The very best book on prayer is by Richard Foster: “Prayer – finding the heart’s true home”.
Invitation to an Adventure is a very simple exploration of prayer for a small group. Each week we prepare individually by reading and reflecting on one chapter of the book. When we come together we discuss what we have learned and practise praying in the form we have been learning about.
I have created brief notes which suggest Bible passages and classic prayers to accompany each chapter, together with a few longer articles on important topics such as prophecy, praying for healing and deliverance ministry.
The notes are here in this simple booklet – Invitation to an Adventure Manual ONLINE
You are welcome to copy these notes for use in a church but not to sell them for profit. Acknowledgement of authorship would be kind. The notes are also below.
INVITATION TO AN ADVENTURE
LEARNING TO PRAY WITH RICHARD FOSTER from his book PRAYER – FINDING THE HEART’S TRUE HOME
Each week we read and reflect on the chapter for the week and these notes. When we come together we will discuss what we have learned and practise praying in the form we have been learning about
Introduction to Chapter 1 – “SIMPLE PRAYER”
Over the coming months we are going to learn how to pray better as part of a small group of Christians. Each week we will read, reflect and pray over one chapter, together with relevant Bible passages and other writings. Do feel free to read and share from other books on prayer as well!
Read Prayer – The Preface, the Introduction and Chapter 1
Bible passages: Matthew 7:7-11; Philippians 3:7-14
“Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom.” (C.H.Spurgeon)
Introduction to Chapter 2 – “PRAYER OF THE FORSAKEN”
Read Prayer – Chapter 2 “Prayer of the forsaken”
Bible passages: LUKE 18:1-8; Psalm 22; Psalm 42; Psalm 88.
Introduction to Chapter 3 – “THE PRAYER OF EXAMEN”
Read Prayer – Chapter 3 “The Prayer of Examen”
Bible passages: Psalm 139.
Instead of other readings this week, you might like to spend a little time in prayerful self-examination. Richard Foster comments that Martin Luther used to recommend reflection on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) or on the Lord’s Prayer. Alternatively you might try meditating on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) or on a passage like Colossians 3:1-17.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
Introduction to Chapter 4 – “THE PRAYER OF TEARS”
Read Prayer – Chapter 4 “The Prayer of Tears”
Prayers of confession help us to `acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,’ This bring us to a greater appreciation and fuller assurance of God’s grace and forgiveness to each of us personally. Consciousness of sin also stirs us to more thorough repentance and growing holiness. All these things deepen that individual relationship with God which is at the heart of all our prayer.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
For the actions which have angered You, we are truly sorry.
For the words which have wounded You, we are truly sorry.
For the thoughts which have betrayed You, we are truly sorry.
Jesus, Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins: have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world: give us Your peace. AMEN
A week of PRAYERS OF CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE
Begin your time of prayer each day this week with the words of the prayer above. Read the Bible passage and reflect on it. Pray the prayers for the day. Conclude your praying by declaring the assurance of forgiveness from 1 John 1:8-9 printed above
WEDNESDAY Psalm 32
O Lord, with heartfelt sorrow we repent and deplore our offences. We condemn ourselves and our evil ways, with true penitence asking that Your grace may relieve our distress.
Be pleased to have compassion upon us, O most gracious God, Father of all mercies, for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ.
And as You remove our guilt and our pollution, grant us the daily increase of the grace of Your Holy Spirit, so that, acknowledging from our inmost hearts our own unrighteousness, we may be touched with sorrow that will work true repentance, and so that, putting to death all sins within us, Your Spirit may produce the fruits of holiness and righteousness which please You;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN
Almighty God, for the times we have been too proud to acknowledge Your part in our lives, we are sorry. Forgive us Lord.
For the times we have been too proud to serve You by serving others, we are sorry. Forgive us Lord.
For the times we have been ashamed and responded by trying to hide things from You we are sorry. Forgive us Lord.
For the times we have not told the whole truth, to others or to You, we are sorry. Forgive us Lord. For the times when You have shown us Your presence and we have still doubted, we are sorry. Forgive us Lord.
For the times You have answered us and we have forgotten to thank You, we are sorry. Forgive us Lord. AMEN
A Meditation on the Cross.
You may find it helpful to look at a picture of the cross, or even a wooden or metal cross but the less ornate the better.
At the foot of the cross we place our burden of sin. Bring your sins to mind.) Please forgive us.
At the foot of the cross we place the times we have hurt other people. (Bring these times to mind.) Please forgive us.
At the foot of the cross we place the times we have been hurt by others. (Bring these times to mind.) Please be our strength.
At the foot of the cross we ask for courage to stand up for the weak and for what is right. Please be our strength. For the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.
THURSDAY Psalm 25
Forgive my sins O Lord – forgive me the sins of my present and the sins of my past; the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins which I have done to please myself, and the sins I have done to please others.
Forgive me my wanton and idle sins, forgive me my serious and deliberate sins, forgive me those sins which I know and those sins which I do not know, the sins I have worked so hard to hide from others that I have hid them from my own memory.
Forgive them Lord, forgive them all. Of Your great mercy let me be absolved, and of Your bountiful goodness let me be delivered from the bonds of all that I have committed, for the sake our Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour, AMEN.
(An evening prayer) Eternal God, You gave us this day, forgive us for all which today we did not do. Forgive us for the things we have left half done, and for the things we have not even started.
Forgive us for the promises we made to You and to other people and did not keep.
Forgive us for any word of comfort, of praise, of thanks, which we might have spoken but did not speak.
Forgive us for any help we might have given to someone in need, and did not give.
Forgive us if today we have made things more difficult for anyone, by being careless, thoughtless, selfish and inconsiderate.
Forgive us if by word or action we have set a bad example to anyone, and have made it easier for another to fall into sin.
Forgive us if today we have been disloyal to any friend, or if we have hurt the hearts of those whom above all we ought to cherish.
Forgive us if we have made faith harder for others by casting doubts on things they hold dear.
Forgive us if we have made joy harder for others by bringing gloom or grumbling discontent.
Grant us grace that tomorrow we may walk more closely with You. Help us so to live that whenever Jesus returns or Your call comes for us, we may be ready. AMEN
FRIDAY Psalm 51
Lord, remembering the depth of Your love to us, we repent of our half hearted discipleship. We have been called to deny ourselves:
forgive us for putting self-interest before the interests of Your Kingdom;
forgive us that Christ’s Lordship in our hearts has been challenged by our ambition, our appetites, our desires and our needs;
forgive us for not being self-forgetful in our care for other people.
Lord, we have been called to carry a cross: forgive us for complaining when it has weighed heavily upon us;
forgive us that, having received so much, we have sacrificed so little;
forgive us for the limits we have set to Christian love;
forgive us that we have settled for mediocrity, resisting the fire and passion of Christ’s love upon the cross. Forgive us Lord. AMEN
O God our Father, help us to walk with wisdom.
Help us never to flirt with temptation and never to play with fire.
Help us never needlessly or thoughtlessly to put ourselves in a position in which temptation has the opportunity to exert its power over us.
Help us never to allow our eyes to linger, or our thoughts to dwell, on the forbidden things, lest their fascination be too strong for our resistance.
