Roger Harper examines three popular approaches to dealing with unresolved hurts and issues from the past.

Paul instructs believers to ‘get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language from your mouth…’ (Colossians 3:8). Yes, Paul. Fine. But how?

Charlotte was talking with her sister and a friend after church. A woman from where Charlotte used to work came to say hello. She was friendly, reminiscing happily about the old times. But Charlotte felt an intense anger rise up within her. “I wanted to whack her. I realised that the anger was still there,” says Charlotte, “burning a hole in me, chewing at me.”

At her former job Charlotte had begun to suffer severely from arthritis and her boss had used this as the opportunity to get rid of her. She monitored her very closely, called her to meetings, questioning details of what she had and had not done… others at work could see what was happening, they had seen it before with other people ‘selected for the chop’. Eventually Charlotte’s health grew so bad that she had to leave, with no income and no prospect of earning one. She departed with intense anger against her boss and her fellow workers, who had watched from a distance and done nothing.

Charlotte was seeing a counsellor. He was helpful, empathising with her situation and feelings. He suggested she write down all that her boss had done to her, post it to her, and let it go. Charlotte wrote the letter and hoped that would be the end of it. But seeing her former colleague showed clearly that the anger and desire for revenge were still there. How to get rid of it?

The friend at church said quietly to her, “Maybe you need to do ‘Prayers that Heal the Heart’.“ This is a systematic approach to prayer counselling assembled by Mark Virkler. Charlotte had heard about this from her friend and trusted her. So a few days later they met for about an hour. They prayed about inherited anger and anger picked up from close relationships. They prayed about what Charlotte believed about anger, and about past painful memories associated with anger. Charlotte confessed her part in all this. They told the spirits of anger and revenge to leave Charlotte in Jesus’ name. Charlotte went along willingly with all of it. “I felt peaceful,” she says “but there was no great response in me.”

A few months later, Charlotte was celebrating a friend’s birthday in a pub restaurant when she noticed a large table, which had been reserved with the name of the place where she used to work. On the off chance that it was for people from her section, she and her friends moved away to the opposite end of the building. The group was indeed all her former work colleagues, including her old boss, but they had arranged to meet not at the reserved table, but at the opposite end of the building, just where Charlotte was now sitting! As her former colleagues arrived, Charlotte says, “I suddenly realised I wasn’t rattled at all. It had gone.” Charlotte could talk in a friendly way with the people she used to work with. “I was still waiting for the big one to come in. And it was OK. I wasn’t aggressive or wound up…” Charlotte’s boss did walk in and someone pointed out to her that Charlotte was there. The boss ran off to the bar and kept away from Charlotte all evening. “But I was OK,” says Charlotte. “It had gone. Although nothing wonderful had happened, without me knowing, the intense anger had gone. I’m not a ‘lids on’ person, so it wasn’t just buried. It had gone. I was very comfortable with them all.”

Routes to healing

‘Prayers that Heal the Heart’ (PHH) is one of several tools that are now available to the Church to help Christians to work out their own wholeness as the Holy Spirit works in them (Philippians 2:12,13). ‘Restoring the Foundations’ (RTF) developed by Chester and Betsy Kylstra, and ‘Freedom in Christ’ (FIC) developed by Neil Anderson, are similar ministries. This article looks at these tools, at their similarities and differences.

Each tool helps Christians to put into practice the instructions of the New Testament about ridding ourselves of all that is unclean and ungodly in our lives. The RTF website explains, ‘We help others appropriate His finished work into their life, so that they can be further set free and made whole.’ FIC claim their approach is ‘highly effective in helping all Christians (not just the “hard cases”) understand the truth of who they are in Christ, break strongholds and destructive habits, and win the battle for their minds.’

Each tool brings together several elements, in a coherent, easy to follow pattern:

Understanding and taking hold of the truths of the Christian life Identifying and repenting of specific sins and unhealthy attitudes Breaking negative patterns inherited through our families Ordering unclean spirits to leave

Each tool is for the individual Christian to use with and for themselves, with varying degrees of help and guidance from other people. The ‘ministry’ is seen primarily as a teaching ministry helping people to learn how to live more freely as Christians. RTF explains, “We do not attempt to give good advice (counsel) as a doctor or lawyer might, but rather to bring God’s Word into each individual’s life through the ministry of the life and spirit of the Word.”

