PRAYER & How to Find the Intercessors: The Differences Between Roles & Gifts

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

We often have trouble getting people to attend prayer meetings. And, this may be because those who have the gift of intercessory prayer, don’t know they have it. Let me explain. When you invite everyone to a prayer meeting before the service, only a few people (probably those with the “gift of helps”) show up. The problem is that you have not identified those with the gift of intercessory prayer, and those with other gifts are only half-heartedly joining in.

But, the “gift of intercessory prayer” is listed as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in James 5:14-16, 1 Tim. 2:1-2 and Col. 1:9-12, 4:12-13.  So how do we “find the intercessors?”

First, let’s look at a definition of “the gift of intercessory prayer.”

These are people who have the special gift for “passionate, extended and effective prayer, c.f. James 5:14-16, 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Col. 1:9-12, 4:12-13 (see this excerpt from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey, Wesleyan Publishing House). C. Peter Wagner estimated that about 5% of a congregation has the gift of intercessory prayer (1979, 1984, p. 70).

Secondly, how do you help those with the gift, “find it?”

A student once said,

“How can you even know if you have the gift of intercessory prayer? Is it if you like prayer? That seems like more a product of personality than gift. Is it because you see more results when you intercede? How can that even be measured? Do you just know it or feel that it is your gift?  Dr. Whitesel, in your post you talk about a “supernatural charge or anointing”… I can get pretty jazzed when I preach and I can feel like I am “in the zone” but does that mean it is my spiritual gift?  I am sorry to ask all these questions but perhaps I am just that young adult like the original student refers to who just hasn’t fully developed a mature prayer life.”

Here is how I replied, “My professor Pete Wagner wrote a book on Spiritual Gifts and he suggests these five steps to finding yours (Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Regal Books, 1979, 1984, pp. 68-70.)

  1. Explore the possibilities (e.g. the Bible and Spiritual Gifts Inventories)
  2. Experiment with as many gifts as you can (obviously the gift of martyrdom for example 😉
  3. Examine your feelings (you are doing that with preaching)
  4. Evaluate your effectiveness (are people growing in learning when you are in the zone?)
  5. Expect confirmation from the body.”

Thirdly, Everyone Has the Responsibility to Pray (because there is a difference between “roles” & “gifts”).

A student once responded, “I really do not see how intercessory prayer is a gift and I think we are selling ourselves and our congregations short when we consider it so.  I think prayer, period, is a discipline. I am convinced that the reason why more people do not pray corporately is that they have no basis to do so. They can’t pray because they don’t know how. They don’t know how because they never do it. I found this true existentially. I never could pray when I was a late youth, early adult and that was because I had no prayer life. But once God developed within me a passion for prayer.”

These are good thoughts.  However, the distinction that Peter Wagner would make is that everyone has the “role” of prayer, but not everyone has the supernaturally empowered “gift” (see Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Regal: 1979, 1994, pp. 85-87).

For example, I think I have the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11-14, Romans 12:7, etc.). Though someone may have to teach on occasion without the gift, they cannot say they do not need teaching abilities. They do.  But they don’t get the supernatural charge and anointing that those with the gift regularly experience. Now, I’m not saying teaching is such a great gift. I think the gift of intercessory prayer is more critical. But, I have the role of intercessory prayer, and am called to exercise it regularly.

Thus, when like the student above I began to mature in my Christian discipleship I discovered that I had a gift for teaching that as a shy teenager no one could have foresaw. But, I must be careful that I do not view everyone through my lens (i.e. gift) of being a teacher. If I do, I may unfairly criticize them for not teaching with the same passion as I. And especially so, because they may have another gift, such as the gift of intercession.

Thanks for allowing me to elaborate on the important need for everyone to practice the “roles” and for specially endowed people to operate in their gifts.

Here is how one student used “command and gift” as substitutes:

Matt said, “This discussion (roles and gifts) is very similar to the discussion on evangelism we keep having here. Some older member keep pushing back that they don’t need to because they aren’t good or they can’t do it unless the spirit prompts them to. I keep bringing it back to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) which is the universal command, and the scattering of the seeds (Mark 4:1-20) the reality of the command. With those as a frame work we then discuss the difference between gift and command. Some people are gifted in evangelism and they will win droves of people to Christ, everyone else needs to evangelize and their harvest is what it is.”

I responded that I think “role” is a better better word that command.  That is because everyone has the command, and thus should undertake a role in evangelism.  But some have the gift, and we should position and empower them for more effective ministry.

Another example is the gift of teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-14, Rom. 12:7, Acts 18:24-28, 20:20-21).  Everyone has the role (such as in teaching your children, c.f. Deuteronomy 4:9) but some have the gift and might develop a career of teaching.

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)  “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

SPIRITUAL GIFTS & Links to the Most Popular & Diverse Inventories #WaypointsBook

Excerpted from Bob Whitesel, “Waypoint 2: Ministry Emergence” in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (2010, pp. 195-197).