Help us to walk every step of every day looking continually to Jesus, that His light may be our guide, that his presence may be our defence, and that His love may be our strength and inspiration. We ask in Jesus’s name. AMEN
SATURDAY Psalm 90
From all evil and mischief; from pride, vanity and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred and malice, and from all evil intent, Good Lord deliver us.
From sloth, worldliness, and love of money; from hardness of heart and contempt for Your word and Your laws, Good Lord deliver us.
From sins of body and mind; from the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, Good Lord deliver us.
From famine and disaster; from violence, murder and dying unprepared, Good Lord deliver us.
In all times of sorrow; in all times of joy; in the hour of death, and at the day of judgement, Good Lord deliver us.
By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your ministry in word and work; by Your agony and cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial; by Your mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; by Your sending of the Holy Spirit, Good Lord deliver us.
(An evening prayer) O God our Father, who are plenteous in mercy, forgive us for all the wrong things that have spoiled today.
Forgive us for any moment when the voice of conscience spoke to us, and we heard it, but went our own way.
Forgive us for any moment when we forgot You; when were so immersed in the affairs and the pleasures of this world that we had no thoughts to spare for You.
Forgive us for any moment when we grieved You; for any word or action or conduct which made men think less of Your Name which we bear.
Forgive us if today we have neglected duty, failed in witness, wavered in faith, fallen away from love.
When we think of our own failure we thank You most of all for Jesus Christ, who gave His life a ransom for many, and who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and our sin. May we find in Him Your pardon and Your peace. AMEN
SUNDAY Psalm 130
I confess to You, Almighty and most Holy God, that I have sinned in thought and word and deed, through my own most grievous fault.
I acknowledge my lack of faithfulness in holy service, my lack of discipline and obedience, my lack of love.
I pray to You, O God, have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, our Lord, AMEN
O God our Father, there are things in our lives which make us ashamed when we remember them.
Forgive us when we said and did things which now we are ashamed of, as we realise that You heard and saw us.
Forgive us when we have lost our temper with the people who get on our nerves.
Forgive us when we have been cross and irritable, fault-finding and difficult to live with for those who are nearest and dearest to us.
Forgive us when we have been discourteous and impolite.
Forgive us when we have thoughtlessly or deliberately hurt anyone’s feelings.
Forgive when we have discouraged others instead of encouraging them.
Forgive us when our presence has depressed others instead of making them happier.
Forgive us for times when have failed in some task because we do not ask Your help.
Forgive us for times when we fell to some temptation because we tried to meet it by ourselves.
Forgive us for times when we were driven to despair because we were trying to fight the battle in our own unaided strength.
You remind us, `Behold I am with You always, to the very end of the age.’ By that promise help us to find courage and strength to meet all things undismayed. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.
MONDAY Psalm 19
O merciful God, full of compassion, longsuffering and of great pity, who spares us when we deserve punishment, and in Your wrath remembers mercy, make me earnestly to repent, and to be heartily sorry for all my misdoings.
Make the remembrance so burdensome and painful, that I may flee to You with a troubled spirit and a contrite heart.
O merciful God, visit, comfort and relieve me. Do not cast me out from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me, but excite me to true repentance.
Give me in this world knowledge of Your truth and confidence in Your mercy; and in the world to come everlasting life, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour, Your Son Jesus Christ, AMEN
(An evening prayer) O God our Father, if we have hurt anyone this week, forgive us and give us the grace to say that we are sorry.
If we have been wrong in anything this week, give us grace to admit our error.
If we have been resentful this week, help us in the time to come to accept rebuke in the spirit of humility, even if we think we do not deserve it.
If we have parted with anyone in anger this week, or if there has been a misunderstanding between us and anyone else, give us grace to take the first step to put things right.
If we have been unjust or unfair, or if we have said things in the heat of the moment which we would not have said if we had stopped to think, give us grace to apologise.
Help us right now to make up our minds that we will leave no breach between us and anyone else unhealed. We ask these things for Your love’s sake. AMEN
TUESDAY Psalm 103
(An evening prayer) O God our Father, forgive us for the failures of today.
Forgive us for any failure in self-control, through which we said or did things for which we are sorry now.
Forgive us for any failure in self-discipline, though which we were slack, when we should have been doing will all our might that which You gave us to do.
Forgive us for any failure in obedience, through which we listened to our own desires rather than to Your will.
We thank You for any temptation You enabled us to overcome. Thank You Lord, AMEN.
Merciful God, I confess to You now that I have sinned.
I confess the sins that no one knows, and the sins that everyone knows; the sins that are a burden to me, and the sins that do not bother me because I have got used to them.
I confess that I have lived superficially. I have pushed to the back of my mind the questions that trouble me. I have not found time to face the emotions that disturb me. I have hidden from life behind habit, activity and entertainments. I have avoided You, God, even as You came after me.
In my relationships I have given less than my whole self, and have been closed to receiving from others what they wished to give me of themselves. I have responded to needs for justice with a hard heart. I have allowed imagination and sympathy to wither. Routine has been my ally and honesty my dread.
We confess our sins as a church. We have not loved one another as Christ has loved us. We have not given ourselves in love and service for the world as Christ gave Himself for us.
Father, forgive us. Send the Holy Spirit to us, that He may give us power to live in the way that, by Your mercy, You have called us to live.
Lord God, we have shut ourselves up.
Come after us again, knock once more, that we may open up to meet others, rediscover ourselves, know Your love, and live again. AMEN
Introduction to Chapter 5 – “THE PRAYER OF RELINQUISHMENT”
Read Prayer – Chapter 5 “The Prayer of Relinquishment”
Bible passages: Luke 22:39-46; Luke 1:28-38; Philippians 2:5-11.
Introduction to Chapter 6 – “FORMATION PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 6 “Formation Prayer”
Bible passages: Romans 12:1-2; Jeremiah 18:1-11; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
IF I tried to live for you Lord today.
If I tried to follow your wonderful way.
Then all of my life would be me and not you.
And none of your glory would ever shine through.
Since I first met you I knew Lord you were the way.
I tried hard to walk I your footsteps each day.
But somehow my life didn’t glorify Thee.
So make me a channel and you live through me.
Take each new day, whatever’s in store.
Take my whole being and into me pour,
Your power and your Spirit, Oh make me anew.
For no-one can change me, Lord Jesus, but you. (Judy McKenzie)
The Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, let me bring hope;
where there is darkness, let me bring light;
and where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
A prayer of relinquishment and formation
Lord I am willing to be made willing.
I am desirous that Thy will shall be done in me, and through me,
As thoroughly as it is done in heaven.
Come and take me and break me and remake me.
And now I give myself to Thee, in life and in death,
In the dark and in the light, in sorrow and in joy;
To be Thine only, wholly and forever.
Make the most of me that can be made, for Thy glory,
O Thou who livest and reignest, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
One God, world without end, AMEN
Introduction to Chapter 7 – “COVENANT PRAYER”
Read Chapter 7 “Covenant Prayer”
Here Richard Foster points us to prayer as an expression of our covenant obedience to God. Reflect on what he says about “time”, “place” and “heart preparation” and see whether God is leading you to experiment with any changes in your patterns of personal prayer.
