by Pastor Joe Staniforth, ordained minister, Church of the Nazarene
In these last days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live victorious lives as Christians. We are constantly under siege, as apostasies of all kinds are pounding on the walls of the church. If we are to be victorious, we must seek not only to be “fervent” in our prayers, but also formidable. The formidable pray-er is one who prays, not only with zealousness for his Father‘s House, but in ways that honor both God and His word. He is immovable in His devotion to righteous ways. For it is the “the effective, fervent prayer of a RIGHTEOUS man” that will “avail” against all the sieges of the devil (James 5:16). King Hezekiah was such a righteous man. He prayed in a way that was pleasing to the Lord. Therefore, the Lord made him a formidable Kingdom in the face of the apostate Assyrians.
When the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians, the Judean King, Hezekiah, turned to the Lord with a prayer. In his hand was the letter of another King, King Sennacherib of Assyria, containing a threat against Jerusalem: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying , ‘Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 37:10). The Assyrian empire was feared throughout Mesopotamia and both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. In fact, they had carried much of the people of the Kingdom of Israel away captive (II Kings 18:10), and overcome major cities in the Kingdom of Judah (II Kings 18:13) . Until this time, the Lord has used Assyria to bring judgment: “the rod of My anger.” (Is. 10:5). But now, she would dare to challenge, not only the city of God, but God himself. For this reason, she was a rebel – like any apostate.
There are two points that I would like to consider concerning Hezekiah’s prayer: The location and the motivation. If we are to be victorious against all the sieges of the evil one, then we must honor God with both our location and motivation for prayer. First of all, let us look at the location of his prayer – ‘the House of the Lord’ (Isaiah 31:14) The Lord would bring victory to Hezekiah because the King had honored God with his place of prayer. He knew the Lord “dwelt between the cherubims” of the temple (Is. 37:16) and not the high places of other gods.
Prayer is not limited to the house of the Lord. We do not need the church building in order to offer a prayer, especially now that the veil into the holy of holies has been torn in two (Luke 23:45). In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded: “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all the tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” (Deut. 12:5). In the New Testament, Jesus told the woman at the well, that the people would no longer ‘worship the Father” in a temple, but “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23,24)
However, if we are to worship “in truth” can we do so in places that are strictly forbidden by the Lord? Hezekiah was heralded as one of the greatest kings because he rid the land of the “high places:”
“He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars…He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him.” (2 Kings 18:4a,5)
The high places were stations set on mountains or hills where secular religious rites were performed. Certain peoples in the land of Canaan believed that their gods dwelt in these places. The Israelites often used these places to worship the Lord their God. For example, when King Manasseh repented of his rebellion against God, he removed many of the idols from the house of the Lord, but allowed the worship of God to continue upon the high places (II Chr. 33:15, 17). However, is worship or prayer on such places justified, because it is directed toward God?
There is no doubt that Hezekiah considered the Word of the Lord as the authority on all matters of life, as did his great-grandson – King Josiah. Josiah was dedicated to the Lord from the age of eight. However, after the book of law was rediscovered in the temple, the light of God‘s Word served to expose many abominations within the land (II Chr. 34:8-28).
King Josiah had obviously rediscovered a commandment of the Lord given in Deuteronomy. Before the Israelite army entered the promise land, the Lord said:
“You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills under every green tree.” (Dt. 12:2)
When the Israelites were in the ministry of dispossessing the land of evil, the Lord commanded a clean sweep. This included, not just the destruction of evil people, but also evil places. In this same chapter the Lord commanded those who would use pagan methods to meet with Him: “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” (Dt. 12:31) Therefore, when Josiah saw the abominations of these worship stations, he repented, destroyed them and removed those priests who were responsible for conducting such worship from certain positions (2 Kings 23:5, 9).
Nazarene academic institutions and Nazarene churches across America have adopted new places of prayer called labyrinths and prayer stations. Until recently, a labyrinth was used in Trevecca Nazarene University by students. At the Nazarene Youth Congress in St Louis, 2007 I personally witnessed a labyrinth in a prayer room, upon which youth were encouraged to offer up their prayers. It was located across from two simulated confessional booths, made with black curtains. Thousands of youth were encouraged to use the prayer room at the main assembly. Furthermore, at the 2009 General Assembly in Florida, two different rooms were set up with prayer stations, and people were encouraged to join together for prayer in these places by General Secretary David Wilson.