Spiritual Waypoints [104KB]The Scriptures describe a variety of God-given gifts. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 along with secondary lists in 1 Corinthians 7, 13-14, Ephesians 3 and 1 Peter 4 describe many of the “gifts of the (Holy) Spirit” that God uses to empower people for service and ministry. Here is a brief, yet annotated list:[i]

  1. Administration: Effective planning and organization (1 Cor. 2:28; Acts 6:1-7).
  2. Discernment: Distinguishing between error and truth (1 Cor. 12:10; Acts 5:1-11).
  3. Encouragement: Ability to comfort, console, encourage and counsel ( 12:8; Hebrews 10:25; Timothy 4:13).
  4. Evangelism: Building relationships that help travelers move toward a personal relationship with Christ (Luke 19:1-10; 2 Timothy 4:5).
  5. Faith: Discerning with extraordinary confidence the will and purposes of God. (1 Cor. 12:9, Acts 11:22-24, Hebrews 11, Romans 4:18-21)
  6. Giving: Cheerfully giving of resources without remorse (Romans 12:8; 2 Cor. 8:1-7, 9:2-8; Mark 12:41-44).
  7. Hospitality: Creating comfort and assistance for those in need (1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:9-13, 16:23, Acts 16:14-15, Hebrews 13:1-2).
  8. Intercession: Passionate, extended and effective prayer. (James 5:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Colossians 1:9-12, 4:12-13).
  9. Knowledge: To discover, accumulate, analyze and clarify information and ideas which are pertinent to the well being of a Christian community. (1 Cor. 2:14, 12:8, Acts 5:1-11, Colossians 2:2-3).[ii]
  10. Leadership: To cast vision, set goals and motivate to cooperatively accomplish God’ purposes (Luke 9:51; Romans 12:8; Hebrews 13:17).
  11. Mercy: To feel authentic empathy and compassion accompanied by action that reflects Christ’s love and alleviates suffering (Romans 12:8, Matt. 25:34-36; Luke 10:30-37).
  12. Prophecy: Providing guidance to others by explaining and proclaiming God’s truth[iii] (1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11-14, Romans 12:6; Acts 21:9-11).
  13. Helps: Investing time and talents in others to increase other’s effectiveness (1 Cor. 12:28, Rom. 16:1-2, Acts 9:36).
  14. Service: A tactical gift that identifies steps and processes in tasks that results in ministry to others (2 Tim. 1:16-18, Rom. 12:7, Acts 6:1-7).
  15. Pastor: Long-term personal responsibility for the welfare of spiritual travelers. ( 4:1-14, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, John 10:1-18, 1 Peter 5:1-3).
  16. Teaching: Communicating relevant information that results in learning (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-14, Rom. 12:7, Acts 18:24-28, 20:20-21).
  17. Wisdom: To have insight into how to apply knowledge[iv] (1 Cor. 2:1-13, 12:8. Acts 6:3, 10; James 1:5-6, 2 Peter 3: 15-16).
  18. Missionary: Using spiritual gifts effectively in a non-indigenous culture (1 Cor. 9:19-21, Acts 8:4, 13:2-3, 22:21; Rom. 10:15).
  19. Miracles. To perform compelling acts that are perceived by observers to have altered the ordinary course of nature (1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Acts 9:36-42, 19:11-20, 20:7-12; Rom. 15:18-19, 2 Cor. 12:12).
  20. Healing. To serve as human intermediaries through whom it pleases God to restore health (1 Cor. 12:9, 28; Acts 3:1-10, 5:12-16, 9:32-35, 28:7-10).
  21. Tongues. There are various explanations of this gift. For instance it can be to speak (a) to God in a language they have never learned and/or (b) to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to his people.[v] Another option is that this can mean an ability to speak a foreign language and convey concept across cultures[vi] (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 14:13-19, Acts 2:1-13, 10:44-46, 19:1-7).
  22. Interpretation: To make known a message of one who speaks in tongues.[vii] And/or it can mean “those who help build bridges across cultural, generational and language divides.”[viii] (1 Cor. 12:10, 30, 14:13, 26-28).
  23. Voluntary poverty. To renounce material comfort and luxury to assist others (1 Cor. 13:1-3, Acts 2:44:45, 4:34-37, 2 Cor. 6:10, 8:9).
  24. Celibacy: To remain single with joy and not suffer undue sexual temptation (1 Cor. 7:7-8, Matt. 19:10-12).
  25. Martyrdom: Ability to undergo suffering for the faith even to death, while displaying a victorious attitude that brings glory to God (1 Cor. 13:3).

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[i] Adapted from the United Methodist Church’s Explore Your Spiritual Gifts (, 2009), Jack W. MacGorman’s The Gifts of the Spirit (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), Kenneth C. Kinghorn’s Gifts of the Spirit (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), and C. Peter Wagner’s Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow: How to Find Your Gifts and Use Them to Bless Others (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1994).   For an extended discussion of these gifts see Waypoint 2.

[ii] For this gift there are several interpretations, c.f. Donald Gee Concerning Spiritual Gifts (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1972) and Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow.

[iii] Here again there are several perspectives, c.f. Donald Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts and Kinghorn, Gifts of the Spirit.

[iv] Varied perspectives exist here as well, c.f. Donald Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts, Kinghorn, Gifts of the Spirit, and Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow.

[v] For varied interpretations, see Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow and Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts.

[vi] The United Methodist Church, “Explore Your Spiritual Gifts,”, 2009.

[vii] See Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, p. 256-257 for the Classical Pentecostal viewpoint.

[viii] For another viewpoint of this and other gifts see the United Methodist Church’s definitions in “Explore Your Spiritual Gifts,”, 2009