I just got off the phone with a distraught mom whose 19-year-old son was in the hospital because of a suicide attempt. He had taken a handful of prescription drugs he bought off the street, along with some other drug he smoked. She wasn’t sure what he had smoked, but the prescription drugs alone were enough to kill him. And they would have if she had not found him and called 911.
This was not her son’s first suicide attempt. He comes from an upper-middle-class evangelical Christian family with four children — two sons and two daughters. This particular boy had been a stellar student and athlete until his sophomore year at an elite charter school, which has a mission statement “to assist parents in their mission to develop exemplary citizens equipped with analytical thinking skills, virtuous character, and a passion for learning, all built upon a solid foundation of knowledge.”
Several students from this school have committed suicide. I am not implying that the school contributed to the despair of this boy or the other students. I am simply stating that even when moms and dads do all they can to raise their children in a wholesome Christian environment with excellent academic opportunity, their children still sometimes spiral into despair. It’s a scary dilemma.
This magazine’s editorial team asked me to write this article on prayer. I am a prayer guy who has embraced the power of prayer all of my adult life. I’ve experienced significant success in ministry, as well as cataclysmic disappointments in my personal life. I really like people who like prayer, but I’ve noticed that if they have not suffered some great loss, they tend to be excessively grandiose and sometimes border on spooky. That said, let me tell you about my conversation with the mom I mentioned earlier.
She told me that during her son’s sophomore year, he stopped playing sports, switched social groups, switched music and art preferences, and caused such concern to both of his parents that they started taking him to counseling. He was prescribed medications, stopped going to church, continued in therapy, and soon started losing weight.
I explained to the mom that her prayers would not change the will of her son, and that if he wanted to die, he would eventually succeed at killing himself. I also told her she had the power through prayer to change the spiritual environment around her son in a positive direction. I assured her that through prayer she could diminish the dark spiritual influences that were surrounding her son and stimulate the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which would enhance positive spiritual activity around her son. I told her that her son’s thoughts were his, and she could not control them. But the spiritual environment could introduce ideas of life and light into her son’s thoughts and increase his odds of making positive decisions — just as introducing dark ideas into his thoughts would increase his odds of making poor decisions.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (NLT).
Please consider the above text while thinking about how often it refers to cognition: ideas, thoughts, concepts, presuppositions, and worldviews. Very often when we teach this Scripture, we emphasize God’s weapons without developing that God’s weapons change the spiritual environment, which gives opportunity for God to infuse His thoughts into our lives, and the lives of those we pray for, so they will have better ideas directing in their lives.
A Teen Vision
When I was a teenager, I attended Explo ’72 in Dallas, Texas, with tens of thousands of other high school students. When Bill Bright spoke on Tuesday night, I gave my life to Christ. After returning home to Yorktown, Indiana, I began influencing other students in my local high school, and soon our youth group grew larger than the church. Because of my desire to see hundreds of my fellow students come to Christ, I would regularly go over to the church in the evenings and pace around the church while praying for my school and my friends. One time, while doing that, I saw what I now know was an open vision. It revealed so much to me.
I saw a delivery room in a hospital where pregnant women would come ready to deliver their babies. Around the circumference of that delivery room stood demonic spirits with one notably evil one giving orders to the others. As I watched the babies being born, the primary wicked spirit would assign a spirit to each baby. I heard the spirits’ names — hate, arrogance, lust, greed, pride, gluttony, rebellion, hyper-intellectualism, ignorance, stupidity, etc. Some of the spirits went directly into the babies, others lingered outside the babies and followed them as they left the room, and other spirits would approach the babies and then return to the circle awaiting another assignment.
The spirits were of various sizes and appearances. Some were ugly and repulsive, others handsome or beautiful and attractive. Some seemed strong and confident, others nervous and anxious, but all were wicked and were assigned to steal the life God had planned for the babies. I remembered John 10:10 when Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (NLT).
Then the vision stopped. I was just a boy, recently committed to Christ and growing rapidly. I now understood that the role of evil spirits was to introduce bad ideas into the minds and lives of people, wicked thoughts and errors that would steal God’s best from them, kill them if at all possible, and destroy their eternal lives that God so wanted every person to receive. Clearly, Jesus wanted everyone to receive a rich and satisfying life, but there was a devil that strategically planned on stealing that life. At that moment, I had a revelation of the importance of our prayers.
Ideas + Results
Prayer stimulates the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it thwarts demonic activity. Our spiritual environment influences the good or bad ideas that are introduced into our minds.
