By David Cannistraci
I wasn’t feeling especially spiritual. I was just trying to decide which carpet color I liked best, but God had other plans for me that afternoon.
Jerry, a stout 60-year old flooring salesman, had come into my office to show me some carpet for our church. We had never met before, so we chatted briefly about his business. After a quick orientation on material and pricing options, I dove in to the bulky sample books he had plunked down on my desk. I think I was considering the virtues of a soft geometric pattern when I looked up and was caught completely by surprise:
Jerry’s broad shoulders were shuddering. He was red in the face, trying hard to hold back his tears.
“Are you okay?” I asked, feeling awkward.
“I’m sorry…it’s just that this is hard for me. I used to be a pastor like you. Coming back to a church setting like this for the first time is difficult.”
“What happened?” I inquired, trying to imagine what drove his pain.
“The constant pressure in our church on top of the painful physical attacks my wife was having almost ate me up me emotionally. I became a nervous wreck. I got to the place that I knew if that phone rang just one more time, I’d lose it. So my wife and I packed up and walked away after thirty years of ministry. It tore us up. We still love God, but the constant battles…”
Jerry’s voice trailed off. His head tilted down and his hands covered his eyes in shame. Before I knew it, I was on my knees beside this broken man. He gripped my hand. I asked the Lord to restore his wounded spirit and heal his broken heart.
PASTORS IN PAIN
Jerry is not alone. In fact, nearly everywhere I travel, I meet pastors that are hurting. A wave of trouble seems to have been unleashed against the church as a whole, and spiritual leaders are getting hit with the worst of it. Many of God’s servants are facing cancer, money problems, lawsuits, and family tragedies of unimaginable scale.
What is happening? The Bible warns that the end times would be stressful and difficult. Yet many of us are discerning that something beyond tough times is in play. I believe there is an all-out assault from the enemy against spiritual leaders. Satan knows what we must be reminded of today: If you smite the shepherd, the sheep will scatter (Mark 14:27). For that reason, I believe that unless we learn to provide our spiritual leaders with a protective shield of prayer, our churches and ministries will never be able to fully impact their cities.
It’s no secret that pastors and other spiritual leaders live with continual pressure. Leaders have tougher paths to walk than those who follow behind. The harvest fields they work in are often booby-trapped with spiritual and emotional landmines hidden there by the enemy.
The statistics should disturb us. For example, did you know that 1200 pastors in North America leave the ministry every month due to stress, burnout and failure? Some other troubling numbers about pastors:
- 97% of pastors say they were inadequately trained for the challenges they face
- 80% say pastoral ministry has had a negative effect on their children
- 70% say they constantly fight depression
- 70% feel underpaid
- 71% say they are in financial trouble
- 65% have thought of quitting the ministry within the last 30 days
- 70% say they do not have someone they consider a close friend
If these figures are correct, we have a crisis on our hands that rivals the moral crisis in the Catholic Church. And if these terrible trends hold true over time, the damage will be devastating.
In the midst of this enemy advance, where have all the watchmen gone? The honest truth is that many of us are dozing. Like the disciples who slept while Jesus faced His most difficult hours, too often we do the same with regard to those whose victory is so important to us.
Are you praying and fasting for your spiritual leaders? Others are, but not in the way you might think. Many of us are now aware that witches routinely fast and pray for the downfall of our Christian leaders. Spiritual warfare specialist Ed Murphy tells a shocking story of a conversation he had on an airplane with an occult leader who admitted that he and others were fasting in the hopes of seeing key spiritual leaders fall into sickness and disgrace.
The truth is, all too often pastors go unsupported during these times of attack. One significant pastor I know suffered a massive heart attack and then a stroke from ministry pressure. Shortly afterwards over a hundred families left his big city church. Their reason? They made it clear that they felt his faith was not strong enough. If he had been a true man of God, these things would not have happened.
We had better figure out whose side we are on, and keep our eyes open. David made it clear that failing to properly protect your leader is a serious sin (1 Samuel 26:13-15). Saul’s commanders were sleeping when they should have been shielding, and an enemy was able to slink in by cover of night. We must avoid being drowsy disciples if our churches and ministries are to advance.
THE COMMAND TO COVER
What can we do? God is calling believers to pray prayers of protection over their leaders so that the entire church can prevail against the enemy’s attacks, move forward and take our cities for God. Think of the old cowboy movies where the hero, besieged by relentless gunfire, calls to his companions, “Cover me, I’m going in!” That kind of scene reminds us of a simple spiritual truth: Supporting a leader means protecting them from enemy fire so they can advance and make a way for us all to safely advance.