“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere.” (John Dalrymple)
Introduction to Chapter 8 – “THE PRAYER OF ADORATION”
Read Prayer – Chapter 8 “The Prayer of Adoration”
This much more important chapter leads us on to adoration and worship in prayer. The best response will be for us to spend time adoring and glorifying God. Readings to help us praise and adore: Psalms e.g. 95, 96,100, 103.
Introduction to Chapter 9 – “THE PRAYER OF REST”
Read Prayer – Chapter 9 “The Prayer of Rest”
Rather than turning to other readings or Bible passages, try to give that time this week to solitude and silence.
“Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God …. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practised and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. …. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness …. The silence of the Christian is listening silence, humble stillness.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on You,
because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Introduction to Chapter 10 – “SACRAMENTAL PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 10 “Sacramental Prayer”
As an experiment in “Sacramental Prayer” you may like to use the following pattern for a short time of prayer every day for a week.
Read Psalm 95:1-7 in any version you choose.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end, AMEN
Pray the Prayer of General Confession quoted by Foster (top of page 112) which begins,
“We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep …”
A short time of prayers as you are led and conclude with the Lord’s Prayer
Introduction to Chapter 11 – “UNCEASING PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 11 “Unceasing Prayer”
The separate booklet “Practising the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence is worthy of thorough reading and reflection. Make a conscious effort to open your heart to God’s presence in the week ahead.
I also invite you to experiment using a “breath prayer” as Foster suggests on pages 128-130. Suitable breath prayers include:
“Jesus, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“Lord, Make me a channel of your peace.”
“Abba Father, let me yours and yours alone.”
Or use another “breath prayer” of your own as you are led.
Introduction to Chapter 12 – “THE PRAYER OF THE HEART”
Read Prayer – Chapter 12 “The Prayer of the Heart”
SPEAKING IN TONGUES: Over-rated or Under-rated?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:10, 30; 13:1,8; 14:1-25, 39-40.
No spiritual gift has generated as much misunderstanding, controversy and division within the church as the gift of “speaking in tongues”. We must approach this topic with humility, love, prayer and open minds.
What is the gift of tongues?
The gift of tongues is “spontaneous inspired utterance by the Holy Spirit, where the normal voice organs are used, but the conscious mind plays no part. The languages spoken or sung are entirely unlearned by the speaker.” (David Pytches, p. 62)
There are three distinct phenomena associated with this gift.
- An utterance not understood by the speaker but recognised by hearers as a known human language.
This is clearly what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12). Some suggest that such tongues-speaking will only ever be evangelistic, but this certainly was not the case here: the tongues praised God, then Peter preached in Aramaic (probably) or Greek. Others would restrict their expectation of such phenomena to the Early Church (saying the gifts were only needed to authenticate the Apostle’s preaching, or until the New Testament was written). However we have already seen that those arguments are inadequate, and moreover there are many reliable accounts of tongues-speaking of a recognised human language from around the world today. The gift, as it was used in Acts 2, seems still to be very much in operation in the church today. Others suggest from Acts 2 that the gift of tongues should always involve recognisable human languages only, and so some restrict its expression today to the linguistic work of Bible translators. This is surely far too limiting. In the phrase, “tongues of men and of angels” (1 Cor 13:1) and throughout 1 Cor 14, Paul teaches about forms and uses of the gift of tongues other than in recognised human languages.
- The use of tongues with interpretation in corporate worship
See 1 Corinthians 14:26-28. In seems clear that when praise or prayer was offered in public through the gift of tongues the Early Church expected God then to give an “interpretation” into the common language. The interpretation was not a simple translation, but rather an explanation of the prayer. The interpretation given of a message in tongues can sometime seem to be a prophecy. However since speaking in tongues is a form of prayer then interpretations, or better “explanations”, will also usually be a prayer addressed to God and not to the church. The tongues may in some way trigger a prophecy, but a prophecy addressed to the church will not usually be the explanation.
Examples of such “tongues with interpretation” are widely reported in a variety of churches today. Paul encourages all who speak in tongues to seek the gift of interpretation also, and discourages speaking in tongues in public without interpretations, but instructs “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor 14:13, 28, 39).
- Tongues as a private prayer-language.
From the 20th Century the Pentecostal Tradition has re-awakened interest in the idea of the gift of tongues being exercised in private prayer and worship by individual believers. 1 Cor 14:2f,13f,28 suggest that the Spirit might empower an individual believer’s spirit to communicate directly with God without the agency of the believer’s mind. The implication in verses 18-19 is that Paul himself used the gift of tongues in private in this way. As such, private use of tongues would be unique among the spiritual gifts in that it edifies the believer and only secondarily the church (in contrast to 1 Cor 12:7). Many Christians today in most denominations would claim to share such an experience of the gift of tongues. They claim that speaking in tongues is helpful to them in at least three areas of prayer:-
– in praise and worship, as a “love language” with the Father.
– in intercession, especially when the person is uncertain what to pray for.
– in spiritual warfare, in direct confrontation with evil and the demonic.
Doesn’t Paul teach that speaking in tongues is unimportant and unhelpful to the church?
This is certainly not the teaching in 1 Cor 14. Here Paul is saying that in corporate worship everything must be done decently and in order. Indiscriminate private use of tongues in that context is unhelpful. The believer can choose whether to speak or not, and Paul was dealing with the situation in Corinth where the gift was being misused.
Paul is not teaching primarily here about the use of the gift of tongues in individual prayer and worship. It is wrong to conclude that he thought the gift was unimportant just because he puts it last in his lists of gifts in 1 Cor 12. Paul himself spoke in tongues a great deal (1 Cor 14:18) and encourages it (v. 5)! He clearly believed that there were other things which were more important, such as prophecy and love. Unfortunately the Pentecostal tradition has tended to over-emphasise tongues. But no spiritual gift or activity of God the Holy Spirit should ever be dismissed as unimportant.
Are all tongues genuine and from God?
No. There are instances of tongues-speaking in many other religions and also in occult practices. Many of these are surely of satanic origin. It is also true that phenomena very similar to tongues can be induced psychologically through emotion and hysteria. We are called to “test the spirits”, and the gift of discernment helps here.
It may well be true that some of the “speaking in tongues” found in so many churches today is psychological rather than spiritual in origin. However the classic conservative arguments that the gift of tongues was only for the Early Church, or that the use of tongues in private is not found explicitly in Scripture, have implied the cold condemnation that ALL modern so-called tongues-speaking is either psychological or satanic in origin. Few hold or teach such an uncharitable and unbiblical position today. Just because a gift can be counterfeited does not mean that the real thing doesn’t exist.
What is the point of praying in tongues if the person is not able to understand what they are saying?
Michael Green helpfully lists some of the benefits of speaking in tongues. It gives a genuine liberty in prayer, “a new dimension” making prayer a joy instead of a great effort. It gives a greater depth to praise and worship, and a greater intimacy with God. The Bible teaches that tongues with interpretation is one channel God chooses to speak to His Church. There are reliable accounts of tongues which are human languages being recognised by others both guiding Christians and bringing non-Christians to conversion.
