Seeing Straight & Praying Right
The recent gang-related shooting death of 9-year-old Janessa Ramirez has become a rallying point for many in our city to put an end to the increasing acts of violence that occur almost daily. This is the second time in the past decade or so that I remember our Chief of Police has requested a gathering of local church and civic leaders to come together to pray. We also heard from the victim’s family.
The most poignant moment of the evening was when Janessa’s mother, Stacey Gonzales Ramirez, shared her last moments with her daughter just prior to her child’s death there in front of the laundromat where she was shot by the random gunfire of a neighborhood gang member. As she laid there on the pavement, both mom and daughter were confused about why she suddenly collapsed to the ground complaining her stomach burned and her back hurt. As mom lifted up Janessa’s garment to see what she at first thought was a cigarette burn, a friend standing nearby exclaimed, “She’s been shot!”
In the moments that followed, Janessa and mom both talked about and talked to Jesus before this little angel finally said, “Bye mommy, I love you.” Silence now filled the room where we were gathered listening to her story. There were a few intermittent and audible expressions of grief as she continued to relate the events of that horrible evening.
I expected we would follow this moving testimony with prayer and a time of corporate intercession not only for this devastated family but for our city and against the powers and choices responsible for her death. Afterward, a few more speakers approached the microphone and passionately began to implore us to “get involved” and to “up our efforts” to make a difference in our community through prayer walks, community involvement, and evangelism. As I listened, I both appreciated the opportunity to be there and the efforts of those who are working unseen and often with little support to make a difference in our community among the “least of the least.” I also felt that what was being proposed seemed like a dishearteningly slow and long-term process that left me with little confidence in seeing any real change. I also wondered how our Police Chief felt.
Earlier that evening he sullenly expressed, “In all my years on the force, nothing has personally impacted me more than Janessa’s death.” After this group of speakers, two local community-based pastor/leaders were called to lead us all in prayer. Throughout the evening there was talk of “engaging” with those of us who were attending. After the two leaders offered prayers from the podium I was again expecting that the meeting would continue with some time for corporate prayer and an open time of intercession—some time to “engage.” Instead the meeting closed with an appeal to “engage” at the tables outside the main venue where we would find a list to sign up if we wanted to get involved. The message here was clear: We need to get involved and do more. While that may be part of the solution, it hasn’t reduced the incidence of violent crime in our city. Neither does it address the one part of the root problem—the problem of evil that inspires the kind of violence that ends up destroying the life of child and forever altering the lives of the Christ-following family she was part of.
Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People writes in the foreword of his revised edition, “If you want to achieve your highest aspirations and overcome your greatest challenges, identify and apply the principle or natural law that governs the results you seek. How we apply a principle . . . will be determined by . . . acting in harmony with the principles to which the success is tied.”
The success of air travel or flight, despite the means or type of vessel one chooses to take flight in, is determined by acting in harmony with the principles and natural laws of aerodynamics. If one avoids or discontinues to cooperate with the principles and laws of aerodynamics whether intended or not, they will either fail to take flight or at the very least find themselves in serious if not grave danger. The same can be said when it comes to spiritual principles and the “successful” outcome or fruit of prayer. If we are going to be “effective” in prayer it’s important for us to both identify and apply, or “act in harmony with” spiritual laws that govern the universe and the biblical principles that result in the effective outcome of prayer.
“Turn Off The Tap!”
If we are going to “pray right” we will first need to “see straight.” In other words, if we are to be effective in prayer and see fruitful transformation we must first see and understand the governing principles that contribute to the problem. Secondly, we must utilize the means that Christ has given us to address the source or governing principles that contribute to the problem. Supposedly, at one time there was a mental health facility that employed the following exercise in order to determine whether or not a particular patient was mentally stable or “healthy” enough to be discharged: The patient was escorted into an empty room and was given a mop and a bucket. He or she was then instructed to begin mopping up the water on the floor until it was reasonably dry. However, a water spigot that had been installed and located on an adjacent wall was open allowing water to flow out onto the floor of the room. If the patient noticed the open faucet and turned it off before mopping, the patient was determined to be healthy enough for release. On the other hand, if the patient simply began to mop and failed to turn off the flow of water, then he or she was not ready to be discharged. Here, as in prayer, it’s of foremost importance that we first “turn off the tap” before simply trying to “mop up” or fix the problem.
The Scriptures teach that the source of evil is the result of a fallen world, human will, as well as satanic influence—“the spirit at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:1-3); that, “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19); “The whole world is a prisoner under the power of sin” (Galatians 4:4); and, Our (spiritual) battle is not against other people but against the powers of evil and demonic spiritual beings who exercise dominion over people, places, and things (Ephesians 6:18ff). Jesus’ called Satan, the “prince of this world” who’s purpose is to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10); while the Apostle Paul refers to him as the “god of this present age” (2 Cor. 4:4).
If we accept these Scriptures as in some way defining or influencing the principles or laws of nature—the “governing dynamics” that contribute to what does or does not happen in this world then it’s imperative that we first address the governing principles that have an influence on the problem or problems we are trying to resolve. Or as Covey says, we must apply the principles that are “in harmony with the principles to which the success is tied.” In other words, we must use spiritual means to accomplish spiritual purposes or spiritual weapons to resolve spiritual influences. We must first address the problem at its source and “turn off the tap!”
The good news is that we can! Jesus said, “I have given you authority over . . . all the power of the enemy, nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19); “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this 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” (2 Cor. 10:4,5).
However, effectively using Christ’s authority in the manner in which He did and others did in the New Testament is contingent on whether or not “nothing (of the enemy) will harm you.” It’s one thing to theorize about such things, and it’s quite another to know the reality and effectiveness of Christ’s authority in the face of real danger. Nevertheless, we have nothing to lose if we change up our game and begin to individually and corporately address the powers that influence those who are willing or unwilling agents of violence to secure the safety of those who are potential victims of it. As I see it, the effective utilization of the authority Jesus has given us and paid such an enormous price to provide us is the most underutilized resource God has given His people both individually and corporately to make a real and practical difference in the world as well as in our personal lives and circumstances. In short, we can use it or continue to lose.
Personally, I’ve had a burning passion for 28 years now to see the reality of Ephesians 3:10-11 where God’s intent is, “That now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” come about in a measurable way in our city. Plus, it’s what we do—teach and train others to use Christ’s authority, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit’s counsel to effectively pray for transformation, proclaim the Kingdom of God, and lead others to freedom. Perhaps we can start by having God’s people come together behind our Police Chief and officers whom God has designated as His authorities to maintain His righteous rule (Romans 13:1-7) and the peace He wills for our city (1 Tim. 2:1-3) (pray for leaders and those in authority so there’s peace and quiet life). But to do so will require the faith and a corporate gathering of God’s people to exercise the authority and power He’s given us to accomplish His purpose. Furthermore, I really want to see violence radically reduced and crime statistics plummet. A pipe dream? Maybe for some. However, if you’re interested and share a similar passion or sense of responsibility for the welfare of our city and its citizens then I’d like to propose a plan whereby we can begin to address this issue together. If we’re going to do something then perhaps we can start by first “turning of the tap” so we can continue to “mop up” with real effect.