Praying for others at the altar. How to serve, pray and stay out of the way.
1. Show up ready to pray. As soon as the speaker opens the altar and invites people to come, go right up. You have been entrusted with this act of service so don’t wait for anyone to specifically ask you to come forward. Come to the service asking God to open your eyes and ears to see what He might be doing. Pray while the service progresses and ask Him to pour Himself out over us.
2. Expect Him to show you things. As you approach the platform, stop and ask Him who you should pray for. He will bring someone to your attention. While you are praying He may show you a picture of something in your imagination. Could be an object, could be a scene, a word, or a scripture.
3. Whatever He shows you, ask what it is. ” What is this Lord? What does this have to do with this woman? What do you want me to do with this information?” Too many times we think we know immediately what we are seeing and we make interpretive mistakes that muddy the message God is trying to speak. Sometimes we are seeing something literal, sometimes it’s symbolic. How do we know the difference? We must ask Him.
4. Say only what He tells you to. Many times we lessen the impact God wants to make because we speak about things He is showing us instead of praying what He is showing us. He may be giving you information that is not common knowledge (a secret). If God is trusting you with a confidence you must be careful not to speak it to the wrong person. Sometimes what He shows us is only meant as prayer direction for us. If He does give you permission to tell the person what you see- tell them only what you see. Dont embellish it with your own thoughts, counsel or teaching. After you describe what you are seeing ask them, “Does this make any sense to you?” Often they are receiving confirmation of something they already heard God say to them. It may not be necessary for you to understand it al all. If it’s a true word from God He usually has been laying a context of scriptures, teaching,dreams, or visions to help them recognize what He is saying. This goes down hard for us pastoral folks but resist the urge to counsel people at the altar. Counselling should happen in a private place, the altar is a public place of prayer. When we begin to counsel someone at the altar we run the risk of talking over the Holy Spirit. He can do more repair at the altar in 15 minutes than most counsellors can do in a year!
5. Be gentle and humble. When you approach someone at the altar ask them, “May I pray for you?” then, “How can I pray for you today?” or “What can I pray with you about?” Be respectful of their personal space and don’t touch them unless you know them. Try to keep your own emotions in control and resist the urge to sob over them. There are types of birthing prayers and travailing prayers that are very emotional and passionate but we need to be led to pray that way in public and not just dissolve into an emotional heap. If you allow your emotions to run unchecked you can be a huge distraction to the person you are trying to pray for. Don’t try to force someone to pray with you or “mother” them into letting you pray for them. The Holy Spirit is gentle like a dove and waits for us to invite Him in. What happens at the altar is God’s business. If you sense that someone is reacting in a way that seems demonic, get someone in charge to help you.
6. Learn how to “flip”. If God shows you something that is negative- pray for the opposite thing. If you see the word “depression” written in your imagination over the woman’s forehead, pray for the joy of the Lord to flood her whole being with light. Ask God to energize her, give her sweet sleep when she lays down at night. Pray that He surronds her with laughter as a medicine for healing. Ask Him to show her that He has plans for her, not to harm her, but to give her a future and a hope. Praying the positive thing ensures that you are not “praying in the ditch” (without faith) but rather you are proclaiming over her the thing God wants to do in her life. You are praying faith over her. It’s not necessary to tell her or anyone in hearing range that you saw the word “depression” written on her forehead. If God shows you an area of sin in her life there are several things to remember: God will only show you unconfessed sin. Any sin that has been confessed is covered under the blood. Never speak out loud any area of sin God shows you at the altar. You can still flip this as you pray out loud for God to do a purifying work in their life, that He is calling them to come near and walk in the light with Him, etc. Much prayer is needed before sharing this with anyone else.You will know immediately that repentance is needed. The bible says that it’s the kindness of God that brings us to repentance. It also says that if you who are spiritual should restore them in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself lest you too be tempted. Praying for repentance requires us to be truly humble and broken ourselves. By showing you this God is saying that He trusts you to do the tough work of interceding for this person- cultivating a heart of repentance in them. This usually requires time- sometimes months or years of prayer.
