Challenges of Faith: Growing in the Spirit
My Dear Fellow Pilgrims in Christ,
In a previous article regarding “Responding to the Spirit’s Call” I indicated to you the challenge of faith that we are faced with when we first come to a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit in our lives and thus “enter” the Kingdom of God, that is, sharing in Jesus’ ministry in this world. In this article it is my intent to give you an example of the faith challenges we, as disciples of Jesus will continue to face as we enter more and more into the empowered life of the Kingdom. In fact we will find that the more we enter into our Kingdom empowerment, the more and more we will have to face these challenges. It is the Lord’s intent that only by meeting these challenges head-on, in faith, with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit at our side that we can grow in the Spirit. It is our training camp where we learn to discern the Holy Spirit’s voice, to walk in the Spirit, and to use the spiritual weapons that are available to us to bring the victory of the Kingdom into our lives and the life of the community.
In addition to some relevant scriptural examples I will contribute some examples from my own “boot camp” experiences. The personal examples I will be sharing with you are taken from my own experiences and I present them to you so that it may encourage you and help your faith to grow as you face the forces and circumstances in your lives that are constantly attempting to quench the fire of the Spirit in you. These sources forces, which impede our progress, may be generally indicated as: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. All of these forces are at war with the Spirit and will use any means to prevent you from coming to spiritual maturity in bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit into you life and the lives of others – the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the Word of God that has been planted in you by and through the Holy Spirit.
One of the particular impediments I will be referring to today is that of “cultural expectation”. This type of impediment is of the “World” Class of impediments and, is often manifested in religious cultures. Mainly, it evidences itself in the reaction of people, who have been brought up in a specific “religious” culture to limit their expectation of what God can do only to that which falls within the constraints of their traditional or cultural experience and understanding.
There are many examples of this type of behavior by the religious authorities in attempting to impede Jesus’ ministry and discredit Him. Their favorite method was to try to show that Jesus was not complying with the Jewish traditions regarding the Sabbath. As our first example let us look at Jesus’ healing of the man with a withered hand.
“He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” (cf., Matt.12:9-14)
Now, Jesus, was not doing anything that was against the Word of God, in fact He was fulfilling it. But the religious folk did not comprehend that because they were limited by the Jewish “traditions of the elders” and thus thought that what Jesus was doing was sinful, at least within the limited framework of their religious cultural worldview. Jesus Himself said, “I do nothing of myself, but what I see the Father doing”(John 8:28). In this way it is clear that the works of power He was doing were the Father’s work and thus, explicitly, not a violation of His Word or commandments. But certainly we see how such human religious expectations could impede us from accomplishing the work of the Kingdom if we let them override what the voice of the Holy Spirit in us is telling us to do.
Now let me make it clear, in order to reach this level of sensitivity to doing the Father’s specific will in our lives and discerning the voice of the spirit requires a total surrender to the Divine Spirit and obedience to His call (cf., Hearing His Voice …). Such a level is reached only when an intimate spiritual union has been reached with the Father so that we are perfectly attuned to Him and His Word.
Even then, as fallible human beings, we must always “test every spirit” (1Jn.4:1) before we run off doing something that may have originated with the “World”, the “Flesh”, and the “Devil”. Our human religious traditions, developed over time, were not created with the intent of quenching the Spirit, but are a very human attempt to provide guidelines or “fences” to help the community from breaking the actual sacred commandments given in scriptures. The problem we humans have when we “invent” these supposedly preventative guidelines is that they are usually products of our fallible human wisdom and do not generally reflect the Divine intent of the Word of God and we tend to apply them legalistically to exert control over people rather than teaching how to use them in tandem with the Word of God for discerning the true leadings of the Holy Spirit and responding to those leadings in harmony with the Father’s Will. Thus, whenever we have a conflict between our human traditions and the Leading of the Spirit in accord with the “Inspired Word”, the “Inspired Word” of God must always prevail. (Note that an “Inspired Word” is a Word which the Holy Spirit has brought to life in your heart as a leading expressly from Him for a specific purpose)
Although He was accused of it many times, Jesus never violated any of the sacred traditions given by God to the Jewish people. It was only when the Jewish authorities extended or modified the traditions to burden the people unjustly with these “fences” so that they distorted the Father’s Divine intent, that Jesus would challenge them. Take for example the following passage from scripture,
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’” (Matt. 15:1-9)
As it was then, so it is today.
