POWERFUL PRAYER - DEMOLISHING STRONGHOLDS
(By: J. Mark Copeland)
This very insightful and informative writing is reprinted by permission from the ministry of: Advocates In Prayer
There are a number of insightful and informative teachings on their website about different aspects of prayer, and we highly encourage readers to check the sight out. To go to their website, click on the link below:
POWER PRAYER IS PRAYING beyond ourselves. It is pressing beyond our limited human reasonings and our vulnerable emotional states to make a faith connection with God. It results in our perspective being altered to see things clearly and God's power being released to change things radically.
I vividly remember a personal experience of powerful prayer that occurred when I was in the fifth grade. I woke up one morning with abdominal cramps. I had experienced them before on several occasions and feared that it might be appendicitis. But, the cramps and pains always went away within a few minutes. So I comforted myself on this occasion with the thought that these symptoms would let up this time as well. Only, they didn't.
Pushing the fear to the back of my mind, I went to school only to find myself getting progressively worse. By the end of first period class, I took my few books in hand and made my way to my next class. By the time I made two bends in the hallway and entered the classroom, I was so weakened that my mind was racing with fear. Instinctively, I dropped my books off and made my way to the bathroom where I stood against the wall with both hands over my stomach. I was beginning to double over from the pain, and chills set in. Reflecting on my brother's bout with appendicitis and surgery a year earlier, my eleven-year-old mind became frantic with fear.
I made my way back to class to get my books and ask permission to go to the clinic. Second period was recess, and there were only a couple of students left in class. I went to pick up my books and found that I was so weakened that I couldn't lift them. So, I asked a fellow student if he could help me get to the clinic, and he obliged.
I scuttled my way to the clinic as I could not lift my feet. The nurse was out, the beds were empty, and my companion dropped off my books and left so as not to miss recess. Making my way over to one of the beds, I spent a good two minutes trying to get in a laying down position on the bed. If I laid my head on the pillow, my knees were up in the air. If I flattened my legs, my head was up in the air. The pains, chilling, and cramping just wouldn't let up, and my mind was racing.
I began to pray frantically, "God, you've got to help me! Please, God! Do something! You've got to do something! Please, help me!" Meantime, my imagination was picturing the revolving lights of an ambulance coming to get me and fearing it would not make it in time if the nurse didn't show up soon.
Suddenly, I heard the Lord speak to me in my thoughts. I don't remember His exact words, but it went something like this: "If you believe I'm here to help you, why are you so troubled?" Instantly, all fear left though the symptoms remained the same. I said out loud, "That's right, Lord. If I believed you were hearing my prayer, I wouldn't be acting like this. Okay, God. You said, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (See Mark 11:24) Now I desire that You touch my stomach and heal me. I'm asking You to heal me. I believe I receive it, and I know I have it!
At the instant that I finished saying these words, I suddenly saw in my minds eye a cloudy sky and noticed that the clouds dissipated at once to reveal a perfectly clear sky. I had the sensation that my vision had been clouded over but that I could now see all the way through to a clear sky. At that moment, two things happened back to back quicker than it takes to tell about it. First, I felt as though God gave me an injection of faith. All doubt vanished, and I positively knew that I was healed. Second, upon receiving that assurance of faith, my body flattened out on the bed as though someone had lifted a barbell from across my waist. All symptoms vanished. I stood to my feet pressing against my stomach to see if I could find the slightest sign of pain. There was none.
I've chosen to relate this particular experience because it demonstrates praying beyond ourselves and pressing into the dimension of God's reign where faith is imparted and supernatural power is released. I did not know it when I was 11 years old and laying in that clinic, but the vision God gave me at the moment He came to heal me connects graphically with a biblical teaching underscoring the need to exercise faith when we pray.
The apostle Paul writes, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (See 2 Corinthians 4:4.) The word translated "blinded" in this verse, tuphloo, means "to dull the intellect," and the simple form of the same verb, tupho, means "to make smoke." Dutch Sheets, commenting on this verse, says that "it is like a smoke screen that clouds or darkens the air in such a way as to prohibit a person from seeing." [Sheets 1996:166] I saw the smoke screen! And, at the moment the injection of faith came, the clouds dispelled.
The smokescreen that clouds our spiritual vision and disables our ability to pray in faith is erected by the "god of this age" (See 2 Corinthians 4:4a) -- a biblical reference to Satan. Elsewhere in Scripture, these clouds that blind our minds are referred to as spiritual "strongholds." (See 2 Corinthians 10:4.) In this teaching, we're going to talk about spiritual strongholds -- what they are, how they are formed, how they hinder our prayer lives, and how they can be identified and demolished through powerful prayer.
