Prayer Ministry - What is it? by John Andersen
My purpose here is to provide an introductory explanation of prayer ministry to counsellors who might not be familiar with this way of working with people. I intend to briefly describe the three different focuses of prayer ministry: confession or repentance from sin, inner healing and deliverance ministry. In short, prayer counselling primarily deals with a person's sin; inner healing deals with trauma, and deliverance ministry deals with demons. What these approaches have in common is an emphasis of the sovereign ministry of Jesus to the person, the reliance of the counsellor on the guidance and gifts of the Holy Spirit, prayer as the most important action we take, and an expectation of God's healing and liberation in a life-transforming way. They all involve a decisive encounter with God
At times an important focus in prayer ministry is dealing with a person's unconfessed sin. It reflects the conviction that sin is the root problem, and freedom and life change comes once a person has dealt with God regarding their sin. It reflects a conviction that the gospel is a gospel of liberation. Christ died to set us free from bondage to sin. Where a person remains in sin or harbors unconfessed sin, that person will be in bondage. Prayer ministry particularly aims at dealing decisively with habitual sin or sin that the person is out of control of, with the aim of securing a decisive break from sinning.
At the heart of repentance is a person doing business with God through confession of sin. A number of conditions need to be satisfied for this transaction to be effective. First the person must meet with God in a place of truth. This requires a brutal honesty and preparedness to deal with God on whatever matter the Spirit brings conviction about. The person must be prepared to really 'come clean' with God. The Greek word for confess homologeo means to agree with. When we confess our sin, we are agreeing with God concerning the matter. It is a place of frank honesty.
The second condition is it is a place where a person makes decisions. It requires decisiveness. There is no such thing as passive change in counselling. Change involves decisions. Here also life-changing decisions are required for any effective change to happen in a person's life. These decisions are declared, spoken forth in prayer. Repentance is making a life changing decision to turn away from one way of living and commit to another. It involves changing and making new commitments. There can be no freedom from sin without going through repentance. Hence, prayer must be a place of decisive repentance.
This means that it is the person's own transactions with God that is important. Praying for a person achieves little in this context. Any prayer ministry that mainly involves the 'minister' praying for the person will be ineffective in bringing about change. For the person remains in a passive position and has done nothing. What is essential is the person's own action in dealing with their sin. Hence, the person must be the one who prays.
Dealing with sin in prayer amounts to appropriating the cross of Christ by the person. Our task is to confess and repent. Christ has promised forgiveness for those who do so. Saying sorry is appropriate, but incomplete in itself. If a person only says sorry, sin remains undealt with. God requires confession. Furthermore, it is often unclear whether the person is expressing regret for their sin or regret for the painful consequences of their sin.
The central transaction in prayer ministry is a person doing business with God regarding their sin. The discussion and listening time leading up to that is in order to clarify what needs to be dealt with. Once a person has dealt with sin, then the counsellor may declare God's forgiveness and pray God's blessing, healing, and liberation for that person.
Inner healing describes those methods of prayer ministry that focus on dealing with trauma and feature visualization and imagery. The most well known of these approaches in Australia currently is Theophostic Counselling. Generally these approaches focus on affect - commonly, anger, sadness, shame, guilt, or some other troublesome negative affect. They are appropriate where the person has had traumatic experiences in the past that have not been adequately worked through. An indicator that inner healing may be needed is where a person has emotional reactions that are more intense or not adequately explained by their present context, leading a counsellor to suspect that the affect is connected to some past events.
While individual methods vary, they generally involve inviting the client to focus on a particular negative feeling, and then allow themselves to drift back in time until they recall a childhood experience that is associated with that feeling. The aim is to recall the root experience underlying the affect. It is becoming widely recognized that emotionally intense experiences leave a strong impression in a person's memory. These memories may still be active in the sense that present emotions are associated with them, and through the emotional reaction, present experiences may be associated with them also, leading to an intense response that is driven by the subconscious impact of the past experience.
The theological basis of inner healing is the conviction that Jesus is a healer and that Jesus has always been with the person. So when the traumatic experience occurred, Jesus was truly there. Once the person has recalled the traumatic experience, inner healing involves asking Jesus to reveal himself to the person in that past setting and inviting the person to look around in their remembered scene to see where Jesus is. The key to healing is the encounter the person has with Jesus within the context of that remembered experience. Usually healing occurs as an outcome of a conversation the person has with Jesus, where Jesus declares a truth or reveals something to them that changes the meaning of that experience for them. It may also involve visualized action, such as Jesus inviting them to come sit on his lap, or some other appropriate action that meets and heals an emotional wound or need.
While Jesus may deal with significant core beliefs and self-statements that would be the focus of cognitive therapy, this work is primarily done in the modality of the affect. As a result, an understanding is received emotionally, with the heart, not just cognitively in the head. This involves processing at an emotional level, not just at a cognitive level. A sign that genuine healing has occurred is the experience by the person of a tremendous release and change in affect. The painful affect will be gone or significantly reduced, and the person will experience a significant degree of peace even in that remembered traumatic experience. That the person feels at peace is a sign that healing has been accomplished.
A sign that inner healing has not occurred is the person continuing to be distressed. Cognitive work in disputing core beliefs and automatic thoughts associated with the affect are not an indication of healing. Where inner healing has occurred, the affect will have resolved itself on a level that does not require continuous vigilance against distress, or against negative self-statements and core beliefs. It is expected that these would be largely resolved along with the affect, leaving the person free to choose to buy these negative beliefs or walk in new positive beliefs. That is emotional healing and cognitive believing according to the truth go together. Inner healina is more effective than cognitive therapy alone in bringing a person to a place of inner peace and at rest wholeness.
