Category Archives: prayer

Final Response to Patton’s “Why I’m Not Charismatic” (Part 8)

by Scott

With this post, Marv and I conclude our series in which we have interacted with Michael Patton’s eight-part series entitled “Why I’m Not Charismatic”. You can also download Patton’s series in a 22-page PDF file.

If you want to read previous posts, they are here:

Michael Patton’s final section in his series, section 8, is his concluding explanation as to why he is a ‘de facto cessationist’, meaning, he is a cessationist because there is not enough compelling evidence in his personal life as to persuade him otherwise. He still maintains God’s sovereignty as to overstep the experiential boundaries of his life. But, in all, this is simply where Patton finds himself.

I do not despise one’s experience shaping their theology. Though some might disregard experience altogether, I believe it is part and parcel to our faith, as I have shared here. But what I would challenge any cessationist, de facto or whatever, is that we acknowledge and allow for experience to shape our theology right across the whole body of Christ (I am not saying Patton would not allow this).

It doesn’t mean we should not judge our experience by Scripture, as well as those we are connected to who are responsible members of the body of Christ. But our experience many times helps us understand God’s revelation in Scripture. That’s how it was in biblical times and that’s how it has always been right down unto today. All Christian, cessationist or continuationist, need to allow for such.

There are a few things Marv and I have already dealt with that come up in Patton’s final section of the series. And, so as not to repeat ourselves, I only bullet point them and point to other articles for consideration (or re-consideration).

  • On God’s sovereignty and our responsibility with the gifts of the Spirit – read part 6 (point #1)
  • On the terminology of normative and expectation – read part 1 (point #2) and part 6 (point #2)
  • On the gifts ceasing in church history – read part 5, as well as this other article on the charismata in church history

But let me pick up two more comments of Michael’s and then I shall finish with some closing thoughts.

1) Healings and miracles as gifts and via prayer

Just as there can be so much confusion over such terms as sign-gifts, normative and expectation, here is another case where confusion can easily come about – the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. So I want to break down some things practically as I see them from Scripture and I hope they are helpful in giving us a more holistic practical theology in regards to things like healings and miracles.

Specifically, many cessationists like to hold to what I would say is a more dualistic view with regards to healings and miracles. They would typically argue something like what Patton has stated in his article:

Most healings and miracles I have seen come through prayer, not through a divine conduit with this particular gift. (italics mine)

Do you see the two varying means put forth in this statement?

I believe such a person would further argue that the first apostles, and some of the other early church leaders, were able to see healings and miracles through both of these means: 1) commanding the healing and 2) prayer. But, following the exhaustion of their purpose in confirming the gospel message in the first century, a healing could take place through the channel of prayer and seeing someone get well, even get well rather quickly. But to walk up to someone and make an authoritative command such as, ‘In the name of Jesus, be well and receive healing from the Lord of heaven of earth,’ well, that really does not happen much any more.

You see the difference being pointed out? 1) Prayer and 2) Authoritative command because one has the gift.

Thus, I think we can easily fall into the trap of viewing prayer in somewhat of an unhelpful way, something like that set aside time, with our eyes closed, whether privately or publicly, to ask God to intervene on our behalf. Something like that. So, by praying to God in this kind of way for a healing or miracle, it becomes distinguished from the more instantaneous command that we might read about in places like Acts (or hear of others sharing such stories today). A case and example is here:

6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7)

Now, I know that my above description of prayer is a very basic and naive concept, one that Patton and many cessationists would typically deny as their specific definition of prayer. But my challenge is that, some kind of dualistic thinking has developed amongst many Christians with regards to healings and miracles and how they are exhibited within our human world.

Of course, healing can come through prayer, as we read in these well-known words of James:

14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)

And I suppose such statements below by Jesus will also cover the areas of healings and miracles:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

But I believe we confuse the situation when we don’t recognise all things as flowing out of prayer with God, or the relational communication we have with Him. For didn’t James also remind us:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

Whether healing comes as a process (yes, it can be a process) or instantaneous, Jesus is still Lord of heaven and earth, and He is still the one we ask and rely on for healing. No matter if that is a set aside time of prayer with a gathered group or if it is out on the street as we interact with a broken (both physically and internally) world. We are in a place of desperate reliance upon God Himself.

