Spiritual Growth and Healing

6 Reasons You Should Never Give Up on Church

I’ve experienced heaven on earth the past few days. I found it in Durban, South Africa, while visiting one of the most joy-filled congregations I’ve ever encountered in my travels.

It’s called His Church, and this 1,000-member multicultural church has many wonderful qualities: a loving pastor (a brave woman, Fiona Des Fontaine) who is committed to preaching God’s Word without compromise; a powerful outreach to the community; a healthy team of pastors who serve with no signs of competition or ego; and a Bible college where many young leaders are being trained.

I know there are many churches around the world today that have qualities similar to His Church. Yet many Christians—especially in the United States—are giving up on church because they were hurt by pastors or wounded by other Christians, or because they simply decided to “go it alone.” They are knows as “dones”—people who are “done” with church.

“Dones” might watch an occasional church service on television or meet with a few Christian friends over coffee for a casual Starbucks version of “church lite.” They still consider themselves serious Christians, but they want nothing more of pastors, tithing, scheduled meetings or church drama.

If you or someone you love has given up on church, I’m not here to condemn you. I’ve had my share of disappointments in church over the years, including some spiritual abuse. But I want to offer six reasons why you shouldn’t let a bad experience end your connection to God’s people.

1. The church is Christ’s body on earth. With all its flaws, the church is still God’s Plan A. Jesus announced before He went to the cross: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus intends to use the church—even in its weakness—as His primary tool to reach the world with the gospel. Heaven does not have a Plan B. Jesus is the head of his church (see Col. 1:18) and we are His hands and feet. To reject the church is to reject God’s ultimate strategy to bring heaven’s kingdom on earth.

2. The Holy Spirit has called us to work and flow together. When we were born again and baptized, the Bible says we were mystically unified with all other born-again believers and connected to each other by the Holy Spirit. The Lord also connects people in local congregations. This connection is holy and we should never make light of it or damage it. Paul told the Ephesians to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” by being in close fellowship with each other (Eph. 4:3). To reject this union of believers is to dishonor the work of the Spirit.

3. God accomplishes more through His corporate people than through isolated individuals. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit worked primarily through the nation of Israel, and through individuals who had special callings and remarkable courage. But in the age of the New Covenant, the Spirit dwells in every Christian believer, and the corporate church makes a much bigger impact. This is why Jesus told His disciples after He went to the cross that we would do “greater works” than He did on earth (see John 14:12). And because healthy churches can pool resources and organize volunteers, they are able to offer ministry to children, youth, families, singles, the needy and the lost overseas—in a way you could never do while sitting home alone.

4. God’s authority flows through His church, not through “lone ranger” Christians. Some people who’ve been hurt by church leaders feel they can never submit to another pastor again, nor will they honor a person who is called by God to carry the authority of a minister. Yet God has delegated to certain people the task of building up the church (see Eph. 4:11-12). It’s totally acceptable for you to leave an unhealthy church with poor leadership, but you should quickly find a new church where you can be equipped to fulfill your ministry. It was never intended for a Christian to live with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.

5. It is by living in Christian community that we learn to love and serve. The Book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were thinking of abandoning their Christian faith because of persecution. Some of them even stopped attending church, but Paul addressed their disillusionment by saying: “And let us consider how to spur one another to love and to good works. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). People who live in isolation find it difficult to develop character, and they often get discouraged; those who walk together in close fellowship inspire each other, and they improve each other just as iron sharpens iron.

6. If you leave the church because of hurt or resentment, you make it more difficult to find healing and reconciliation. It might sound spiritual to say you are pulling away from people to focus on God. But the New Testament says your relationship with God is directly related to how you relate to others. John wrote: “Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark” (1 John 2:9, MSG). People may have hurt you, but God will also use people to heal you. Don’t let the hurts of the past paint you into a lonely corner. Choose to forgive. Take a risk and keep loving.

Please don’t check out of church or give up on God’s flawed saints. There is no perfect church—and if there were, it would not be perfect after you joined! There is a place for you in God’s eternal family.

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The Shameful Secret of ‘Christian’ Domestic Abuse

Last Saturday, police responded to a call from a home in the tranquil Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. Inside they found that Lyuba Savenok, a 23-year-old mother of two small children, had been stabbed multiple times. She was pregnant with her third child. Both died that morning.

Later, Lyuba’s husband, Yeveginy (“Eugene”), confessed that he had killed his wife and fled the house with his kids. They are now in the custody of family members while he awaits trial.