Ideas were the difference between Billy Graham and Joseph Stalin — very different results.
Ideas are the difference between the United States of America and Islamic republics or communist dictatorships — very different results.
Ideas are the difference between godliness and secularism — again, very different results.
Being a student of the Bible, fellowshipping in a life-giving way with other believers, and being filled with the Holy Spirit creates a very different way of thinking than succumbing to a victim mentality, hanging out with secularists, and inflating oneself with arrogance and judgment.
Praying and reading God’s Word leads a person in a different direction than hanging out at a bar.
Different spiritual influences.
Different eternal destinies.
People are not puppets. They can choose what they think and do. But prayer makes a difference in their spiritual atmosphere and influences their ability to process and choose ideas.
Some would say this is all preplanned by God and we have no role in these divergent dynamics. I don’t think so. Why? I have endless reasons, but one that stands out to me today after talking with that mom is Matthew 16:19 where Jesus said, “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid (bind, prevent) on earth will be forbidden (bound, prevented) in heaven, and whatever you permit (loose, allow) on earth will be permitted (loosed, allowed) in heaven” (NLT).
Keys in the Bible often symbolize power and authority. While the focus of Matthew 16:19 is Peter, this same authority is extended to the entire church in Matthew 18:18. Jesus uses the same language but in the context of others and prayer:
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid (bind, prevent) on earth will be forbidden (bound, prevented) in heaven, and whatever you permit (loose, allow) on earth will be permitted (loosed, allowed) in heaven.
“I also tell you this: if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15–20 NLT).
Here Jesus reveals the power God has given the church. In the first paragraph, He reveals the redemptive power that we have to restore repentant sinners. In the second paragraph, He reveals that what we do on earth is done with the authority of heaven itself. And in the third paragraph, He emphasizes the importance of doing these things in agreement with other believers, and that since He abides in us as we abide in Him, we have the ability to pray with His authority (John 15:7). Obviously, that is why we pray in Jesus’ name, not in our own name. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are essentially praying “in His place” as His ambassadors here on the earth.
That is why Ephesians 2:6 says, “For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus” (NLT).
In other words, we are positionally in Christ even though we are physically still here on the earth. It’s that position in Him that gives our prayers authority. In Christ, we have authority in prayer. In ourselves, we can do nothing.
Since we are in Christ, when the mom and I agreed together in prayer, we were able to forbid some things and permit other things that will impact the spiritual environment around her son. Up until now, he’s been victimized by sin, demonic schemes, bad ideas and bad decisions. Though we can’t override his will, we can improve the spiritual environment around him giving him greater freedom to choose well. This is what we prayed:
- We bound the spirit that blinds the minds of those who do not believe. “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).
- We prayed that the Father would draw him to the Lord Jesus. In John 6:44, Jesus said, “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up” (NLT).
- We loosed the Spirit of Adoption so he could cry out “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as his own children (a spirit of sonship, or adoption). Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father’” (NLT).
- We loosed the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation so that he could know God better. In Ephesians 1:16-17, when Paul described his prayer for the church in Ephesus, he wrote, “I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (NLT).
- We prayed that God would send people into his life that could connect and minister to him. We did that because we knew that since we had prayed, he would be more open to the gospel if someone presented it to him. We knew this because Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (NLT).
I am writing this article in the immediate aftermath of receiving that call from the boy’s mom, so I have not yet heard any results. I have never met this young man or anyone from his family, including his mom. She called me because a friend of hers told her I had seen incredible results because of intercessory prayer.
I’m not sure those results have much to do with me, but instead with my faith in what God has done as He has translated us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. We are in Him and have a responsibility to be the church, to be His governing assembly here on the earth that has the authority to bind and loose, to abide in Him, and to grow in His Word and in a refreshing relationship with Him.
Prayer is the powerful key. When we do what only the church can do, we can improve the spiritual climate around ourselves and others. If we don’t do it, we become spiritually impotent and ineffective — still Christians, just ineffective Christians.
So with this article, consider refreshing your prayer life. Be continually filled with God’s Holy Spirit so you can do what He is doing, and say what He is saying. Grow in His Word in a life-giving way, so you know His personality and how He has dealt with people in generations past. Then combine that biblical knowledge with God’s plan for our generation. Do the work of an ambassador for Christ in prayer with other members of the church, exercising His authority in the earth. Then you can say,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed with be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18–19 NLT).
Ted Haggard is the founding pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the founder and coordinator of the Network of Redemptive Churches; and the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He became a Free Methodist elder in 2015 and led the Healthy Church focus group at General Conference 2019.