Friday, April 28, 2006

National Day of Prayer ~ A Poetic Reflection

Praying with Mother Liberty

Approaching the National Day of Prayer poetically
by Greg Asimakoupoulos

With Liberty we lift our hands
beseeching God to bless our land
and guide our leaders to a place
where righteousness prevails.

With Liberty we stand erect
although ashamed and circumspect
about the countless times we've failed
to stand for what is right.

With Liberty we raise a flame
confessing that we are to blame
for how we've bowed to tolerance
and closed our eyes to truth.

With Liberty we dodge the tide
that splashes us from side to side
and keep our heads above the fray
that harbors culture's lies.

With Liberty we clutch a book
without concern for how we look
when critics see us with God's Word
and simply roll their eyes.

With Liberty we lift our eyes
and look into the spacious skies
to seek God's vision and His peace
and focus on His grace.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Prayer Leader Online Interview--Healing Prayer

Interview--Healing Prayer

Prayer Leader OnLine interviews Rick Richardson, the author of Experiencing Healing Prayer and the associate national director for evangelism for Inter Varsity and a professor and director of the Masters in Evangelism program at Wheaton College.

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Q. Rick, you are a director of evangelism. What made you author a book on prayer?
I have a deep heart for this emerging generation, and for many people today, all the issues that they face and all the potential that they represent. I am concerned about the addictions, gender issues, mother and father wounds, and experiences of marginalization and broken relationships that people today face. But I am also tremendously excited about the authenticity and hunger for spiritual reality that people today have.

People today long for spiritual reality. I believe they long for the Spirit of God to touch them at dark points of brokenness, longing, pain, disadvantage and injustice. Healing is evangelism, especially for people today. I cannot tell you how often I get to pray for unchurched people.

I recall talking to a man on the train in Amsterdam. He shared his hurt and pain, the hurt and pain that had led him to visit a prostitute in the red light district the evening before. He had done that earlier in his life and it had caused him great pain, because he had lost a relationship that was important to him. We talked for about 20 minutes, and then I asked him if I could pray for him. When he agreed, I prayed. God's presence descended upon him and ministered to his heart and soul. After I was done praying, he looked up at me with soft eyes, saying he wished we could continue praying forever. This was the first moment of peace that he had experienced in years. That is evangelism.

Q. Why did you get so interested in healing prayer?
When I was 30, I hit a wall. All the things that I did to grow my relationship with God were no longer working. I was experiencing depression and driven-ness in my life. My marriage was suffering, I was feeling like a failure in my job, and I was also experiencing some physical illness. One night I went to bed with an image of a man coming at me with a knife. The image was so real and powerful, and it was an image of a man I knew. I could not go to sleep. The next day I went to pray with a friend. As soon as we started to pray, my friend looked up and said that he was seeing an image of a man coming at me with a knife. He wondered if that image meant anything to me. I had not told him anything about the image. So you can imagine my surprise. I told him of the haunting image from the night before, and he gently suggested that maybe God wanted us to pray about that relationship and that image. Jesus entered into that image, and into my feelings of my own manhood, masculinity, feelings of failure, and experiences as a husband at home. God gave me a healing and transformational experience that affected me at the depth of who I was, and that also healed the physical symptoms of illness that I had been feeling. So I have experienced healing, and I long to see others who feel trapped, depressed, addicted, ill and hurting experience that same kind of healing and transformation. God has so much more for us than we are receiving.

Later, I became part of an international healing prayer ministry, and have seen God do so many miracles in the lives of people. I have also seen up close and personal the dangers and dead ends and temptations for prayer ministries and prayer leaders. So in this book I wanted to give away what I had received and learned.

Q. How is healing prayer different from the type or level of prayer usually experienced in a church or small group?
In churches and small groups, we often pray with many words and with our minds engaged, but often our prayers can feel rational, rote and fairly powerless. Healing prayer is a way to see God with the eyes of our hearts, to hear his whispering voice, and to minister to people wisely and well at the point of their need.

Healing prayer involves getting quiet enough and giving God room enough to work powerfully in our lives. Healing prayer is collaboration with God. So often we fill silence with many words. But healing prayer is a dialogue, a way to pray that helps us be deeply in touch with God's Spirit, and deeply in touch with our own heart and the hearts of others.

