The biblical argument for listening prayer from the book “Can You Hear Me”
(This post was originally put up on Facebook and has been re-posted here for a curious individual)
Up front, I must anticipate and answer the “why do you attack Brad Jersak” questions that are inevitable. If a person sees a loved one/brother doing something unwise, dangerous or outright sinful, there is a biblical imperative to attempt to come alongside them in love and attempt to call them to alertness to their situation, as well as lovingly call them to repentance.
Luke 17:3 instructs: “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
Galatians 6:1-2 states: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Paul wrote to Corinth in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10, regarding his aggressive 1st letter and said: “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Timothy 2:25-26 speaks of the man of God and says: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
Jude 20-23 says: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
In as the Bible does instruct me to “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9), it also gives me direction for the character of that teaching and refutation. Part of that is in having a gentle and respectful spirit, which I desire to model. That being said, I still have serious problems with the ideas and teaching of the book “Can You Hear Me” and desire to call to attention what seems to be unbiblical teaching that has been insufficiently addressed (to the best of my knowledge)
Can You Hear Me is broken up into three sections. The first section goes through the “what” and “why” questions, attempting to help the reader know what “listening prayer” is and to give a biblical basis and argumentation for the reality and normative nature of listening prayer. The second and third sections answer the “how” and “when” questions, explaining how listening prayer works practically and how/when to use it in various situations. So let us examine the argument of the book and see what is being said.
Brad Jersak introduces the phrase “listening prayer” on the sixteenth page of Can You Hear Me, but takes his time defining exactly what listening prayer is (and his definition is not necessarily reflective of his practice). Walking through the introduction, Jersak comments on how he studied the Bible intently and became proud of his seminary degrees and personal piety but had never heard God’s voice (page 10). He says “I had accumulated Bible facts but ended up bankrupt because I didn’t know the Living Word, Jesus” (10).
He then explains how a man named Patrick confronted him on his “stronghold of spiritual pride” by quoting and applying 2 Timothy 3:5 (akin to calling Brad a false teacher), Matthew 22:29 (somewhat akin…maybe… to calling him a Pharisee) and John 5:36-40 (again akin…somewhat…to calling him a Pharisee). Patrick allegorically applied those 3 scriptures to Brad and by ripping them outside of their historical/grammatical context, used them to tell him that the “extra something” in the Christian life that Brad was seeking was to “hear God’s voice” (i.e. embrace charismatic experience and become a prophet).
He continues in the introduction to record how he “recognized none of the early Christian experience or ministry in my own life”, how the Lord shattered his “rationalistic” master of divinity degree and how he prayed that God would show Jersak his glory (10).
In commenting on his credentials, Jersak states that his education will not “authorize me as a spokesman for God’s heart”. Speaking of his book, he writes that “it offers an alternative that appeals to those mystical cravings yet demystifies the process” (10) and that it is written to pastors and leaders to prepare them to “train their congregations to hear God without fear of producing prophetic flakes” (12).
In the first chapter, Jersak writes that “in listening prayer, we meet none other than Jesus Christ, the voice of the living God” (16). [Meeting Jesus sounds good, but that statement is not a definition in itself.] He talks about the frustration of how some people “go around claiming ‘God told me’” (wrongly claiming or utilizing prophetic revelation) and then contrasts that with “Jesus Christ’s approach to hearing God”, which is apparently given in John 10:2-15 (17).
Skipping ahead, Jersak comments that Jesus promised Christians the reception of propositional revelation beyond the canonical scriptures (21), that Acts 2 brought a flood of revelation (21), that prophecies, visions and dreams are all versions of God’s voice (21) and that when Jesus poured out the Spirit in the book of Acts, “…he began to pour our the Spirit-the Spirit of revelation in particular-on every believer” (22). It seems clear that Jersak sees “listening prayer” as essentially “functioning prophetically” and Jersak see this promise of prophetic function (the reception of new revelation) to be for all believers. This claim seems to be a large one, though not impossible. Jersak indeed has a large goal in mind if he is to give adequate biblical proof for his position, so let us examine his biblical defense…
Jersak’s key text is John 10:1-18, and he reads John 10:2-15 as applying directly to Christians. He extrapolates several promises from the passage: Christ has a voice, he does speak and his sheep do hear his voice (18). Given that he defines God’s voice as “prophecies, visions, and dreams” (21) among other things, he apparently takes the passage to mean that Christ speaks propositional revelation and his sheep hear his voice prophetically. He comments on John 10:2-15 saying, “Note that Jesus did not say ‘My prophets hear my voice.’…According to Jesus, his voice is not reserved for the spiritually elite, the priest, or the guru” (18).