In our over-cerebral age the gift of tongues enables communication with God at a spiritual and emotional level to supplement our rational approach to Christian things. In our “dis-enchanted” world speaking in tongues gives an encounter with the God who is either supernatural or no god. The misunderstandings and divisions with previous generations of Pentecostalism and the excesses of the extremes of the House-Churches today have made many Christians suspicious of spectacular spiritual gifts and of the gift of tongues in particular. Happily, suspicions are fading.
Should all Christians be able to speak in tongues?
It might appear that Paul would like all believers to speak in tongues (1 Cor 14:5). However he feels the same about prophecy, and 1 Cor 12:7-11 and esp. 28-30 make it very clear that he does not expect any of the gifts to be exercised by all believers. There is no Biblical ground for supposing that tongues would be different from all other gifts in being given to all believers. The Greek in v. 30, “Do all speak in tongues?”’ clearly assumes the answer, “NO”. Paul was saying, “Surely all do not speak in tongues?”
At first, all Pentecostals were expected to speak in tongues. Today only about half do. Most Charismatics would say that the gift of tongues will not be given to all believers, although all believers should be encouraged to ask God to see if it will be given to them. Neither tongues nor any other gift requires a special initiatory experience after conversion. Exercising this (or any other) spiritual gift should never be a cause of pride, and not receiving a particular gift should never lead to discouragement or jealousy.
What is your attitude to the gift of tongues? If God wanted to give you that gift, what would your response be?
Introduction to Chapter 13 – “MEDITATIVE PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 13 “Meditative Prayer”
‘Have you listened for God’s voice speaking directly to you? Have you considered the possibility that He may speak through your intuition, through your imagination, through dreams and visions, through flashes of inspiration?’ (Rev. Margaret Jarman, BU President)
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. (Psalm 119:97, 99, 148)
This week try a time of meditation on one of these Bible passages.
Psalm 1, 8, 23, 103; Isaiah 43, 53; 1 Corinthians 13; Revelation 1,
Any favourite parable or miracle story.
You may like to reflect on the obvious links between Listening to God through meditation and contemplation on the one hand and prophecy and spiritual gifts on the other.
EAGERLY DESIRE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
1. Especially the gift of prophecy
“Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1). This verse encourages all Christians to seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to open our lives to the many ways the Holy Spirit works to bring glory to God and to build up the church. But in particular Paul refers to the gift of prophecy, of speaking God’s messages. And this should not be surprising to us when we think about the nature and essential character of the Holy Spirit as He works in our lives.
What actually are the most important work and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer? We think of the Holy Spirit as the Lord, the Giver of life, the breath of God in creation Who brings new birth (John 3) and a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). We think of the Holy Spirit as the Helper, who helps us to know Jesus better, to be more like Jesus and to tell others about Jesus.
You may be surprised to discover that Biblically the most widely referred to and most important activity of Holy Spirit is actually this – inspiring prophetic gifts and messages. The essential character of the Holy Spirit promised in the Old Testament and experienced in the church in the New Testament is the communicating Spirit, the Spirit who inspires prophecy.
We find the words prophet, prophecy and prophesying 384 times in the OT. The ways in which prophets received God’s message varied. So did their subject matter and the ways that they delivered God’s messages. But the prophet was always essentially God’s spokesman in the world. The authenticity and authority of all prophecies rested upon their divine origin: “thus says the LORD”. God spoke to the prophet and the prophet then spoke to the people. And it was the Spirit of God who inspired the prophets so that they received direct revelations from God. This was the dominant activity of God’s Spirit in OT. It was the “Spirit Who inspires Prophecy” who was the agent of direct communication between God and his prophets, inspiring them with dreams and visions and messages.
Before the birth of the Church at Pentecost the Holy Spirit only came upon special individuals for specific purposes or occasions. But even Moses said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). In Joel chapter 2, God promised that in the Latter Days the Spirit will come and rest upon all God’s people, communicating prophecies, dreams and visions. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28).
And this is the promise fulfilled at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Peter’s sermon there on the day of Pentecost teaches us that the Holy Spirit poured out on every Christian is the fulfilment, not so much of Old Testament promises of a new creation or a new heart, but of Joel’s promises of the Spirit who inspires prophecy. Acts 2:38-39 indicates that it is THIS Spirit who is poured out on ALL who repent and believe. Peter repeats Joel’s words for emphasis, “and they will prophesy”. This underlines the principal activity of the Holy Spirit who came down and filled the church, the Spirit who had inspired the prophets, the Spirit who inspires prophecy. It is first and foremost THIS Holy Spirit who is now given to every believer, the Spirit who is “the channel of communication between God and man”. So now ALL believers will be able to see visions and dream dreams, ALL believers will be able to prophesy.
2. The Prophet-hood of All Believers
We’ve heard the phrase, “the priesthood of all believers,” the idea that every one of us can come into God’s presence and pray – we don’t need special priests as intermediaries. The prophet-hood of all believers implies the reverse, the corollary. We won’t need other people to bring us messages from God – God will speak directly to ALL of us – because the Spirit who lives in every Christian is the same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets!
Bob Gordon commented, “It is this universalizing of prophetic potentiality to every believer that marks the greatest difference between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy.”
We find this promise fulfilled throughout Acts. Time after time the church receives prophecies, specific revelations from God, giving guidance, assurance, solutions to problems and predictions about personal and national events. See e.g. 13:2ff; (Antioch) 15:28ff; (Guiding Council) 20:23; (warning Paul) 21:11 (Agabus) and 11:28 (predicting famine). Throughout Acts the Holy Spirit is more than anything else the Spirit who inspires prophecy.
But if you stop and think about it, so many of the activities of the Holy Spirit are actually the works of the communicating Spirit. The Spirit is Paraclete, “another Counsellor / another Helper” (14:16), who continues Jesus’s work of revealing God and bearing witness to Jesus. In John the Paraclete is the Holy Spirit in a special role, as the personal presence of Jesus in the Christian while Jesus is with the Father. The Helper’s activities include teaching (14:26), testifying (15:26) and guiding into truth (16:13). He will “speak what He hears … tell you what is yet to come … take from what is mine and make it known to you” (16:13ff). All these are activities of the Spirit who inspires prophecy bringing believers into direct communication with their heavenly Father.
The Spirit brings eternal life, and what is eternal life but a personal relationship with God, mediated by the Spirit? “This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus says in John 17:3. Again according to the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit makes us God’s children. The Spirit is the agent of our Sonship, the agency of our relationship with God, the one who cries within us “Abba, Father”, “the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”. And it is the Spirit who inspires prophecy who does these wonderful things in our lives.
Paul himself experienced revelations, dreams, visions and inspired speaking. (Acts 16:9f; 18:9f, 1 Cor 2; 2 Cor 2, etc). Paul also clearly viewed the activity of the Holy Spirit inspiring prophecy as an essential and ongoing aspect of the life of the Early Church. So when he comes to speak about spiritual gifts, in 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul reckons that, next to love, prophecy is the gift to be valued most highly (1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 24-25, 29-32).
A good definition of prophecy is this. “Prophecy is receiving a revelation from God and subsequently communicating it to others.” We need to consider the two separate stages. How does God speak to us? How can we expect to receive God’s messages? And then, how should we share these messages and how can we test whether they are really God speaking?
