A church prayer leader recently asked me a great question: “Is there a way our prayer ministry can incorporate listening prayer into our times of intercession for the church body?”
In her local church, the prayer team typically receives dozens of prayer requests each week for the needs of the congregation. Unemployment, illness, wayward children, and relationship issues usually top the list. The people submitting the prayer requests generally know what they would like God to do: They would like Him to fix, heal, and make the pain go away. If we’re honest, that’s what we all would like God to do when we’re anxious and hurting—no matter how mature we are. However, those of us who have walked with the Lord for a while also realize that God’s perspective and plans are larger than ours. In spite of how good and loving He is, making the pain go away is not always His first priority. He knows what we need far better than we do, after all.
So this prayer leader wanted to know how to handle the prayer team’s prayer times. Should they get together and pray through the prayer requests one by one, asking God to do exactly what the person making the request wants Him to do? Or is there a way to listen for God’s heart and see what He might want to add or how He might want to redirect?
I suggested that she group the prayer requests into categories. These would vary according to the requests submitted, obviously, but general categories might include: marriages, health, finances, wayward children, salvation of friends and family, and so on. Then when the prayer team gathers to pray, they could select a category, quickly read through all the requests in that category, and then begin praying by asking something like this: “Father, you hear these people’s hurts and hopes. We know You are good and You want to answer their requests with good gifts. We also know that Your ways are higher and wiser than ours. So what are You thinking You’d like to do for these children of Yours? Is there something You’d like to do in addition to what they’ve asked for? Are there things You want them to learn about You and Your purposes for their lives as they go through this trial?” (Or other similar questions the Holy Spirit may lead you to ask.)
Then, and this is important, then wait. Expect God to answer. Allow for at least five minutes of silence. Encourage your prayer team to write down impressions, Scriptures, pictures, or anything else that comes to mind as they are listening to God. After five minutes or so, invite your prayer team very briefly to share what they heard. Encourage them not to editorialize or elaborate beyond what they specifically heard. You don’t want to take up a lot of time with this part. The main thing is to see if there is a trend in what is being heard—if so that’s often a confirmation of God’s leading. So limit this time to two or three minutes at the most. Then spend the next ten minutes or so praying according to what you sensed God was saying.
You can repeat this process with the other requests. Or, if time is running short, you can divide your team into smaller groups, divvy up the remaining requests, and finish praying through in a more “conventional” way. Then next time you get together to pray, you could choose a different category to pray about so that over time, the various needs get prayed for in this more in-depth, “listening” type of prayer.
So there is one idea for how to combine listening prayer into a time of corporate intercession. But I’m sure there are others. I would love to hear from those of you in prayer ministries who also have thought about this interesting question—so if you have other ideas, please share them with us! Let’s learn from one another!