Even if we want to divide healings and miracles into the two categories of instantaneous and non-instantaneous, both still ultimately come as a product of prayer communication and reliance upon God. And I suppose that anything we, then, command by the authority of Jesus would flow from the relationship we have with the Father as we listen to what He is saying (like Jesus in John 5:19).

I believe this prayerful focus and reliance upon God is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in places like this:

6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7; the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate)

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31; this is not a healing but still quite miraculous)

But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. (Acts 9:40; prayer and instantaneous healing, and here is an example of Peter’s command for a miracle following his prayer)

9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. (Acts 10:9-11; Peter went up to pray and had quite a miraculous vision and revelation)

5So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 6Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (Acts 12:5-9; a miraculous deliverance in response to earnest prayer)

Shall I keep going?

My point is that I think it unhelpful to put some healings and miracles over in one category called prayer and the rest in another category called instantaneous via authoritative command. Whether such is instantaneous or not, whether it happens at the command of a human vehicle in Jesus’ name or not, it all comes via prayer communication in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ.

While I understand the desire to designate healings and miracles in these two ways, these categories do get easily broken down at times, overlapping together, and all sorts of intertwining. And if we hold to these kinds of categories, as it seems Michael Patton and others do, I think we will 1) not be as prone to recognise the power of healings and miracles as God’s response to specific prayer times and 2) believe that healings and miracles no longer happen via an authoritative command in Jesus’ name.

The first instance is just as beautiful and powerful as the second, and the second instance still occurs today.

2) Relating to the closing of the canon

After hinting at this in part 7 of his series, Michael Patton revisits what he believes is a good analogy in explaining why he is a de facto cessationist. It has to do with how we, as evangelicals, believe in a de facto closed canon.

We believe the canon of Scripture is closed and should not be added to. This does not come about by really quoting any one particular verse or plethora of verses, but rather considering the theological ramifications with regards to the canon of Scripture (for evangelicals, the 66 books of the OT and NT) and its overall purpose. Christ is the full and final word of God’s redemptive and covenant revelation for humanity. Thus, our fathers long ago recognised that there is no need to add to such and, therefore, ‘closed’ the canon. To this, we would agree. Not to mention that this also allowed for greater protection against heresy.

Therefore, Patton believes this analogy is very helpful in considering the purpose of the ‘sign gifts’ (prophecy, tongues, healings, etc). Patton remarks:

I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. However, I don’t think that one can make a solid case from Scripture for the closing of the canon. I believe that both of these issues are very similar. Could God add books to the Bible if it were his purpose? Of course. Could we cry “foul” and say “You cannot do that because our traditions and councils have said you cannot? No. We (Protestants) believe in the de facto closing of the canon. What does that mean? We believe in the closing of the canon because it, indeed, closed. It is a historical and experiential reality. God just quit adding books to the canon. Only after this does our theology step in and attempt to explain this by saying it closed because soteriological history was completed.

Yet, as you could imagine, I cannot agree with this kind of thinking with regards to the gifts of the Spirit (or one wants to call them ‘sign gifts’).

Though I am sure some will disagree, I think we can recognise that God’s revelation can be identified in varying categories. Interesting I say this, right? Because I just noted the insufficiency of the two categories many cessationists create with regards to the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. But I think identifying two categories or purposes of God’s revelation can be established.

I might identify God’s revelation in these categories: 1) redemptive and 2) non-redemptive. Or, those two categories might be too dubious for some, so maybe we should prefer these two classifications: 1) canonical and 2) non-canonical.

But what I am getting at is that every single bit of God’s revelation that has been given since the beginning of time has not always found its way into the canon of Scripture. It’s really that simple.

Now, we are assured of the God-breathed nature of the 66-book canon of Scripture. It comes to us as the word of God testifying to the Word of God, Jesus. But by no means does it contain all that God has revealed, communicated, spoken and done since the creation. If we think it does, we are simply misled.

God’s revelation has always continued on even outside the formation of the canon of Scripture, both when it was being written and since it was finished and closed. Not just in the ‘general revelation’ sense that we all agree with, like in physical creation or in the conscience of humanity (typically pointed out from Romans 1 and 2). But also in the specific sense of God’s purposes and what He is doing in the earth via His people. None of this would contradict the full summary of God’s revelation that we have in the Scripture. But, nevertheless, His revelation and deeds were not confined within the formation of our canon.