This cute couple with the adorable son and daughter attended a large evangelical church. It was later reported that Lyuba had filed for police protection from her husband when they lived in the Chicago area. She told authorities that Eugene hit her repeatedly, gave her a bloody nose, pulled her hair and once broke a window in a fit of rage.

Police were called to the Savenok home last August, where they learned that Eugene had hit his wife so hard on the back that bruises were evident. He was supposed to answer for that crime in court this week. Now he will be tried for murder.

We all know domestic violence goes on behind closed doors in this country, even in the suburbs. But what is tragic is that it goes on in Christian homes—and this sin is rarely addressed from our pulpits.

Because I have many friends in Russian-speaking churches in this country, I was horrified to hear of the case of Lyuba Savenok—who was from an Estonian heritage. But when I talked to some of my Slavic friends, I learned that domestic abuse is a shameful secret that people only whisper about at church. It is seldom confronted.

“My sister was raped, drugged and hit for 17 years,” one Slavic woman from a midwestern state told me. “I have witnessed emotional abuse, physical abuse and a lot of sexual domination—even the use of drugs—to control women. I think there should be a wide investigation into abuse in the Slavic community.”

One woman from Florida said when her friend sought help from a pastor after being in an abusive marriage for 20 years, she was told to submit to the cruelty. “They told her to become a better wife, and that might change his behavior,” she said.

Some of the people interviewed for this article were even worried about using their names because it is considered inappropriate to talk about abuse in the Slavic church.

“When abuse is brought to light, it is swept under the rug because religious practices have priority,” said one Slavic Christian woman from California. “Unfortunately, church leaders are not equipped to deal with this issue.”

Research shows that domestic violence is rampant in Russian families. And many Slavic women are afraid to even report abuse because their husbands have threatened to hurt them if they do. Tanya Levchyk, who started a Facebook group for Slavic Christian women, said it is past time for Slavic pastors to deal with the elephant in the room.

“Many times Slavic women are afraid to voice their fears because of the great emphasis that is made on reputation in our community,” she said. “They feel they will be ridiculed instead of protected, and it will always be their fault simply because they are female.” Levchyk’s Facebook group now reaches 14,000 women.

My Slavic friend Paul Muzichuk, 31, who has done missions work in eight countries, said he believes the death of Lyuba Savenok should serve as a wake-up call to church leaders—both in the Slavic community and in the wider body of Christ.

“My heart is broken for Slavic women who hide in abusive relationships and hidden pain,” he said. “Fear, religious pride and the Slavic ‘macho’ attitude needs to be confronted so Slavic women can be set free from years of abuse.”

Stephan Karnauch, who grew up in a Slavic home in New York, said it’s past time to expose the painful truth of abuse and to teach men how to treat women with respect. “By exposing this truth we will finally be able to protect families and we will equip our children how to be godly spouses, parents and lovers of Christ,” Karnauch said.

We need to face the fact that Lyuba’s murder doesn’t just represent an issue among Slavic believers. For years American pastors have been telling women to “just submit” to abusive husbands without realizing that such advice can actually provoke more abuse.

Instead of misusing Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord”) to put women at risk, we should be using the Bible properly to warn abusers that God strongly opposes men who view their wives as inferior. First Peter 3:7 warns a husband that his prayers will be hindered if he does not honor his wife “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

Let’s have the courage to pull the rug back. Let’s confront abuse, heal its victims and stop twisting Scripture to protect abusers.

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How I Found Healing from Sexual Abuse

When I was a boy, something shameful happened to me that I never, ever planned to talk about publicly. During a summer visit to a youth camp in Alabama, an older boy whom I considered a friend took me into the woods and abused me sexually. He then brought me inside a boathouse near the camp’s lake for more experimentation.

The abuse wasn’t penetrative or physically painful, but it inflicted a deep emotional scar. It was as if my 7-year-old soul were branded with a hot iron. I never talked about the incident with anyone after it happened. I buried the trauma so no one would know.

I was glad when my family moved from Alabama so I would never have to see that camp or the boathouse again. Yet the memory followed me like a shadow. It produced self-loathing, fear of exposure, sexual confusion and deep inferiority. As a teenager, I spent lots of energy trying to convince my friends I was OK—yet deep down, I still feared I was hopelessly broken.

Thankfully my healing began at age 18, just before college, when I asked Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit. God stripped layers of shame off me as I heard the Father’s voice and experienced His unconditional love. By the time I got married and started a family, the shadow of abuse had grown faint.

