can use watching in prayer to enable us to effectively intercede for His will to be done in the lives of others.

Bolette Hinderli Intercedes for Lars Olsen Skrefsrud

 Dick Eastman tells of young country girl named Bolette Hinderli who was used powerfully of God to bring thousands to Christ -- not through her own witness, but through praying for the vessel that God would use.  [Eastman 1986: 71-72.]  Bolette was in prayer one day when she clearly saw the face of a man in a prison cell in a vision.  She sensed God saying to her that this man would share the same plight as other prisoners unless someone committed to the task of praying for him.  The Lord also said to her that if she would pray for this man, the Lord would not only save him but send him as an evangelist to bring others to faith in Christ.  

Miss Hinderli took the challenge seriously.  She prayed regularly for God to save this man and to send him as an evangelist.  She was so expectant in her praying that she began to search news articles and keep her ears open for testimonies of converted prisoners.  She fully expected not only that her prayers would be answered but that she would meet this one for whom she had faithfully interceded.

While on a trip to Norway, Miss Hinderli learned that an ex-prisoner who had recently been converted was going to be bringing an evangelistic message in a local church.  She attended in hopes that this would end her search.  When the speaker was announced, she was overwhelmed with joy as she saw Lars Olsen Skresrud approach the pulpit -- beyond question the very man she had seen in her vision.

Miss Hinderli's experience in prayer may seem extraordinary to some.  But, this is meant to be normal Christianity.  God desires to use each of us in prayer to bring others to know him and to see them enter into God's call upon their lives.

Elizabeth Alves Intercedes for her Cousin Mike

Being watchful in prayer is really about being spiritual alert in prayer.  There are times that such altertness is communicated in other than visual means.  God has a way of letting you know something in your spirit without seeing it visually or even fully understanding it.  He may choose to give us prayer alerts in this way.  A testimony from Elizabeth Alves is a case in point.  [Alves 1998:29-20]

Mrs. Alves got up in the night to go to the kitchen for a drink of water.  On her way down the hall, she suddenly found herself praying for a cousin named Mike whom she had not had contact with for 10 years.  She dropped to her knees and began to plead:  "God, don't let him move!  Hold him still, God!  Hold him still!"  Momentarily, the prayer urgency lifted and she went for her drink.  Returning to her bedroom, the same urgency returned.  She hit the floor again pleading:  "God, hold him still!  Don't let him move!  Be still!  Be still!"  Then, when the prayer burden lifted, she stood up but continued to pray.  Within a couple of minutes, she hit the floor again praying, "Get him up, Lord!  Get him to run!  Run, Mike!  Lord, help him to run!"  Within a few minutes, she felt calm and was able to return to bed and sleep restfully.

The next day, Mrs. Alves called her aunt to see if she could help her make sense out of all this.  The aunt told her that Mike was in Vietnam at the time.  While Mike's being in combat helped her understand why she would have been moved to pray this way, it still didn't answer all her questions.

About a month later, the aunt received a letter from her son, Mike.  He was a pilot and was shot down by the Vietcong.  While running for safety, he fell into a bush.  He tried to get up and run but felt pinned down as though something were holding him down.  Unknowingly, the Vietcong were standing on his pant let while looking up at his parachute that was hung in a treetop.  When they moved away and began cutting through the bushes with their bayonets, Mike thought he could escape, so he tried to get up and run.  However, he felt resistance as though someone were pushing him down into the bush.  So, he stayed put for a bit.  Then, suddenly he felt an urgency to run.  He heard a helicopter, so he got up and ran in the direction of the noise where he was rescued by his comrades and whisked away to safety.  The crew said they had come in response to his beeper, but it wasn't working at the time he was shot down.  

The testimonies of Bolette Hinderli and Elizabeth Alves demonstrate how God initiates intercession.  Whether by divine revelation or divine impulse, God alerted them to prayer and they proved faithful to the call.  Because they did, lives were spared and God's will was accomplished.  

I believe that all Christians are called to a life of intercessory prayer.  We too can and should be moved by God to pray for specific concerns that He alerts us to.  As we prove faithful in prayer, He will teach us to receive revelation and impulse from the Holy Spirit to guide us in our praying.  In this way, we participate with God in guarding the lives of others and bringing them into an experience of God's will for their lives.  As we shoulder the responsibility, we are also blessed to live in close communication with the Lord and to experience the adventure of intercession.

Conclusion

Prayer is spiritual warfare.  Through learning to watch and pray, we are enabled to see the battleground, besiege the Enemy, and seize the victory.  We are enabled by the Holy Spirit to perceive God's purposes and release God's will into the lives of those for whom we pray.

To watch and pray is to intercede as "watchmen on the wall."  That is, we see the vision of God's purposes, we position ourselves in that vision, and we battle through prayer to its fulfillment.  This means that we are divinely enabled to perceive God's purposes for others, to discern Satan's strategies against them, to resist the Enemies assaults against them, and to release God's will for them.  

Watching and praying alerts us to imminent trials of our faith that are sent by the Enemy to weaken our resolve to follow the Lord and to cause us to respond to spiritual attacks through fight or flight responses that aim at self-preservation.   As we prove faithful in prayer, God will enable us to be self-controlled and alert so that we will not be caught off guard in spiritual warfare but will know the real Enemy of our souls and will be spiritually dressed for the fight.  

Watching and praying takes us beyond gaining victory in our own spiritual battles.  It positions us to effectively receive revelation and divine impulses from God that will make us effective warriors in the Spirit on behalf of others.  God desires to use us to literally salvage lives from destruction and see them become living stones build together into a habitation in which He can live by His Spirit -- a unified Body of worshippers through whom His glory fills the earth.

 

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