Updated: Aug 4, 2019
My recent series on Robert Henderson’s book Operating in the Courts of Heaven, which presents a new model of intercessory prayer, engendered some discussion where some points of clarification and matters of practical application were needed.
What if processing your prayers in the Courts of Heaven actually works!?
This raises one of the most difficult things I struggled with when evaluating Henderson’s teaching: that it seems to work! Taking the testimonies provided by Henderson and others at their word, they show at least that much.
This is in part why I adopted the language of “model” when describing his teaching on prayer (though I’m still not clear if he understands his teaching to be THE description or simply ONE description).
1. Such language gives us is an insight into how to evaluate it; like one might a scientific model with a control. What is a control in science? Think about this question: What made the crucial difference? Was it following the procedures of the courtroom, or was it faith (responding in obedience to his word) that made the real impact on the situation? Without the exact same circumstance repeating itself, and you praying in different way than the way you did and getting a different result, then you could never know which it was. Without understanding this need for a control, receiving answers to prayer when operating with the courtroom model will always be exercises in confirmation bias. “See!” one might say, “Operating in the courtroom of heaven works!” when it could have been answered by praying a simple, normal prayer of faith, and perhaps even none at all.
Providing something like a control (but not an actual control) would be the fact, or the counter-examples of, people receiving answers to prayer without using the courtroom procedures prescribed by Henderson. People have been getting their prayers answered for a long time before the book Operating in the Courts of Heaven was written. Also, people seem to receive similarly miraculous results when they’re in ignorance of Henderson’s teachings.
2. Such language makes us aware of the limitations of human language; that a model is merely a description of the actual reality about prayer. In some places that description may get things right, but in other places the description might get things wrong. I’ve highlighted some of those places where I think the model has got things wrong in my four or so criticisms. But the operating of your faith and trusting in God part might be places where the model is accurate. Accurate enough for it to work and yield results. Accurate enough for it to appear credible.
Think about it like this: remember those old overhead transparency projectors with the clear sheets of plastic paper (OHTs) that had pictures or words printed on them? A light would shine through them and their image would be projected onto a screen. What reality actually looks like is the first transparency that is laid down. Someone caught a glimpse of the projected image and make a sketch on a second OHT. This would be the model or description, but (provided the sketch-artist wasn’t Michelangelo) it would be a distorted image. Distorted because human language has its limitations when trying to communicate spiritual things, just as the artist is limited by him ability. When the sketch is laid over the first you can compare one to the other. You’ll see some parts that are clearly wrong. But on close examination you may see that there are other parts of the sketch that do, in fact, line-up, overlap and match the original. Those parts are the parts of the second image you can trust. It may be useful therefore as a way to communicate what the first transparency—the reality—is like. Nevertheless, you cannot trust the image as a whole.
Or take another example. Was the “Centre for Ants” model an accurate representation of what the Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good would be like?
It had the right colours, the right layout and proportion of its features, the right texture of the materials, and so forth. It just didn’t have the right scale, making Derick Zoolander confused. Perhaps the Courtroom Model of prayer, in a similar way, has features that do not correspond well with reality, but one feature that does, such that imagining one is operating within it is sufficient for prayer to be answered.
Was it Satan I discerned and not the Lord?
I have done my best to avoid the dichotomy of either God said it or Satan said it. My use of the language of “model” is my attempt to navigate around that type of thinking, for with a model we can understand how some aspects may be representative of the truth and other aspects may not be. It also provides a way to see it as one way among many of looking at intercession, to compare its merits and faults, with an insight into the frustration of confirmation bias when testing it with experience or testimonies alone.
Please don’t misunderstand me and think that my criticism’s of the courtroom model of prayer imply that those who employ it are if fact not hearing from God. I think that the Spirit can utilise a mental image (even if it is an incorrect image in many respects) on occasion to help lead someone through what and how to pray. This is the best I can make of the revelatory experiences people report in support of them “entering Heaven’s courts.” It is possible that God knows you so intimately well he understands that such imagery, familiar to you as a person in modern western culture, a respecter of our legal and judicial system, will lead you to pray for certain things and in ways that you otherwise would not even though such imagery does not reflect accurately what is actually going on. In other words, who am I to object if that is the way the Spirit of God decides to communicate to you?
I do not agree that admitting this means “entering Heaven’s courts” is a more fruitful method of prayer; yielding more numerous and miraculous results. I don’t think it should be taught as “This is the way it is…” or even illustrated as “This is way it is like…” For as in my Zoolander example, one point where there is no correlation with reality is ok for most people—they can still get the gist of it. But four? I think that is too much. And for those four to be areas of theology that are so important; where being misled about them can lead to serious consequences in your thinking and relationship with God! It’s far too much.
Neither is it the best way, all things considered, to think about intercessory prayer or to function as an intercessor. I believe that with maturity we will find a model of prayer that works equally as well, if not better, and is more in tune with biblical revelation. After all, when we stand before the Lord and see him face-to-face, we will no longer need a model of how to pray, but will simply ask and see our requests be answered.
So long as we are thinking about Satan though, it’s not beyond the serpent to anticipate God answering a prayer and misdirect a person to pray in a certain way to make it seem like they played a role in its fulfilment. I don’t know if this is the case, but it is possible. Its the worst case scenario, but the fact that the devil is a liar, a trickster and a fraud should give us pause. He’ll steal any win from God he can; even if it’s just misplacing a small part of the credit, even if its preventing a person from operating in the future with a more effective method of prayer or finding a more familial relationship with God, even if it subverts the gift of prophecy on someone’s life or the prophetic movement in some way, or all of the above. This is one of the reasons we should heed what the scriptures have to say about prayer above what personal experiences lead us to believe.
Jesus’s teaching on prayer, the Father model he gave us, is far simpler, less convoluted, implies less theological traps to fall into, and has a far longer history of proven effectiveness recommending it. It also avoids—if one is interested in heeding the warning Henderson has given—the striving he perceives to take place on the battlefield model. We should take our cues on what Christian’s should do, including on how to pray, from scripture rightly interpreted, rather than experiences and apparent successes. For the latter can lead us astray, but the former never will.
In “The Courtroom on Trial?” series of posts, some theological problems with the Courtroom model of intercessory prayer are discussed. These include;
- Is the nature of the Courts of Heaven obscured by the limitations of human language?
- Does the courtroom model suggest God is not the ultimate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest either God is not all-knowing or heaven is imperfect?
- Does the courtroom model suggest Christ’s atoning death on the cross was inadequate?
- Does the courtroom model suggest a theology of works?
- Does Operating in the Courts of Heaven imply a theological method that prioritises personal experiences over biblical revelation?
Following these the exegetical problems are discussed. These include;
- The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- The heavenly books
- Heaven’s council
- The five stage process (Romans 8:29-30)
- Simon Peter’s courtroom trial (Luke 22:31-32)
Finally, I provide my own conclusion and recommendations.