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We are God's children, and one interesting thing about children is that they start immature and they grow up. Our walk with God is not much different. We start out spiritually immature and need to grow up in Him (Eph. 4:12-14). And most of us, for whatever reason, also start our walk with God with some areas of emotional immaturity. This isn't a complete surprise, since psychologists tell us many kids grow up in some type of dysfunctional home. So it's not surprising we have areas of emotional wounding.
God wants to grow us up spiritually and emotionally. He wants us to be strong and mature in Him (Phil. 3:14-15). He wants us to understand good from evil and right from wrong (Heb. 5:13-14). He wants us to live victorious and overcoming lives in Him. And God will often deal with anything that stands in the way of this with us in prayer, so we will grow to maturity in Him.
Prayer about our growth and maturity may include practical things such as prayerful study (Bible or textbooks). Or it may go deeply personal, such as God examining our hearts, repentance prayer (as we become aware of things in our hearts or if we fall in some type of sin). It may include God-issued invitations to make a deeper commitment to His Lordship in some area of your life. Sometimes God will take you through some painful refiner's fire as He works on character development. Or He may do some inner healing by bringing you back to situations where you were hurt and then bring healing into them. Or He may touch on some areas where you're under enemy oppression or bondage and set you free from it. All of these things fall under the category of growth and maturity prayer.
We will spend the next three lessons looking at some aspects of growth and maturity prayer in more detail.
The Bible is full of verses about God examining our hearts. There are also a lot of verses where saints invite God to examine their hearts because they wanted to have a pure heart before Him, such as Ps. 26:2: "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind." We are encouraged to prayerfully examine our hearts before the Lord. 2 Cor. 13:5 invites us to "examine yourselves." 1 Cor. 11:31 says, "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged."
In other words, God wants us to examine our hearts for those areas that don't line with His character and principles, bring them to the Lord and prayerfully deal with it before God. If we are proactive in working with God on those areas of our life, then He won't initiate judgment in those areas (1 Cor. 11:31). Verse 32 continues, "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." In other words, if we do not take the initiative to work with God on our faults, then God will come along and discipline us to work on them anyhow. It really is a lot better to prayerfully examine your heart with God and allow Him to finger the area that He wants to correct and transform. If we cooperate with God, this process usually goes faster and is less painful.
One time I decided to pray some of those verses asking Jesus to examine and point out the areas that He wanted to work on. I remember asking the Lord to "judge me now" so that I could correct some of the problems before the final evaluation each believer will face before God. This is sort of like taking a practice test so we can tell what areas of weakness are present and work with Him on correcting them. God likes to do this sort of thing with His children. He wants to help us take a realistic look at areas that need His transformation and then to work with us in those areas.
Repentance prayer is precisely what it sounds like, repenting before God because of a present or past sin and asking His forgiveness, plus making a choice to change that sinful behavior and asking Him to transform us in that area.
However, there are dimensions of repentance that you may not be aware of. The first and most obvious is that we need to receive His forgiveness after we repent. Many people get the first half of repentance right; they are sorry for their sins and make a commitment to change their behavior. But sometimes people act like the blood of Jesus is for everyone else but them. Some feel they need to punish themselves for sinning by imposing a separation from God, as though they don't deserve to draw near to Him. God wants to draw close to them, but they push away from God because they still feel unclean from their earlier sin. They give mental assent to the power of Jesus' death and resurrection to forgive sin, but they don't believe deep down that it applies in their specific case.
(Please note, I'm not talking about people who deliberately and intentionally choose to sin for their own pleasures. I'm talking about those who have accepted Jesus and choose to submit to His Lordship, but who sometimes fall into an area of sin they are sincerely sorry for.)
Also, there may be times when God brings us into a season of repentance. This isn't dealing with present sins, but where God "digs up" past sins and mindsets. He makes us aware of them and invites us to deal with them before Him. It's sort of like a minefield from war. (Enemy soldiers bury explosives underground on main paths so that when one of your troops step on them, they get blown up.) We have these things (undealt with past sins) buried "underground," so we can't see them and we are not mindful of them. But if God leaves them in place, we will eventually "step on one" and be hurt by it. So God wants to dig up the booby traps, e.g., expose and deal with past sins, so they are removed and have no more potential to harm us. It's not uncommon for God to take a believer through a season of repentance for past sins. These seasons of repentance may last from a few weeks to months, depending on what's in your past.