What Are Spiritual Strongholds?
The definitive text concerning spiritual strongholds comes from 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, which reads as follows:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The word translated "strongholds" in this passage could also have been rendered "fortresses." In its verbal form, the word means "to make firm." [Vines 1985: 605] Just as military forts are established in firm places such as on a hilltop or at the mouth of a bay, so Satan attempts to established strong forts in our minds to hold our thought life captive.
In the passage cited above, Paul defines strongholds as arguments, pretensions, or thoughts that set themselves against the knowledge of God. Any beliefs entrenched in our thinking that are contrary to truth as revealed in Scripture are strongholds of the Enemy that stand in the way of our knowing God and making Him known. Thus they hinder us in our walk with the Lord and in our prayer lives.
The best working definition of spiritual strongholds that I have found is Edgardo Silvoso's. He states: "A spiritual stronghold is a mind-set impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable, situations that we know are contrary to the will of God." [Silvoso 1994: 155] With this definition in view, here's a few examples of strongholds and Scripture references that demonstrate how these assertions are contrary to the will of God:
My husband is hopeless. He'll never be saved. (See 2 Peter 3:9.)
I'm just a carnal person. I'll never be free from lust. (See Galatians 5:16.)
No upward mobility for me! I'll always struggle to make ends meet. (See 3 John 2.)
I'm getting older. Feebleness and disease is inevitable. (See Psalm 103:2-5.)
Each of these assertions reflect beliefs entrenched in the mind that are contrary to the revelation of God's will as revealed in Scripture. Since God's Word is truth (see John 17:17), these beliefs reflect minds clouded by Satan's smoke screen from seeing things the way God desires us to see them. They are spiritual strongholds.
How Are Spiritual Strongholds Formed?
The Apostle Paul gives us a key to understanding how spiritual strongholds are formed by listing three descriptive terms for strongholds. He says that strongholds are arguments, pretensions, and thoughts contrary to the knowledge of God. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.) Let's look at each of these terms to gain insight into how strongholds are erected.
First, Paul states that strongholds are arguments contrary to the knowledge of God. The word Paul uses is logismos, which would be more correctly translated as "reasonings." [Vines 1985: 319] The word does not imply arguments with other people but the battle that goes on in one's mind when the conclusions drawn by human reason and those given through divine revelation in Scripture contradict each other. In such cases, to believe our own human reasonings is to reject the revealed will of God.
Second, Paul refers to strongholds as pretensions contrary to the knowledge of God. Paul's word here is hupsoma, which literally means "high thing" and can also be translated "height." [Vines 1985: 304] It speaks of pride by which we exalt our own human reasonings over divine revelation. It puts the intellect in the place of God so that one is more comfortable trusting his reasonings than believing God's Word. This is mind idolatry.
Third, Paul calls strongholds thoughts that are contrary to the knowledge of God. The word used here is noema, which refers to a "purpose" or "devise of the mind." [Vines 1985: 630]. This word is particularly helpful in that it is also used in 2 Corinthians 2:11 where it refers to Satan's schemes. Paul writes: "We are not unaware of [Satan's] schemes." The relevant point here is that when human reasonings are allowed to become schemes that set themselves against God's Word, the mind has essentially become captive to Satan's schemes. In such situations, Satan has effectively planted thoughts into our minds and deceived us into thinking that those thoughts were our own reasonings.
How are strongholds formed? They are formed when we:
Reason through situations in life without looking to God for guidance.
Draw our own conclusions without consulting God's Word for validation.
Set our rationalizations above God's revealed will in Scripture.
Devise schemes for handling life situations contrary to God's directives for living.
It is important to note here that when a person first comes to Christ for salvation, he quite likely has strongholds in his life already. His directions for living have come through parents, teachers, authority figures, his own human reasonings. Any number of things from genetics, to environment, to parental discipline, to traumatic experiences in life have played a role in shaping his values and conditioning his responses to real life situations. Now, as a new Christian, it is his responsibility to feed his mind and heart upon God's Word so that he can learn to live by the Holy Spirit's directives rather than by his previous conditioning. This reorientation process involves developing a lifestyle of demolishing strongholds and building godly foundations for living.
How Do Spiritual Strongholds Hinder Prayer?
Spiritual strongholds hinder our prayer lives by turning us into double-minded people. If as Christians we profess to live under the authority of God's Word and yet allow our lives to be frequently directed by human reasonings contrary to the revelation of God's will in Scripture, we have become spiritually schizophrenic. There are two obvious ways in which such a condition hinders our prayer lives.
Double-mindedness tries to balance competing agendas.
Jesus said that the heartbeat of prayer is deference to God's reign in our lives. We're to pray: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (See Matthew 6:10.) But, as Neil Anderson points out, double-mindedness determines to have a Plan B of human reasoning to fall back on in case the Plan A of God's revealed will doesn't come through. [Anderson 1990: 157-158] As long as we hold a Plan B in reserve, we're not able to pray with faith and confidence for God's Plan A to come through.
A biblical example of double-mindedness trying to balance competing agendas help us to see just how this tendency sets us at cross purposes with God's work in our lives. First, right after Peter received a revelation that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus commended him for having gotten this insight from the Holy Spirit by revelation. Then, when Jesus began to foretell how He would suffer crucifixion as a part of his Messianic calling, Peter rebuked Him and said, "Never, Lord! . . . This shall never happen to you!" Jesus' response to Peter was, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Peter's honorable intentions reflected Plan B thinking when he realized that the Plan A of God's will for Jesus was something horrible from which he wanted Jesus to be spared. Yet, without following through on God's Plan A of Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, eternal salvation for humankind would have never been secured.
This example of Peter's poor judgment should give us all pause to consider that many rational decisions we make may stand contrary to specific purposes God has for our lives, and some of those purposes may, in ways we cannot see at the time, include the salvation of eternal souls. Truly, a lot is at stake when we try to embrace God's agenda for our lives without letting go of our own.
Double-mindedness leads to instability and weakness.
We've been talking about the human tendency to succumb to spiritual strongholds by professing to live under the authority of God's Word while tending to actually live by the dictates of human reasoning. I think sometimes we realize that the ideal we uphold and the reality that we live out are not the same, but we hope that somehow they will mysteriously converge at some point -- that God will give us the grace to start practicing what we preach. But, as long as this gap exists between what we say we believe and what we tend to practice, we are building our house upon the sand. Jesus said, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (See Matthew 7:26-27) Clearly, choosing the strongholds of human reasonings over the revealed will of God for our lives is to build a life that is unstable and that is headed for a great crash.
Double-mindedness makes us unstable in our faith and thus ineffective in prayer. James encourages us to pray for wisdom so that we will know the will of God for our lives. Then he adds, " But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." (See James 1:6-8.)
KEY: The basis for strongholds is that we doubt. We doubt God's Word so we depend on our own reasonings. And, James points out that our tendency to put more faith in our own ability to think through things than in the revelation and direction that God gives through His word produce prayers that waver and a life that is unstable. Truly, strongholds are a disease that must be excised from our souls if we are to live lives that are fruitful and productive.
How Does Prayer Demolish Strongholds?
Paul writes that: "The weapons we fight with . . . have divine power to demolish strongholds." (See 2 Corinthians 10:4.) The King James Version reads that our weapons are not "carnal" but are "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." (See verse 4.) What weapons is he talking about?
The only weapon that can demolish deception is truth. And, as Jesus said to the Father in His Prayer of Intercession, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (See John 17:17) In Paul's own description of the Armor of God, he only named one part of the armor that was a weapon. He said to take "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (See Ephesians 6:17b) That the word of God does indeed have "divine power to demolish strongholds" is confirmed by the writer of Hebrews who said, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (See Hebrews 4:12) By judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, God's powerful Word distinguishes between those thoughts and attitudes that line up with divine truth and those that constitute human reasonings and demonic strongholds.
Jesus used the Word of God as a weapon to defeat the "schemes, devices, reasonings" of the devil in the wilderness. With each suggestion the devil made to Jesus, he included reasons why Jesus should act upon his suggestions. He was attempting to use human reasoning to build strongholds in Jesus' mind that would influence his own thoughts and direct his actions. Satan does no different with us. Jesus defeated him with the Sword of the Spirit. Every time He said, "It is written" (see Luke 4:4,8,12), He was wielding the Sword of Truth to cut down subtle deception. We should do the same.
One passage of Scripture that demonstrates well how to use the Word of God in prayer to demolish strongholds is James 4:7-10. It specifies four steps we should take in defeating the devil's works in our lives and two promises as to the results that will occur when we do. I want to demonstrate briefly how these four steps to demolishing strongholds imply using the Word of God as a weapon in prayer.
We should use God's Word in prayer as an avenue for submitting to God.
James says, "Submit yourselves, then, to God." (See verse 7) We acknowledge from God's Word that Jesus is Lord (see Romans 10:9), that His teachings are a sure foundation for our lives (see Matthew 7:24), and we commit to His rule in our lives. (See Matthew 6:10)
We should use God's Word in prayer as an effective way to be spiritually cleansed.