Another type of impediment is our lack of faith. This particular impediment is of the class of the “Flesh”, and occurs when we let our human weakness in believing only what we can observe and understand limit the ability to exercise the “mustard seed” of faith we have been given by the Spirit. Take for example the case of the epileptic boy oppressed by a demon whose father brought him to the disciples but who were unable to heal him (cf, Matt. 17).
When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt.17:14-20)
With these examples from scripture as background, I now share with you two instances as to how the Holy Spirit has worked in me to help me apply the Word of God to my prayer life so that I might bear fruit for the Kingdom. In the first of the situations, I learned how to go against my human inhibitions and pray the prayer of command, In the second, I failed the test during group prayer by not obeying the Spirit’s leading. I present these to you for your discernment in order to assist you in your pilgrim’s walk with Christ and avoid some of the pitfalls that we all encounter along the way of faith.
CASE 1: Learning The Prayer of Command
The first experience I have to share is that of my prayers for our son who lost the use of his kidneys through a severe allergy attack. He had graduated from a university and was working in a city distant from us when he called us from a hospital and told us that he was at the hospital for treatment and that the doctors were preparing him for dialysis, which he would have to use until he became eligible to receive a donated kidney in a transplant operation.
Of course, my wife and I went to see him and help him as he entered this phase of his life. Because of his disability, after a year he was not able to continue working because his energy levels were very low. I left my job, and my wife and I moved to the city where He was living and asked him to move in with us so we could care for him. All of this time my wife and I were in continuous prayer for his healing and for the availability of a donated kidney, which by the way was very difficult because of our son’s unique blood type.
This situation continued for four years with no prospect in sight for an appropriate kidney donor. My son’s condition was worsening daily, he lost a lot of weight and could hardly stay awake during the day. He was very sensitive to colds and infections and could not eat properly. It got to the point that my wife and I were praying for the Lord to take him if he was destined to live such a life – a life that was no life at all.
My wife and I normally prayed together daily in the traditional manner of posing our petitions to our Lord, using scripture and appropriately selected prayers. After a time I continued praying on my own after my wife had retired for the night. In my personal time I decided to ask the Lord directly to teach me how to pray specifically for our son, since I began to think that one of the things that might be hindering our prayer is that we limiting ourselves by not opening our hearts to God and praying from our hearts instead of from just scripted prayer.
I first asked the Lord to lead me to the scripture He wanted to speak to me through to address my problem of how to pray for our son. It took several weeks of prayer for me to open up a dialog with Jesus and His Word. I believe the reason it took that long is because I was in a rut, in that I had to struggle against my instinctual need to follow the traditional manner with which I had been taught to pray. In leading me to selected scriptures, the Holy Spirit began to build up my faith in the Word and how Jesus elicited faith form all those who came to Him for healing. I began to see that praying in faith did not revolve around the use of scripted prayer but rather prayer that was from the heart.
After the Holy Spirit had prepared me, and I had become familiar in hearing God’s voice through His Word, He led me to the scripture narration on the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). As I read the scripture, a sense of anticipation began to stir in my heart. After all, my wife and I had been praying, out of desperation and, admittedly, a lack of faith, that, since our son was as good as dead, for the Lord to take him. I was thinking, “was the Lord leading me to this scripture because he wanted to raise our son from the ‘dead’ ”?
I meditated as I read very slowly through this scripture, every verse came to life before me, it was as if He was confirming my initial anticipation. When I read that Jesus waited for four days before going to see Lazarus, it was as if He was telling me that He had waited four years to come to see our son and bring Him to life! Every verse began to raise my faith more and more until I came to the last verses that read:
“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)
At that point, I was so sure that the Lord was going to do something, but I still did not know how he wanted me to pray or what part he was asking me to take in the resurrection of Lazarus (our son). So I was emboldened by the Spirit to ask, “Lord, I thank you for bringing me in the Spirit to this point but what do you want me to do?” He answered me (in my spirit), “this is the way you are to pray in this instance, I want you to say and do as I did”.