I will give you a couple of examples:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

In his Gospel, John specifically took the time to record specific signs to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life. But he also tells us there were many other things, significant things, Jesus did. Those many other things were not any less a revelation as to who Christ is and God’s purpose through the gospel. But John specifically gave testimony to certain acts of Jesus and left out others. Think about some of those other acts Jesus did, which John did not record, that brought people to believe He was who He said He was. But thankfully we have a continuing testimony of what Jesus did, in John’s Gospel, the other three Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament.

Now, some will say – That’s the point! We have in Scripture what was necessary and sufficient, but we need no more.

No, that’s not the point. The point is that the Scripture gives what is sufficient. But, by no means, does this rule out any less that God was actively revealing and doing things to attest to who Christ was. That’s what John said. And that is how it was prior to the arrival of the Messiah and that is how it has been with the sending out of His body. I can almost bank on it that plenty of people came to know who Jesus was via things He taught and did that were not recorded in the Gospels, but nevertheless were extremely important.

Another favourite example of mine is found in 1 Timothy 1:18-19:

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience…

These words, these prophecies, were never penned in any part of Scripture, that we know of. Yet Paul makes it clear that these prophecies could be utilised in waging good warfare, as well as holding to the faith and a good conscience. Must have been pretty powerful prophecies!

And I don’t even think all of the words came from Paul. In 1 Timothy 4:14, we read that a gift was imparted to Timothy through prophecy and that this was done by the ‘council of elders’. Paul was probably there as well (see 2 Timothy 1:6), but it was highly probable that a few different people spoke forth the prophecies (notice the plural in prophecies).

Again, these prophecies were never recorded in Scripture, but they were worth holding onto. Timothy could actually live out the faith with greater strength by remembering these words of revelation.

And, if we are honest, we will truly recognise that every revelatory word spoken by a prophet, apostle, or any man or woman of God, did not find its way into Scripture. I don’t believe God ever planned it that way. Well, actually, I’m certain He didn’t plan it that way, even if I only had the two examples above.

Not to mention the plethora of prophets in the Old Testament that never penned a word, but were still actively speaking on behalf of God. Nor would Acts have recorded every single thing that the church participated in during the first century, especially noting that it mainly followed the activity of three apostles – Peter, John and Paul – and a few handful of others.

So, how does this relate into Michael’s analogy?

A closed canon of Scripture, as our measuring stick for our faith, does not point to the ending of God’s revelatory words and deeds. This is because the greater purpose of God’s revelation was not a canon of Scripture, though that was extremely important. The purpose of God’s revelation is to reveal who He is, His character, His purposes, and His plan to see His rule and glory expand across planet earth.

God’s revelation and God’s miraculous activity was never confined to our canon. So the analogy does not quite hold up. Instead, God has not only been desirous, but has actually continued to unveil Himself in accordance with the pattern that He has always revealed Himself. This is our constant and consistent God.

Closing Thoughts

Both Marv and I are extremely grateful for Michael Patton. We constantly interact with his blog, Parchment & Pen, as well as on the theological discussion network, Theologica, that he began just over two years ago. We have a deep respect for Michael and none of our interaction with his series should be seen as ‘cheap-shots’, but rather as a desire to interact with and challenge a man we do respect.

I personally appreciate Michael’s openness to all the gifts of the Spirit. I believe his interaction with the wider body of Christ has allowed for such, and this will allow for continued healthy discussion on the topic. I can only hope that one day soon we shall also see Michael encouraging and exhorting the body of Christ about the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in all the gifts of the Spirit. Until then……

Is That What History Really Teaches Us? (Response to CMP, part 5)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part five.

Michael,

The unspoken premise behind your historical argument is that over the centuries the church has looked pretty much the way Jesus intended.  Really?  Anything that goes missing, then, is like the dog that didn’t bark, prima facie evidence that the thing has dried up at the source.  It is something that God just isn’t doing any more.  Once we start playing that game, however, it is difficult to know when to stop.