Nowhere in scripture are we instructed to use a labyrinth as a place on which to pray. On the contrary, these maze-like structures (also called ‘prayer walks’) have their roots in the pagan mythologies of the ancient world. For example, in Greek mythology, the minotaur dwelled in the center of a labyrinth, and used his home as a place to devour young people. In the ancient religion of Buddhism, the labyrinth is referred to as ‘mandala’, meaning ‘sacred design.’ Like the high places, they were associated with the worship of false gods and rediscovered on shrines – places of worship. Also, we can trace the use of labyrinth in the “sacred” tradition of Roman Catholicism all the way back to 324 AD in a basilica of North Africa (Saward, “The Labyrinth in Ireland,” n.p.). However, as there are no grounds in scripture for the labyrinth, it is evident that these Catholics had borrowed from pagan cultures.
More recently, labyrinths were introduced and popularized in religious circles in America by Dr. Lauren Artress, an Episcopal Priest. On a visit to Chartes Cathedral in France, she discovered a Labyrinth that had been covered by chairs. She removed the chairs, and gave this report of her experience in her book, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool: “Everyone in our group felt an awesome, mysterious sense of grounding and empowerment from the walk. Looking back on that experience, I feel we touched the Holy Spirit. Each of us had ventured to the centre of our beings in the Chartres labyrinth that day” (Artress, “Excerpt from Walking a Sacred Path,” n.p.). Artress then introduced the labyrinth to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Since then, labyrinths have been on the rise in churches and other religious establishments all across America.
Prayer stations can be found in a labyrinth or by themselves. Quite simply, different stations, perhaps on a table or the floor, are set up along a predetermined route. At each of these prayer stations, you may find books on contemplative prayer, Bible verses, pictures, icons, candles or other devices to create a multisensory type of experience. The “stations” are much-like the “stations of the cross” – a ‘sacred’ tradition of Romanism. Originally, pilgrimages to Jerusalem were conducted by monks who sought a ‘holy’ experience, and stopped at “stations’ or monasteries along the way. In time, the Franciscans of the 1600’s built shrines in Europe, to duplicate those in the Holy Land. However it was not until 1731 that Pope Cement XII permitted all churches to build stations inside their buildings. A standard fourteen stations were set, each representing an incident in the bitter pilgrimage of Christ’s journey to the cross (some of these incidents are not found in the Bible). Like the prayer stations, participants were given images and icons as a multisensory aid to prayer and meditation.*
Though many are quick to defend these places, due to a sensory experience they have undergone, we simply cannot afford to avoid one of the essential tenets of the Christian faith: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (II Cor. 5:7) Participants in prayer stations are encouraged to walk in a place where one relies upon the multisensory world, and not the Word. Can God honor a place that would test this truth? Can we replace faith with touch and feel? At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were not faithful enough to simply wait upon the Lord. Hence, they created the Golden Calf. When Aaron saw it, he used this image to worship the Lord – “a feast to the Lord.” (Exodus 32:5) Instead of simply closing their eyes, and faithfully praying to God who had set them free from their captivity, they had turned back to the images of Egypt.
In the Word, there is only one “image of the invisible God” and His name is Jesus (Col. 1:15). He is the one that serves as the mediator between God and man (Heb. 6:15). Whenever we replace Him with places laden with props to appeal to the senses, we have begun the work of image making (Deut. 4:24). We will inevitably end up worshiping the image, and not God Himself. Take for example the Roman Catholic Mass: The wafer has become such an image. Instead of a symbol of Christ‘s body, it has now, in essence, become the body of Christ, to which a priest may bow after performing transubstantiation.
In scripture we find the perfect example of a symbol that had become more than God had intended it to be – the bronze serpent. Because the people had required something tangible with which to worship, Hezekiah not only had to destroy the high places, but also “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made” (2 Kings 18:4). What had once been a symbol of Christ’s sacrificial death (John 3:14) had now become an image of worship: “the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4). This is a definite indication of the danger of relying upon sight and not faith. As we now have the one that the brass serpent represented, Jesus Christ, why do we need icons, pictures and candles to draw us close to Him? Jesus said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
Despite the great dangers of using such places for prayer, Trevecca Nazarene University president, Dan Boone, has recently sought to defend the use of both prayer stations and labyrinths. Although a labyrinth has now been removed from this university, “to keep from offending”, the president does not admit to any wrongdoing. (Boone, “Dr. Boone’s Comments on Trevecca”, n.p.)
Although Dan Boone has used labyrinths and prayer stations in an effort to bring revival, can God grant victory when His Word is defiled by the use of pagan methods, especially when we take into account that our young people are being taught “to stumble in their ways, from the ancient paths”? (Jer. 18:15). Hezekiah saw victory because he destroyed such places and met with the Lord on holy ground! Both he and his people were promised by the living God that the Assyrians would be sent back, and the nation would “sow and reap” once again (Is. 37:29,30). Perhaps we may experience such revival, if we return to praying in places that are pleasing to the Lord!
