A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Cover for Simple Faith“In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people
of diseases and plagues and evil spirits,
and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”
(Luke 7:21 ESV)

A Place for Authoritative Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Richard Foster (1992, 229) describes authoritative prayer with these words:

“In Authoritative Prayer we are calling forth the will of the Father upon the earth. Here we are not so much speaking to God as speaking for God. We are not asking God to do something; rather, we are using the authority of God to command something done.”

As practiced in the church today, authoritative prayer is also referred to as deliverance ministry and, more popularly, as exorcism. Foster’s term, authoritative prayer, is more descriptive of the actual practice and less likely to evoke the baggage that accompanies other terms.

A reluctance to practice authoritative prayer exists among many Christian leaders. I would like to argue here that this reluctance needs to be reassessed because the need for authoritative prayer has grown dramatically in our generation, because authoritative prayer has been unfairly stigmatized and misunderstood, and because authoritative prayer has a legitimate therapeutic place even when other forms of counseling are available.

Background

Jesus practiced authoritative prayer, as most authors recognize. E.P. Sanders (1993, 149), for example writes:

Exorcisms, which are a significant subcategory of healings, deserve fuller discussions. They were very important in Jesus’ culture and also in his own career.

Sanders then proceeds to list twelve scriptural citations where Jesus performs exorcisms[1] and also lists exorcisms performed by others in the New Testament (Sanders 1993, 15). Significantly, Jesus also commissioned the disciples to preach and cast out demons (e.g. Mark 3:14-15).

The early church took the need to cast out demons seriously because virtually all adult converts had previously worshiped pagan idols, which were believed to be demons. The church accordingly commissioned exorcists much the same as deacons and elders. The church has always recognized the need for authoritative prayer, even if some traditions have seldom openly practiced it.

Types of Healing Prayer

Interest in authoritative prayer in the modern period, outside the Pentecostal (charismatic) tradition, started with a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Francis MacNutt in the 1960s, who taught that authoritative prayer could be described as one of four types of healing needing prayer:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. and
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression) (MacNutt 2009, 130).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many practitioners lump all healing needs into authoritative prayer and fail to distinguish spiritual oppression (common) from outright possession (rare).[2]

The Postmodern Need for Authoritative Prayer

In the modern period, the influence of rationalism in Christian thought led many to question the reliability of scriptural references to exorcism and other recorded miracles. This over-emphasis on rationalism and personal autonomy seems increasingly out of place in the postmodern period that we live in.

Limits to Autonomy

In my own hospital experience, for example, I noted that about half the patients that I visited with as a chaplain intern working in the emergency department were admitted for reasons that could be classified as preventable, problems arising out of poor lifestyle choices, and other self-destructive behavior. In visiting later with the senior surgeon, I was corrected. He reported that the actual proportion of patients so classified was closer to three-quarters. Consequently, if in the concrete reality of medicine, we are incapable of maintaining our physical health in view of rational information to inform us as to how to accomplish this objective, then how much more incapable are we of maintaining our own spiritual health?

Growth of Suicide Problem

Outside of personal observation, we know from recent reports that the United States is currently experiencing a thirty-year peak in suicides, with the largest increase among men aged 45-64 (Tavernise, 2016). I personally know of two men within that demographic who killed themselves within the past year. If people are killing themselves in record numbers, it is safe to say that spiritual oppression is part of the picture, especially when drug abuse and deviant sexual activity are not indicated, because poverty, depression, and despair do not have to lead to suicide.

New Challenges

Outside of the medical and psychiatric fields, three factors suggest a need for authoritative prayer that could be classified as something new. First, the growth of interest in pagan religions and immigration from countries where animistic religions are commonly practiced show spiritual influences previously absent in the West. Second, the mainstreaming of alternative sexual practices and drug use (and the abuse that often goes with them) has the potential to increase the number of individuals susceptible to spiritual oppression. Third, the discrimination of secular institutions practiced against Christians reduces the number of individuals who are nominally influenced by the church and thereby able to resist other spiritual influences.

