Tools for effective service in today’s world
SALVATION: PRESENT OR FUTURE?
We as the church have been very focused on bringing people to Christ and saving them. Once saved, there is teaching and preaching from the pulpit, lessons in Sunday School, and possibly some discipleship training in the form of more teaching.
The priorities are bringing people to Christ and then giving them information. New believers fit into the Christian system, the church, on its terms. The church is usually not able to accommodate itself to new believers, their backgrounds or needs, only to what the church perceives as their needs.
Today there are many believers who are saved and with some knowledge but who are burdened by their pasts: drugs, sex, abuse, the occult or a combination of these. Despite those backgrounds, the church assumes that the past is over and done with once a person becomes a Christian. But does the past just drop away?
In The Beginning
Neither Connie nor I envisioned a ministry in Prayer Resolution. Through the years people have shared with us but we seldom considered that we were doing ministry as we listened and encouraged them. And such times rarely included prayer. Prayer was never a preoccupation for either of us. This changed during our last assignment overseas as trainers.
We were running a training program for Christian workers who were working or who planned to work in more difficult areas of the world: the Middle East, the (then) USSR, and sections of Asia. Except for one year in Kenya, the program took place in an anti-Christian country so there was a lot of pressure for both the participants and us. We anticipated that our participants would have problems because of the stress and strain but we did not expect that these would interrupt the program.
One year during the program Carmen (not her real name) asked for help. We had been ‘in country’ and in an area that had a lot of occult activities as a normal part of the religious life of the local people. During that time Carmen had begun to experience attacks: voices, nightmares, flashbacks to a time in her life before she became a Christian. We held Carmen back for a few days and had to spiritually put her back together, so to speak, before she could continue the program.
Intuitively both Connie and I felt that just talking was not enough; only God’s intervention would help and that through prayer, this from two people who considered prayer somewhat of a necessary routine but without much happening.
So we listened to Carmen and over many hours guided her in prayer and prayed with her on issues from before she was a Christian. We did not expect that. We dealt with her sexual sins, her occult involvement and the forces at work in her life, including demonic forces.
Carmen was the first of many; all Christians, all committed to serve God overseas, all trained more than the normal Christian: some Bible School, some Seminary, some from good discipleship programs. All were elite in the sense that they were willing to leave homeland and family to serve the Lord. If such people could be attacked by Satan what about the average Christian? More so, what about new believers coming out of a hostile non-Christian culture?
Over the next weeks Carmen reported that God was working in her in very special ways. Meanwhile Connie and I pondered about what had happened. We had prayed in ways we had never done before. We went back and studied the steps we had done and searched the Scriptures to justify such prayers.
Ignorance & Fallacy
Ignorance. A major issue with Carmen was forgiveness: giving it to others and getting it herself. When I looked in my library for guidance and insight on forgiveness and prayer I found six books. None gave me a clear or biblical approach to forgiveness. Either the writer assumed the reader knew what forgiveness was or was plain wrong. (For example, one source said that forgiveness meant, “releasing the wrongdoer from all responsibility and blame.” Out of this time came the seeds for my book, Forgiveness: An Act of Mercy and a Key to Answered Prayer.
Fallacy. Some, unable to minister to believers who are leading defeated lives, have labeled such as unsaved or have accused them of not believing God’s Word. Unable to help, all they do is increase the blackness of the cloud hanging over the hurting one.
Hurting believers, troubled by the past, seek help and what do they get? II Corinthians 5:17.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV) They are told to let the past go and get on with life. As they walk away without release they have learned an important lesson: to keep their private inner war a secret.
By the way, II Corinthians does not say the past is over but that we have a new relationship with God as friends instead of as enemies. Read the context. Reconciliation has to do with a changed relationship, not past actions.
As a believer, Paul really had struggles in Romans 7. He makes sense when he talks about the ‘old man’ and the Scriptures tell us to ‘put off’ old wrong behavior and to ‘put on’ new righteous behavior.
If Spiritual Counseling does nothing else, it puts to death the old nature at least to the extent that the old man is deprived of nourishment when sins are handled, when we accept responsibility before God for our actions and when we hold others responsible for their wrong deeds.
Are we doomed to live with a past ever present? Yes and no. Yes, in that the past represents historical events that cannot be erased. Yes, in the sense that the past has released consequences that sometimes cannot be erased. Once someone is murdered, they are dead. Once a baby has been born out of wedlock, the baby is a living evidence of a deed. But no, in the sense that God can release us from the burden of sin. We can receive healing, forgiveness and cleansing (in sexual and occult sins). Our forgiving can release us from the terrible emotions that are always under the surface of our lives. Forgiveness can free us from the partnership of sin that comes when we agree with another to do evil and even when we have been a victim of molestation, rape or abuse.
An Often Told Tale
Sally had no clear idea of what had happened when she was in the 5th grade, only a vague picture of school, the playground, bushes and fear. After becoming a Christian she continued to have a fear of being hemmed in and nightmares. Always of playgrounds.
She went to several pastors and counselors and tried to explain her feelings but all that she was told was, “Forget the past” and “The past is past, forget it and move on.” In her thirties she asked for our help.
After dealing with a number of other issues that required Sally to forgive and to receive forgiveness we approached her hidden dread. We asked God through the Holy Spirit to reveal the details of what had happened on that long ago day and, if nothing, to release her from the fear.
Five times we asked for information as the Holy Spirit progressively removed the covering from that experience. A playground, bushes, no one around, fear. Why fear? “Show us Heavenly Father. Is there someone else there?” “There is someone else but I can’t see his face.” “Reveal that person’s face, Father.” “It is my 4th grade teacher, Mr.____, he holds me down and . . .”
Afterward Sally went home as if nothing happened but from that time on she was obsessively clean and she did not like to wear red, the color of her dress that day.
Sally forgave that terrible person and acknowledged that she was not at fault. She asked God to cleanse her from his defiling act and release her from the fear and guilt she had taken on.
God answered all her prayers and Sally is today free. No more dread or nightmares. And sometimes she wears red.
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I know a retired pastor who has never been able to show gentle emotions, even toward his wife and daughter. Even after years in the ministry he is harsh and critical. He won’t discuss the details but he grew up in a harsh and critical home. This background shaped his character, his presentation of the Gospel and his ministry. It didn’t have to.
Moral: the past can live on in the present unless God is allowed to step in ― which He desires to do for His children!
© 2010, 2015 by Richard D Smith