Do Christians need to take authority over Satan?

pointed fingerOne interesting topic that has emerged from the popularity of the War Room is the idea that Christians need to take authority over Satan. That is, it is reasonable for prayers to consist both of praying to God and rebuking/binding Satan with a presumed need that this is not only required, but expected for fruitful prayer life and Christian life.

I’m going to write why I strenuously believe that is not the case.

Now before I get into why I think this teaching is misplaced and not consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, I am mindful of why so many believe this to be true. In fact, this exercise was a routine component of my prayers and normal Christian discourse for many years. Why? Because of teaching that influenced me, which I then regurgitated in my theological arsenal. I am convinced that the number one reason Christians believe what they believe even when it is not faithful to Scripture is because of a wholesale embracing of teaching they absorb, especially when it is fueled by extra-biblical teaching and fragmented reading of Scripture through emotional appeal.

On that note, I think this endorsing of devil binding is a good setup for part 2 of Why we can’t read the Bible any way we want (see part 1 here). As I reflect on why I believed so much doctrine that was inconsistent with Scripture for so long even though I read Scripture rigorously, it only strengthens my resolve in encouraging Christians how to approach the Bible and read it in a holistic manner in recognition of it’s central theme – God’s redemption of his creation through Christ. One has to place the stories, the language used and genre of books into the context of God’s redemptive narrative. We cannot just isolate an event or story and think it is a personal application for us to then emulate.

With that said, a key passage that I believe many use to affirm this need to rebuke the devil as part of our prayer life is Jesus temptation while he was fasting for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-11). Aside from the fact that he was not praying, I think we need to recognize that in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is revealing the fullness of God, his mind, will and character (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15-20). Again, every scenario is not meant for us to emulate. In this case, he is the only person we see in Scripture that talks to the devil directly. In fact, I note in Jude 9, that not even Michael the archangel would talk to the devil but instead said “the Lord rebuke you.” Continue reading

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If you just pray hard enough, God will do it

war room claraAs a follow up to my last post, I wanted to bring the subject of The War Room closer to home. Again, in full disclosure I have not seen the film but I have heard a common thread in those that have seen, including the two reviews I posted in my last piece. Most notably, the takeaway from the film is that if you just pray hard enough God will do it.

Please allow me to get a little personal. Not that my story in no way can be a measuring stick but I think it can be instructive concerning this simplified formula in the context of God’s work in his creation. I also share this story because I know I’m not alone and I suspect this will resonate with a good number of Christians.

First know that I’m not sharing for this the sake of bashing a movie or releasing emotional diarrhea but the sake of examining how we consider prayer. For most of the 7 years I was in a troubled, unequally yoked marriage that was peppered with chronic illness and unkindness, I prayed. Oh how I prayed. I prayed that God would save my husband and soften his heart. I prayed that God would heal him and make our marriage whole. I turned my living room into a ‘war room’ and being more aligned with charismatic teaching at that time, would storm the gates, as I called it. The situation didn’t budge.

One day in 2004, I stopped dead in my tracks, or rather, I believe I was stopped dead in my tracks because the Lord gripped my heart. I was tired. I was disappointed. But most of all, I was intent on having things my way. My roar of anticipated triumph turned into a whisper of surrender – “not my will, but yours Lord.” I so desperately wanted him to give me that shiny object of a good marriage that I had prayed for. But alas, his will was something different. It was not long after that in that same year that my husband’s health rapidly declined and he passed away that August just shy of my son’s 7th birthday. Continue reading

Jesus’ name is not a magic wand

In the last hurrah of instruction to his disciples, Jesus tells them he is going away but sending the Spirit so that they can bear witness to him. (John 14-16). He told them.