The Practice of Authoritative Prayer

A number of approaches have been taken in authoritative prayer. Here I will speak only of my personal experience in assisting a seasoned practitioner who is an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Charlotte, NC.

Setup

A typical session involves someone who has come to the pastor with a request for authoritative prayer. No attempt is made to compel anyone to participate or to accept anyone referred against their will. The session takes place in a private setting, usually a church or living room, and normally the pastor has an assistant, such as myself, who takes notes so that he can focus on the prayer.[3] Parents and other loved ones are invited to join in only if the person feels comfortable with them being there. The person receiving prayer does not need to disclose anything. After introductory conversation, the pastor starts by explaining the purposes of prayer and the scriptural authority being evoked in authoritative prayer.

Object of Prayer

The prayer itself starts with praise of God and the person being prayed over. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign over all of creation, he is good, and he cares for us. This praise is important because God already knows what is on our minds and has promised to answer the prayers of his people. Our tiniest request from an infinite God provides more power than any spiritual being can resist. Most of the remainder of the prayer is for the benefit of the person being prayed over.

Triage

The prayer then proceeds to triage the spiritual issues that the person being prayed over may be suffering. Perhaps, the spiritual problem has been passed down through family or started with harsh words from someone important to the person. Perhaps, the person has experienced great shame or guilt due to sinful behavior, especially sexual or drug experimentation. Perhaps, the person has been overwhelmed with grief or pain. Perhaps, the person has refused to grow up in some important way or fallen in with bad company or hurt someone close to them or suffered some terrible tragedy.

Response

As this prayer unfolds, the pastor prays with eyes open to observe the person’s reaction and the reactions determine how long particular issues are addressed. This triage process is important because many of the deepest spiritual problems that we face may have been repressed over years and the person may not even be aware of their emotional impact.[4] Because the person need not disclose anything going into prayer or coming out of it, their own awareness and willingness to confess their issues is not in view.[5] As such, authoritative prayer is not a substitute for counseling. In fact, it may be a prelude to counseling because the person may realize their issues need more attention.

Concepts Supporting Authoritative Prayer

A couple of theological concepts inform this method, but are not necessarily required.

Identity in Christ

First, our souls are composed of our will, our mind, our memory, and our social environment. A modern word for soul might be our identity. The idea that our identity is socially held[6] means that when we make Christ the cornerstone of our identity, we are not easily shaken the way that we might be if some other cornerstone were chosen. Treating Christ as a secondary part of our identity does not provide nearly the stability required to resist temptation and evil. As temptation and evil become more prevalent in the postmodern period, the need for this stability is greater than ever.

Parasitic Spirits

Second, the image of an evil spirit being confronted in authoritative prayer is that of a parasite. An evil spirit is parasitic in the sense that it cannot exist independent of its host for very long, much like tick would starve in the absence of blood host. Driving it out therefore risks that the parasite will seek another local host and the prayer must account for this behavior.

Permission Denied

Third, evil spirits are driven out, not by shouting or employing incantations or any special form for prayer, but by denying that they have permission to inhabit the person being prayed over and appealing to the power and authority of God. Evil spirits act like bad lawyers arguing for their rights to oppress a person. Thus, it is important to have the person’s permission to pray because it implies that the demons do not have permission to continue their oppression.

Return to Biblical Authority

The primary reason that many people question the existence of evil spirits is that the spiritual world is itself thought not to exist, a result of an animistic tradition debunked by rational thinking. But if rational thinking is only part of our own thinking, why would it preclude the existence of a spiritual being who is divorcing itself from God? Furthermore, why, if you believe in God, would you then question the existence of other unseen spiritual beings? The Bible treats angels and demons as heralds of Christ himself (e.g. Mark 5:7). Denying their existence is tantamount to denying Christ’s divinity, because Christ treated exorcism as important in his ministry.

References

Foster, Richard J. 1992. Prayer: Find the Heart’s True Home. New York: HaperOne.

Francis MacNutt. 2009. Healing (Orig Pub 1974). Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.

Jung, C.G. 1955. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Orig Pub 1933). New York: A Harvest Book.

