Jon was a quiet, personable young man. He had been a Christian since he was a young boy and loved to serve God and be involved in church gatherings. But Jon also had a dark side. His depression and isolation from deep, meaningful relationships was getting severe. He came to me in desperation and told me about the many nights of loneliness and sadness he had experienced. None of his friends could understand it, since they all really liked him. He had been on several psych medications, gone for many rounds of counseling, and even considered putting himself in an inpatient treatment center for chronic depression. TPM (Theophostic Prayer Ministry) was a last resort to institutional committal.
As we went through the TPM prayer process, God brought Jon back to a memory of him sitting in his father’s study on the floor playing. As he was playing, he noticed that no matter what he said to his father, the reaction was always that he was bothering his dad and that he should play quietly. Into his mind came a thought: “I am a bother. I am a bother to everybody”. As I mentioned in the last blog entry on TPM, little children often fall into the trap of universalizing a belief. The truth is that children sometimes do bother adults. That is a reality of life. However, that doesn’t make them worth any less or mean any less. Nor does it imply they will be loved any less. It certainly cannot mean that the entire human race will always view them that way. But try explaining that to a 7-year old.
We asked God at that point (as is always done in TPM) to reveal truth in that memory. God’s voice was quiet, simple and profound. He simply told Jon “You are never a bother to me. I always have time for you.” That was all God said. At the end of that session, Jon didn’t look any different, and said that though he felt peace, he was skeptical that much had changed.
I ran into Jon about three years later. He came up to me at a conference and greeted me warmly. He explained who he was and asked if I had time for coffee. We went out and he told me the story of the intervening three years. The depression left that evening we had prayed together and never returned. He was developing deep friendships and was enjoying life.
Isn’t that wonderful? All God said was “You are never a bother to me. I always have time for you.” Who would have thought such a simple truth could reverse years of destruction and futility? Yet this often happens in the ministry of TPM.
There is a wonderful biblical basis to this. It would take too long to describe all of what the Bible says about this (I am currently working on an entire book on the subject). But I do want to point out that God does speak to people today, and how that forms the foundation of what is practiced in TPM.
In John 10:1-10, we have the analogy of the Shepherd and the Thief. It is not a parable, as some have described it, but rather fits into the category of allegory. A parable is a story which is points to one major truth (sometimes two truths – but rarely). The details of the story are the spice in the soup and are not as important as the main point. One big mistake in interpreting parables is that people often make too much of the details. For instance, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), people often spend hours commenting on the meaning of some of the places mentioned like Paradise, Bosom of Abraham and Hell mentioned here. The meaning of the parable is that there is more to life than this life and that we will all have to answer for the decisions we made here. To make more of the story than that is dangerous.
But in John 10:1-10, we have a different kind of story. In this story, every aspect is meaningful. The Shepherd is Jesus. The Sheep are his followers. The Thief (also called the Stranger) is satan, the enemy of our souls. The Gate is also Jesus (he is the way into God). In verses 3 and 4, Jesus lays out the daily walk he desires all his “sheep” to have with Him:
3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He
calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his
own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his
Notice that the only skill the sheep need to have in this process is the ability to listen to the Shepherd’s voice. They follow because they listen to His voice. They go where He is going because they listen to his voice. They have salvation because they listen to his voice.
Now, look at v. 5:
5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him
because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice
The stranger’s voice is unfamiliar to them. They actually run away from him because it sounds so different from the Shepherd. Therefore, listening to the Shepherd causes an ability to be formed in the sheep whereby they can then hear the stranger’s voice as a dangerous and evil thing and run away from it.
In v. 9 it says
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
The Greek word for “pasture” is a word which actually means “an expanding place”. The idea of growing, expanding and reaching further is inherent in this word. This has particular meaning to those going through the Theophostic prayer. The enemy’s job is to restrict our life, to place artificial fences around us through lies and deception (we will go more into the lies of the enemy in the next blog entry). But when we hear the voice of the Shepherd, we follow him through the gate into an ever-expanding life that keeps feeling more and more free.
In John 8:32, we read “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. The word for know is a very carefully chosen word by Jesus. The Greek verb is in the middle voice, which when coupled with this verb “to know” means to come to an understanding of something by being lead there. It is the word used of a couple having sexual intercourse. It means that we know something not by learning it ourselves, but being brought into the truth by someone else. Only God can teach us these kinds of Truth experiences. When God interacts with the Truth in our lives, then we are set free to an ever-expanding life.
What is often missing from so much counseling is the inner voice of God speaking to those in need and in trouble. In TPM, the process opens up the opportunities for the voice of the Shepherd to come into memories where deluded and stinking thinking has invaded. Like King David and his Shepherd’s sling, the voice of the Shepherd has the ability to chase away the lies, and they run like scattering wolves.
As I read the criticisms of TPM from several different publications, I have this observation to make. The majority of them have been written by those who hold to a cessationist view of the work of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, they do not believe that God speaks today outside of the Bible. They do not believe that Holy Spirit can speak to individuals in a personal way outside of biblical illumination. Therefore, it is logical that they would conclude that TPM is wrong. One of the core beliefs of TPM is that God speaks. The critics of this method would say that this opens people up to hearing a voice other than God’s. I agree with that. It does open up that possibility. That is one reason that the facilitator works with the person receiving prayer. On a number of occasions, I have helped people to reject voices that do not agree with God’s revealed Truth in Scripture.
But I also want to make this observation for all of us. When people read the Bible, there is a possibility of the enemy suggesting lies through the Scriptures also. That possibility is always there. That is why we have people help one another in their Bible Study. More cults have been founded upon an improper interpretation and application of the Bible than on supposed “Words from God”. We are not necessarily on better foundations by saying that we are just to trust to the “objective” Scriptures and to avoid the “subjective” voice of God. We need both. There is nothing objective about the Bible if people are skilled at manipulation. That is why 1 John 2:27 says that
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not
need anyone to teach you.”
He wrote this according to v. 26 to give them a way to deal with those who were trying to lead them astray. The “anointing” is the Holy Spirit. That is the historic teaching of the church. It is the voice of the Spirit inside of us that gives us the clear interpretation of Scripture. We need the Bible and the Spirit. And they always agree if we listen long and carefully. TPM agrees with that completely.
I find it offensive that people would call TPM heretical. For the most part, it simply disagrees with the cessationist view of the Holy Spirit. TPM has founded its methodology not on Psychology but on the simple statement “My sheep hear my voice.”