Beni Johnson had no desire to be an intercessor. All the intercessors that she knew were depressed. She would feel other peoples’ feelings when she walked in a room, but assumed that they were her feelings. However, as God started showing her to release them to Him in prayer, and freeing her from self-pity and being afraid of what other thought, she began to realize that she was an intercessor. As she spent time with God, He would show her people, cities, or problems, and sometimes solutions. She would pray over these things. Ultimately, she came to realize that being an intercessor is simply knowing the heartbeat of Heaven and praying it into the world. Intercession is birthed out of simply spending time loving God. As we get to know Him more intimately, He starts sharing His heart with us. Intercession is just praying His heart.
Another way of saying this is that we need to pray from third realm; the realm of God. The first realm is the natural realm; praying from this realm leads us to focus on what seems logical and reasonable, which is not usually where God is coming from. The second realm is where the angels and demons war. When we pray from the second realm, we are often getting supernatural information, but from the demonic. As believers, we are seated with Christ, who is in the third realm. When we pray from this realm, we are seeing things as God sees them. It is both divine perspective and also where we enforce what Christ has accomplished on the Cross.
Intercessors need to realize that we are on the offensive team. Jesus disarmed the devil on the Cross, and now the devil is on the defensive. The offensive team does not worry about what the defense does. Instead, everyone on the offensive team knows the play and executes it; it is the defense that has to react to the offense. So intercessors need to single-mindedly focus on God so that they know what the plan is.
In fact, we are so much on the offensive, that even a single person change dramatically affect the battle. King Saul was sitting under a pomegranate tree hoping the Philistine invasion would somehow resolve itself. His son Jonathan was fed up with the Lord’s army sitting around, so he and his armor-bearer went up to the Philistine camp by themselves to attack the Lord’s enemies. They promptly killed twenty people and the whole Philistine army started fleeing (at which point Saul finally decided it was a good time to attack).
Similarly, intercession needs to be done from a place of rest. Hebrews says that Jesus is our sabbath rest. It is not us or our prayers that is doing the work, it is Jesus, and we rely on him. Striving is what the devil does, so when we start finding ourselves working and striving for the results instead of relying on Jesus for the results, we need to go back and regain our sabbath rest.
Another important value for intercessors is joy. Jesus is joyful and Heaven has lots of joy. Jesus has the world under control, so we don’t need to worry about it; that is his job. Our job is to pray what Heaven is saying and give the rest to God. “If we feed ourselves on life and joy and what God is doing here on earth, we will live like Jesus lived on earth.” (81) Johnson notes that people with a strong mercy gift seem to have trouble doing this, so they need to be especially diligent in giving the problem to God.
Joy and worship (something else Heaven is full of) are offensive weapons. They confuse the enemy, who hates both joy and worship. Bill Johnson will worship for 45 minutes and pray for 15 minutes if he has an hour to pray. Bethel Church has often had people dance in worship which seems to clear up barriers. At one church where they were having trouble having intimate worship, they had their lead dance dance, and a member of that church said that he had been seeing demons hanging out, but when she got up and started dancing in passionate worship, the demons started screaming and got out as fast as possible. Bethel Church also has intercessory prophetic art during worship; the art team even joins the worship team for practices, praying for the team members. Then, during worship, they paint as the Spirit leads.
Another offensive practice is to take ownership of the region where you live. This is not so much of a wrenching physical ownership from the demonic spiritual realm or something. Instead, it is simply caring about God’s values being expressed in the region because it is your region; you live there. Johnson was reading about massacres of Native Americans, and was led to contact the local tribe, the Wintu. Their church has consistently shown them support and sought to work with them. The small tribe was originally ignored by the local city, but as Johnson partnered with them, it spilled over to the city, and has been healing for the tribe.
Going further, intercession needs to take control of the spiritual communication in an area. The book of Daniel shows spiritual opposition hindering the answer to his prayer from reaching him for 21 days. We are on the offensive; we need to own the spiritual airways. She says you do it by praying from the heartbeat of heaven, but is a little unclear on how this differs from regular intercession.
Johnson discusses sort of a grab-bag of intercession issues. Mostly it is about not spending lots of time worrying about negative things that you are getting. Basically, if you have a concern, raise it with your team leader, but generally, simply pray with the heart to see the person flourish in the Kingdom. She notes it is easy to see dirt, but when you see the person how God sees them, then you see the gold in them. She also gives a warning against praying against demonic principalities over a region unless God specifically directs you to. Praying against things that God has not told you to can lead to physical health problems in your church.
The last chapter switches to private prayer, specifically what happens as we desire God Himself more than anything else. This is essentially what the Christian mystics were all about—having more of God at any cost. She describes several types of prayer. Travail is where we are birthing something new with God, and, like birth, can be painful. We need to release the burden back to God at the appropriate time, or the desire to see it birthed versus the present reality of it not being birthed yet can produce depression. Brooding prayer is where the Spirit leads to you to explore, through prayer, His heart for a situation. The dark night of the soul is an intense problem that (hopefully) drives us to abandon everything to God in total surrender. Ecstasy is “a period of time in prayer when the awareness of the soul is suspended and the only focus that the person has is the incredible presence of the Lord.” (179) Contemplative prayer is like “tasting” God; directly experiencing His love through contemplating aspects of Him. Finally, meditation on Scripture (lectio divina) is filling our mind with a Scripture read slowly and repetitively to understand that aspect of God deeply. (Note that it is not emptying our mind!)
The book is a quick read. Johnson is more of a story-teller than someone like Paul who builds an argument. Given the very subjective nature of spiritual experience, I think it works fairly well. However, it is pretty far out on the Charismatic spectrum, even touching on some New Age topics (for example, thin places). Her argument is that the spiritual realm is real, and that New Age, etc. is picking up on realities of the spiritual, just corrupted. Conservative readers should be forewarned. I, personally, found a statement that made in a talk at Bethel by another speaker helpful: “the offense of the apostolic is persecution [e.g. the people opposing Paul]; the offense of the prophetic is foolishness.” So if you find yourself saying “What?! You gotta be kidding me!?” remembering that the Bible does say that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world; even if you end up not agreeing, it should put you in a frame of mind to more easily understand what she is trying to say.
I found this book easy to read, but difficult to get a good mental understanding of what she was trying to say. Frankly, the book felt like she was spider-webbing (when someone, women more often, jump around from point to point without a structure that is clear from the outside). Each chapter flows okay, but the book as a whole is hard to get a handle on. That said, from my notes and this summary, I feel like her main points are:
- Intercession is praying God’s heart. So at its essence, intercession is about being intimate with God and hearing His heart.
- We are on the offensive. Tools for this are joy and worship (essential), relying on God for the results (rest), and caring for our region as if we own it.