3. The ways God speaks to us
(see especially D.Pytches, Prophecy chapter 6)
We want to be very clear that the most important way God speaks to Christians today is through the pages of His word, the Bible, especially as it teaches us about His supreme revelation through His Son Jesus Christ. The Bible gives us the standard by which all other “words from God” must be tested and judged. So we study long and hard to understand the teachings of Scripture.
And sometimes God also speaks to us through specific Bible verses and passages which come to us as if they were God speaking directly and personally to us.
But God does speak to Christians through the Holy Spirit in other ways too. Prophecy and other communicating gifts (see below) all rest on Christians receiving revelations or messages from God. God spoke and God still speaks to people in the following ways.
- Dreams (Deut 13:1, Joel 2:28)
- Visions (Dan 7:15, Acts 7:55-56; 16:9-10; 18:9-10)
- Pictures (Jer 18:1-6) or symbols.
- Voices (1 Sam 3:4, Acts 9:4)
God can also speak directly to people through situations and circumstances, subjective impressions, riddles, allegories and parables. Much rarer, and needing much more careful testing are supernatural visitations, trances, and out-of-the-body experiences.
Most of us need to grow in the many ways of “Listening to God”! We need to explore silence in prayer and meditation much more, to discover an awareness simply of the presence and love of the Father and to learn to hear His messages to us more clearly. Rev. Margaret Jarman, in her Presidential Address to BU back in 1987, said,
“Have you listened for God’s voice speaking directly to you? Have you considered that He may speak through your intuition, through your imagination, through dreams and visions, through flashes of inspiration?”
I believe in the prophet-hood of all believers. I believe that God the Holy Spirit is often trying to speak to us in all these kinds of ways – but we all have so much to learn about Listening To God. David Watson wrote, “God is the living God … and every day He wants us to enjoy a living relationship with Him, involving a two-way conversation”. We can so easily forget that our Christian life should be a relationship with God. We can easily sink into duty and routine. In our prayers our conversations with God can so sadly become one-way monologues.
Looking at the New Testament, prophecy and prophetic gifts are not peripheral to activity of Holy Spirit in life of believer – but central activities of Spirit of Prophecy. Christian prophetic gifts rest on direct revelatory experiences. No believers are excluded from receiving such direct communication from God, and many more might expect to, because we have all received the communicating Spirit, the Spirit Who inspires prophecy. So we share in `the prophet-hood of all believers’.
4. What is prophecy in the Bible?
Prophecy rests on and experience of a revelation from God. So when the Jesus is blindfolded and mocked, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” (Lk 22:64) the expectation was that any true prophet would receive supernatural knowledge from God about people and events. Jesus knowing the sinful life of the woman who anointed him in Luke 7:39, and Jesus’ knowledge of all men’s hearts (John 2:24) are examples of prophecy.
Prophecy means not only foretelling (as in e.g. Mark 13) but much more often forth-telling a revelation from God. David Watson gave this definition of Christian prophecy. “While the written word is God’s truth for all people at all times, the prophetic word is a particular word, inspired by God, given to a particular person or group of persons, at a particular moment for a particular purpose.” Prophecy is not just good Bible teaching. “Prophecy would express a new word from God as such, whereas teaching would tend to denote more a new insight into an old word from God.” “Prophecy receives its content through revelation, teaching from tradition”.
According to Paul the function of prophecy will always be to build up the church, “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). Paul would like all believers to prophesy but recognises that God will not use all in a regular way as prophets. He envisages that some believers will exercise a regular ministry as “prophets” subject to their recognition by the local Christian community, whereas others (not known as “prophets”) will occasionally prophesy. But Paul longs that ALL Christians would prophesy.
Before we look in more detail at Paul’s teaching about prophecy below, note that there are a number of other spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor 12 and 14 which can be grouped together under the general description of COMMUNICATING GIFTS. All these spiritual gifts involve God speaking to believers in some way. All of these are aspects of what the Bible broadly means by prophetic phenomena. See 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.
“Words of knowledge” and “words of wisdom” refer respectively to specific supernatural insight into situations and to divinely revealed solutions to practical problems. See Acts 5:3; Acts 10:17-23.
“The discerning of spirits” refers to a God-given knowledge of the divine, satanic or psychological origin of another’s prophetic words (c.f. 1 Jn 4:1ff) or of their actions. (Acts 16:16-18, 1 John 4:1-6)
Speaking in tongues as divinely inspired speech is also a prophetic phenomenon. In Acts 2 Peter used Joel’s promises about prophecy to explain what the people were seeing and hearing, which was actually the disciples speaking in tongues. So also are interpretations or explanations of tongues. (1 Cor 14:1-5,13-19, 22-28)
All these communicating gifts are activities of the Holy Spirit who inspires prophecy.
5. Recognised and unrecognised prophecies
We need to learn to recognise prophetic messages when we hear them. In general it is the sense of the prophetic message which is inspired, rather than the precise words. So prophecies delivered in King James’ English or in the first person in the name of God are no more authoritative or authentic for that.
Pentecostals may be used to that kind of “explicit” prophecy. Pentecostals may prefer direct speech. But as good evangelicals we may be too shy to speak on behalf of God. We might tend to say something like, “The Lord laid this on my heart last night …” and carry on in indirect speech. These “words from the Lord” which we may have may come from an equally strong experience of revelation, yet because we report them to others in a different form they may not be recognised as “prophecy”.
An example of that kind of “unrecognised prophecy” might help. Many years ago I was in a church meeting which was on the point of approving a scheme of major renovations to the buildings costing £40000 when one member said, “I was praying about this. Our God is a great God. This scheme isn’t big enough.” The mood and direction of the meeting was transformed and six months later the church embarked upon a much more ambitious project for structural alterations costing three times as much, which proved to be a turning point in that church’s life and growth and witness. That prophecy was a very powerful message from God.
It is not the way the message is delivered but the element of direct communication from God, which is at the heart of this kind of unrecognised Christian prophecy. Convictions like that about the will or the heart of God, shared with church or friends after prayerful reflection, fit very well into the New Testament pattern of prophecy. Looked at in that way, very many Christians might realise that God HAS actually spoken to them and through them. And as we move forward into exciting new directions as a church, we need to be very open to hearing God’s voice, guiding us and leading us and challenging us and correcting us, whatever the ways He may choose to speak to us.
In the NT, prophecy and prophetic gifts aren’t peripheral to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. They are central activities of Spirit who inspires Prophecy. And no Christian is excluded from God speaking to us or through us in such ways if He chooses. Indeed we all could expect to receive much more direct communication from God, because we have all received the communicating Spirit, the Spirit Who inspires prophecy. So we share in `the prophet-hood of all believers’. That is the very reason why we are committed to being led and governed by the whole Church Meeting.
6. Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14
We are taught about Christian prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 24-25, 29-32; and 12:29-13. For Paul, prophecy is (next to love) the spiritual gift to be valued most highly (see1 Cor 14:1ff).