In my naiveté, I said, “but Lord how do I roll away the stone?”. He then patiently told me, “Just as I told you to speak to the mountain, you speak to the stone and cast it into the sea and it will be removed for you”.
At this point my cultural inhibitions began to take hold of me and I thought, “it must be my flesh, is this really happening? After all I have NEVER prayed like this and I have never seen anyone from my tradition pray like this, So I stopped my prayer time short asking the Lord to forgive me.
The next night as I was again praying alone, I heard the Lord ask me: “ why did you not pray as I asked you, did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”. I feebly responded with: “Lord, I thought it might be my flesh”. Then He gently asked me again saying, “but now you know differently, so now stand before the tomb and roll back the stone!
This time I promptly and boldly obeyed and I spoke to the stone that was holding our son in the tomb saying: “In the Name of Jesus, I command you, the stone that is holding my son in the tomb, be removed and be cast into the sea! At his Jesus now told me, “Now, say and do what I did next”. Meekly complying, I said, “My son, come out in the Name of Jesus, In His name come out of the tomb of death! Amen!”
I concluded my prayer time by praising God and thanking Jesus for guiding me to the answer to my initial prayer on how to pray for our son.
When I told my wife the next day she also felt led to join me in standing in faith for our son and on the “prayer of command” which Jesus had just taught me.
We then prayed in affirmation every night believing that the prayer was being realized. One week exactly to the day (September 28, 2005), we received a phone call at midnight from the hospital where he was on the list to receive a kidney. They told us that a kidney had just been donated for which our son was a candidate and that if we went to the hospital immediately, they would test our son for compatibility and if successful, the transplant surgery would be done at once.
Of course, we immediately knew our prayers had been answered, and gave thanks and praise to God for this miracle of His compassion. We woke up our son, disconnected him form the home dialysis machine and drove to the hospital in the early morning darkness. He was immediately admitted, the testing performed, and upon notifying us of his compatibility moved into surgery for the transplant, which was successful. Praised be His Holy Name!
Of course the story does not end here as my wife and I went to the hospital for days on end, until the doctors told us that our son’s body had overcome organ rejection and accepted the new organ. All of this time my wife and I were in intense prayer but by now our faith had been lifted higher than a kite so our prayers were mainly of thanksgiving and praise to the wonderful Father we have and to Jesus who led taught us specifically how to pray for our Son. Blessed be His Holy Name!
The story with our son continues to this day as the Lord continue to work miracles in his life, but I have only related enough of the story to make my point. In order to pray specifically and properly for our son I had to ask, I had to struggle against my cultural inhibitions to pray as Jesus requested, and I had to struggle against my flesh to continue to stand in faith until the miracle was completed!
Yes, I learned very much about the prayer of command from this experience, and, most of all my faith grew by leaps and bounds. But, as I will share with you in the next case, my struggle against the flesh and the world was not over and as the Lord tested me on this other occasion, I found out that, being successful in prayer, while alone in my prayer closet did not ensure that I would be successful when dealing with a situation in a group prayer situation.
CASE 2: Failing the Test
Dear fellow pilgrims, after the teaching, the Grace, and the guidance I received in Case 1 you would think that I would be ready for any situation regarding prayer. This case demonstrates how easy it is to think that because we have passed one hurdle we the rest of the race will be easier.
Not so, in fact, just like in a military training camp (boot camp), the hurdles and the tests get even harder. The first thing the Lord wants to rid us of is our self-confidence. In prayer, self-confidence is perhaps the greatest barrier we have to overcome. For, you see, the true prayer of faith is entered only when we have NO confidence in ourselves – our TOTAL confidence MUST BE IN CHRIST! NOTHING in ourselves! So we need to come to every prayer experience just as we came to the first one – acknowledging our total helplessness and aware of dire need of God’s Grace.
So it was that in this next case I will be discussing the Lord detected a little bit of self-confidence growing in me that had to be deflated – and deflate it He did!