Scripture commands us to cover our spiritual leaders with protective prayers. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth…” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).Paul told the Philippians that Epaphroditus had nearly died for the cause of his ministry, urging them to honor him and care for him in light of that fact (Philippians 2:25-30). This will require a high level of sensitivity in us as His people as to the difficult nature of Christian leadership (1Thessalonians 5:13).
The people who respond to this call play an enormous role in the kingdom of God. Pastors and leaders worldwide will attest to this. In our own church, we are blessed with devoted intercessors that make it their aim to cover our pastoral team every time they gather for prayer, often fasting for days and then surrounding us physically, praying for our needs. On occasion, they email us or drop us notes filled with loving and sensitive insight birthed through their hours of prayer. This kind of support is invaluable to spiritual leaders because it empowers us to do what God has called us to do without endless demonic hindrances. Emotionally, I can’t tell you how it makes me feel to know that my marriage, family, ministry and personal life are shielded with daily prayer by faithful intercessors that have responded to the command to cover.
If you are an intercessor, and you watch in prayer over your leaders, you are a vital part of the plan of God for your region.
WITH PRAYER, EVERYONE WINS BIG
Leaders are not the only ones who benefit from this type of strong prayer covering. When leaders are properly undergirded, the entire congregation prevails in battle.
The defining story of Aaron and Hur shows them supporting Moses’ hands as Israel fought against the Amalekites. It is an unmistakable truth that Israel was victorious precisely because they were supporting divinely appointed leadership (Exodus 17:10-12). As Moses’ heavy hands were lifted, the entire nation moved forward in victory, but when they let his hands fall, their battle automatically turned against them. This principle is so significant that after that victory, God revealed Himself to all of Israel in a brand new way. He became Jehovah Nissi, The Lord Our Victory Banner and instructed Israel never to forget what had happened that day.
I am convinced that we will see more reconciliation, financial provision, miracles of healing, and personal breakthroughs than ever if we will learn the secret of supporting those whom God has placed over us. But that is just the beginning of what God can do when we walk in this truth. The real payoff comes as we look at things on a more strategic level.
OPENING THE GATES OF THE CITY
There is a powerful link between this kind of prayer and the advancement of the Gospel (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 2 Thess. 3:1). Intercession for spiritual leaders enables us to strip the enemy of territory and claim the harvest for the Lord in our cities.
Cities and nations can be taken when we support our leaders. Take a look at what’s happened in the United States over the last few years. After a painful division between Republicans and Democrats and a deeply divided presidential election in 2000, we were vulnerable as a nation. In the midst of this national schism, terrorists struck at America’s heart. But within weeks, as we shifted into unity behind President Bush, we rooted the Taliban out of Afghanistan and liberated its people.
We cannot forget that when the early church prayed for the apostle Peter in a time of crisis, citywide revival was released. Think about the story of Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12. Not only was Peter imprisoned in the midst of a huge persecution against the church, but the enemy had positioned four squads of soldiers to bind him personally. Surely this is a prophetic glimpse of the overwhelming resistance that key leaders face.
But Scripture says that constant prayer was made by the church for Peter’s release. After a glorious visitation by angels and a dramatic jailbreak in answer to a nonstop prayer storm, something incredible happened that we cannot miss: Peter was led to the iron gate of the city that opened of it’s own accord (Acts 12:10). I believe this is a compelling picture of how intercession for leaders will lead to even the most stubborn gateways opening up in our cities.
In the same way, the key to a prevailing church or nation is having the right spirit in place when it comes to prayerfully supporting leaders. When we back our leaders, we are victorious and the gospel goes forth in new power.
WALKING IN BLESSING
Some time ago, a pastor friend went through a season of complete frustration and discouragement. People were quitting, money was drying up, and times were hard. He secretly decided he would call it quits and go back into business. But his alert staff and intercessors were praying. On three separate occasions, he determined to announce his resignation, but each time, something happened to interrupt this plan and he was forced to delay the announcement. He never was able to resign! Looking back on this time, we know that the prayers of the saints held him in his place. Today, the discouragement is gone, and he is once again strong in the Lord. As a result, the church is growing, and they have purchased new property for the future, and the people are walking in blessing.
Over the years, I’ve met a lot of wonderful Christian leaders that are working hard to build churches and take their cities for Christ. Many are succeeding. But I’ll never forget the look of desperation in Jerry’s eyes as he begged for my prayers that day. I am grateful to have shared that moment with him, and moments like them with other pastors around the world.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t help but feel that if Jerry had just had some prayer warriors around him that he and his wife would still be in ministry today. One thing I know for sure: It’s time for each of us to embrace the call to pray for our spiritual leaders to be released from the prisons of the enemy, for as we do, the gates to our cities will open, and the harvest will be won.