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Prayer, like any other aspect of our Christian walk, will sometimes have it's ups and downs. There will be time when God feels very close and there will be times when He feels far away. There will be times when it's really easy to pray and there will be times when it's an incredible struggle. We need to be realistic and understand that this does happen. And we need not be surprised when it happens to us, because it will.
The sense of God being distant can be caused by different things, and the strategy you take to correct it varies depending on the cause.
There are times when we have fallen into a sinful action or attitude, and it becomes a wedge between us and God. This is a basic, because we know that sin separates us from God (Is. 59:2). We know that He won't hear and answer our prayers when we're in this state. We also know that it interferes with our prayer life if we harbor bitterness or unforgiveness toward someone (Mark 11:35). Of course, the solution to this type of "separation" from God is pretty simple. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Along with that, we also need to repent (Matt. 3:7-8) and change our attitudes and behaviors to line up with God's (Rom. 8:29, Rom. 12:2).
There are times when there is enemy resistance that keeps us from experiencing the presence of God the way we're used to. If the enemy interferes in your relationship with God, then resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Along with that, we continue to submit to God. Sometimes we press through; we begin praying or worshiping even when we don't feel like it. As we persist, the anointing increases and the enemy becomes unable to interfere any longer. At times, when we can't seem to get our own personal breakthrough, we ask some of our brothers and sisters to pray for us, to cancel enemy assignments against us, etc.
And there are times where God simply withdraws our ability to sense His presence because He wants to teach us to walk by faith instead of by feelings. The best thing to do in that type of circumstance is to remind yourself of God's nature and character, remind yourself of His faithfulness and keep pressing forward in your walk with Him, even if the "feelings" aren't there. In addition to that, I tend to cry out to God and invite His presence.
What I'd like to do is share a testimony of my own personal prayer life that was written about four or five years ago. It sort of touches on the changes and phases and ups/downs of prayer life and will give you a bit of an example of how prayer walks out in day-to-day life.
My Prayer Life Testimony
I'd been an unsuccessful Christian since April 1971, trying to live the Christian life in my own power. It didn't work very well and I could never live up to the standards that the Bible and the church seemed to be setting. I tried, hard, and was constantly defeated and frustrated, and struggling with besetting sins. I puzzled over that verse where Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice." I was one of His sheep. How come I couldn't hear His voice? The best I could do was to name/claim a Bible verse. Unfortunately I misclaimed a verse and became convinced God would grant me a husband by the time I was 28. God didn't keep that promise to me because He hadn't made that promise. I became very disappointed and decided that since God wasn't taking care of me, I'd take care of myself. So at 29 years of age, I backslid. I didn't go into a life of sin and decay; I just stopped including God in my life.
I met/married a wonderful man when I was 32. Unfortunately, the man I married was an unbeliever. God spoke to me clearly just before the wedding. He told me that I wasn't to be yoked to an unbeliever. Once I got over my initial surprise of God speaking to me, my response to God wasn't so intelligent. I told Him that since He hadn't taken care of me, I was going to take care of myself. I didn't care what He wanted. If I could repent later, great. If not, oh well.
A few months after the wedding, I became hungry for God again. But I was afraid to approach Him because of what I'd said to Him. I figured He wouldn't want me back. It took almost a year before I started going to church again, because I was so afraid that God did not want me back. When I did come back to God, something inside of me knew that it had to be "all or not at all." The Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit that Jesus must be Lord (boss). I told Him that if He'd teach me how, I'd like to do that. That was a major turning point in my life!
Suddenly God began to reveal Himself to me. He began to teach me of Himself. I began to know His voice clearly. Bondages and oppressions fell off of me and I began to experience His victory and His power in my life. Besetting sins stopped besetting me. For the first time in my life, I began to see the fruit of the Spirit in my life.
The neatest thing started to happen. I could spend hours with God -- usually about three a day -- and He would meet me. Prayer became so alive. He met me and began speaking to me. I went through a few month period where He'd show me an area of sin from my past. I'd cry and weep before Him and receive His forgiveness and His empowerment not to be snared in that anymore. I thought that was going to be my entire prayer life, dealing with past sins and allowing Him to heal past hurts. But eventually He began to show me things -- things on His heart and things happening in other parts of the world. I had never heard of the term "prophetic," much less prophetic intercession. I had no idea that is what it was. I just drew apart into God's presence until He showed me His heart on something and then I prayed on what He showed me.
I allowed the Holy Spirit to lead/guide me in prayer. Then when we were done with God's prayer agenda, we'd go back to some more fellowship and intimacy. Then a bit later, He'd show me something else. Those were awesome times; they were so alive and so vibrant. I loved them.
