“Do not despise prophecy,” the Apostle Paul says, somewhat surprisingly.
Why would we despise it? Because we tend to suspect what we do not understand? Or because prophecy can attract fools, charlatans, the unstable, and conmen seeking to gain power over others—as well as, of course, those who can genuinely tune into God?
I no longer despise prophecy because of personal experiences with those who genuinely had the gift of prophecy.
* * *
What about deliverance ministries? In the first church I attended as a Christian, in a small American town in the South, an individual gained power by labelling everything untoward as a curse or demon-caused–infertility, miscarriages, ear pain, a fear of flying–and exorcizing people. He offered to baptise me to mark my adult commitment to Christ, and when I spontaneously resisted total immersion (I was afraid, having only learnt to swim as an adult) he halted the baptism for an exorcism. (But I remained nervous!)
Eventually that person left the church, taking the best tithers with him, and founded his own church, heavily based around deliverance—a spiritually unbalanced church which, fortunately, did not survive
So I had question marks about deliverance.
* * *
Around that time, however, I picked up a book by Billy Graham, which surprisingly claimed that 90% of Christians are “demonized,” (as opposed to possessed). A dark power, what Paul calls, “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, mighty powers in this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” controlled aspects of their lives. They were not entirely free when it came to their inability to forgive, perhaps; their out-of-control spending, addiction to sugar, alcohol, porn, anxiety, or negative thoughts.
* * *
What happens in deliverance? Someone with greater faith or spiritual authority uses their faith to expel dark powers from areas of your life. Uses their intimacy with God to implore God’s protection, a hedge, a strong tower in that area of your life.
You find freedom. Your sleep becomes deeper and more restful.
* * *
I have been married for 26 years. Anger used to be an issue in our marriage, and we’d get all histrionic and historical, and have time-wasting fights. And since life was short, I no longer wanted to waste time on stupid fights. I wanted to use wisdom and intelligence, stepping back, thinking rationally about the issues, acting using my mind and spirit, not my agitated emotions.
I eventually decided no more. No more fights. I have had enough. I will act with wisdom. It takes two to fight, and I will not be one of the two.
In the Old Testament, people marked important junctures of their lives— a major decision, an encounter with God–by building stone pillars. I wanted to mark my decision. When I visited a worship festival which had a deliverance ministry, I signed up for one on one prayer. The prayer minister was not slick, or well-educated. He called the little area of my life which was out of self-control and Spirit-control “a critter.” He prayed with me to expel it. I sighed and sighed as I physically felt relief, sensed something leaving, something generational, felt a huge sense of relief, lightness and freedom.
Harriet Lerner calls marriage the dance of intimacy. If one partner had strong emotions they cannot process, they can press their partner’s buttons, and start a fight. So they get to avoid dealing with their own discomfort. Eventually, couples get addicted to the adrenalin of anger.
After prayer, I found less anger in myself. I might yell a little, and then find I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t summon up the anger, the passion. I realised that to act out would be acting like a fool.
It was as if God had erected a hoop, an invisible boundary around me that I could not cross. I was experiencing the paradoxical freedom of being possessed by God’s spirit… I did not have to retaliate, angry word for angry word, historical accusation for accusation, all that foolishness. I could be still and quiet and write. I could go for a run. I could have a nap.
* * *
The other deliverance was equally astonishing. I was having coffee with a Christian friend, a woman a couple of years older than me, whom I respect and like for many things…her love for people, her spiritual wisdom, her warm heart, her bounciness and cheerfulness. And, since as Thoreau says, “Every man is the builder of a temple called his body to the god he worships,” I admire her too for her body; she’s all muscle. She swims, plays tennis, and runs half-marathons, faster than most men. I once did a run with her, and she did 3 miles in the time I did one. Oh well!
My friend asked, “So how are you really?” And I said, “It is well-ish with my soul, but…” (choose the path of humility, Anita, I said to myself) “I have been told to lose weight for my health and immune system, and, well, I haven’t been hugely successful.”
And then she told me a story I would never have guessed at. This slim attractive woman had been a binge-eater in her twenties. She binged, then purged, so that though she had been twenty pounds overweight, nobody guessed at her secret sin. But she knew. And she could not break her addiction to binges. One day, she cried out to the Lord in her distress, and, she said the only way she could describe it was—she was delivered. She no longer binge-ate; she got a job which required physical activity, and for her to be at her goal weight, and, within the year, she was.
I sighed, and knew that this was a moment for humility. This was a moment of destiny. So I said with simple intensity, “Will you pray for me to be delivered?”
She prayed. Listening to someone pray I can often tell whether they have entered the Throne-room, whether they have connected with God, and, often, I can intuitively tell if the prayer will be answered.
I knew I had been delivered from an addiction to food. I had to wait to see whether the deliverance would work out as the blind man was healed, first by seeing men like trees walking, and then seeing them clearly.
* * *
My daughters noticed the change first. We were on holiday in Tuscany, which has some of the best comfort food on the planet, morish food which releases addictive dopamine, and I found myself eating some of my spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti and clams; linguine gamberetti, zucchini e zafferano, linguine with shrimp, zucchini, and saffron; spaghetti carbonara; or ravioli with spinach and ricotta, noticing that I was full, and then offering tastes to anyone who wanted them. “Mum, whatever diet you are on, we like it,” Zoe said.
But I was not on a diet. I had begun to find it physically difficult to continue eating once I was full! There was a force within me, reminding me to stop once I had had enough.
The Spirit is a remind-er, Jesus says, an internal reminder, bringing things to our remembrance.
* * *
And then I returned home, and would reach for a snack, and Someone, a kindly Someone, asked, “Anita, are you hungry?” And I would say, “No, but I am sad. I am bored. I am agitated. I am stressed; I am feeling hyper. I need a snack to help me settle down before I write. I need a reward after I write. I need a snack to help me transition between two activities.”
And the Spirit would say, “Ask Jesus to fill your Spirit.”
I would remember: I could ask the Holy Spirit to possess my spirit. Or I could eat a bar of chocolate. I prayed; desire for the stress-relieving snack receded. (And sometimes I succumbed. Sometimes, you see men like trees walking before you see clearly.)
It kept happening. Someone would say something sharp or cross or stressful, and my blood sugar would plunge, and I would think, “I need chocolate. I need a slice of fruit cake.” And then I would think, “Anita, you are not hungry. Might the Holy Spirit do it? Invite him in.”
Voila, 100 calories saved.
I realised that I was rarely physically hungry, so much so that I almost wondered if I were getting ill again, but then I truly skipped a meal, and real hunger returned.
When I was hungry, Someone kept reminding me to ask, “Anita, what will bless your body?” And I would basically cook up a skillet of vegetables, toss in some shrimp or fish, and some noodles or brown rice or pasta. Good for my family, good for me.
And freedom too, to eat the odd bit of chocolate, the odd slice of pizza…
Simple changes, prompted by the Spirit’s reminders: Don’t eat when you are not hungry. Stop eating when you are not hungry. Choose what will bless your body.
I stepped on the scale today. A cumulative weight loss of 24 pounds, the easiest ones after that prayer. (I have more to lose, of course, but, by the grace of Jesus, want to keep my eyes on Him through the process).