There are a number of ways to respond to your part five, “An Argument from History.”  As for your specific citations of Chrysostom and Augustine, Scott has countered these quite handily in an earlier post here.  Jesse Wisnewski makes a similar argument at Reformed and Reforming here, and also makes the observation here that it illustrates the fallacy of an argument from ignorance.  Then there’s the point that you take us on a snipe hunt for the elusive “supernatural sign gifts”, showing that if you set your definitions and expectations just right, you can be assured of coming up empty handed.  This is your own “glaring weakness” in commenting on about Jack Deere’s argument, where you say:

He equates evidence that the historic church believed in the miraculous with evidence that they were continuationists. You can’t equate the two without misrepresenting what is at stake.  The historic Christian church has believed in the miraculous, they have not believed in the continuation of the supernatural sign gifts, by and large.

On the contrary, Michael, I’m afraid it is you who have misrepresented the situation by insisting on your own minimalist definition.  Continuationism in the first place is not about “gifts” but that Jesus Christ:

…continues His work of glorifying His Father, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom through the ongoing, vital and dynamic interconnection He maintains with those who are in Him, accomplished through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit…

From my earlier post “What Continues?

This empowering presence is referenced in a number of forms such as prayer in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), the prayer of faith for healing (Jas. 5:15), and signs and wonders (Acts 4:30).  The phenomenon that this empowerment is parceled out through the different members of the body gives rise to the concept of “gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4).  Parallel terms here include “service,” (v. 5), “activities” (v. 6), “manifestations” (v. 7).  Elsewhere they are called “distributions” (Heb. 2:4, though typically translated “gifts”).

Isolating the term “gifts” only serves to distort the issue, particularly when pared down to the scripturally dubious category “sign gifts.”  This category serves as a nice sharp container where the used, hazardous and unwanted bits may be safely disposed of, but it is not only absent from church history, it doesn’t even appear in the Bible (more here.)  And I’ll have more to say as I respond to your part seven.

I want to take a somewhat different tack, however, in responding to your argument from history.  As I suggest in my first paragraph, the same kind of disappearing act occurs with other aspects of apostolic teaching, and I don’t think you, at least, would see these as evidence God is no longer doing that sort of thing.

1.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  It is amazing how the sharp edge of this central apostolic truth goes blunt shortly after the death of the apostles.  The Shepherd of Hermas, for example (ca. AD 150), which is listed among the “Apostolic Fathers” proclaims that once you are baptized, you can sin and repent only one time (Mandate 4, chapter 3).  If this were true, we’d all be toast, of course.  Thank God for the butter of His grace!

We again pick up a clear understanding of grace with the Protestant Reformation, but what are we to say about the intervening centuries?  The truth wasn’t completely absent, but unmixed expressions of it are scarce for several centuries.  We now have some five centuries since the doctrine’s recovery, but do we conclude that in the interval God had withdrawn sola gratia?

2.  Believer’s baptism.  Speaking of baptism, I understand your ministry statement of faith is deliberately short and broad, but I think you personally hold to believer’s baptism by immersion, if I am not mistaken.  At any rate, I think this was the “normative” apostolic practice, but it did not fare so well in the history of the church.  Even the Protestant Reformation largely did not restore this, except in what some would designate as “fringe groups and cults.”  Some really do argue for de facto paedobaptism from the course of history.  Would you?

3.  Premillennialism.  Understand that I am directing this specifically to you, Michael.  A number of people will not agree with this point, including Scott, but it is given as an example.  I believe you hold that the apostolic hope was premillennial, but that this understanding disappeared for the most part early in church history.  It had a resurgence around the nineteenth century.  So in the sweep of history, it is not that different from the time frame you attribute to continuationism, which you say was not “in any way normative before the twentieth century.”

This historical premise is definitely used by some as an argument against premillennialism.  What about you?  Are you a de facto amillennialist?

So what do we really learn from history?  Don’t we end up proving a little too much if we take your approach?

These are just a few of examples.  You could probably suggest any number of reasons why particular doctrines or practices ceased to be “normative” over the years, without suggesting that God was “no longer doing that.”  Indeed, we ought to exhaust every other possibility before going with that option.  Ignorance?  Tradition?  Clerical status?  Biblical illiteracy?  Misunderstanding?  Distortion over time?  Fear?  Disbelief?  Poor leadership?  Politics?