I found more healing when I told a few mentors and friends about the abuse. I was afraid they would recoil in disgust and reject me (most abuse victims expect that response), but they expressed only love and affirmation. Transparency brought freedom. Yet a thin layer of shame lingered. Even though I was involved in full-time ministry by that time, I battled thoughts of disqualification. I seemed confident and successful to others, but I didn’t like myself.

Then a few months ago, after I relocated to Georgia, I realized the camp where the abuse happened was only 90 miles from my house. When I told this to my friend James, he suggested we go there to pray and find more closure.

As we drove onto the camp property, I felt uneasy. It had been 50 years since the incident, yet the place looked exactly like I remembered it—except for two things: The ranger’s house, where the older boy lived, was gone, and so was the wooden boathouse. Only a faint outline of the foundation of that building was visible next to the lake’s edge.

James and I stood on the grass and prayed in the Holy Spirit. No one else was on the property. James asked me to remember again what happened on that spot. Then he added: “The Lord was there when this horrible thing happened. Ask the Lord what He is saying to you.”

My arms were folded in a defensive posture. Maybe after all these years I was still protecting my heart from the pain. But in that peaceful moment, I could see the inside of the dark boathouse, with life jackets, ropes and canoes hanging on the walls. I saw Jesus standing near a frightened little boy. He said: “I will not let this stop you.”

Those words lifted a few hundred pounds off my mind. Jesus wasn’t scolding me, scowling at me with disapproval or writing me off. He had come to my rescue. He was defending me. He was promising me that the enemy’s plan to destroy my life would not prevail.

I knew from that moment that my experience with abuse had absolutely no control over me. The sting had been removed.

I basked in His presence for a few moments, looking out over the lake and remembering that I had learned to swim there during my summer visits. Then I asked James if we could visit one other location. We got in my car and drove to a church in Montgomery, where I gave my heart to Jesus at age six.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Dalraida Baptist Church, my heart leapt. Unlike the old camp boathouse, the church was still there. In fact, a huge new sanctuary stood in front of the old building where I was baptized. The old sanctuary was now the youth ministry center.

“This is amazing,” I told James. “The place where I was abused is gone. But the place where I began my relationship with Jesus is thriving.”

God spoke to me powerfully that day in Montgomery. He showed me that what defines my life—and what controls my future—is not the ugly blemish on my past but the precious faith I embraced when I chose to follow Him. And he reminded me of the truth of Isaiah 54:4a, which says: “Do not fear, for you shall not be ashamed nor be humiliated; for you shall not be put to shame, for you shall forget the shame of your youth.”

What about you? If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, you don’t have to hide your secret or drag the shame around. Jesus knows your pain and your embarrassment. He does not reject you or keep you at arm’s length. Bring your shame into His presence and let His strong embrace heal your wounded soul.

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8 Reasons Why Watching Porn Is Just Plain Stupid

I have prayed for countless men who admit they struggle with porn. After we prayed together they got a level of victory over the habit, but some came back to me asking for more practical steps to freedom—because porn is assaulting us from all sides today.

My response: You must be ruthless. Paul told the Corinthians: “I discipline my body and make it my slave” (1 Cor. 9:27, NASB). You must ask God for the power to control your urges, and run every time you feel tempted. You should also consider that it’s really dumb to look at porn, for the following reasons:

1. Porn is a huge waste of time. A 2008 study of graduate students found that 48 percent of young adult males look at porn weekly, and some view it daily. The statistics for women aren’t as high, but numbers are rising. The problem is that the more porn you look at, the more you need—and porn addicts spend hours (and sometimes lots of money) looking for bigger thrills. You’d be a lot healthier if you spent that time exercising, studying or hanging out with friends. Or praying!

2. Porn imbeds images in your memory. Philippians 4:8 says: “Whatever is pure … dwell on these things.” A Christian who indulges in porn is filing thousands of unholy images in his or her brain. Those images will emerge during a conversation, during sleep or even during worship at church! Why would you want those movies showing in your brain every day?

3. Porn changes your view of sex and other people. Porn addicts begin to view people as body parts. And married men who are addicts often try to force their wives to engage in degrading acts they’ve seen in films or photos. I’ve counseled guys who find it difficult to enjoy married sex because it’s not as satisfying as the porn they consumed for years before marriage. Psychologists have proven that teenage boys who watch a lot of porn become much more sexually aggressive and assume girls want to be treated roughly.