Q. Is the title, Experiencing Healing Prayer, directed toward the person in need of healing or the praying Christian who wants to be equipped to pray for healing in others?
I had three audiences in mind when I wrote Experiencing Healing Prayer. First of all, I wanted hurting people to be able to experience healing through healing prayer. Second, I wanted people who had experienced some healing to know how to pray for hurting people. And thirdly, I wanted churches, ministries and small groups to be able to launch prayer ministry for hurting people. Part of why I am so excited about this book is that I think it does all three things fairly well.

Q. What does the subtitle, How God Turns Our Hurts Into Wholeness, tell us about your view of the role and purpose of healing prayer?
I understand healing to be an aspect of Christian transformation, and not just the relief of symptoms and of pain. I believe that God wants whole person transformation. Nothing less. So my book focuses on the healing of the whole person. I believe that when God's rule invades a person's life, that person experiences emotional, psychological, spiritual and often physical healing. So I focus on the ways in which healing and prayer for healing foster personal and corporate transformation.

Q. Rick, there are many books out there on healing prayer. What's so unique about your book and your approach?
For one, I worked hard to be biblically rooted and biblically balanced. There are a lot of healing ministries that get focused on the wrong things, and sometimes end up doing more harm than good.

Second, I give a lot of help in understanding the way in which the imagination and the intuition are crucial capacities for us to use in order to receive and minister God's healing presence and power. Too often too much of our Christian lives are lived in our heads. At the same time, some ministries that use the imagination also get unbalanced. So how do we get the things that we know to drop down into our hearts and to transform us? How do we grow and develop and deepen our imaginative and intuitive capacities to know God and to minister to others?

Third, although I think the theology in the book is substantive, I also tried to get very practical and very concrete in how to pray effectively for others. I offer model prayers, prayers that you can use personally or as a small group that will help you learn to pray for healing for one another.

Q. You write about an ethic for healing prayer. Why is that necessary and what ethical guidelines are being overlooked in the Body of Christ?
The first story I tell in the book is the story about how my church, LaSalle Street Church, launched a healing prayer ministry. My pastor Bill Leslie had experienced healing in his own life. He championed God's presence and grace for hurting people. He recruited me to join his grace crusade.

We started by getting a group of people together to learn how to pray for healing for one another. After a few months we launched prayer ministry at a Sunday service. I will never forget Bill Leslie's invitation. He told stories of his own pain, and the way his God had ministered to him through healing prayer. Then he invited people forward to receive prayer. He said, “The worst that can happen to you is you will have an experience of being profoundly loved [on]. And that's not so bad, is it? And do you might hear the Master's voice, 'Go in peace my daughter, go in peace my son, your faith has made you whole.'"

Too many prayer ministries get focused on performance. Too many prayer ministries overpromise results. Too many prayer leaders blame sick people for not getting healed. And too many prayer leaders create dependency upon themselves when they pray for others. It is crucial that are prayer ministries practice and affects that overcomes these temptations and dangers and common mistakes in prayer ministries.

So I have developed an ethics for use in training people to pray for others. Here are some of the guidelines that I use: Above all, the goal of prayer ministry is to love others well. It is not your performance but their experience of God's love and presence that matter. Secondly, leaders of prayer ministries need to be in community and accountability. Thirdly, same-sex prayer ministry is preferable. Fourthly, validate different styles and approaches to prayer ministry.

These are just a few of the 10 guidelines that I suggest and explain in the book. I have found that this kind of direction helps prayer ministers relax and minister effectively. We have an ethics for so many uses of power in our world. But so often when it comes to spiritual power and ministry, we have been strangely silent about what is ethical, helpful and loving. So I sought to address that lack in the book.

Q. You identify the healing journey. Does that mean healing is not instantaneous? Are you speaking of a healing that does not include the physical realm?
Since the goal of healing is transformation, I believe healing happens on every level of a person's being. Sometimes there are dramatic steps forward in the process of transformation. But mostly transformation is a long journey toward becoming like Christ.

What's more, sometimes transformation involves dramatic physical healing, and sometimes it doesn't. The goal is our wholeness in Christ.

Q. Is healing prayer restricted to charismatic congregations?
One of the ethical guidelines I suggest is that we validate different styles and approaches to prayer ministry. We can learn to avoid establishing one style of praying such as expressive or one approach such as charismatic as the right way to pray for sufferers. That way, we can affirm and celebrate what the spiritual gifts bring to healing prayer, but not alienate people for whom that has not been part of their past experience.

