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
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
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.
you know what this is supposed to be?"
sure," I said. "Itís the Statue of Liberty.
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.
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
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!!"
fellow standing behind me said, "Yeah man, but you cheatiní.
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.
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
Watching and praying in
the Old Testament
Watching and praying in
the New Testament
illustrations of watching in prayer
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.
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
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:
They see the vision of
They position themselves
in that vision.
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:
They guard those they pray
They are alert to the
Enemy's strategies against those they pray for.
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
How do we
co-labor with God in the fulfillment of this vision? We do
so through intercession. It is through intercession that
ourselves in the vision of God's grand construction project.
the plan of God for those being built into His Church.
the Enemy's tactics to hinder the spiritual growth of
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.
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
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.
Gethsemane, Jesus experienced spiritual warfare as
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.