In my case, I had been a believer since I was 14, but I didn't make a serious commitment to Christ's Lordship in my life until 17 or 18 years later. He brought me into a season of repentance shortly after I made that commitment to Jesus' Lordship. My season lasted about three monthes. It seemed that over and over again, when I would go before the Lord for prayer, another sin of the past would come up. I felt small and dirty for a long time as I worked through this with God. But those things stopped having any power over my life as I dealt with them in His presence. I'd cry and repent and then plead with God to change me so I wouldn't have the nature or desire to do that type of thing again. Sometimes I'd wrestle with a sin of the past for just a few hours, sometimes for a few days. But by the time God finished dealing with a past sin, I usually had no desire toward that type of sin again. And I knew I was cleansed and forgiven from it.
I remember one time during that season when I thought I'd finally worked through it all. I had a day of incredible fellowship and intimacy with God during my prayer time. I don't think I'd ever been that close to Him. Then the next day, God brought up the "big one" - a sin I'd once done as a teen and had forgotten about for years. I was horrified when this came up and remembered what I'd done. This one seemed worse than all of the other ones put together. I felt I must be totally repugnant to God and decided there was no way He could possibly love me because I'd done that. I felt so dirty and horrible as I remembered what I'd done years before.
Suddenly, God spoke to me. He said, "Teresa, do you remember yesterday when you felt My presence so strongly and we were so close?" I said, "Yes, Lord." That had been my most wonderful intimacy experience with God in my entire life. Then God asked, "Did you feel loved then?" I replied, "Yes." Then He said something I will never forget. "Teresa, don't you think I knew about that sin yesterday when I was loving on you? You weren't aware of it, but I was. I knew about it then, and I loved you anyway. Now that you are aware of it, you are horrified and you push away from Me. Come to Me and receive My forgiveness and be restored."
Prayer About Freedom From Oppression and Bondage
Sometimes the enemy will have a stronghold over an area of a believer's life. This can manifest as a besetting sin, or as a fear or something that causes a person to behave in an inappropriate way.
A besetting sin is when you don't want to sin in a certain way, but you fall into it over and over again. That sin seems to have power over you and you are unable to resist it. After you fall into the sin, you are truly repentant and very sorry. You promise yourself that next time you won't submit to the temptation. But when next time happens, you find yourself powerless to resist. You want to be free from it, but you are unable to do so. This is usually a symptom of a demonic stronghold over you in this area. If that is the case, then the demonic bondage must be broken before the person can get free of the besetting sin. Most of the time, people in this situation should get ministry from another believer who knows how to do authority prayer. But sometimes God will work on this privately with a person in their personal prayer time.
Fears and emotional struggles are another area where the enemy can bring bondage and oppression into a believer's life. This can include things like irrational fears, deep emotional pain or depression arising from very minor things, etc. The enemy comes along to torment the person in their thinking and emotions. Often a person under enemy oppression or bondage will find themselves reacting to certain things in ways that scare or surprise them. A person may go into a fit rage because someone isn't fast enough in helping them. Or maybe they fall into days of depression because a friend didn't say hi to them at church one Sunday. In other words, seemingly mild events can trigger inappropriate and intense responses.
The person who experiences this will feel like their emotions are out of their control in one or more areas. They will tell themselves, "I won't let it get to me next time," but it does. Sometimes these are merely symptoms of past unhealed emotional trauma and require inner healing type of prayer and ministry. But sometimes a demon will attach to the situation. When there's enemy attachment empowering the situation, the person usually needs ministry from another believer who knows how to take authority over the enemy. Most people don't deal with severe enemy oppression and bondage totally on their own. But there will be times when you are in personal prayer and God shows you an area under enemy oppression. God may cause faith to rise up in you and He may tell you to take authority, in Jesus' name, over that thing and break its power over you.
This can happen totally out of the blue, where you didn't realize there was a problem until you find God telling you to take authority over it. Or it can happen if you and the Lord have been working on an area of your life over a prolonged period. (Sometimes people who are going through seasons of inner healing or deliverance ministry will have this happen in their private prayer time.)
There are times when God wants to use your prayer time to set you free from an area of enemy oppression or bondage in your life.