***Just to be clear, Jersak takes John 10:2-15 as “Jesus Christ’s approach to hearing God” and given his definition of “God’s voice”, the passage of John 10:1-15 becomes Christ’s prescription for functioning prophetically (17).
Thinking to the time before he discovered listening prayer, Jersak then asks why he previously did not hear God’s voice. Jersak answers himself with Elihu’s words from Job 33:13-18, learning that God does speak (regardless of personal doubts), he speaks all the time and he speaks in many ways (20). He goes on to say that “Elihu is telling us that God’s radio station is always on. He’s broadcasting loud and clear, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The trouble is, we are not dialing in” (20).
***So Jersak takes Job 33:13-18 to mean that God is constantly delivering propositional prophetic revelation to mankind and people simply do not know how to receive it.
Not only is God “broadcasting” his thoughts, but he wants to share what he has to say with people. He comments that Psalm 139:17-18 informs him that God is constantly thinking innumerable thoughts about Christians (individually) and John 16:12-15 explains that “he (God) is willing-no, longing- to share those thoughts with you” (20). Commenting on John 16:12-15 Jersak writes,
“Jesus told his disciples that even after we consider everything he told them, both that which is recorded in the gospels and all that was not, he still had much more to say. But he withheld it, because they could not handle it yet…The Holy Spirit would come and continue sharing that which Jesus had left unsaid. He would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). If you wand to personalize this message, what Jesus is really saying is, there is so much more he wants to share with you. Were you to memorize every word of the Scriptures, the Lord would still not be satisfied. There is still more. And this ‘more’ is what the Holy Spirit is sent to deliver.” (20-21)
So what does the Holy Spirit share with us? Jersak writes,
“His (Holy Spirit) task is to share ‘whatever he hears.’ What does the Spirit hear? And whom does he hear? The Spirit hears the Father and Son. He eavesdrops on their conversations-on the innumerable thoughts they exchange with one another. Remember, a myriad of those thoughts are about you and for you. The Spirit overhears them and then comes over to say “Do you know what they’re saying? I want to tell you.” (21)
Jersak comments that “in the Old Testament era, the voice of God seemed rare, sporadic, and exclusive” but when Jesus poured out the Spirit in the New Testament, the pouring out of the Spirit was “generous, continuous, and all-inclusive” (22). Jersak states that “According to Paul, our God is no speechless idol. He is a God whose Spirit speaks to and through his people (1 Corinthians 12:2-4)” (26).
But how do Christians have assurance that they have guaranteed access to this constant divine revelation? Jersak finds another answer in the Old Testament. He also quotes Jeremiah 33:3 and observes,
“As we call out to God, let us rehearse this straightforward promise. God does not say ‘Call to me and the devil will answer and deceive you.’ Nor does he say ‘Call to me and I might answer you when I feel like it.’ Nor does he say ‘Call to me and I will answer you if…’ Rather, he promises us (upon the life of his Son), ‘I [the Lord and no other] Will [most certainly] answer [respond to, converse with] you’ [not just the prophets or the priests, but you my children]”. (26)
Now Brad Jersak isn’t a fool; he knows that what he’s talking about may sound frightening to some of his readers. In efforts to explain to his readers that they already are experiencing what he is talking about (and thereby should be quick to embrace his teaching), Jersak comments on several ways that God “speaks” to people that they do not recognize. He comments that God already “speaks” to people through salvation (27), scripture (28), preaching (30), worship (31), conviction of sin (32), burden of conscience to pray for individual (33) and prompting of conscience to encourage individuals (34). Jersak notes how “normal” circumstances and convictions are, in actuality, God speaking (35). He rebukes his readers in missing God’s common methods of speaking, saying how it is wrong to think that “… God will only speak in grandiosity…” (35). Apparently, God speaks more frequently through seemingly meaningless events and situations in daily life.
Jersak also addresses the problem of extra biblical revelation when he writes “God’s voice is heard primarily through the Scriptures” (37), but when one reads the Scriptures, one is not necessarily hearing God speaking. Jersak asks his readers “…did you know that you could carefully study and faithfully memorize the Scriptures all your life and still never once hear the voice of God?” (38). He evidences this statement up by quoting John 5:37-40, paralleling Cessationists with Pharisees, saying “The doctrine of cessationism taught that once the canon of Scripture was complete, God had delivered his final word; when the last word of the book of Revelation was written, God ceased to speak. Modern-day prophets were said to have crossed the line of orthodoxy” (39). So what changed his mind?