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

Taken by itself, the passage seems to suggest that just by using the name Jesus, he will do whatever. But measured against the breadth of Scripture, and specifically in this pericope, praying in Jesus name relates to what he is instructing the apostles to do in terms of being witnesses. Tim Keller has recently wrote a book on prayer that looks pretty good. In this TGC interview, here is what he says about praying in Jesus’ name;

To pray in Jesus’s name means to acknowledge that we only have access to the Father’s attention and grace through the mediation and work of our Savior. So just using the words “in Jesus’s name” is not sufficient. We use the words to reinforce the required attitudes and motives. To pray “in Jesus’s name” is to come before God in both humility (knowing we don’t deserve God’s help) and confidence (knowing that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and worthiness), as well as grateful joy.

To pray in Jesus’s name, then, is to be aware of the grace of the gospel as the basis of prayer, and to have our attitude in prayer deeply enriched—both humbled and exalted. When we consciously or unconsciously expect God to hear our prayer because of our relative freedom from overt sin or because of our service and moral effort, we are praying in our own name.

Magic-WandI often get the impression that the name of Jesus is used like some kind of magic wand. All one simply does is declare “in Jesus name”, wave it around the target and wait for results. But it doesn’t work like that. Praying the name of Jesus is not an incantation that creates a mystical force that makes things happen. In fact, that is actually anti-Christian (like thinking that our words have power to change circumstances).

To pray in Jesus name represents our ability to come to the Father because of the mediating work that Christ accomplished on our behalf. That means praying in a manner consistent with his character and will in recognition of our union in Christ and what he delights in. Praying in Jesus’ name is an appeal to the Father for him to work according to his will. There’s nothing magical by using the name but there is something quite moving when we allow what the name of Jesus means in terms of our heavenly citizenship.  

The Unhelpfulness of ‘God Always Answers Prayers’

If there’s one thing that can be said of many Christians, is that we hate tension. Now some are more comfortable with it than others. But on the flip side, a disdain for tension can drive us into Cliche Land, where we resolve the tension with trite, but unfortunately not well thought out, sayings. One prime example of this is “God always answers prayers – yes, no or maybe”.

Now, what is typically meant by this is that you will either 1) get the answer you were expecting; 2) get the opposite answer with a denial or 3) Get a maybe…Stop! Would a maybe be the same thing as not knowing?

man praying at altarAnd that’s exactly why such a response to someone wrestling with unanswered prayers is not helpful. The reality is that until we know definitively, there is a period of time for which we have no idea what that answer will be. I actually think that “no” is not really an answer either, as I wrote about here. But as for the not knowing, I am often reminded, both in my own struggles with unanswered prayers and hearing of other accounts of the not knowing, that such a period can extend for a really long time.  It’s a long time of waiting…a long time of hoping…a long time of discouragement…a long time of not knowing.  Nothing will trivialize that struggle more than someone saying, God always answers prayer, with yes, no or maybe. Would you tell that to the childless woman who wants nothing more to be a mom and has suffered multiple miscarriages? Or to the parent with the wayward child who has drifted away for years? It’s kind of insulting when you think about it. Continue reading

The Challenge of Maturing Faith

highway road w_cloudsWhen I was young in the faith, it seemed as though my prayers made a straight b-line to the Father and he answered them accordingly. It showed me that he really hears and cares. But more important, that this Christian thing was real. Not only that, but there were the extras, you know the things you just didn’t expect that came out of the blue.  Sure there were bumps and trials, but God had a way of showing his faithfulness in an apparent and expeditious way.

Of course, I believed by faith that Jesus was alive, seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me. I believed it because that’s what I read in the Bible and heard in sermons. But there’s nothing like actually experiencing the delight of answered prayers with something that comes through just at the right time. And the extras are even better.

But as I’ve grown in the faith a funny thing happened. The trials have grown longer. Prayers don’t immediately get answered. Disappointments set in. Failures occur. What you want, you don’t always get. In fact, I have discovered that you can receive the opposite of what you are hoping and praying for. Compound this with the greater awareness of sin and brokenness, when stuff you didn’t even realize was an issue comes to light.  Continue reading