Repentance is the key skill and process to be learnt. Christians are taught how to understand and use repentance in specific areas of their lives. This enables them to grasp more fully the new life into which they have been called. People come to understand that repentance is not an admission of what awful people they are. Rather it is the opposite, an affirmation that in Christ they are good, beloved children of the Father, who have done, said and thought things that are not in line with their true nature. As we repent, we clear away the dirt in us, so that our true, holy, nature shines through more clearly.

Repentance then paves the way for gentle but effective deliverance. The Church has seen deliverance as a tool for the worst ‘hard cases’ instead of for every Christian. In the very early Church, each member went through deliverance as a part of their baptism. Modern Anglican liturgies still include a prayer of deliverance as a normal part of baptism. We are recovering this liberating truth – that part of our struggle to live holy lives is a struggle with unclean spirits that become attached to us. It is not just up to us to try harder to control our temper or think more highly of ourselves. We have to repent, and then to use and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit within us. In Jesus we have the authority to order the unclean spirits of anger, low self-esteem or anything, to go, and they do go. The ministry will probably not be dramatic at the time, but, as with Charlotte, the effect will be remarkable.

Clive’s storyClive had been divorced twice. A Christian since he was 12, he had in his 20s been leading a successful student ministry for 60 young people, as well as founding and growing his own business. When his first marriage failed Clive felt unable to face the young people, or anyone else in church. He continued reading his Bible, kept up with Christian friends, but could not go to church. The second failed marriage just made things worse. Eventually, realising that he needed help, he dragged himself back to his church. “But I just couldn’t connect. I felt like a kid looking in at a party, out in the cold…” He asked the elders to find him some help. “I was prepared to go anywhere in the world.”

The help came to Clive through Restoring the Foundations. In one week of intensive ministry Clive began to be set free. As he prayed he says “I felt something like a huge elastic band snap off, off my body. I saw it in my mind’s eye coiling back in time.” Immediately he did not feel much different, and he continued to apply the teaching about identifying and repenting of ungodly beliefs. One such belief was “I don’t feel strong emotion.” Clive began to say to himself instead “I am happy and willing to feel strong godly emotion.”

Today Clive laughs at his recklessness in praying for emotion in his life. The first wave that hit him was intense grief, then panic. He had always been confident, growing and running a successful business, but suddenly he was suffering panic attacks. Clive went back to his RTF helpers and, as they prayed, God showed them that he had a problem with control. As Clive decided that he no longer wanted to be in control of everything, he felt something leave him.

More was to come. Continuing his involvement with RTF, he was led to the uncomfortable truth that he had been stealing false intimacy from women all his life. Repenting of this, Clive and his minister asked the Holy Spirit to show where this pattern had come from. Clive was led to remember his first months of life. His mother had had severe postnatal depression and couldn’t bear to be in the same room as him. Clive felt he was in a dark, lonely place and he burst into tears. His minister prayed for him. “It felt like a warm blanket was wrapped around me. It felt light and good.” They then told the spirit of loneliness to go. “I had been so scared of being alone,” says Clive, “it had been driving me all my life.” Clive sensed that God now told him that that was finished.

Clive no longer hides from people, and he talks about his feelings. In his business he allows people the freedom to work, and make mistakes, on their own. This has had brought significant benefit to the whole company, not least in improving profit. At church he now feels part of the people. “I love them, they don’t annoy me like they used to.” Clive is actively involved in church life and ministry. Clive has also been able to enter into another marriage on a new basis. Instead of using and controlling a woman, he now shares himself fully and has a relationship richer than he could have thought possible. Clive’s experience shows the particular emphases of RTF. Their focus is on an initial 15-hour intensive ministry for individuals, usually in one week away from home. After this week the person continues to work out his or her own healing, either on their own on with further help. (The ministry can also happen with individuals in a local church over five weekly sessions.) RTF Ministers have extensive training and supervision to minister in different ways, including healing of the memories. RTF is a mature synthesis of classic charismatic prayer counselling ministry. They write: ‘We depend heavily on the voice of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us during the actual RTF ministry sessions,’ as well as teaching the person to apply Bible truths in their own life. PHH, which is less well known, is similar to RTF and draws on it. Like RTF PHH includes an element of breaking ungodly spiritual connections with living people, as well as with ancestors. But PHH puts more emphasis on the people themselves hearing from God, and applying to themselves the truths of the Bible. PHH focuses on a specific issue, anger or fear for instance, and gives the person Biblical prayers to pray for their own healing. People ministering PHH are not expected to have as much training as RTF, and the emphasis on people praying for themselves is stronger.