Sanders, E.P. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] Mark 1:23-8/Luke 4:31-37, Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:41, Mark 1:19, Mark 3:11/Luke 6:18,
Mark 3:20-30/Matt 12:22-37/ Luke 11:14-23, Mark 5:1-20/Matt 8:28-34/Luke 8:26-39, Mark 7:24-30/Matt 15:21-28, Mark 9:25/Matt 17:18/Luke 9:42, Matt 4:24, Matt 9:32-34, Luke 8:2, and Luke 8:2. (Sanders 1993, 149-150).

[2] MacNutt (2009, 167) distinguishes deliverance ministry (relief from spiritual oppression) from exorcism (relief from possession).

[3] These notes are taken to allow the pastor to return to issues undercovered at the end of the session and are given to the one being prayed for at the end of the session. No record is retained by the pastor or the assistant.

[4] Jung (1955, 1, 33) saw the unconscious as playing a leading role in neuroses and viewed the unconscious secret as more harmful than one that is conscious.

[5] Jung (1955, 30-31) viewed psychoanalysis as a modern form of confession.

[6] The Alzheimer’s patient is an example of someone whose identity is only held by their loved ones and care givers. When we die, our identity will likewise be held primarily by God.

 

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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Prayer for Faith of the Newly Baptized

Baptism, Broad Run, Manassas, Virginia
Broad Run, Manassas, Virginia

Prayer for Faith of the Newly Baptized

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gift of faith.

Thank you that you are willing to enter our lives and recreate us in your image,

in spite of our rebellion and sin.

Thank you that, through your Holy Spirit, we can take a small step of faith

and choose a new path, not knowing where it will lead, but confident that you will be with us.

Thank you for washing away our sins through the blood of the lamb

and that we might die to those sins and be born again in your spirit.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit,

guard our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ and grow our faith,

that we might inch closer to you with each passing day.

Amen.

Also see:

Prayer to Increase Faith 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqj

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Prayer for Father’s Day

Four Doctor Hiemstra
The Four Doctor Hiemstras

Prayer for Father’s Day

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father:

We praise you for being a loving father,

who is a good provider,

who is always present,

who loves us when we are unlovable.

We confess that we are frequently none of these things,

not especially loving,

not present when we should be,

not able to see beyond our own needs.

We thank you for the example of Jesus Christ,

who demonstrated sacrificial love,

who remained fully present at the cost of his own life,

who loved the many unlovable people that we typically ignore.

In the power of your Holy Spirit give us the desire and the ability

to love, to be present, and to see beyond our own needs.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Also see: Prayer for Moms

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqjfoR

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T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook

T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook 

Buy (Kindle, EPUB)
Learn more (click here)

CONTACT: Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 4/10/2017Prayers by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in Kindle (ISBN: 978-1942199083 (ASIN: B06Y15XYPN), EPUB (ISBN: 978-1942199120). The Kindle Edition is currently on sale on Amazon.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details are available at T2Pneuma.com.

DISCUSSION:

In this book are 50 prayers taken from A Christian Guide to Spirituality (2014) by the same author. These prayers are inspired by the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Una edición en español (Oraciones) es también disponible.

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

BISAC: Christian Prayerbook (REL052010), Christian Life—Prayer (REL012080),   Spirituality (REL062000).

KEY WORDS: prayer, prayerbook, Christianity, devotion, spirituality, faith, Christian living.

 Please mention T2Pneuma.com on social media.

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Prayer for Traveling Mercies

Stephen W. Hiemstra, First Car, 1975
Stephen W. Hiemstra, First Car, 1975

Prayer for Traveling Mercies

 By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

As the Psalmist writes: where shall I go to escape from your presence?

If I climb up in the heavens or dig deep in the earth, you are with me.

If I fly to the rising sun or hide under the sea,

even there you take me by the hand and guide me.

If I think to myself, ah ha, the dark of night hides me,

even the darkness is like the noon day sun to you (Ps 139:7-12).

Thank you, Lord, for being ever near, caring for us—

even when our strength fails us; even when our minds go blank; even when we are not our best.