4. Porn harms your sex life. Secular counselors have released countless studies proving that the human brain is “rewired” (in other words, damaged) by watching porn. The chemical dopamine is released when we feel sexual stimulation, but a porn addict needs higher and higher levels of this to be stimulated. He will search for more hard-core porn to satisfy the urge—and in some cases will experience erectile dysfunction because he can’t satisfy the need for a thrill.

5. Porn grieves the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (MEV). When you grieve someone he gets quiet. When a Christian makes sinful choices, the Lord does not condemn us but He will withdraw the sense of His presence so we become desperate for Him again. A mature Christian learns to avoid anything that offends the Holy Spirit.

6. Porn brings condemnation and shame. Many Christians go through life feeling spiritually defeated because guilt weighs them down. Romans 8:6 tells us: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (NASB). If you focus your attention on porn, you will live in a depressing spiritual rut. Get up, repent, receive forgiveness and learn to overcome your habit by trusting in His indwelling power. To find total healing you should admit your struggle to someone else (see James 5:16). Transparency brings freedom.

7. Porn is filthy. The Covenant Eyes ministry has reported that 66 percent of porn performers have herpes, and 7 percent have HIV. Porn is full of disease. It’s gross. James 1:21 says: “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives” (NLT). The Greek word for “filth” (rhyparia) can mean “obscenity” or “moral defilement.” The next time you are tempted to look at a porn site, imagine yourself standing in a latrine, up to your neck in human waste. Don’t soak your soul in filth!

8. Porn will pull you into worse sexual sin. Never downplay the power of temptation. You may think you can “manage” your sin, but the truth is that porn is a beast. It is stronger than you are. It is a cruel taskmaster that will take control and make you do things you regret. I have counseled men who admitted to me that porn was their first step toward adultery.

If you are struggling to stay free from porn, tape this article to your computer screen and read it before logging on. You may even want to write the words “DON’T BE STUPID” at the top of this list to remind you that purity is still important in this pornographic world. Get a grip. Use self-control. Don’t let porn destroy your life—or your relationship with God.

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10 Qualities of a Healthy Mentor

Throughout my Christian journey, God sent special people to be my role models and mentors. One of those, a youth pastor named Barry, invited me to his home for a weekly Bible study when I was just 15. He taught me how to have a private prayer time with God—and now, many decades later, he’s still a close mentor and an example of how to be a man of God.

Yet I meet many Christians today who never had a mentor—or they had a bad experience with someone who tried to disciple them the wrong way. If you want to begin a relationship like this, you can find God’s pattern for discipleship in the Bible. Here are 10 qualities to look for in a healthy mentor:

  1. Healthy mentors have mentors. The greatest leaders I know talk often about the people who helped them grow as Christians. No mature leader is “self-made.” Even the apostle Paul had Ananias and Barnabas to disciple him when he first came to faith. If a mentor claims he or she “learned everything directly from God,” you can be sure they have a spirit of pride. Never trust a loner.
  1. Healthy mentors are accessible. Some mentors keep an arms-length distance from people, and they make you wait until the planets align to schedule an appointment. That is not the Jesus way. The apostle Paul told the Romans: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift (Rom. 1:11a). Don’t be aloof or play hard-to-get. If you are called to help other disciples grow, give them your phone number, answer their texts and open your heart as well as your office door.
  1. Healthy mentors don’t just talk—they listen. Jesus is the source of all wisdom, yet when He was with His disciples, He didn’t just lecture them. He often asked them questions (see Mark 8:27-30) and listened to their answers. God gave us one mouth and two ears—so we should listen twice as much as we talk. Good mentors know how to use their ears to comfort and care.
  1. Healthy mentors are patient and understanding. If you are called to be a mentor, you must realize that people don’t always take your advice the first time you offer it. Young Christians will make huge mistakes, ignore your counsel and frustrate you so much that you’ll be tempted to get angry, pull out your hair (or theirs) and give up on them! Be there for them when they stumble. Cry with them when necessary.
  1. Healthy mentors have the courage to confront. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that he cared for them “like a nurse caring for her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7b). But he also sternly warned his followers to avoid sin. Don’t compromise biblical standards to show compassion. Love is kind, but it is never soft. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is rebuke a person who is acting foolishly.
  1. Healthy mentors are committed to confidentiality. When your disciple bares his soul to you, cover his sins with the blood of Jesus and never tell others what he said. 1 Peter 4:8b says: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” You are betraying your disciple if you tell others about his private confession. Unless he confesses to child sexual abuse or murder (which you are required by law to report to the police) his confession is between you and him. Give your disciple a “safe place” to heal.
  1. Healthy mentors live what they preach. Anybody can post their sermons on YouTube and attract a huge audience. But sermons alone don’t make a man or woman of God. Don’t be duped into following people just because of pulpit charm or online popularity. What you need in a mentor is tested character, not the wow factor. And true character is not formed in the spotlight but in the darkness of life’s trials.
  1. Healthy mentors focus on a few. We are all tempted to measure success by numbers. But Jesus turned this mentality upside down. He focused His time on a small, unimpressive group of followers. He taught us that quality comes before quantity. Good mentors, even if they preach to huge crowds, invest most of their time in helping a small number of disciples reach maturity.
  1. Healthy mentors are always growing spiritually. Jesus said a good steward in His kingdom “brings out of his treasure new and old things” (Matt. 13:52). Good mentors aren’t effective if they only teach what they learned 40 years ago. They must stay current. Good mentors are always reading books, learning new things and applying old truths to new challenges so they can train a new generation.
  1. Healthy mentors know their limits. Jesus was the Son of God, but He got tired because He was also fully human. When the crowds drained His energy, He would often slip away to the wilderness to pray (see Luke 5:16). Good mentors know when their tanks are empty—and they withdraw from people to get refilled. Don’t make the mistake of seeing yourself as a Messiah. You can only give people what God gives you.