“Prophecy is receiving a revelation from God and subsequently communicating it to others.” Its function will be to build up the church, edifying, “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (14:3). As such prophecy is also in itself a “sign for believers” of the presence and love of God (14:22). Paul would like all believers to prophesy but recognises that not all will be used by God in a regular way as prophets (“ou me” in 12:29 implies “surely all do not”, c.f.14:5). He envisages that some believers will exercise a regular ministry as “prophets” subject to their recognition by the local Christian community, whereas others (not known as “prophets”) will occasionally prophesy. But he longs that ALL Christians would prophesy.
` Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20)
Prophecy is reception and SUBSEQUENT communication of a revelation: “Two or three prophets should speak…and if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn.” (1 Cor 14:29-30) This implies that the Christian prophet will always be in complete control of his utterance, able to stop speaking at will, rather than in a trance or some other ecstatic state.
In the Biblical pattern prophetic messages should generally be received in their entirety and then communicated later to other people, in sharp contrast to some “practitioners” who suggest that they may only receive the first few words and then the Spirit supplies the rest of the message while they are speaking. The reflective refining involved in subsequent rather than immediate communication might well considerably improve the quality and value of much prophecy in certain circles today.
Again I stress that in general it is the sense of the prophetic message which is inspired, rather than the precise words which are under the control of the speaker. Thus prophecies delivered in King James’ English or in the first person in the name of God are no more authoritative or authentic for that. `Prophesy does not rant.’ (Michael Green). When God impresses something on our heart or gives us an insight into something, that could well be prophecy. But as we saw above, many such prophecies may go UNRECOGNISED.
7. Evaluating and weighing prophecy
(See B.Yocum Prophecy ch 7, D.Pytches Prophecy ch 8, David Watson, Called & Committed)
Christian prophecy is always mixed, UNLIKE Old Testament prophecy which was simply true or false.
“We prophesy in part. We see through a glass, darkly;” (1 Cor 13:9ff AV). People who prophesy falsely, i.e. make mistakes in their prophesying, are not “false prophets”.
Prophecies may be “bad” because they are “impure”, “weak”, or “sloppy”. (B.Yocum chapter 7). In Acts 21:4; 11ff, Agabus’s prediction was correct but the hearers’ interpretation was mistaken.
IMPURE (mixed with the speaker’s own thoughts)
The Curate caught sneaking out of retreat said, “The Spirit told me to go do some shopping” to which the Bishop replied, “I trust that the Spirit and yourself are aware that today is early closing day.”
WEAK (with little content) – so many!!!!
SLOPPY (delivered carelessly or irrelevantly) “I the Lord who created and redeemed you, who know everything about you, I the Lord, although just at this moment I forget thy name, I am with you.” (Dave Tomlinson)
HERE ARE ELEVEN TESTS we should apply when we think God is speaking to us:-
- Scripture and sound doctrine.
- The traditions of the Church
- Effects – in building up the hearers and the church and glorifying Christ.
- All who prophesy must be judged by their works and lifestyle, “by their fruit will you know them.” (Matt 7:15ff).
- The spirit of love with (or without) which the message is delivered.
- The gift of discerning spirits – and “resonance” or “inner witness” of Spirit
- Specific utterances must be evaluated by others with prophetic ministries (1 Cor 14:29)
- “Two or three prophets should speak” (1Cor 14:29) Tim Pain argues that this implies a prescriptive minimum, and that “Isolated prophecies are highly questionable”. Is he right?
- Does the speaker submit to the church leaders?
- Is the speaker in control of himself when speaking? Evil spirits take over people, the Holy Spirit very rarely does. (1 Cor 14:30-32).
- Most prophecy is not foretelling but forth-telling, “telling forth” God’s word. For rare predictions the biblical test is whether the prophecy is fulfilled, or not (Deut. 18:22). But then, remember Jonah!
Throughout history “false prophets” have succeeded in leading Christians astray. But just because a spiritual gift can be counterfeited and needs testing does not mean that the real thing does not exist. The Biblical Criteria for testing prophecy are only abidingly necessary if genuine prophecy also remains a possibility.
We all need more education about prophecy. We all need to build up our experience of hearing God speak directly to us. But above all, we all need greater expectation. We may expect the Holy Spirit help us to understand the Bible, but some Christians can be deaf to the Spirit if He speaks to us through prophecy or dreams or visions or pictures.
Samuel prayed, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We can pray that same prayer, confident that God still wants to speak directly today, not just to some but to all of his children. Because each believer has received that Holy Spirit who inspires prophecy and communicates revelations. But we all need to become more open to the word of God coming to us in all sorts of different and unexpected ways. Or when God does speak, we may not hear Him!
`Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. ‘ `He who prophesies edifies the church.’ ` Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.’
`Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. ‘
(1 Corinthians 14:1,4; 1Thess 5:19-20; 1 Samuel 3:10)
Introduction to Chapter 14 – “CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 14 “Contemplative Prayer”
This is a DEEP chapter! We take Foster’s warning on the second page very seriously. Do feel free to skip this chapter completely and devote further time to meditation instead.
Introduction to Chapter 15 – “PRAYING THE ORDINARY”
Read Prayer – Chapter 15 “Praying the Ordinary”
Bible Passages: Matthew 6:25-34; Colossians 3:12-17
In preparing for chapter 15 you may find especially chapter 1, “Simple Prayer”, and chapter 11, “Unceasing Prayer” worth reading again.
Introduction to Chapter 16 – “PETITIONARY PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 16 “Petitionary Prayer”
Bible Passages: Psalm 104
“Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom.” (C.H.Spurgeon)
Introduction to Chapter 17 – “INTERCESSORY PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 17 “Intercessory Prayer”
Bible Passages: Exodus 17:8-13; Luke 18:1-8; John 14:12-14; John 15:1-8, 14-17
Introduction to Chapter 18 – “HEALING PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 18 “Healing Prayer” and my notes below.
I am convinced that the key to understanding healing prayer lies in Foster’s 4 steps: 1. Listen; 2. Ask; 3. Believe; 4. Give thanks. In particular we fall short at Step 1. We do not listen well enough to the person, to discover whether their greatest need is physical healing, or psychological healing, or emotional healing or assurance of forgiveness. Then we do not know how to listen to God well enough to discover what His will is for that person’s life, so that we can truly pray in Jesus’s name, in accordance what God is wanting to do. As we move on in spiritual gifts like prophecy and words of knowledge, so we will know more answers to our prayers for healing.
PRAYING FOR HEALING
- WHY WE SHOULD PRAY FOR HEALING
- Jesus healed the sick
Healing the sick was central to the Ministry of Jesus Christ. Healing miracles make up a QUARTER of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.
Let’s be clear from the start just why it was that Jesus performed miracles. Jesus DID NOT work miracles to prove who He was (the Messiah and the Son of God). NEITHER did Jesus perform miracles to prove that His gospel was true. The miracles were not intended to prove anything to anyone. Jesus explicitly refused to give any “sign” to prove His identity, except “the sign of Jonah”, the resurrection (Matt 12:38-41, Mk 8:11-12). In His day, every village had its own “miracle worker” – most of Jesus’s miracles wouldn’t convince very many people about His Messiah-ship or His teaching. And obviously they didn’t!
