New York Woman Led Out of Crack Epidemic, Into Experiential Faith — Through Prayer
As Americans participate in the National Day of Prayer, three leaders reveal by example how openness to hearing from God changed their lives.
Part of an ongoing series on “Pentecost and the Holy Spirit Today.”
In popular culture, “thoughts and prayers” has come to mean a passive stance towards current crises. What is prayer? How does it work? What do Christians believe it accomplishes?
This week, Americans will participate in the National Day of Prayer. Three diverse Christian leaders — a charismatic woman from New York, a Roman Catholic Deacon and a Protestant New Testament professor — urge believers to go beyond spiritualized speeches in prayer. They contend Christians can enjoy genuine dialogue with God. Each relates prayer to the gifts and activity of the Holy Spirit. They begin by sharing their personal stories.
When Summer Camp Propels Life Changes
Author of Open to the Spirit, Northern Seminary professor Scot McKnight recalls his junior year during high school in southern Illinois. “That’s a critical year of transition in life where you’re thinking about college,” he says. He expected to go to a major university on a track and field scholarship.”
Then he ended up at a summer camp in Muscatine, Iowa. “The emphasis was on the Holy Spirit,” he recalls. “We had an older professor, the president of a small Bible college, who encouraged our cabin the first night with a particular Scripture verse.”
McKnight recounts Ephesians 5:18 from the King James Version he read at the time: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. “The next morning, I got up early and went to the campsite where they have a breakfast area. It was closed so I wandered off and sat underneath a tree in the shade.”
He prayed a simple prayer: Father, forgive me of my sins. And Holy Spirit, come inside and fill me. “All I can say is that it was a dynamic, life-changing experience with the Spirit,” he says. “From that time on, I had a completely different mission and purpose in life.”
Three days later, on the camp’s last night, the teenager stood before his peers to give his testimony. McKnight shared God had called him to a life of ministry. Sports suddenly took second place in his life. He went to a Christian college, then seminary, then earned a Ph.D. A line from the Lord’s Prayer gripped him: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
In thirty-plus years as a seminary professor, the author of Jesus Creed has focused on the life, message and mission of Christ in his teaching. McKnight has become more open to the Holy Spirit, whom he says “works in a hundred thousand ways.”
Prayer also led a searching New Yorker onto a path she never planned.
Spiritual Pursuit and Inner Healing
The early 1980’s, “People were trying to find jobs, then this thing called crack came along,” says Dehavilland Ford. “The crack wave hit that area, along with the boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx. My family fell prey to it.” At age seven, she was sent into the foster care system. “I had a major identity crisis and deficit of love,” she recalls. She spent time in several New York foster homes before being adopted. A decade later, her faith journey pivoted — by hearing a message on a cassette tape.
A friend gave Ford an audio teaching from a man she’d never heard of named Mike Bickle. “He talked about how God was going to raise up a generation that would completely give their lives in the place of prayer and radical devotion to the Lord,” she recalls.
“As I heard him sharing, something began to burn within that was so foreign to me. I thought, This is what I was made for. I’ve got to get to wherever this ‘house of prayer’ is.” At age 18, Ford boarded a bus for Kansas City. She arrived during the first year of Bickle and his team starting up a distinctive Christian worship model.
In 1999, the International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) was initiated as a continuous concert of prayer going 24 hours every day. Though novel even to many Christians, the group traces their spiritual disciplines back to the early Monastics, St. Patrick of Ireland and the Moravians of Herrnut, Germany.
Without any charismatic background, Ford found the environment fueled her faith. “No one had given me permission to pray like this or given language to the experience,” she says. “I remember walking into that little prayer room and it feeling like home.”
IHOPKC has attracted critics over nearly 20 years. Though its mission has little changed, local outreach and global missions are a greater focus. Ford spent several years as an intercessor on-staff with IHOPKC. “I really wanted to learn how to pray. God gave me a deeper sense of who He is in my life. He gave me a burden for what He is doing in cities, regions and nations.”
Though she would soon witness dramatic physical healings, Ford feels another experience was as far-reaching in her life. “I brought my father wounds to that place and needed emotional healing. During years in the prayer room, God spoke to me about how he saw me.”
“The Holy Spirit highlighted my value to the Lord,” recalls the adopted daughter.
The Value of Spiritual Experiences
In his remarkable life journey, Deacon Keith Fournier has learned to be open to such gifts as prophecy and supernatural signs. He currently ministers in Richmond, Virginia. A Catholic leader who seeks common ground among Christians, he notes the gospel does not hinge on style and aesthetics.
“Look at any confession — whether evangelical, Pentecostal, Orthodox or Catholic,” he says. “There are common characteristics you’ll see where the church is thriving. One is the centrality of Jesus. Second, they believe the power of the Holy Spirit is available today. Third, they hunger to be a part of His Body that finds a way to stand together.”
“Such experiences are not a bad thing if it leads to holiness of life, maturity of character and a continued growth in the mission of the church,” says Fournier. “When I was ordained, it shook my life with the power of the Holy Spirit. It opened my heart to realize: the same Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles is at work today.”
McKnight takes it a step further. He cites Scripture on how experiences confirm faith. “In Acts 10, when Peter preaches at Cornelius’ house, and the Spirit of God falls upon the Gentiles, Peter makes an interesting argument,” he says. He paraphrases the apostle saying, If the Spirit of God has come upon them, then who am I to say no? Let’s baptize them. McKnight concludes: “A tangible experience that Peter witnessed shifted his convictions.”
Rather than seeing the Holy Spirit as far off, one mom focuses on the everyday.
Parenting Requires a Higher Power
For Ford, hours of prayer ministry have been replaced by the challenges of raising two young boys. “You have to be supernatural to be a mom!” she declares. “We look for opportunities to show our kids how to live a supernatural life. It might be praying for someone who’s sick. Or in the grocery store, speaking an encouraging word to a stranger.”
In 2011, she married Christian author and seminary teacher Will Ford. Together, they lead a Dallas-area ministry called 818 The Sign. It is based on Isaiah 8:18, about children being “signs and wonders” to the nations. Their team is planning a large-scale worship and prayer gathering, appropriately, for August 18.
“The Word says the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” she says. “Everywhere you are, it can be supernatural. There are days you’re going to blow it. Some days you’re just changing diapers and making meals, it seems like. But the way you live your life before your child and what you speak over them matters eternally.”
A fiery conference speaker, Ford concludes with a relevant point. “You need more of the anointing to raise babies than to speak a good message on a Sunday morning,” she asserts.
Zealous Faith to Endure Persecution
“We live in a new missionary age,” says Fournier. “We’ve got more martyrs today than in centuries. In the local parish where I serve, we just put up an image as you enter the door of the 21 Coptic Christians who shed their blood several years ago — refusing to deny their faith. When you walk in, that’s the first thing you see.”
A new missionary age needs united Christians. McKnight says: “Only the Holy Spirit allows us to transcend our differences. It’s not our strategies, theories and practices that are going to do it. It is the Spirit who creates fellowship with one another.”
“The West has almost lost its Christian memory,” says Fournier. “We must do what the early church did. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we preach the gospel without compromise and we call down the power of God.”
These men and women of faith have committed to prayer beyond one day of national observance. “We need a restoration of the fullness of Christianity to begin to be manifested in the midst of this twilight age,” concludes Fournier. “It’s not about us. It’s His Word and Spirit.”
“Watch what God does.”