The church is often likened to a ship.  Over the years wooden sailing vessels require periodic maintenance.  Their bottoms becomes fouled and their wood suffers from rot.  The barnacles need to be scraped off and the original woodwork restored.  Unfortunately, some of our ecclesiastical institutions of long standing over time became in many ways more barnacle than timber.

From time to time more extensive refits have been necessary. The best known is probably the Protestant Reformation, which largely focused on soteriology.  Today, I humbly suggest,  it is time for recovering apostolic pneumatology.

Semper reformanda.

John Piper on Spiritual Gifts

by Scott

Yesterday, John Piper posted an article of interest at his blog, Desiring God. He starts about by reminding us of nine different points to remember about spiritual gifts:

1. God wants us to know about spiritual gifts.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1).

2. Objective truths about Jesus govern subjective spiritual experiences.

“No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

3. Different Christians have different spiritual powers given to them by the Holy Spirit.

“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4).

4. For example, these different spiritual powers include the following:

“Wisdom . . . knowledge . . . faith  . . . healing . . . miracles . . . prophecy . . . ability to distinguish between spirits  . . . tongues . . . interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

5. The Spirit of God is sovereign over when and to whom he gives such powers.

“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

6. The aim of all the gifts is the common good of the church.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

7. The variety of gifts is like the variety of our body parts, such as eye and ear, hand and foot.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).

8. Therefore, if a spiritual power is not used, it’s like the human body not hearing.

“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? (1 Corinthians 12:17).

9. Therefore, we should avail ourselves of the spiritual powers God gives us through others.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

But then Piper looks to specifically connect these truths with the reality of unanswered prayer. He lists some realities of why our prayers might go unanswered, yet he then shares some thoughts on a reason we may have never considered:

But here is a reason we may not think of very often. God may intend to give us the blessing we long for not directly in answer to prayer, but indirectly in answer to prayer—through the spiritual gifting of another believer. And the reason we don’t receive the blessing is that we don’t avail ourselves of the power God intends to channel through the gifts of his people.

Yes, the gifts of God are given for ‘the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7) and for building up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Paul even challenges us to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Corinthians 14:12).

So, whatever the gift, let us build one another up, and who knows, as Piper points out, that ministry expression through the spiritual gift might just be the answer to our petitions before God.

More On Prayer

by Scott

In my most recent article, I shared what I believe is one of the most important aspects in regards to prayer – being led by the Spirit.

For the Christian who is called to walk in the Spirit (i.e. Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:4), we should look to see the Spirit active in all aspects of our lives, even in our praying. I pointed out that it is the Spirit of God who knows the will of God, and He also loves to step in and intercede on our behalf when we know not what to pray (Romans 8:26-27). I suppose that, along with Christ, the Holy Spirit has the most fruitful prayer ministry. Such truth stirs me to see Him more active in my prayer life.

But in this article, I wanted to take some time and clear up possible confusion or feelings that I have somehow set aside other kinds of prayer.

When I, or we, speak of Spirit-directed prayer, I suppose what can come to our minds is spontaneous prayer. And that’s not a wrong idea. Matter of fact, with most of the Spirit’s activity, there is a spontaneity, at least from our human perspective. Along with the Father and Son, the Spirit is well-aware of the bigger plan of what they are looking to accomplish in seeing God’s glory fill the earth (i.e. Habakkuk 2:14). Nothing ever catches these three off-guard.

But from our human standpoint, I think it quite easy to recognise the Spirit’s work as spontaneous, almost as if He is Lord over the ‘all of a suddens’. We are not always ready for nor do we normally plan for His workings – with the activity of His gifts, His power, His regenerating life, His directing of our prayers, etc.

Yet, I also want to note that, from our perspective, not everything the Spirit does has to be seen spontaneous, even in our praying. The greatest example is found in places like the Psalms. Though we consider the Psalms the song-book of the Bible, and it is, it also stands as a book of prayers. Many of the Psalms were to be prayed aloud by the congregation in varying settings. They had first been written by David and many others, but were written for the benefit of the community of God’s people in the coming generations. They were a kind of liturgy for the saints of old.

The word liturgy should not scare us. It simply refers to the order or form of our corporate worship gatherings. And, lest we misunderstand, even the most Pentecostal of churches have order to their corporate gatherings – prayer, song, song, singing in tongues, song, prayer, song, sermon, offering, song (or something similar).