The real reason Jesus healed is simple. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:15). His manifesto in Luke 4:16-21 declared that the time had come when God would begin His Kingly Reign in the world (which is the meaning of the Jewish word we translate as “Kingdom”). This would include putting right all the wrongs in the world caused by sin. Whenever God speaks, things happen! Jesus’s miracles are the out-workings of that Kingly Reign of God, concrete expressions of the truths which Jesus was proclaiming, demonstrating God’s power, love and grace towards fallen mankind (Matt 12:28, 10:6-8). Miracles are the gospel in action!
- Jesus commanded his disciples to continue His healing ministry
In commissioning both the Twelve Apostles and the 72, Jesus commanded and empowered them to continue His healing ministry.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. …
“As you go, preach this message:`The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matt 9:35, 10:1, 7-8 )
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, `The kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:1, 9)
So whenever the gospel is preached, we should expect to see miracles and healings. The Risen Christ declared that healing and miracles were to be signs of the growing church.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-18)
- The Early Church healed the sick
There are so many healings throughout Acts. For example the crippled man at the Temple Gate who went walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:1-10). In Acts 5:12-16 we read
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No-one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
And healing was a part of Paul’s ministry too.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)
So the Early Church continued Jesus work, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. The miracles in Acts weren’t just to authenticate the Apostles’ message or their authority. Miracles in the name of Jesus by the Spirit’s power continued as part of God’s ongoing Kingly rule. And there is no Biblical reason to suppose that such activities of the Spirit would end at any time until Christ returns. As long as there is sickness and suffering, God will continue to heal! “I am the LORD who heals you!” Exodus 15:26
- Christians through history have healed the sick
History confirms for us that miraculous healings did not cease when the Apostles died. They continued widespread in the church and we have detailed records of healings until at least the fifth century from writers like Irenaeus (140-203) Origen (c. 185-c .254) and Augustine (354-430).
“Those who are in truth his disciples, receiving grace from him, do in his name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead have been raised up, and remain among us for many years.” Irenaeus (c130=200 AD) Bishop of Lyons.
“They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events … The name of Jesus …. can take away diseases.” Origen (c. 185-254 AD) another theologian. (QUOTES from Questions of Life Nicky Gumbel p 207-208)
And those miracles were not restricted to the hierarchy of the church, the bishops and priests. There have been reliable reports of healings throughout the history of the church. And around the world today there are many parts of the church where frequent healing in a normal part of their Christian experience.
But the expectation of such miracles occurring was greatly reduced after the Reformation. Christians in the growing towns condemned the magical or superstitious elements of the “folk religion” of rural churches. Liberal Theology has worked hard to deny the supernatural. Many Christians only really expect God to heal through modern medicine and psychiatry. And it’s generally true that the extent of incidence of the miraculous has always been, and still is, related to the level of expectation of Christians. “Ask and you will receive!” But if we don’t ask, we won’t.
- The promises of Jesus encourage us
“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. …. Ask and you will receive.” John 15:7; 16:23-24)
So we should pray for healing!! Maybe the biggest reason why Christians don’t pray for healing so much is that we have prayed for people in the past, and they have not been healed. It sees as though God has not answered our prayers. So we don’t dare to pray because we are scared of being disappointed. Especially we are scared that the sick person will be disappointed or hurt if they are not healed. So we need to answer one very important question.
- WHY THEN ARE SOME PEOPLE NOT HEALED?
It is now more widely recognised that physical healings are aspects of the salvation and wholeness which God’s Kingly Reign brings. Ordinary Christians in all kinds of churches are praying with boldness, faith and perseverance, and God is working very many remarkable healing miracles. But along with many great blessings, this increased expectation of miraculous healing has produced certain difficulties.
(a) In some circles the miraculous is seen as the spiritual alternative to medical treatment, and medicine is rejected. This “super-spirituality” is most unhelpful. We must always recognise the hand of God in healing, whether through surgery, drugs or miracle. It is no less spiritual to pray for healing for someone in hospital than in church. And God’s healing is always a process – sometimes quick, sometimes slower. But we must beware of falling into the opposite trap and saying that God only heals through medicine nowadays. The God of the Bible is a God of miracles, and “His touch has still its ancient power!”
(b) The context of healing in the New Testament is normally the local fellowship rather than in separate “healing meetings”. It is expected that healings will be a part of the on-going life of all true churches.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16)
And we must remember that when we read of “healings” in lists of spiritual gifts then the gift is the specific healing miracle which is the work of the Holy Spirit in the body or mind of the individual who is healed The gift of healing is NOT some spiritual gift possessed by the Christian who might have been praying when the God gave the healing. So a Christian can never say “I have the gift of ministering healing”, only that “God gave a gift of healing to a certain sick person on a particular occasion, and I was blessed to be present at the time”.
(c) The Bible teaches us that illness and suffering entered into the world as a consequence of sin and the Fall. Because of this, some people quite wrongly try to associate a particular illness with specific sins in the patient’s life. The interplay between body, mind and spirit within the one individual is very complex, and medical science certainly recognises psychosomatic illness. But almost always the reason we fall sick is simply that we share the common lot of fallen mankind in a fallen world. Some people make the mistake of saying that a person needs only to discover the particular sin or sins which are the root cause of their illness (whether physical or psychological) and then when they repent of their sins they will be cured. This teaching is false and terribly cruel. Specific sin can have effects on health, but Biblically this is very rare.
(d) Some folk often look at the gospels and find that healing miracles are usually require a measure of faith from the patient (Of course this means that the miracle can’t be seen as a “proof” trying to generate faith). Therefore their explanation when someone is not healed is that, although God wants to heal, the patient simply does not have sufficient faith. This sounds convincing and it may occasionally be valid, but it is still generally false and cruel. And if unconfessed or unrepented sin or lack of faith on the part of the sick person are barriers to healing, then we should not forget that the same problems can equally be present in the lives of the other people who are praying for healing. But again, this is usually NOT the issue.
We need to be clear that God does not answer prayers as a reward for our faith – we can never earn or deserve God’s grace. Faith is NOT some kind of good work we have to do to earn enough heavenly brownie points so that God will answer our prayer. Rather our faith is merely the channel through which God pours out His blessing as He alone chooses in accordance with His eternal purposes.
(e) There is one mistake often made by Christians who are enthusiastic about God’s healing power. It is to go to the extreme of saying that it is God’s will for all Christians to be healed all the time. Some people argue that Jesus healed all who came to Him, completely and immediately, and so they believe that everyone who has entered into the life of the Kingdom should enjoy its benefits of complete wholeness too. I want to make very clear that the Bible does NOT teach this anywhere and NO churches or Christians in history have ever experienced this kind of total healing. But why is it that we are not always healed?
The Biblical picture is more complicated than some like to believe. Yes, God’s Kingly Reign has begun. But it has not yet completely arrived. We are not in heaven yet! We are living “life in the overlap”, between Christ’s First Coming and His Second. We are ALREADY in God’s Kingdom, but we have NOT YET left this world. All the blessings of salvation have been bought for us by Christ’s death and resurrection, and we have begun to experience these blessings, but we will never experience them completely in this life. We still fight the battle against sin and sometimes we lose and give in to temptation. Christians still die, of old age if not from illnesses. Christians are not all miraculously protected from accidents or natural disasters.