If you need a mentor, look for a healthy one. And if you are a mature believer, make it your goal to impart what you’ve learned from Jesus to a whole new generation of Christians who need healthy role models.

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Don’t Misuse the Gift of Personal Prophecy

Twelve years ago, when I was preaching at a Brazilian congregation in Florida, the Lord directed my attention to a young teenager sitting in the back of the church. He was leaning his head against the wall and looking very bored. But God gave me a prophetic message for this curly-headed guy, so I asked him to stand; then I spoke to him about his spiritual calling.

“God says you are going to be a spiritual warrior,” I told him.

The boy’s name was Felipe, and we became good friends after I gave him that word of encouragement. Today, at age 27, he’s a passionate follower of Christ and the youth pastor of his church.

I love the gift of prophecy because I’ve seen countless people like Felipe transformed by it. One prophetic message from God can break the power of discouragement. It can also launch a person into ministry or confirm God’s divine direction. As Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” A personal prophetic word is like a priceless piece of heirloom jewelry. You will treasure it for life.

Some people question whether personal prophecy is biblical. Yet prophets often delivered detailed messages to people in Old Testament times. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged believers to “earnestly desire” prophecy above all other gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:1). He also told the Corinthians that true prophetic ministry can expose the secrets of men’s hearts and bring them to repentance (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

In Colossians 4:17, Paul issued a word of prophetic encouragement to an individual on his ministry team. He wrote: “Tell Archippus, ‘Make sure that you fulfill the ministry which you have received in the Lord.'” Paul delivered this short but powerful message to Archippus to strengthen his friend. I am sure Archippus never forgot Paul’s very personal words.

Personal prophetic ministry is vital today. People need to know that God is not a dry doctrine; He wants to know us intimately, and He wants to speak to us in a personal way. Yet we must be careful to avoid the abuses that have given personal prophecy a bad name. Here are some helpful guidelines that will keep it healthy.

  1. Don’t chase prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a conference to get a word from God, yet they haven’t read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the gift of prophecy like fortune-telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver the message to you at the exact time you need it. Meanwhile, soak your mind in Scripture—and never elevate personal prophecy above God’s Word.
  1. Never give prophets elite status. Nowhere in the New Testament are prophets exalted to a privileged class. Paul himself said all members of the body need each other, and in his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he warns against ranking spirituality by gifting. He wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:21).Some people are mesmerized by prophets who claim to know people’s phone numbers, addresses or Social Security numbers. Be sure to test the validity of a prophet’s gift if he attempts to impress people with his exotic prophetic abilities. True prophecy does not have to be spooky; its main purpose is to encourage the hearer, not to draw attention to the messenger.
  1. Never give harsh prophetic words. New Testament prophecy should encourage, comfort and exhort believers (see 1 Cor. 14:3). That rules out condemnation and harsh criticism disguised as a word from God. Our heavenly Father does not speak to His children in a hateful, scolding tone. He is an encourager, even when He brings needed correction. Remember: Paul said that if you use the gift of prophecy without love, it is useless (see 1 Cor. 13:2).I know of a church where a lady routinely gave personal words to people warning of calamities or judgments. She even claimed God wanted to kill them! Usually angry “prophets” like this woman claim to know all the unconfessed sins in a person’s life; the truth is they struggle to understand God’s love themselves, and they are seeking attention. Stay away from weird, abusive people who claim to be prophets but don’t show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  1. Soak in God’s Word. Prophecy will never, ever contradict the Bible. So if you want to speak God’s prophetic message to others, you must hide the Scriptures in your heart. If you fill your well with the Word, it will spill over and refresh many when you speak under the anointing of the Spirit. I often meditate on Proverbs 10:32a, which promises: “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable.”