Yes, the Psalms were originally written as directed by the Spirit, probably some of them spontaneously coming from an overflowing heart of praise or pain. So there is still the impromptu-ness of these prayers. But in the generations that followed, there would have been a planned reading aloud of those songs and prayers. And I believe this to be a beautiful thing. Shoot, I benefit from reading aloud these prayers, both individually and corporately.

So, I definitely wanted to clarify that, with regards to the direction of the Spirit in our prayings, this does not always refer to the ‘all of a sudden’ and the unplanned.

Another example centres around walking in the fruit of the Spirit. This is not always unplanned for me. I awake in the morning [most of the time] wanting to live as Christ lived, which includes living out those nine fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yet, at the same time, I can find myself not necessarily  contemplating the fruit of the Spirit, but an opportunity presents itself for me to show the patience and kindness of God. Both are Spirit-directed, but one was planned and one was impromptu. Neither one is better and both are Spirit-directed.

Therefore, by no means do I want to negate nor set aside our prepared and planned prayers, or any aspect of God’s planned activity in our lives. Such would over-simplify things and over-spiritualise our life in God. It can’t be done. Both have their beauty.

But, however we know the leading, direction and guidance of the Spirit of God Himself – planned or unplanned – we are called to know this leading, direction and guidance. We are called to keep our hearts, ears and eyes attune to the One who indwells and empowers God’s people. It’s not easy nor is it safe, but it’s good and right.

Spirit-Directed Prayer

by Scott

One of the most common means of communication with God is through prayer. As God’s people, we are even called to pray continually, or without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

I suppose most are aware that this kind of call to prayer does not intrinsically include the necessity of closing our eyes, nor folding our hands or bowing our knees. These actions aren’t wrong, but they are not the way of prayer. Life doesn’t allow for such postures at all time, but because God Himself resides within believers, the door has been opened for constant and consistent prayer.

Still, at times, prayer simply becomes something like a rote response or simply a cognitive exercise (whether we are praying aloud or not).

What I mean is this: When we go to pray about a situation, many times we just launch straight in. ‘God, thank you for today. Thank you for life and new life. Right now I ask that you reach out and touch Brian’s mother as she is going through this time of pain and suffering.’

That’s one scenario, but the ‘prayer response’ can be very similar across the board.

And I do believe there is a problem if our prayer life simply consists of a cognitive response.

Please don’t mishear me nor misunderstand me. I’m not asking us not to use our brains or our minds in prayer. As one friend reminded me once, ‘If we turn off our brains, then we would be dead.’

But what I sense in a lot of our prayers, or at least my prayers, is that we launch into praying without ever looking to be directed by the Spirit. Our prayers are simply our words and our words alone. I’m not sure that is a very healthy way to approach prayer.

A possible sign of this is when we start our prayers off with some statement like this: ‘God, thank you for this day.’ There is nothing wrong with such a statement. Matter of fact, we should be thankful for this day. That’s a good place to start. There is plenty of Scripture to back up a statement.

But, usually when we make such a statement, I find that we might not really be engaging with God in the activity of prayer. There’s nothing much there, if you will. And if that is the case, we need to be challenged.

Yet for a people looking to pray without ceasing, we need to consider how we can be better directed by the Spirit in our prayer. Didn’t Paul say it like this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

If anything, the Holy Spirit knows how to pray, since He knows the will of God, the heart of God. It might be good that we be specifically directed, led, guided and stirred by Him in our prayers.

Matter of fact, I think we are called to being directed by the Spirit in all matters of life. That might just be what walking in the Spirit is. And a good place might be to start with our praying.

But, to try and clarify even more, I will give a personal example in my life that happened in recent weeks.

Some will know that I live in the Brussels, Belgium, area. Here, my family and I live in an apartment. But, whereas in America there is lots of space, there isn’t so much here. So everything is crammed together and everything is smaller. While in America they build their buildings outward, in Europe they build their buildings upward, so as to conserve space.

In our apartment, on the other side of my wife and I’s bedroom, we have our neighbours. Actually, it is the bathroom of the neighbours (which is mainly the bath-shower, sink area).