There is no Biblical reason to believe that God will guarantee us healing from every physical illness. As long as we live in the tension between the ALREADY and the NOT YET we will still share the sufferings of this fallen world. Christians share in Christ’s resurrection life, but they also share in His dying (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).
So complete healing from every illness is not a “right” for every Christian to claim. We will never fully understand the mystery of God’s purposes in this life. And it is evident that, for reasons we may not understand, it is not always God’s will to grant healing. Remember the apostle Paul’s experience.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
It was more important for Paul to learn to trust and depend on the grace of God in his weakness than for him to experience healing from whatever this “thorn in the flesh” actually was.
So Christians will not always be healed. But healing IS often the gift of our loving God for His children, given according to His purposes and for His glory, in His way and in His time. It is within God’s master-plan that we may not always be healed, not least because otherwise some might become Christians for completely wrong and selfish motives. But as for all of God’s gifts which we cannot earn or deserve, we may confidently pray and ask for healing, and leave the answers to the wisdom and love and purpose of God. And if we don’t expect and we never ask …. !
- HOW CAN WE MOVE ON IN PRAYING FOR HEALING?
If we want to move on to experience more of God’s healing in our own lives and minister healing more effectively to others, then I am convinced that we actually need to learn more about prayer.
To begin with, prayer should be an expression of our dependence on God. But if we are honest we spend most of our lives depending on other things. We don’t need to depend on God for our Daily Bread when we can depend on Tescos and Sainsburys and the money in our bank accounts. Similarly we don’t need to learn to depend on God for our headaches and toothaches and colds when we can turn to aspirin and paracetamol and Boots the chemists. When we have learned to depend completely on God from day to day for the little details of our lives, then I believe we will find it easier to pray for healing in the “bigger” illnesses and crises.
Then also I believe we need to learn more about spiritual gifts and Listening to God in prayer.
Richard Foster gives four steps in praying for healing:
- Listen; 2. Ask; 3. Believe; 4. Give thanks.
We fall short at Step 1. We do not listen well enough to the person, to discover whether their greatest need is physical healing, or psychological healing, or emotional healing or assurance of forgiveness. Then we do not know how to listen to God well enough to discover what His will is for that person’s life, so that we can truly pray in Jesus’s name, in accordance what God has revealed to us that He is wanting to do. I believe we need to move on in spiritual gifts like prophecy and words of knowledge and words of wisdom, if we want to know more answers to our prayers for healing. As our relationship with God deepens we will know God’s will more clearly. In that way we can bolder and more persistent in our requests for healing.
Listen again to the encouragement Jesus gives us!
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
Introduction to Chapter 19 – “THE PRAYER OF SUFFERING”
Read Prayer – Chapter 19 “The Prayer of Suffering”
This IS a difficult chapter J Don’t feel guilty if you skip it and just keep praying.
Introduction to Chapter 20 – “AUTHORITATIVE PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 20 “Authoritative Prayer”
DELIVERANCE MINISTRY – SOME OBSERVATIONS
The Bible makes clear the reality of personal demonic spirits, and also the ministry of the church to continue Christ’s work of proclaiming the Kingdom in word and in actions through healing and casting out demons. Scripture and church history recognise different degrees of “demonization”.
- A person can be completely controlled by powers of evil. The term “possession” is often used but has no Biblical basis. They require “exorcism and blessing” (“solemn exorcism”).
- Others (including Christians) may be afflicted in a lesser way by the demonic and require “deliverance” (“simple exorcism”). But not all Christians with sin problems need “deliverance ministry”.
The demonic can gain a hold on a person’s life through spells, curses and the actions of ancestors. Deliverance ministry can be dramatically effective in bringing release from all kinds of problems WHEN demonic activity is present. But we need the gift of discernment to be sure that the problem is actually spiritual and not psychological.
Many sincere (especially younger) Christians find the struggle with evil discouraging and even overwhelming. It can be comforting to place the blame on demonic forces and seek the help of deliverance ministry, but this is not necessarily appropriate or wise. We fight against the world, the flesh (our old sinful nature) and the devil with all his sneaky lies and tricks, and there is no short cut to maturity and holiness. We must learn, slowly and painfully sometimes, to trust more in Christ and in His cross, to resist the devil and to crucify our old sinful nature as we put on our new nature in Christ.
This will involve ongoing repentance and renunciation of evil. Christ HAS won the ultimate victory, and we share in it! But sometimes the claims made for the level of victory over sin we should experience are un-Biblical, unrealistic and can generate discouragement. We will always be in the middle of a battle which WE must fight, in God’s strength of course. There is no easy short cut! See 1 Peter 5:6-11; James 4:6-11; 1 John 1:7-10; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 4:22-5:2 etc.; Col 3:5-10; Rom 6.
Treating all sin problems as directly demonic in origin often only allows individuals to abdicate responsibility for their own spiritual progress. Very often what is needed is not “deliverance ministry” as such but a healthy dose of confession, repentance and renunciation of evil, and an ongoing battle with the fallen human nature which is still a part of us all. “Demons” of lust and pride and jealousy and anger are much less common than the fleshly sinful habits and desires attributed to them!
ALL respectable leaders working in areas of deliverance urge that counselling and ministry must take place IN PRIVATE, not in the presence of other (especially young) Christians unless absolutely unavoidable. True deliverances are often not exciting but terrifying.
Demons are not stupid! Most agree that anyone who thinks they need deliverance probably doesn’t. Demons will not be quick to invite expulsion!
Such ministry will not usually be done “on-the-spot”. Careful preparations, case histories and prayer will be essential and often many sessions of counselling will be required. Deliverance ministry should not usually be considered without reliable advice that the problems are neither medical nor psychological in origin.
Christians requiring genuine deliverance ministry (i.e. more than just confession, prayer, repentance and renunciation) will only be those with SERIOUS spiritual problems persisting from before their conversion (and in fact they may not be Christians at all). They will be those who, DESPITE no obvious sin or illness or disobedience still have a number of MAJOR problems, e.g. physical inability to pray (i.e. to say the words), evil nightmares, voices in the head, overwhelming fears, self-violence. Lesser problems do not need “deliverance”.
The Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and this severely limits the extent of interference by demonic powers (unless they explicitly invite the demonic in, or are “targeted” by spells or curses by others who are demonised). Once demonic influences present (in rare cases) before conversion have been dealt with, further deliverance is unlikely to be required. Repeated need for “deliverance ministry” would indicate a deficiency in earlier ministry, not spiritual growth.
Deliverance ministry is valid, important and neglected in the church today. However, it can also become a major cause of pastoral problems as it is sometimes practised by those outside “mainstream charismatic” church life, who rely on their experiences and not the Word of God, and are guided by sensationalist popular literature with little theological basis.
Introduction to Chapter 21 “RADICAL PRAYER”
Read Prayer – Chapter 21 “Radical Prayer”
“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time
everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying
some of the time somewhere.”
“For now, do not worry about proper praying,
just talk to God. By praying we learn to pray.”
Notes © Peter Thomas 2002, 2018