Learn to Pray from Heaven’s Perspective
By Bill Elliff
So there I sat in a small auditorium with 100 people in Dallas, TX, in the early ’70s. I was a college student whose heart had been radically affected by Christ during the spiritual intensity of the Jesus Movement.
We were watching the premiere of a new film series about God and culture. After each segment, a small man with a white beard and knickers would come out on the stage, sit on a stool, and tell us where the world was headed. The man was L’Abri ministry founder Francis Schaeffer, author of How Should We Then Live?
I was shocked. He spoke of the horror of something called “abortion.” (I had to ask my brother what that was.) He educated us about euthanasia, the decline of democracy, and the ways art and entertainment reflect in advance where society is headed. It was eye popping and tragically prophetic.
As I take a 45-year glance back at that moment in my life, I am even more astounded at the accuracy of his insights. Schaeffer discerned the times.
Value of Discernment
A leader is one who sees ahead. He or she has the foresight—however gained—to see where a family, an organization, a business, a church, or a movement is going (or could go). Discerning leaders anticipate the coming waves and know how to take people through them.
For followers of Christ, such spiritual leadership is invaluable. Scan your Bible. You will see that the men and women God used to change their world also had the ability to see ahead. They understood the times. Discerning prophets warned people. And their warnings, if heeded, saved whole nations. Joseph had dreams that delivered the known world, including his own family. David stayed one step ahead of a murderous Saul. Elijah saw “horses and chariots of fire,” a heavenly sighting that brought peace to his servant and deliverance to his people (2 Kings 6:15–17).
Fast forward to the New Testament. Peter and John discerned that a lame man did not need silver and gold but healing and redemption (Acts 3:1–10). How did they know that? Why didn’t they just throw him a few shekels? They knew the potential for this man’s life.
God led Ananias to help liberate one who would become the greatest apostle—the former hate-spewing Saul, turned Paul (Acts 9:10–19). And in the Book of Revelation John tells us that while exiled on an island, he saw a vision that still guides believers and will do so until the end of time.
They all saw ahead—and led accordingly.
Discernment is indispensable for prayer. Effective intercessors, in tune with God’s understanding, don’t waste their prayers. They get in the loop of Spirit-initiated intercession in such ways that their prayers help God’s “kingdom come and [His] will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
How many of us have heard prayers—or prayed prayers—that were not in line with God’s agenda? We often move our mouths in prayer even when we are clueless about the realities in both heaven and earth. God must shake His head at times and let our prayers go unanswered.
God has given us everything we need to see ahead. But we must use these incredibly effective tools if we are to pray and live aright.
Understand God’s Ways
We all have a discernible way about ourselves. “He’s always like that,” you might say of a friend. In the same way, God wants us to know Him, His character, and His ways. He has shown us His ways throughout human history. In order to know Him better, He has recorded these ways and thoughts in Scripture. We can observe many of His standard operating procedures, even though He tells us that His ways are higher than ours (Is. 55:9).
David was a great, discerning leader because he was a student of God’s ways. Listen to his prayers for understanding:
- “Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me your paths” (Ps. 25:4).
- “I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . . I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11–12).
- “I meditate on your precepts and consider [look upon] your ways” (Ps. 119:15).
How can you discern the times? Read your Bible! Read it thoroughly, prayerfully, daily—and seek to know the ways of God and man. Then interpret everything that is happening around you in light of God’s ways.
When I observe an event in the news, I often think, If that event were placed in the middle of the Old Testament, what would we conclude about God’s agenda?
For instance, how did we interpret what happened in our nation on 9/11? Was it a mere act of evil men? Or was it a result of our rebellion and the removal of God’s protecting hand? God is not evil, but He does allow evil men to do what evil men do—if we as a nation continue to refuse Him. Perhaps it was a call to repentance, but how many discerned that?
Do you know what is happening in our nation right now? Are you praying rightly? God has given us what we need in His Word to be like the men of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32). God did not give us His Word merely to help us devotionally but to equip us for insightful, discerning intercession that moves heaven and earth when we become students of His ways!
Pray by God-initiation
Every follower of Christ lives in two worlds, whether they realize it or not. Once we were aligned only to the material world. Now, we can see both material and spiritual. Before Christ, we were “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” and “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:1–2). But now God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13).Because of this real-time dual citizenship, we have discernment ability unlike those without Christ. We now have heaven’s perspective. Paul tells us what this advantage brings:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3:1–4).
Do you understand what this means? You can peer into heaven! In fact, you are there right now—and prayer and the Word of God are the 3-D glasses that give you the ability to see what is happening in heaven. By God’s initiative, we can see what God thinks, feels, desires, and plans.
Not only can we observe heaven, we can also see earth from heaven’s perspective. We have new eyes, like Elijah seeing the horses and chariots in the spiritual realm. The heavenly horses were real but only discernible with spiritual eyes. When Elijah saw this reality, it changed everything in his responses, prayers, and behavior. He saw ahead. Jesus, while on earth as a man, showed us how this works. He modeled for us how we can have the discernment that leads to effective cooperation with God and usefulness in His Kingdom. Listen to His words:
- “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30).
- “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).
- “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken” (John 12:49). •“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).
We can live (and pray) by Divine initiation! Think of how this “loop” of prayer works. Abiding in Christ, we tune our heart by His Spirit and Word to heaven. This is why walking in sync with Christ with no interference is so important!
We look around this world at what is happening—in our families, church, government, etc.—and then look around heaven, asking God to show us what He thinks and desires so we can pray effectively. God shows us the spiritual realities of what is occurring, and He directs us, by His Spirit, in prayer. He calms our hearts—or burdens or breaks our hearts—as needed.
This type of prayer starts in the heavens, passes through the discerning intercessor, and returns to the Throne. Such prayer is effective because God Himself initiates it. He loves to answer His own desires. We get the joy (and training) of being involved as His instruments!
The Need for Discernment
We are entering days like none we have ever seen in our lifetime. Evil days. Critical days. This calls for a new level of intercession. We need men and women who see ahead and pray fervently, faithfully, and effectively.
God is profoundly aware of these days. He has been navigating His Church, with all of our weaknesses, through the darkness of this world for decades. The gates of hell will never prevail against His agenda.
He can make each of us into intercessors who see ahead, like Francis Schaeffer did, and help heaven and earth move for God’s glory.
BILL ELLIFF is senior teaching pastor of The Summit Church, Little Rock, AR, and has authored several books, including his latest, The Presence Centered Church. He is also a member of the OneCry executive leadership team and co-author with Byron Paulus of OneCry: A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening.