by Jim Killam | 5-minute read
Between services on Sunday morning, Feb. 14, First Free Rockford resumes a ministry called Encouraging Prayer. It’s an opportunity to have someone pray for you, but not necessarily for a pressing need. Rather, this is about listening to the Holy Spirit.
Brenda Buzzard and Steve Ralph have been part of this ministry since First Free adapted it from the “Listening Prayer” ministry at Two Rivers Church in Knoxville, Tenn. They say the name change was carefully considered.
“We were concerned people might think it was too mystic for our church,” Steve says. “It isn’t charismatic from a standpoint of dancing in the aisles or anything. But the Bible is very clear about the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit and the work that he wants to have in our lives. And that’s what this is. It is an understanding and use of the prophetic gift, and the gift of discernment.”
What to expect
Sessions last 15 minutes, and usually two or more team members will pray with you. If you are a couple, they’ll often pray for you both together.
“Before we actually pray for the person, there’s a time of silence,” Steve says, “where we as the pray-ers are emptying our hearts and our minds of anything going on in our lives right now, and asking, ‘Holy Spirit, what message do you have for this person today?’ Sometimes that takes a while. Once we feel like we have a verse or a word or a picture or a song or whatever the Holy Spirit has given us for that person, then prior to saying anything, we take time to ask the Holy Spirit, ‘OK, what may be an interpretation? What might this mean for them now?’ And that’s how we generally present it.”
Brenda always keeps her Bible ready. “Many times, I just get a verse,” she says. “I feel most confident speaking God’s Word back to someone. Steve many times gets a picture.”
What not to expect
You don’t need to bring a list of urgent prayer requests, Steve says. That’s not the focus of Encouraging Prayer. It’s about whatever message the Holy Spirit might have for you that day.
“I would encourage people not to wait until they feel like they have a big thing going on,” Steve says. “I would encourage everyone to come in and experience this.”
Brenda adds: “Sometimes people do want us to pray for them, and we can sense that. There is an anxiousness you can sense with somebody. But we do encourage them to allow us, with the Spirit’s help, to do some encouraging prayer with them. And it’s amazing how the Holy Spirit will encourage them in that time.”
This also will not be a time for someone to point out everything wrong in your life.
It’s a time of encouragement,” Brenda says. “Even if the Spirit prompts something in us that says this person might be struggling with this or that, we really try to be sensitive that we are being positive, uplifting and encouraging to them. It’s not a time to bring up negative things. So there shouldn’t be any fear of that.”
Wait a minute …
Let’s go ahead and address the skeptic’s question: Doesn’t this sound a little like getting your fortune told?
True, in this world you can always find counterfeit versions of the work of the Holy Spirit. That does not render the real thing invalid. Team members are careful to emphasize 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, which says: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
“We tell them right away, it could be a word for us. It might be nothing,” Brenda says. “But write these things down. Maybe a verse that was shared or a song that was shared or a word picture. And it’s always for building up the body. It’s never for tearing down.
“So we tell them, test and weigh and see if this is from the Lord. We don’t pretend to speak for him with any authority. We just want to be vessels used to encourage them and their walk of faith. So they can walk out and say, “Somebody prayed with me today. Somebody’s listening for me, and hearing a word from the Lord directly from Scripture for me.”
“It’s amazing how often the people look at us and say, ‘I know exactly what that means,’” Steve says. As the team members pray aloud, he adds, they also ask God that if the message isn’t for the person, then “let it be like the chaff blowing away from the wheat Let it have no root in his mind at all.”
A listening church
Team members hope to see this ministry grow, live and even via Zoom during the pandemic. The ultimate goal: For First Free to be known as a church that listens to the Holy Spirit.
I can’t put a number on that,” Steve says. “I can’t imagine the impact we would have in Rockford and around the world if every member of our congregation had confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. And I’m not talking about the work of salvation. That’s a given. But to realize that God gave us the Holy Spirit not just because we are saved, but as an intercessor, as someone who talks on our behalf. If we could become known as a church that listens to the Holy Spirit and acts accordingly on what his messages to us, I can’t think of any better reputation to have as a church.