Place your hedge of protection around the ones we love as they journey through life carelessly

and bring them back to us again through the power of your Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Also see:

Summer Prayer

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqjfoR

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Late One Night

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“Blessed are those servants 

whom the master finds awake 

when he comes.” (Luke 12:37)

Late One Night

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The day my son, Stephen Reza, was born, August 19, 1992, I was scheduled to give a nationwide, video presentation at the Farm Credit Administration (FCA). It was an important speech, in part, because I had been RIFed (reduction in force) two months prior and my job was on the line. Maryam knew the position I was in that day so I drove her to the Inova Fairfax hospital, got her checked in, and kissed her goodbye as I left to give my presentation, as my office was only about three miles down the road from the hospital.

My office was surprised to hear my situation; I was allowed to give my presentation without delay; and I returned to hospital. As a dutiful wife, Maryam, waited for me and, when I arrived, we went immediately into the delivery room. Stephen Reza was born without mishap and, to my horror, he began life by pissing all over the doctor’s face. The doctor, who had delivered all three of my kids, did not complain. He just took off his glasses, wiped off his face, and continued his inspection of the placenta and umbilical cord. When I asked him what he was looking for, he responded saying that placenta and umbilical cord provide insights into some forms of birth defects that are otherwise hidden.

The days went by quickly that fall. Having been assigned to the McLean examination team, I was on the road from Monday morning to Thursday evening, normally assisting with association examinations in rural Virginia. Because I was gone half the week and following the custom in Iran, Maryam kept Reza’s crib in the our bedroom, making late night feedings easier. When Reza went into convulsions on that Friday evening in October, we woke up and called 911.

The emergency medical team (EMT) arrived promptly and took Reza’s vital signs. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Maryam insisted that the EMTs transport him to Fair Oaks Hospital. Lab work was taken and his blood chemistry was all messed up with no indication of why. Early Saturday morning he was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital which has a pediatric intensive care unit where he stayed until Sunday afternoon. At that point, the attending physician noticed that his urine bag was empty and ordered a sonogram. The sonogram showed that Reza was born with only one kidney and the duct off of his existing kidney had folded over on itself. Emergency surgery was required to relieve the buildup of urine so he was transported to Georgetown University Hospital and scheduled for surgery late Sunday night.

Sunday evening Maryam and I found ourselves exhausted from lack of sleep and nearly hysterical from all the uncertainty and stressful events. At one point I found myself alone with Reza in his hospital room. His labored breathing was the only sound to be heard. On my knees and beside myself with grief, I offered myself in prayer for my son’s life: “Lord, do not take him, take me.” About ten years later, I was reminded of my prayer and began to consider seminary.

Pastor Rob stopped by to offer comfort later that night as we waited for the surgeons to complete their work. We were otherwise alone because my parents were living in Indiana at the time and few others were around to offer comfort.  In the surgery, the surgeons inserted a catheter into his kidney duct to drain the urine, but opted not to perform surgery—at ten-week of age he was simply too small. The catheter was invasive enough.

We had enough on our minds because after surgery Reza screamed all night. Because of the problems of estimating drug dosage on a young child, the standard medical practice is not to offer pain medication to infants. Similarly, three months later in January, we came back to have the catheter removed and corrective surgery was performed—again, we watched helplessly afterwards while Reza screamed. Screaming: I mostly remember the endless hours of screaming.

Monday morning I drove to an association examination in Norfolk Virginia. When my office learned later that morning what I was dealing with at home, they called me back to the McLean office for a period of weeks when I was graciously reassigned to a research project so that I would be closer to home.

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Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer

Blackaby_06282016Henry and Richard Blackaby.  2002. Hearing God’s Voice. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Does God answer prayer?

In October 2014, I was invited to offer comments on my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia on the day of Eid. This invitation made me very nervous–what would I say about my faith to a group of Muslims? Consequently, during the three days before Eid, I began a period of prayer and fasting and asked God what I should say. God responded to my prayer, but he said nothing about my invitation. Instead and much better, God gave me the inspiration to write a new book, Life in Tension, which I hope to publish later this summer.