This is what happened. About two years after the Case 1 experience, a distraught mother came to our prayer group to ask for help for her daughter (her daughter was not with her). She had been coming for a few weeks but since we break up into small groups for prayer, I did not become aware of her need until one week I was selected into the same small group with her. Each of us presented our needs in turn, the members of the group then, would all then participate in prayer for the individual requesting prayer, as the Spirit led.
When, her turn came up, this dear lady began to briefly repeat the request she had been making for a the last couple of prayer meetings, but to which I had not been privy because I had not been in her small group. The mother asked for prayers for her daughter who was experiencing emotional and psychological problems, which she took to be somehow due to her recent divorce. The girl, in her mid-teens, was also apparently cutting herself secretly. When her mother found out she tried speaking with her daughter but to no avail, even though the daughter said she was trying to control herself.
The leader of this small group asked that all the members gather around the mother and lay hands on her for the gifts of the Spirit she needed to minister to her daughter and then we all prayed that the Holy Spirit work in the daughter to free her from her compulsive behavior. The leader then suggested that if possible she should bring her daughter to the next meeting so that she could be prayed over directly. I continued praying for them in my prayer closet during the week.
The next week both mother and daughter attended. When we were divided into small groups. I was coincidentally placed in the same small group as the daughter. As prayer began, through the Spirit, I began to sense that the source of the problem was spiritual and that she was under oppression by demonic forces. I also sensed that the Holy Spirit was leading me to pray the prayer of command over her to cast out the spirits of bitterness, resentment and guilt.
When it came for my turn to pray over her, however, I found myself literally paralyzed because this type of prayer had NEVER been done in this prayer group and I sensed that, If I prayed the prayer of command and deliverance, the more conservative members would report me to the pastor. I also felt that I would lose the respect of the leadership of the group. This, of course, was my FLESH at work.
Unfortunately, in this time of crisis, I took the cowardly path, I prayed for the girl, but I prayed in a non-controversial manner, praying that the Holy Spirit would envelop her in His Love and fill her so that her heart would be healed and so that there would be no room in her for any emotional or psychological disturbance, but I DID NOT pray the prayer of command to cast out the evil spirits!
While the prayer that I managed to pray might sound reasonable to you, it really was an act of disobedience on my part, because I had not followed the directives of the Spirit. My disobedience was not due to a lack of faith (cf., Mk.16:17) but because of my cultural inhibitions and cowardice in going against, what I thought were the group’s cultural expectations. Because of this, the moment for the Holy Spirit to bring deliverance to this girl passed and both she and her mother went away disappointed – never to return to the prayer group.
Of course, I was greatly disappointed in myself. I repented of my disobedience and cowardice and prayed intensely that the Lord send someone with more valor and faith than I to minister deliverance to that young lady and strength and faith to her mother.
(Note: In His compassion, the Lord gave me another chance a few months later when, at a Life in the Spirit seminar I was selected to lead one of the small groups praying for the Baptism of the Spirit. As one of the petitioners came forward for prayer I sensed that she was under demonic oppression and this time I did not hesitate to pray the prayer of command to cast out the spirits that were oppressing her. The spirits departed with some growling sounds coming from the woman and then, as she later told me, with a sense of inner peace she received the Baptism of the Spirit and attended our meetings until she had to move out of the area.)
I pray, brothers and sisters that the information I have shared with you will help you in your spiritual growth and your walk with Jesus so that you may yield yourselves totally to be His instruments in bringing forth His Kingdom into the world!
Praised Be His Holy Name!! To Him Be all the Glory Forever and Ever. Amen!!
Your Brother in Christ Jesus,
 By the “World”, I mean those human cultural, social, and governing institutions and customs that are founded and empowered by the Flesh and Pride of human endeavor, controlled by satanic powers, that use their power and influence to bring and maintain human individuals into spiritual and personal bondage in direct opposition to the Freedom of the Kingdom of God.
 By the “Flesh”, I mean the basic drives and lusts of our human nature, that war against the spirit, that is, those instincts, drives and thoughts in our fallen nature, that move our will to go against the Father’s will and purpose for our lives and which thus, drive us directly into bondage and the control of Satan.
 By the “Devil”, I refer to the personalized Satanic evil power and its minions under which the World currently operates with the intent of establishing itself in triumph over the Kingdom of Heaven.