I had no clue that this was unusual. I though all believers spent three or so hours per day with God in prayer and intimacy. Then I was in a Fuller Seminary class with Peter Wager, who taught on intercession. That was where I learned what an intercessor was and that my prayer life wasn't typical. I was so surprised!
I also met Peter's wife, Doris, and God did some special bonding in the Spirit to her. He began to show me things happening in her life and how to pray for her. On numerous occasions, I'd contact her and ask if such and such was going on, or ask what happened at a certain time on a certain date. And I'd pray for her with great intensity and knowledge of things going on in her life/ministry as God showed me.
Doris realized God had assigned me as a personal intercessor for her, and she added me to their group of personal intercessors. I received mail from them keeping me informed of what was going on in their lives and ministry and of prayer requests, etc. I also received a great deal of training from them and some of their team on intercession. It was such a marvelous time in my life to be part of their team and to stand with them in prayer and learn from them. I also began to read a lot of books on prayer and to study intercession.
I became a pretty effective intercessor because I drew near to God and sensed His heart before I prayed. Over time, I got a reputation for being one whose prayers were frequently answered. Word got out that I was an effective intercessor and I began to be inundated with prayer requests. That almost destroyed my prayer life.
At first I tried to pray for everyone who gave me a request. But I'm not a "list pray-er," that's NOT how my intercession calling works. I'm one to draw close to God to hear what's on His heart and then pray that. I became so overwhelmed with all these prayer requests that I couldn't handle them all. My prayer time became a burden, a grueling experience, instead of a delight and a place of intimacy with God. I believed I was a failure because I couldn't cover all of these prayer requests. It got to the point where I dreaded going into my prayer closet. And then I began avoiding it. I felt so guilty and I wanted to condemn and disqualify myself. I began to cry out to God about this. His answer surprised me.
"Teresa," He said, "Why are you allowing yourself to be burdened down with assignments I haven't given you and not doing the ones I have given you?"
I didn't know what to say. So I asked Him to teach me all over again how to pray. He did. The first thing He did was to teach me not to commit to pray for things He hadn't quickened me to pray for -- no matter how good the cause seemed or how desperate the need seemed. Then He released me from the sense of guilt of not being available to pray for anyone who wanted it. He turned my focus back to Him, to what He wanted.
Nonetheless, I found myself a bit afraid to approach Him as an intercessor. I had become so overwhelmed before and was afraid to go there again. So, He took me out of intercession altogether for a while. We had a season where I just did the intimacy prayer, that drawing aside in Him and hearing His heart and enjoying His presence. My favorite mode of prayer is get very quiet before Him and just listen until He speaks to me. And when He speaks, it breathes life into every fiber of my being. Then He tells me what to do next in our prayer time. God spent a lot of time just "hanging out" with me and talking to be and rebuilding the intimacy.
I didn't seem to be doing what I knew intercession to be, so I stopped calling myself an intercessor and I stopped considering myself one.
Then God began to open opportunities for me to minister to people, to be on a prayer team and pray with people. And He'd come so powerfully when I prayed. It used to really surprise me how He'd come as I prayed for people. And He'd also show me exactly what to pray for them. Again, I didn't realize this was prophetic intercession. I just knew God led and I prayed and people were touched and blessed.
This went on for more than a year and I was doing prayer ministry on an almost daily basis and seeing a great deal of the power of God touching people and of answered prayers. And I loved it! Doing this type of ministry became my favorite pastime.
One day, I asked God about it. I asked Him why I wasn't an intercessor anymore. He told me, "Teresa, you're still an intercessor. I've just changed the mode in which you pray and intercede. Instead of being in your prayer closet, you're in the ministry lines. But you are operating from and in your gift of intercession. I just changed the format of how you operate so it would again be a delight to you. For I want you to have much joy as you move in your calling."
There are times when God calls me to intercede or war for this or that. There are times when He calls me to minister to people directly; there are times when He just sets me aside to bask in His presence. But I have learned that the secret (at least for me) to successful intercession comes from drawing close to Him and allowing Him to lead my prayer time.
Whenever I try to work up intercession from my own strength, I get tired and frustrated and it doesn't work well. But when His Spirit leads me, then intercession is life and a delight to participate with Him in. There are times when I weep for the lost; there are times that I end up in the front lines of a battle and take some hits. There are times I fall under heavy counter attack. But even in all of this, as He leads me, it is life and refreshment to pray and intercede, to sense His heart and will and then to speak into existence on earth what He has already decreed as reality in Heaven. This is intercession and this is life!