In their book, Hearing God’s Voice, Henry and Richard Blackaby of Blackaby Ministries International[1] write:

“We contend that God does speak to his people. However, people must be prepared to hear what his is saying…The question, then, is not whether God speaks to his people, but how he does so…When God speaks, he does not give new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life.” (17-18)

To make this point about “specific circumstances”, the Blackabys inventory the ways that God spoke to his people in the Old and New Testaments. In just the Old Testament: “creation, angels, prophets, dreams, visions, casting lots, Urim and Thummim, gentle voice, fire, burning bush, preaching, judgments, symbolic actions, signs, miracles, writing on the wall, a talking donkey, trumpets, thunder and lightning, smoke and storms, fleece, the sound of marching on treetops, face-to-face, personal guidance, and various unspecified ways” (31-32). Obviously, God does not always wait for us to seek him out—it is hard to ignore those talking donkeys, especially the ones we see in the mirror!

The Blackabys note, however, an important problem:

“Our problem so often is not that we don’t know what God is saying to us. The problem is that we do know, but we don’t always want to hear what he is telling us.” (44)

For example, we do not need to ask if God wants us to display the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

The Blackabys give countless examples of God intervening in response to prayer. Perhaps none is as dramatic as that of George Muller who lived in nineteenth century Britain and who worked to support homeless children. They note three points about Mueller’s experience of God:

  1. Mueller sensed a personal burden for a need,
  2. He sought advice from a Christian friend, and
  3. God spoke to him through scripture (105).[2]

The Blackabys observe that: “The best way to hear God speak to you is to spend regular time reading, studying, and meditating on his Word.” (110) They see God’s answers to prayer as: yes, no, not yet, and silence—prospective evidence of sin (122-129). What is perhaps more interesting is the idea that God invites us to into prayer—a positive answer to prayer is never more certain than when God invites us to do something or ask for something (136).[3]

The Blackabys write in 12 chapters:

  1. The Question: Does God Speak to People Today?
  2. For the Record: God Speaks
  3. God Speaks: His Way
  4. The Holy Spirit: God’s Presence in Our Lives
  5. The Bible: God’s Word
  6. Prayer: What it is and What it Isn’t
  7. Circumstances: A Time for God to Speak
  8. God Speaks to People through People
  9. Lies and Half-Truths
  10. A Historical View
  11. Learning to Respond to God’s Voice
  12. Questions Often Asked

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes, a scriptural index, and an introduction to the authors.

Henry and Richard Blackaby’s Hearing God’s Voice changed my attitude about prayer and reading this book marked an important milestone in my preparation for later entry into seminary. I commend it to you.

Reference

Carothers, Merlin. 1970. Prison to Praise. Escondido, California.

Müller, George. 2000. Release the Power of Prayer. New Kensington: Whitaker House.

[1] http://www.Blackaby.net.

[2] Mueller (2000, 91-93) offers 5 conditions for prevailing prayer:  1. “entire dependence upon the merits and mediation of the Lord Jesus”, 2. “separation from all known sin”, 3. “exercise faith in God’s word of promise”, 4. “ask in accordance with His will”, and 5. “preserver in prayer”.

[3] If God already knows what is in our hearts, we need only praise him!  (Carothers) Also: consider the example of Abimelech: “Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” (Gen 20:7 ESV)

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Kodak Prays for the Persecuted

Kodak_review_05162016Betsey Kodat. 2015. Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Herndon, Virginia: CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The annual number of Christian martyrs in 2015 has been estimated to have been 90,000 people. This estimate is a decline from 377,000 in 1970s in the heyday of world communism,[1] but it is still about three times the number (34,400) in 1900 (IBMR 2015, 29) and has probably increased since that estimate was made because of genocide reported in the ISIS conflict in the Middle East. Those directly affected by genocide and martyrdom thankfully remain a small portion of the Christians worldwide suffering persecution.