Always remember that you could be wrong. The bible says that we all see through a glass darkly. We are not foolproof, no matter how gifted or trained we are in prayer. When we become insistent that we are right and we know what we saw, etc.- we are setting ourselves up to become arrogant. Arrogance and elit-ism destroys our relationships with leadership and violates the trust they place in us. Prayer is a ministry of service, not government. If you feel after much prayer that God wants you to share that information with a leader (a pastor or elder ) then you must be willing to let them decide before God what their response should be. We must always be ready to submit to God and the human leadership He has placed around us to tell us if they feel we have missed something. Being teachable shows a maturing character and pleases God. Our goal should not be to always prove we are right but to submit to a process of maturity in our own character.
7. Learn when to step aside. It’s not always necessary for people to have someone pray with them at the altar. Sometimes it is most effective to allow someone to work out their conversation with God alone. It can be hard to watch someone agonizing by thmselves but some of the best reconstructive work God does in us is when we are face to face alone with Him. The great revivalist, Charles Finney, used to tell people at the close of his services to go home, don’t talk to anyone on the way and get alone in their house before they talked to God. His fear was that people would “talk away” the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Hesistate and pray for someone in your prayer language for a minute before approaching them. Sometimes I wait until they seem done talking to God and go to them while they are just sitting there at the altar. The Holy Spirit will let you know when it’s time for you to join them.
8. Be ready to serve. People react differently as the Holy Spirit works with them. Don’t be surprised by the reactions you see- laughter, moaning, crying, silence, falling down, people praying in their prayer language. You may see people sitting, standing, laying down. No matter your personal practice, try to learn to be comfortable with the moving of the Spirit at the altar. Some people may react in ways you feel are contrived or theatrical but that always happens where God is truly working.
Constructing a prayer covering for you or your church
If you have been pastoring for more than 24 hrs. you feel the need for a prayer covering. The diversity and complexity of peoples needs in an average body of believers can be overwhelming and we quickly realize that for many problems people face, the only answer lies in the miracle power of God. Additionally, every pastor and his family need people who will faithfully and discreetly pray for them. Prayer ministry in the local church can be so refreshing to the pastor and his family. A good prayer covering can even act as a filter through which God can confirm pastoral discernment and leadership decisions.
Prayer covering in the local church has at least three distinctive layers;
1. Whole church requests and events. These requests are often made by the pastor during Sunday morning service and may be as simple as asking prayer for someone who is sick or something happening in the community. The information shared is public knowledge and worded in a way not to reveal anything too private. The audience is the larger corporate body. The public appeal to pray lifts prayer to a more visible level in the church. It also activates your largest prayer force (the whole congregation) and provides you with a “fishing pool” to discover potential prayer leadership to create the next layer of prayer coverage…
2. A prayer team . Prayer teams in the local church are smaller corporate groups, 5-50 people that meet regularly for the purpose of praying for the needs of the body, their community, ministry and outreach to the lost, church leaders, etc. Pastors and elders will note that as they host whole church prayer events, some individuals may show a greater capacity and enthusiasm for prayer than others. They may come early and stay late, they may offer suggestions about upcoming prayer events or offer to help organize or facilitate prayer. Some may show a heightened ability to hear scriptures, words, see pictures that enhance and give direction for strategic praying. These people should help the group work better as a team and overall bring encouragement to everyone who wants to pray. Look for people with spiritual maturity, who demonstrate humility, kindness and patience. They should not monopolize the prayer or intimidate others.
Invite 10-12 of these people to pray with you for a month. Bring a prayer directive that includes prayer for coming outreach events, upcoming elders meetings including one agenda item that is not too sensitive. Carefully word any requests in a positive way, praying what you believe God wants to do in the situation. After praying with this group for a month, you should be able to handpick those that you want to form the prayer team. Hopefully you have also identified who could successfully lead this group and can approach them as well to see if they would be willing to serve. If you handpick your team in this way you will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of beginning with an “all comers” prayer meeting. Unfortunately, the public announcement that you need volunteers for a prayer team invariably attracts disgruntleds or unstable people who want to pray but are not mature enough to work well with a team or handle the information they are given in a God glorifying way. The last level of prayer is maybe the most challenging for pastors to construct…
3. Personal intercessors. This should consist of 2 or 3 people who will serve as the pastor’s personal intercessor. These people might already be people who you confide in and share personal information with. They may or may not attend your church. They may include your wife, mother or mentor. They must be people you feel comfortable giving access to you. Your cellphone number, your weekly schedule, permission to call you at home, etc. Ask them if they will begin to pray for you in a more intentional way. Let them know you value their ability to pray and hear from God. Communicate with them regularly (maybe every Monday or Tues. to give them an idea of the things you’ll be facing that week. Give them personal requests about you and your family. Caution; Make sure you ask your wife if she feels comfortable with each person before you ask them to take on this role.