James writes, "Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." (See verse 8b) We acknowledge that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (see 1 John 1:7b), that we are sanctified by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26), and that God has established a new covenant with us in Christ that gives us "singleness of heart and of action." (See Jeremiah 32:39-40)
We should use God's Word in prayer to draw near to God.
James exhorts us, "Come near to God." (See verse 8a.) We ask God the Father to draw us to Jesus. (See John 6:44) Then we enter with confidence into His Holy Place (see Hebrews 4:16), and we worship Him in spirit and with grateful hearts. (See John 4:4 and Hebrews 13:15)
We should use God's Word in prayer to stand against Satan's schemes.
James urges us, "Resist the devil." (See verse 7b.) We expose Satan's lies with the truth of God's Word (see Hebrews 4:12) and exercise our authority over him by commanding him to move over and make way. (See Matthew 16:33)
God's promise through this passage in James is that when we take these four steps of submitting to God, being spiritual cleansed, drawing near to the Lord in worship, and resisting the devil, two things will happen: God will "come near to [us]" (see verse 8b) and Satan will "flee from [us]." (See verse 7b) The bottom line is that our relationship with God will be strong and solid and the strongholds that Satan had in our lives will weaken and fall away. The picture of God drawing near to us and Satan fleeing from us says it all.
One final word needs to be said on how to use God's Word through prayer to demolish spiritual strongholds. That word is -- persistence. Ed Silvoso tells of a friend of a friend who was making some renovations on his home. He needed to demolish a cement wall in order to enlarge a room. The contractor he hired for the job came with three tools -- a sledge hammer and a regular workman's hammer and chisel. First, with the sledge hammer, he began striking the wall with blow after blow. To a casual bystander, it appeared he was wasting his time. Ten, twenty, thirty blows, and not so much as a crack. But, on the thirty-sixth blow, a horizontal crack appeared in the wall. On the thirty-seventh, several cracks appeared in a spiderweb pattern. On the thirty-eighth, the whole wall was covered with cracks. Then, the contractor laid his sledge hammer down and with a workman's hammer and chisel proceeded to bring the wall down one piece at a time.
Some of us may feel that we have stubborn strongholds that defy change -- worry, fear, anxiety, slothfulness, lust, addictions, poverty, disease, or what have you. We try to defeat them with speaking God's Word into our circumstances and it just doesn't seem to work. But we must keep in mind that faith increases as we continue hearing God's Word (see Romans 10:17) and such faith gives us victory over all ideologies and reasonings that are of this present world. (See 1 John 5:4.) As we persist in speaking God's Word against the strongholds of our lives and rendering an obedience of faith in His Word, those strongholds will come down.
Spiritual strongholds are human reasonings that exalt themselves over the revelation of God's will for our lives as revealed in Scripture. More than human reasonings, they are injected with the poison of diabolical devices and schemes to trip us up in our walk with God. They breed hopelessness that paralyze faith in God's promises and cloud the mind from being able to see God's purposes for our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray.
We're in danger of succumbing to strongholds when we make decisions as to how we will respond to life's challenges without seeking God for wisdom and looking to His Word for guidance. When we do so, we choose to live independently of God and to make idols of our own minds.
Strongholds weaken our lives and make our prayers ineffective by causing us to become double-minded. We try to balance our own agenda with God's rather than dying to ourselves with a whole-hearted commitment to follow Him. In doing so, we build our lives on a shaky foundation and find ourselves praying prayers that waver through indecisiveness and unbelief.
We overcome strongholds in our lives by allowing God's Word to be final authority in our lives. We allow the light of Scripture to expose our hearts, to bring us to repentance, to lead us to worship, and to recognize and resist Satan's schemes against us. When we are persistent in wielding the sword of God's Word against the strongholds of the Enemy,God will draw near to us, Satan will flee from us, the clouds of deception and blindness with dispel, and the walls of Satan's strongholds will come down.
The challenge before us is to apply what we've learned. What's holding us back from a deepening intimacy with the Lord, greater victory over the Enemy, and a fruitful ministry and prayer life? It is our duty before God to allow the Lord to expose any strongholds that we have tolerated and to put the Sword to them. I pray that God helps each of us to meet that challenge.
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Remember: All that we do in this life comes back to our God-given purpose which is to serve and glorify God. The money and assets we accumulate, the fame and power we've attained or seek to attain - all of the things of this nature will one day pass away, but those lives of others we impact for Jesus Christ will last for eternity, and we will be rewarded for the part we helped play by impacting those lives ... for eternity. (Matthew 6:19-20 is our assurance)