This type of work is extremely intense emotionally and requires an ability on the part of counsellor to manage intense affect well and to provide a containment of safety, so the client can reexperience very unsafe and possibly traumatic memories and feelings.
The most common mistake counsellors make here is leading the client, or doing guided imagery. Just as when working with retrieved memories, it is extremely unwise to lead the client or suggest what the client should see or feel. It is extremely important that the counsellor allows whatever will happen to happen, and let the Holy Spirit guide where the person goes and experiences and sees. Hence the counsellor should not know what will happen next, but rely on the client reporting to him or her what the client is experiencing. The other hallmark of inner healing is, I expect, that significant emotional healing should take place. If a client is having to go over the same trauma time and again, dredging up more and more, while not experiencing significant sustained healing, then I would question the adequacy of the counselling.
This approach primarily focuses on a person's roundedness; its aim is emotional healing, so that the person is free to experience the presence without reacting to past unresolved trauma that become associated with present experience in some way. It relies on visualization and free association through affect. Finally, it depends completely on the unorchestrated visualized encounter of the person with Jesus. This lies at the heart of inner healing. This is and must remain totally out of the control of the counsellor, who must not attempt to 'make it happen', and Jesus is our healer and this is His ministry.
Deliverance ministry is perhaps the most controversial of these types of spiritual ministry. Its main focus is delivering an afflicted person from demonic oppression, or some degree of demonization. It assumes that demonization is the problem, and deliverance of the person in the name and by the authority of Jesus is what is needful. Deliverance ministry can be said to occur in two contexts. One context I call the power encounter. This is where a demon manifests in a way that is disruptive, and those in authority need to deal with it to maintain order. This is a context where it is appropriate to exorcise the demon directly. A distinctive feature of this context is it is unanticipated. The minister is not 'demon hunting' or doing deliverance. Rather the minister is doing something else, and up pops a manifesting demon. It is a matter of dealing with the situation one is presented with decisively and then moving on. In these situations it is essential that the demonized person is followed up immediately and ministered to in a way that comprehensively addresses the issues that gave rise to the demonization in the first place.
The second context is when the intention of the minister is to do deliverance. It is my contention that deliverance ministry in this context reflects such a basic misconceptualization, that any person who either specializes in deliverance ministry or does deliverance ministry where the primary focus of ministry is delivering a person from demons has failed to understand the basic principles of deliverance. In effect such a minister has been "sucker punched" by the Enemy. Demons are never the primary problem. They only amplify and exploit pre-existing problems. Ministry should always deal primarily with people - their sins and hurts - not with demons.
We fall for a Satanic deception whenever we allow ourselves to be distracted to primarily focusing upon demons. As soon as our primary focus becomes demons rather than the person, we have surrendered strategic advantage to the Enemy, even when we may be successful in evicting the intruders. Jesus himself warned against only dealing with the demonic, while neglecting the issues in the person life that gave enny to them in the first place (Lk. 11:15-26).
Charles Kraft in Inner Healing likened demons to rats. Rats are attracted to garbage. So demons are attracted to undealt with sin. If a person cleans out the garbage by dealing with their sin, there will be nothing left to attract the rats. The key to deliverance ministry is dealing with the garbage that attracts the demons, not just dealing with demons themselves. There is no point in getting rid of rats if one neglects to get rid of the garbage. They will only come back again. Therefore, competent deliverance ministry deals primarily with the person. It will primarily involve doing either inner healing work where trauma is the significant issue or prayer counselling work, where sin is the main issue, and demons are dealt with where necessary in the context of that kind of work. Because demons are a secondary problem, I expect deliverance ministry to occur within a context of ministry to the person as a secondary focus, not a primary activity. As a result I am suspicious of any ministry that makes deliverance its primary focus. This is my view on the appropriate place of deliverance ministry.
What follows are characteristics of competent deliverance ministry. It is uncoercive. The person receiving deliverance does so voluntarily and works together with the ministry team. The primary focus is the person - dealing with their wounds and sin that gave the occasion for demonization. It deals with the legal basis of demonization first and then in a quiet authoritative way deals with the demons. It is characterized by gentle care for the person and results in a freedom for the person to walk in godliness.
Prayer ministry may involve elements of all three types of ministry - confession where sin has to be dealt with, inner healing where emotional distress and wounds need to be addressed and deliverance where demonic influence is discerned. Competently done prayer ministry should be decisive when the person is ready to really do business with God. I usually expect that only a few sessions are needed to deal with the core issues. For this reason I question the effectiveness of any ministry that requires many sessions or sessions that repeatedly go over the same ground.
In a real way prayer ministry goes beyond counselling into the area of divine healing. It ushers counsellor and client into a sacred place of encounter with God. Prayer ministry is not suitable for everyone - not even every Christian. A person must be in a surrendered place of openness to whatever God desires to do and address whatever issue God puts his finger on. It is "rubber hits the road" stuff with God, and not all Christians are really prepared for that.
It also requires a sensitive counsellor who is prepared to let God have 'centre stage' and do whatever He wants. You must be ready to expect the unexpected, and learn to trust God in the counselling room. It requires an understanding of some patterns of prayer that. have been developed by different prayer' ministry schools. Finally, it requires a readiness to rely on the Spirit to work in and through and around you, as well as on your counselling skills and methods. Yet, it is a place where we can witness the wonderful action of a God who changes people's lives. This is the most privileged place we can find ourselves in as counsellors.
(Originally published in the Periodical of the Christian Counsellors Association of Victoria, Spring 2002, pp 7-10 - used with permission)