When you take the time to construct this type of prayer in your church, you will get the power you need to move forward into your community with news about God. You will always have people praying in your church- now you will be able to mobilize them into a mighty force for prayer.
Seven Basic Steps to Successful Prayer and Fasting
1. Set your objective. Why are you fasting? Ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His leading and objectives for your prayer fast. This allows you to pray more strategically and specifically.
2. Make your commitment. Before you fast, decide this up front:
How long will you fast? One meal, one meal a day, a week, several weeks, forty days? Beginners should start slowly and learn the skills of successful fasting, building up over time to longer fasts.
What type of fast does God want you to do? Water only, water and juices, only vegetables (Daniel fast)?
What physical or social activities will you restrict?
How much time eack day will you give to prayer and reading the Word?
Making these commitments ahead of time will help you sustain your fast when physical temptations and life’s pressures tempt you to abandon it.
3. Prepare yourself spiritually. Prayer and fasting is built on repentance. Unconfessed sin will hinder your prayers. Here are several things you can do to prepare your heart;
Ask God to help you make a comprehensive list of your sins.
Confess every one that He brings to your mind.
Ask forgiveness from all that you have offended, and forgive all who have hurt you. (Mark 11:25, Luke 11:4, 17:3&4)
Make restitution however the Holy Spirit tells you to.
Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirt according to His command in Eph. 5:18, and His promise in 1John 5:14&15.
Surrender your life fully to Jesus as your Lord and Master and refuse to obey your old nature. (Romans 12:1&2)
Meditate on the attributes of God, His love, sovereignty, power, wisdom, faithfulness, grace, compassion, etc. (Psalm 48:9&10, 103:1-8, 11-13)
Begin your time of fasting and prayer with an expectant heart. (Hebrews 11:6)
Do not underestimate spiritual opposition. Satan sometimes intensifies the natural battle between body and spirit when you fast. (Galatians 5:16&17)
4. Prepare yourself physically. Fasting requires reasonable precautions. Consult your doctor first about any medications you take or if you have a chronic sickness that might be affected by a fast. Some people should never fast without professional supervision. Some tips to help your body cooperate with your fast;
Do not rush into your fast. Prepare your body by eating smaller portions of food before starting the fast.
Avoid high fat and sugary foods as you get closer to your fast.
Transition to eating raw fruits and vegetables for two days before beginning your fast.
While you fast…
Avoid drugs, even natural herbal drugs and homeopathic remedies. Prescription medications should only be withdrawn with your doctors supervision.
Limit your activity.
Exercise only moderately. Walk one to three miles each day if convenient and comfortable.
Rest as much as your schedule will permit.
Prepare yourself for temporary mental discomforts such as impatience, crankiness, and anxiety.
Expect some physical discomfort, especially on the second day. You may have fleeting hunger pains, dizziness, or the blahs. Withdrawal from caffeine and sugar may cause headaches. Physical annoyances may also include weakness, tiredness, or sleeplessness. It gets easier after the first two or three days. For hunger pains, increase your fluid intake.
5. Put yourself on a schedule. Order your day so you know when you are going to take in fluids, when you are going to pray, etc.
6. End your fast gradually. Begin eating gradually. This is especially important if you have been fasting for more than a day or two. Try several smaller meals or snacks each day. Break your fast initially with fruit. Add raw vegetables and fruit to the juice you drank during your fast and then add baked potato or steamed vegetables.