Betsey Kodat In her book, Arise LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church, takes her title from Psalm 3—

O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Ps 3:1-8 ESV)[2]

—and focuses on intervening for those affected in prayer (3). Prayer is, of course, hard enough because in order to pray for the persecuted, one needs to admit to yourself that persecution exists and believe in your heart that God both truly exists and cares enough to intervene. Intervening in prayer also requires admitting our own impotence to stop persecution, often a hard step for gung-ho Americans, so by inviting us to pray for the persecuted God is also inviting us to set aside our pride and approach Him in humility. This need of humility is aptly captured in the cover graphic displaying the disciples in the storm on the Galilee (Matt 8:23-27) which symbolized persecution and early church fathers referred to as “the ship of Peter” (7).

In approaching prayer for the persecuted, Kodat recommends a 4-part movement in prayer:

  1. Opening Prayer,
  2. Strategic Prayer,
  3. Specific Prayer, and
  4. Closing Prayer (7).

The basic prayer in 4-movements structures the core chapters in her book and the group prayer template, which functions as the book’s concluding chapter (166-168). Kodak expands these 4-movements into 6 steps in application, allowing for preliminary research and a period of spontaneous prayer just before the closing (15).   Let me turn briefly to each of these 6 steps.

Step 1: Preliminary Research. Kodat admonishes us to: “Research target needs before you pray, using reputable resources, then select prayers that meet these needs” (16) She then offers a list of websites that can be used to undertake this research. Research for prayer might seem like overkill, but in prayer we are asking God to channel His power to specific ends. By engaging both our hearts and our minds, taking time to be specific demonstrates to us and to God that we are serious about prayer.

Step 2: Opening Prayer. Kodat recommends that we open prayer employing 6 specific topics: placing ourselves in God’s hands, praising God, binding Satan, confession, thanking God, and song (17). These instructions remind me of the “harp and bowl” prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8) where music and petitions are mixed together in continuous prayer.[3]

Step 3: Scripture-based Strategic Prayer. Kodat offers a list of 7 topics for strategic prayer to select among for particular occasions. This list includes—general needs, strength, leaders, supporting churches, nations, national leaders, and persecutors[4]—and it targets topics that may prevent or correct the problem of persecution (18).

Step 4: Scripture-based Specific Prayer. Kodat offers a fairly short list of 4 specific prayers (19)—for crises, recovery from crises, ongoing oppression, and a 4-page list of specific items mentioned throughout the book (170-173). Being specific in prayer has commonly been promoted as a way to channel God’s power, but channeling is unnecessary for an all-powerful God; a better explanation for channeling is so that God’s concern for us would be more obvious (John 9:3).

Step 5: Spontaneous Prayer. Kodat advises us to “pray with Holy Spirit insight as your heart leads.” (20) This advice might seem out of place because for most people this is the only way that they normally pray, but something more interesting is at work. If we become too formal in our prayers and neglect to engage our hearts, then we pray for reasons other than love—remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

Nothing is gained by praying without love, in part, because our love marks us as disciples of Christ worthy of God’s attention to our prayer (1 John 4:21).

Step 6: Closing Prayer. Kodat’s guidance on closing prayer is brief:

“Choose a blessing, and pray it in unison along with ‘leaving our concerns with God’ and the Lord’s Prayer” (20).

In particular, Kodat advises us to pray corporately to intensify the power of prayer (21).

Betsey Kodat’s Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a readable and thoughtful devotional focused on interceding for the persecuted church. Each devotional includes an introduction to the topic, suggested resources, a list of suggested prayers, and scriptural resources. In addition to being a prayer warrior, Kodak writes, teaches, and is a dedicated mom,[5] but I know her best for her tireless work for the Capital Christian Writers’ club[6].

[1] Communism is an atheist philosophy and remains widely influential in secular circles even today. Over time, communist nations have been fairly open in their persecution of Christians who are often accused of representing a foreign influence. This idea of foreign influence is also an excuse used in the case of Middle Eastern persecution of Christian minorities (Iwanicki and Bailey 2012).

[2]A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son…” (Ps 3:1).

[3] International House of Prayer (http://www.ihopkc.org).

[4] This rather-unusual idea of praying for the persecutors comes directly from Christ—“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45)—who essentially advised us to persecution as a ministry opportunity.

[5] http://www.BetseyKodat.com.

[6] www.CapitalChristianWriters.org.