If you feel called to prophesy, that’s great! God wants to speak through you to others. But don’t assume you know everything. Don’t be so eager to go until you grow to maturity. Find a mentor and learn how to minister with grace, love and biblical balance.

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The Most Dangerous Prayer in the Bible

More than 19 years ago, I found myself at a church altar in Orlando, Florida. God had been dealing with me about leaving my comfort zone. I had a great job with nice benefits, yet I felt spiritually unfulfilled. I knew there was an amazing adventure in front of me, but I had placed serious limitations on my obedience.

As I buried my head in the carpet in that church, I realized God was requiring unconditional surrender. He wanted me to wave a white flag. I knew what I had to say, but it was difficult to form the words. Finally, I coughed them up. I said the same thing the prophet Isaiah prayed long ago: “Here I am, send me!” (Is. 6:8b).

This is what I call a dangerous prayer. It should include a warning label!

I believe when you utter these simple words, heaven takes a Polaroid picture of you with your hands up—and an amazing process begins. God closes in on us in order to crush our fears and demolish our selfishness. Then He gives us the holy boldness to speak what we were afraid to say.

When I prayed this prayer in 1998, I immediately had a vision while I was still on the floor. I saw a sea of African faces. I knew I’d be going to Africa, and I was scared to death. I had no idea how I would get there, what I would say or who would pay for the trip. So I swallowed hard and prayed again: Here I am, send me!

Less than two years later, I found myself standing on a huge stage in a sports arena in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, speaking to 7,000 pastors. I did not enjoy the bumpy flight across the Sahara, and my knees were knocking when I preached. I felt as if I had been pushed way out on a limb.

But even though I was terrified, my fear was mixed with incredible joy. The Lord had overcome my resistance, and He was using me. Since that trip, I have ministered in more than 30 countries. This week, I have been in Malaysia and Singapore, all because I prayed a dangerous prayer.

Grace is so amazing. God not only gives us the power to serve Him; He plants in us the desire to surrender to His will even if we are scared of the consequences. This is what the apostle Paul described when he said: “For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

God has an uncanny way of wooing us into obedience and submission. Our flesh may protest; our fears may paralyze us. But in the end, if we will simply lift our hands in surrender, grace takes over. He gives us power, strength and a willing heart. And the results are supernatural because it is God at work in us.

Jesus taught His disciples to cultivate this willing spirit and to pray this dangerous prayer. He told them: “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

This is what I call a trick prayer. You pray it at your own risk. When we ask the Lord to send workers into His fields, we are really praying, “Here I am, Lord. Send Mike—or Chuck—or Barbara.” But the Lord of the harvest will likely tap you on the shoulder and say, “Well? What about you?”

The church has advanced throughout history because of people who surrendered to God. One of them was the brave David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians during the First Great Awakening. Although he died of tuberculosis at age 29, his legacy of total consecration lives on in his journal, published by his friend Jonathan Edwards.

Brainerd recorded this very dangerous prayer in his diary: “Here am I, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service, and to promote Thy kingdom.”

We rarely hear prayers like that today. Brainerd’s passion would be considered politically incorrect fanaticism today. We don’t promote self-sacrifice; we have a new gospel of self-fulfillment. We don’t talk about carrying a burden for lost people; we ourselves are lost in our comfortable materialism.

I wonder what would happen if all of us prayed Isaiah’s prayer with full sincerity. What if you raised your hands and left all your fears, worries, excuses, stipulations, limitations and conditions on heaven’s altar—and invited God to use your life in any way He wants.

I invite you to take the risk. Pray a dangerous prayer, and see how God will use you.

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