7. Expect results. If you are sincerely humble and repent and pray and seek God’s face, He will meet you. (John 14:21)
How to partner with leaders in the local church
Are you old enough to remember the cartoon called Mighty Mouse? What made the cartoon so funny was that he really had a small man complex. He was all muscled up and powerful, flying around saving people and averting catastrophe, yet he was just a mouse. In his world he was respected and powerful and maybe even feared, but in the end he was still just a mouse. No matter how powerful we think we are in prayer, no matter how much we think we have learned about the ways of God…we will still be only little old us. No matter where you go, there you are! The authority structure in the local church is important for us to understand when moving in the authority we develop in prayer.
The authority in the local church is a delegated one. God set pastors and elders as the “gatekeepers” of the church. They are the ones that say what comes in and what stays out. They watch for the safety of the flock and guard them- evaluating anything that might effect them as to whether this will be healthy for the body or unhealthy. These leaders are appointed by overseers in public, delegating responsibility to them from God. The authority that a pray-er has is also delegated by God but is not a governmental authority, but an authority to influence and serve. The governmental leaders set policy and direction and cast vision and the pray-ers serve them and help them do their job of nurturing the body. The prayer people dont set policy and vision, they confirm it. They arent responsible to interpret how the pastor and elders respond to their insights in prayer. (Watchmen on the wall are only responsible to deliver their message. Ezek. 33:1-9) I remember a time I was leading prayer for our church and I thought I heard God say that the entire church was to enter a time of fasting together. I went to the pastor and delivered that message and he did not call the church to fasting. He saw a different timing or a different application than I did. I felt that I could trust my leadership to inquire of God about the word I gave them and He would tell them what to do. I chose not to take offense that he did not do what I saw. Will men always get it right? Of course not. But I love my leadership by praying for them and watching God teach them as He is teaching me, how to follow His lead.
When the prayer people allow the pastors and elders to make decisions to delay a response to something they have seen or heard in prayer with out becoming offended or “greived” they demonstrate humility and trust in the most biblical way. This relationship helps each type of leader to work together without either one feeling the need to grasp for power. Prayer people should remind each other that no matter how confident we get in hearing God or “seeing” in the Spirit, we all “see through a glass darkly”. It remains easy for us to misinterpret timing in what we see or hear. Am I seeing something that is going to take place next week, next year or in years to come?
Ultimately it is God who will hold the pastor and elders responsible for what happens in the church and they must be free to make the final call. It remains our job to pray, report what we see and pray for them as they decide what to do with that information.
Discipling A Pray-er
Early in our ministry, I didnt know what to do with the prayer people. I remember a very gifted “seer” who told us something that only God could have known about one of our elders. It proved true in such a spectacular way that after that I was intimidated by her. She came across so sure of herself and it seemed as though she was just waiting for me to catch on to some higher level of spirituality so that I could really be a leader! She was a puzzle to me though because she didnt bond with any other women in the body and her relationship with her husband was not healthy. What I know now is that she desperately needed to be discipled. Her gift was big but her character was small.
People who desire to have a ministry in the local church need to develop strength of character, and prayer ministry is no exception. It is good to pursue new skills in hearing God more clearly, increasing our capacity to pray, but not at the exclusion of cultivating the fruits of the Spirit in our life. Those fruits need to be evident in the way pray-ers conduct their relationships with others. Just like any other ministry in the church , people who desire to minister in prayer need to first of all have a life of integrity and maturity. Too many prayer people envision themselves as an Old Testament prophet. They stand outside the social and leadership structure of the church and just proclaim things. This disconnect causes leaders concern. They essentially can become a “loose cannon”, no one knowing what they might do or say. Pastors and elders can not observe their life or develop a trusting relationship with them. Some develop this model of ministry because they lack the social skills to function properly in the body, some are being used by the enemy to attempt to gain power and influence through intimidation. In either case good pastoral care and leadership is needed. If when confronted they become teachable, then the church gets the benefit of their “prayer power” and the individual takes their God given place in fulfilling ministry.
A great teaching/training resource for this topic is the Streams course that Julie Cole teaches called The Art of Hearing God. This is a three day intensive seminar that teaches proper alignment with governmental church leadership through developing humility. The content and presentation is excellent. To host this seminar, contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org