REFERENCES

 International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR). 2015. Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact. Cited: 28 December 2015. Online: (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/1IBMR2015.pdf).

Iwanicki, Hugh and Dave Bailey. 2012. Shock and Alarm: What It Was Really Like at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. North Charleston: CreateSpace. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1pl).

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Willard Hears God; Aids Dialogue, Part 2

Willard_review_08172015Dallas Willard.  2012.  Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.  Downers Drove:  IVP Book. (Goto Part 1)

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If God exists, the idea that God speaks to us is unremarkable.

In the back of our minds, however, as postmodern people is the critique of Marx and Freud. Marx called faith in God the “opiate of the masses” while Freud characterized it as an “illusion”. Today they might have suggested that believers were “on drugs” or engaging in “wishful thinking”. While neither critique rises above simple slander—no evidence is presented—such innuendo has weakened the faith of many Christians.

But the Bible itself says that we should expect that God speaks to us every day.  For example, King David writes:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3 ESV; 164-166)

Jesus said:

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment– what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50 ESV)

The first example is often referred to as “general revelation” (revealed to everyone) while the second is referred to as “special revelation” (revealed only to believers).

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard offers an interesting starting point for his work: “God has created us for intimate friendship with himself” (12)[1].  What kind of relationship would it be if only of the parties to this relationship did all the talking?  He then writes:

“My strategy has been to take as a model the highest and best type of communication that I know of from human affairs and then place this model in the even brighter light of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.” (12).

The most intimate form of communication is dialog which presumes a relationship of trust.  Willard writes:

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest roots in a failure to understand, accept, and grow into a conversational relationship with God”. (35)

While we may lie to ourselves, a practice known as denial, those that know us well see (and hopefully accept) the good and bad in our personalities and offer us feedback.  Our friends and family love us and want what is best for us. Such is also our relationship with God.  But what friend would spend their day telling us how to improve ourselves?  Willard writes:

“In such conversations [with God] we also talk about other things besides what God wants done today. We talk about what is happening, what is interesting, or what is sad. Most conversations between God and humans is to help us understand things.” (39).

Dialogue between us and God is an important part of our relationship. What exactly does that look like?

Willard offers voluminous advice on recognizing God’s voice in the context of a mature, Christian relationship. One of my favorites is his discussion of the Parable of the Talents.  In this parable, Jesus starts out:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matt. 25:14-18 ESV)

The question is, how does the master evaluate the work of his servants when he returns? In part, the answer depends on the relationship of each servant has with the master, not on his allocation or the outcome of his stewardship. Note, for example, that the master’s accounting does not include a return of the talents or the profits! Note also that the master rewards risk taking and considers hoarding as sloth. Which of us truly knows the mind of God and rejoices in it? God is generous as assuming by the faithful servants, not a harsh taskmaster as the lazy (or risk adverse) servant assumes. (40-41)

Willards instructs his reader on the spiritual discipline known as lectio divina (Latin for divine reading) which is used to experience scripture in new ways. Lectio divina consists of 4 parts:

  1. Lectio (read)—read the passage. The purpose here is not to analyze the passage, but simply read and sit with it.
  1. Mediatio (mediate)—read the passage again taking note of any words that stand out to you. Some people read and re-read the passage placing emphasis on a different word each time. What brought these words to your attention? What were you thinking about God?
  1. Oratio (pray)—After reading the passage again, take it to the Lord in prayer. Ask God what the Spirit may have said to you here.
  1. Contemplatio (contemplation)—Do as you are led. Sit with God and this passage. What does it invite you to do? (48-51)

Willard returns to lectio divina at least 6 times throughout the book[2] suggesting that he considers it is an important tool for developing a dialogue with God[3].

Much more could be said about Dallas Willard’s Hearing GodHearing God is likely to become a devotional classic.  It reads well and refreshes the soul.

 

 

[1] He cites among other things, Psalm 23 as evidence of this relationship.  What is the relationship between a shepherd and sheep if not to live together 24-7?

[2] See:  48, 103, 131, 164, 207, 247.