Jersak records that “The turning point came for me when I encountered a genuine, modern-day prophet for the first time” (39). The prophet showed him familiar image and that extremely coincidental experience was taken as a verification of the person’s authentic prophetic function (In fact, Jersak abandoned his version of “cessationism” by seeing a familiar image of a burning ice cube…there’s no mention of any sort of biblical examination at all, either of his experience or his new doctrinal change). After that experience, Jersak explains how he “returned to the Scriptures with new ears to hear the truth concerning God’s voice” and learned, from the Scriptures, that “God’s voice may be heard via at least three broad avenues: messengers, circumstances, and direct messages to our hearts” (40).
So what does this all mean?
It seems rather difficult to misunderstand what Jersak is suggesting. Let’s quickly jump back through what he said his problem was and what changed his mind:
- He studied the Bible but didn’t really experience charismatic experiences in his life (which he thought, based on his reading of the book of Acts and his rebuke from Patrick, that he should have experienced)
- He was rebuked by a person who misapplied scripture to his life and told him that the thing he sinfully longed for (he admits that he hated prophets who appeared more spiritual than him on page 9) was the thing he should be chasing.
- He met a “real” prophet and was convinced by a striking experience (which also suggests that the Bible wasn’t enough to convince him).
He seems to clearly expect that though not every Christian does function prophetically (receive propositional revelation from the Holy Spirit via either audibly or visually), but they should. The possibility for every Christian to receive extra-biblical revelation is both promised in the Scripture and should be part of the normative Christian experience. Is Jersak’s position biblical? Is he faithful to the teaching of Scripture? An examination of his supporting texts and a look at his hermeneutical practices will show whether his position on “listening prayer” stands or falls. But, time is fleeting and this note has taken me far too long to get out (I’ve been unbelievably busy). I’ll simply throw down his biblical support, open up discussion, and then systematically address it some future post.
There are essentially four texts of scripture that Jersak takes as prophetic promises regarding ‘hearing” the voice of God; John 10:1-15, Job 33:13-18, John 16:12-15 and Jeremiah 33:3. The verses are used to form the formula of listening prayer:
1. God speaks propositional communication to Christians (John 10:1-15).
2. God speaks propositional communication regardless of its perception (Job 33:13-18).
3. This propositional communication is extra-biblical revelation that the Holy Spirit will make known to Christians (John 16:12-15).
4. The Biblically prescribed method for accessing this revelation is by request (Jeremiah 33:3).
Now this leaves one to examine the texts and see if Jersak seems to be properly handling the various scriptures in their own respective contexts, properly applying them for the formulation of the answer which he presents. Does Brad’s argument seem to clearly flow from the passages of scripture that he puts together? Do the passages seem topically related? Do they seem to be talking about prophecy, or something else altogether?
More so, what does Brad’s ‘conversion’ experience to non-cessationism seem like? What do you think of his description of himself in his bible school days? Is the Bible as unclear on the issue as he claims? Is the crux of the question of cessationism/non-cessationism simply that the Cessationists simply have not met a real prophet where as the non-Cessationists have? Does God ‘speak’ equally through salvation, scripture, preaching, worship, conviction of sin, burden of conscience to pray for individual and prompting of conscience to encourage individuals?
Talk amongst yourselves.
Until Next Time,
The Armchair Theologian (Lyndon Unger)
“A spokesman for God’s heart” definitely sounds like Jersak is simply talking about being a prophet, for that definition seems strikingly familiar. Walvoord defines a prophets as “authoritative channels through which God could give divine revelation, sometimes about the contemporary situation and sometimes about the future.” John Walvoord. 1986. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts. Bibliotheca Sacra 143 no. 570 (April-June): 113.
Stitzinger defines a prophet simply as someone who functioned “as a spokesman for God…on the basis of possessing supernatural knowledge.” James F. Stitzinger. 2003. Spiritual Gifts: Definitions and Kinds. Master's Seminary Journal 14 no. 2 (Fall): 167.
Farnell almost uses the same words as Jersak in defining prophecy, saying that a prophet is a “spokesman or mouthpiece for the Lord”. David Farnell. 1993. When Will the Gift of Prophecy Cease? Bibliotheca Sacra 150 no. 598 (April-June): 173.