Q. What would you say to a congregational prayer leader about implementing a ministry of healing prayer?
In the book, I suggest a whole process for launching prayer ministry in churches, small groups, and ministries. I suggest a six-stage process. Step one involves owning and modeling the value for praying for others. Begin by receiving it and doing it. Step two involves communicating and instilling a vision and passion for prayer ministry in the congregation. Step three involves finding and appointing a point person to lead prayer ministry (possibly the congregational prayer leader him or herself). Step four involves training people from the congregation to be involved in prayer ministry. Step five involves recruiting a prayer ministry team. And step six involves creating opportunities and events to pray for others.

A congregational prayer leader ought to work first to get the senior pastor onboard. If the senior pastor is not yet on board, the congregational prayer leader can start with a small group of people who want to learn how to pray for one another.

Q. How can pastors champion more healing prayer throughout their congregation?
What makes people want to experience healing prayer is hearing stories about people who have been touched by God and healed by God through prayer. So pastors can tell their own stories, and they can invite other people to tell their stories. As people hear about God's healing presence and power, people start to have faith in and longing for God to work in greater ways.

I have sometimes seen pastors who preached challenging or highly rational messages, and then invite people to get prayer. When nobody comes forward, or nobody goes to prayer ministers, these pastors are surprised. Don't expect to the message entitled "Onward Christian Soldiers" to draw a lot of people forward in order to pray for their hurts and their illnesses. People need of vulnerability modeled before they will express vulnerability themselves.

Pastors can also regularly teach on the ways in which the Ministry of healing and healing prayer take place in Scripture. Healing was so central to Jesus message and ministry. I believe that the Ministry of healing what to be just as central to our message and ministry. But people need to see it from Scripture.

The most important thing a pastor can do is to create venues for people to minister in prayer to one another, in a place of safety, and in a place where people have learned how to begin to listen to God and collaborate with God. I was involved with an Anglican church that offered a Wednesday healing prayer service. That healing prayer service, which you can read about in my book, became the centerpoint of that church community, and the catalyst for growing the church from 70 people to 350 people. God can use prayer ministry in wonderful ways in our midst, to grow people and to grow churches.

Q. What resources do you recommend to a leader who wants to cast vision and provide training for healing prayer ministry?
One of my goals in writing experiencing healing prayer was to provide a book that leaders, leadership teams, and small groups can use to help them both receive and practice prayer, and to launch prayer ministry in the congregation. So hopefully that will be one place people can start.

I have also been helped by the books of Leanne Payne, Dallas Willard, John Wimber and others. And so those books would be a good start.

Q. Rick, please write a prayer that expresses your heart’s desire for congregations to become signposts of healing prayer . . .

Lord Jesus Christ, I pray for people and congregations that might be reading this interview. There are so many hurting and ill people in our churches, and in our world. People struggle with addictions, illness, depression, demonization, and so many other things. Lord we need Your healing. Lord we need Your touch. Lord we need Your transformation.

God, pour out Your Spirit. God, raise up churches that will be places of healing and transformation. Pour out Your Spirit in a new way in our day. Heal this generation. And teach us to pray. Teach us to pray for healing.

And as people are transformed and healed, You will get all the glory. And You'll be so happy. And people will come to You hungry for Your reality. For we pray in Your name. Amen.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

The "Open" Prayer Meeting

Note from Phil ~ Apply this message to your weeknight and smalll group prayer times ... Offers a radical approach that will turn them into true Prayer Adventures!

The Open Church

"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." 1Cor. 14:26

Christianity has followed its standard worship format for centuries. Services usually last from one to two hours and contain these basic elements . . .

Week after week, churchgoers repeat the same things, the same way, and have become almost sinfully complacent . . .

Did you realize that during the time of Christ the Hebraic style of church meeting found full expression? Topics were openly discussed, and the preaching and teaching methods encouraged questions during the message. Paul told the Corinthians to each bring a song, a teaching, or a revelation. The meetings were intended to bring worship to the Lord and to stimulate personal growth and mutual edification. Church members could pray for one another and practice the use of their spiritual gifts. You would come to church prepared to share something with the others.

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