Freedom In ChristFreedom In Christ (FIC) has a different emphasis. Their focus is on a 13 session Discipleship Course for a local church to follow together, either on Sundays or, preferably, in small groups. ‘One of our core values is that the work of ministry belongs in the local church. Our emphasis, therefore, is on equipping and enabling Christian leaders.’ As part of this course, people are taught the ‘Seven Steps to Freedom’ which is the ‘ministry’ component of the course. Through these steps participants learn how to identify where they need to repent, change their faulty beliefs and pray for their own deliverance. FIC encourage a local church to have ‘encouragers’ on hand if people need some extra help in this personal work, but their experience is that most Christians can apply the teaching for themselves without the help of a counsellor or ‘minister.’ FIC comes from a more Evangelical, less Charismatic, background. It stresses the responsibility of each Christian to apply for themselves the teaching of Scripture, while expecting that the Holy Spirit will reveal to the person what is needed at the time. FIC discourage ‘ministers’ praying for someone else, in favour of each Christian praying for themselves in line with the Bible. ‘It is imperative that the freedom seeker is made aware that they are not coming to someone else to be ‘fixed’ but are taking control themselves…’ ‘The process is generally conducted by laypeople … [who] benefit from basic training but, because they are really only facilitating a process between the freedom seeker and God, … do not need to be experts.’ FIC do not include Healing of Memories as part of their ‘Steps to Freedom’ but focus instead on changing the negative beliefs that have come out of painful memories. Once these are changed, they find that the memories no longer have power to hurt.

Tim Baynes-Clarke pastor of Shirehampton Baptist Church in Bristol had used FIC when working in Pakistan. At a FIC at a conference in Hastings in 2000, “I was personally set free from stuff that had plagued me for years.” He was already looking for tools to help him minister to people in his church who had been abused, or thought they were ugly, or heard voices in their head telling them they were stupid. “At first I used the Steps in a number of ongoing pastoral cases. Others saw the results and quickly came forward to deal with their own past baggage.” The leadership now encourages every member to go through the Steps to Freedom in Christ, and half have chosen to do so. They continue to teach the basic truths on a regular basis.

The church itself also had problems. There were lots of little cliques. Some manipulative controlling people were able to stop anything happening that they did not like. The leadership followed the FIC ‘Setting Your Church Free’ teaching, repenting of past sins and errors. Immediately, church members started resisting the temper tantrums and emotional blackmail that had stifled the church. Over the years church meetings changed from times of tension and argument with no decisions made, into times of laughter, happy disagreement and agreement on ways forward. The church is now much more a family together.

All three approaches, FIC, RTF and PHH, are tried and tested tools for Christians to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring significant healing and freedom into their lives. We live in a divided world church, with a divided history. It is not surprising that there are different approaches with different emphases. But what they have in common is much more. A few churches use both FIC and RTF. In slightly different ways, our Father is using all these tools to bring us to a closer walk with Jesus, a deeper awareness of His love, and a holier life in His Spirit.Taking it furtherFreedom in 0845 230 2677‘Victory over the Darkness’ and ‘The Bondage Breaker’ by Neil T AndersonMonarch Publishing 1992/1993Restoring the 01359 233173Churches are invited to book an introductory Seminar in their own church‘Restoring the Foundations’ by Chester and Betsy Kylstra, Proclaiming His Word Publications, 2001Prayers that Heal the ‘Prayers that Heal the Heart’ by Mark Patti Virkler, Bridge-Logos Publishing, 2001 or contact Roger Harper

Roger Harper has worked for 18 years in Church of England parish ministry and is now a part-time hospice chaplain and freelance writer.