[3] The morning of the week I was to begin seminary, my morning devotional reading was:

“At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me! So he let him alone. It was then that she said, A bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision.” (Exod. 4:24-26 ESV)

Confused about the passage, I found that the commentaries linked it the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel who left him crippled the night before he met his brother (Genesis 32:22-31).  Later that day, I was squirming in my chair in the office and by the end of the day I was afflicted with back pain so grievous that I could only lie on my back on the floor and I missed 3 days of work as a consequence. The commentary noted that both Moses and Jacob had responded to God’s call to travel—Moses to Egypt and Jacob to return to his brother—but neither was ready for the task that God had given them. During my 3 days out of work, I could do nothing but read lying on my back so I spent the 3 days preparing for my biblical competency examination.  I passed the exam right on the cutoff point—the pass rate was just 13 percent. Just like Moses and Jacob, I had responded to God’s call, but I was not ready for it.  On that occasion God helped me focus and saved me a year of additional study.

 

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Willard Hears God; Aids Dialogue, Part 1

Willard_review_08172015Dallas Willard.  2012.  Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.  Downers Drove:  IVP Book. (Goto Part 2)

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Reading a book on hearing God is perhaps motivated by curiosity or guilt or just the idea that we are not always keeping up our end of the conversation. Yet the target audience for such a book is clearly the mature Christian. An immature Christian would look for a book on prayer where implicitly the conversation is unidirectional. And a non-Christian would make that implicit assumption explicit—prayers are nothing more than happy thoughts that we vocalize—incantations meant to be heard by those around us. Me? I came to Willard hoping to improve my listening skills.

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard asks: “How can you be sure God is speaking to you?” He answers: “we learn by experience” (9). Communicating with God is a dialog. Yet, this dialogue makes sense within the wider: “framework of living in the will of God” (13).

This dialogue is not necessarily easy. In the postmodern context, the dialogue with God is surrounded by fear. Comedian Lily Tomlin asks: “why is it that when we talk to God we are said to be praying, but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?” (22) Good question. Perhaps,  we are afraid of what God might have to say to us.

Willard offers some important advice on humility. To the pastor who remarks–I do not believe that God plans his day around me—he responds: but we are important. God gave his son to die for us. Still, the fact that God speaks to us does not in itself make us important (46-48). Apparently, talking to a janitor should not be confused with offering him a promotion!

The structure of Willard’s book is not entirely obvious. He writes: “my strategy has been to take as a model the highest and best type of communication that I know of human affairs and then place this model in the even brighter light of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ” (12). Sprinkled throughout the book at the end of six chapters are six exercises. Most follow a lectio divina format—reading (lectio), reflecting (mediatatio), responding in prayer (oratio), and resting in contemplation (contemplation) (104-105).

Willard observes that: “few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs” (283). I feel that quote. He understands the need to be step out for God, not only in the morning, but during the day. He writes that: “it is absolutely essential to the nature of our personal development towards maturity that we venture and be placed at risk, for only risk produces character” (173). As a former financial economist and current volunteer pastor, I can appreciate the role of risk-taking in improving ones decision skills.

Willard Dallas [1] was longtime Professor of Philosophy at was longtime Professor of Philosophy at The University of Southern California, teaching at the school from 1965 until his death in 2013.  He is also the author of numerous books on Christian spirituality.  Hearing God is written in 9 chapters:

  1. A Paradox about Hearing God.
  2. Guidelines for Hearing from God.
  3. Never Alone.
  4. Out Communicating Cosmos.
  5. The Still, Small Voice, and Its Rivals.
  6. The Word of God and the Rule of God.
  7. Redemption through the Word of God.
  8. Recognizing the Voice of God.
  9. A Life More than Guidance.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and preface. They are followed by an epilogue, appendix, notes, and a scriptural index.

In some sense, writers on spiritual formation can only be evaluated like spiritual directors–do they walk with you and do you continue to walk with them?  In my case, I have finished a second book by Willard—El espíritu de las disciplinas: ¿Cómo transforma Dios la vida? He is good in both English and Spanish.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of the book.  Part 2 will delve into greater depth into some of the issues that Willard raises.

 

[1] www.dwillard.org/biography. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_Willard.

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