For some unknown reason, our neighbours love to congregate in their bathroom. It seems they have their deepest discussions there. I’m not saying you can’t do that, I’m just saying it seems like all the time, especially since we are right on the other side. And they both don’t have the quietest of voices. So, at times, my wife and I have joked about joining in their conversation, answering a question through the wall to see what might happen.

And, not only do they have deep conversations in their bathroom, but they also have their loudest and most intense arguments there. Well, even if it weren’t in the bathroom, we can normally here it wherever it takes place, due to their extremely loud voices.

So things had reached a pinnacle of frustration. I had tried visiting them one day to graciously let them know we have a small baby and that we are just on the other side of their bathroom. All I was able to obtain was speaking to them through the intercom system (a typical instrument in apartments over here). And, even more recently, we had knocked and I mean knocked hard on the wall to let them know we are just on the other side. One night, with an argument just beginning about 2.00am, I knocked as hard as I could and ended up injuring my knuckles. I had had enough!!

Now, here is the thing. We had been praying. But, as you can probably guess, our prayers were more along the lines of, ‘Lord, please help them shut up be quiet tonight so we can sleep.’ We were struggling because we hadn’t had too many good nights sleep in the past months with a newborn and we were simply at our wits end.

One night I was sitting in bed. I could have been reading, I could have heard our neighbours at it again, I could have been praying. I can’t remember the exact details of the situation. But I remember the exact details of what happened following that initial moment.

Clear as clear can be, I heard God say, ‘You’re praying wrong, Scott. I want you to pray for them, their blessing, their lives, their hearts.’

Again, it was so clear. I could not mistake the voice of God, His communication to me.

I was so sure it was Him that I changed my prayer right then and there, praying as He had shown me how. I also shared with my wife and we began praying according to what God had spoken from that moment forward. I didn’t just one to pray once and that be it. I was looking to pray regularly for them with my wife.

The most fascinating thing unfolded over the next couple of weeks. No, unfortunately, I cannot report that they both came to Christ, at least not yet. But the story is nonetheless encouraging, at least for me if no one else.

That next Friday, while I was at the office, there was a ring at the door of our apartment. My wife wondered who it could be. She answered the door and the person, a female, said, ‘Hi, I am your neighbour. Can we talk?’

My wife is thinking, ‘Is this THE neighbour?’

Well, it was. She apologised for all that had been taking place over the past months and how her partner had treated me when I tried to come over. She said she had not realised that this guy was as much of a problem as he was. She was from Poland (he was Belgian) and she would be heading back to Poland the next day. Her partner thought she would be going for a week’s holiday, but she was going for good, not to return. She had come over to get the readings on the metre for the electricity and gas, since it was actually in our part of the building. She was going to have things cut off since it was all in her name.

My wife invited her in for some tea, hoping to interact more with her. But, unfortunately, she declined the invitation saying that her partner did not know she was at our place and that she had to get back before he became suspicious.

Well, we prayed into the situation, again remembering how God had asked us to pray, and the next day she went back to Poland. We didn’t see here again and we’ve never met the guy. But, ever since then, there has been solid peace for the past 3 or 4 weeks (from whenever she left). Complete peace and quiet, even so much that the guy has only come home about 2 days in this whole time. I don’t know if he has moved out or what, but there have been no arguments, no yelling at 2.00am, none of the sort.

Interesting what happens when you pray in accordance with what God is saying. Our prayers were being specifically directed by God. I wasn’t just praying how I thought I should or how I wanted it to go. I was praying as He was leading and speaking.

Listen, this is not about boasting in me and my great prayer spirituality. Remember, I wasn’t really even looking for God to speak to me in this. It was simply in a moment when God spoke, communicated and directed me towards change. If anything, this was about His rich grace and mercy. He was fathering me.

I am still challenged to be praying into the lives of these two people, even now – for God’s blessing, for their lives, for any kind of hope to rebound off another person, for wisdom for them both if there is a desire to get back together, etc. But, I’m challenged even now to be praying as God leads.

Will we always hear God lead us? Probably not, though I wouldn’t put it pass God. But our prayers need to be directed by His Spirit, since the Spirit knows the will of God. I don’t want to just launch in with a nice and eloquent prayer that seems spiritual enough but lacks anything of God’s Spirit at all. What a waste of time.

So, even before we pray one word, maybe we should just listen, listen to Him. I can think of know better way to help us in our praying.