Secondly, let us look at the motivation for Hezekiah’s prayer. In the conclusion, he states:
“Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the Kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even Thou only.” (Isaiah 37:20)
Hezekiah’s soul reason for seeking victory over the Assyrians was that God may be glorified. With the fall of each city prior to the siege of Jerusalem came the fall of hope and the gods in whom they had trusted. For this reason, the Assyrian leaders had become proud. Although the Lord God of Israel had used them as an instrument of punishment, they now used the authority given them to turn against the one true God: “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (II Kings 18:25). It was Hezekiah‘s desire that the Lord defend the city of Jerusalem, so that, unlike the gods of other cities, the world would know that He was the only God.
Assyria did not understand that the Lord God Almighty could not be worshiped on pagan places. Rabshakeh, a spokesman for King Sennacherib, mocked Hezekiah from without the city walls:
“But if thou (Jerusalem) say to me, we trust in the Lord our God, is it not He, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘ye shall not worship before this altar.’” (Isaiah 36:7)
Rabshakeh lacked discernment. He had assumed that the Lord was like any other god, and could meet with His people in those same places that the pagans pray. He could not understand why Hezekiah had destroyed the high places. Furthermore, his pride had far exceeded his sense of judgment, and would soon lead to his downfall. The Holy One would not tolerate such a challenge to His authority.
In the same way, much of the leadership in the Nazarene denomination has displayed as much discernment as Rabshakeh. For instance, in a video by the pastor at Sojourn church of the Nazarene in the Dallas, Texas area, the labyrinth is endorsed when its winding path is compared to the Christian journey (Anonymous, “Sojourn Video”, 2009). Furthermore, the allowance of prayer stations at the General Assembly in Florida reeks of a complete lack of discernment.
Let us understand that Hezekiah knew that there would be even greater dangers ahead, if the Lord did not give them victory. If the Assyrians had overrun Jerusalem, the people of this city would have assumed that their God was a god of compromise: He would be seen as a god who commanded his people to destroy all the high places, but would not be willing to defend “righteous men” like Hezekiah who obeyed His commandment. Such a god would be nothing short of a hypocrite. He is certainly not the one true God, who gets all the glory when men diligently follow His Word.
Have we not presented our youth with a god of compromise, when we encourage them to pray to God in such pagan ways? Are we no longer teaching them to walk by faith, and not by sight when we give them aids of all kinds with which to pray? Is Jesus not enough, that we need images and icons? Where has all the discernment gone?
At the close of the gospel of Luke, the physician writes: “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Jesus opened the apostles understanding of the scriptures, in order that they may fully comprehend the significance of His death and resurrection (Luke 24:46-48). Jesus died so that His bride, the Church, may be purified of all her pagan ways (Eph. 5:25,26). These men’s eyes had to be opened to this truth because they had been called by Jesus to be the leaders in the church. Their task was set before them: “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His blood.” (Acts 20:28) Therefore, they were given discernment by God, so that the church for which He had paid such a heavy price would not become tainted by such things as pagan praying.
Yet, within the Nazarene Church, men have been allowed to rise up among us, who have been given no such understanding of scripture. They hold positions behind our lecterns and our pulpits, but they do not hold to the truth that is found in God’s Word: They do not count the blood of Jesus Christ sufficient enough to free us from all sin. And, as I have already stated before, they have caused the little children of our academic institutions to fall for their pagan practices (Mat. 18:6). Did not Christ die in a pagan place, outside the walls of Jerusalem where the Assyrians stood, that He may purify His body from all paganism? God have mercy on us!
My dear fellow Christians, let us look to the young King Josiah, for the last time. When He had rediscovered the Word, he tore His clothing and repented of the sin of a nation (II Kings 22:11). Then, he rid the land of the high places and the hypocrites who instituted them. For this, the Lord brought a time of blessing to the land of Israel once again. I call upon you to do the same. We must cry out first for his mercy for the Nazarene denomination. For He is merciful to those who seek His mercy (James 4:8). However, there is also a time for removal. Let us pray, on holy ground and not high places, that the Lord will remove all our leaders who will not repent. Let us pray, in faith and without the aid of any visuals that times of blessing may return. May we see His victorious church rise once again – the church that will resist the very gates of Hell and every apostasy that rises from its pit! (Mat. 16:18) Let us pray that God will be glorified among His people! Praise His holy name!
*Since writing this article, I have noted two Nazarene Churches that are now using Stations of the Cross during their Easter events. The first church is based in Houston, Texas and the other is given by way of an announcement at a Nazarene Church in Visalia, California.
Saward, Jeff. “The Labyrinth in Ireland.” No Pages. Cited March 15, 2010. Online:
Artress, Lauren. “Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice.” No Pages. Cited March 15, 2010. Online: www.ereader.com
Boone, Dan. “Dr. Dan Boone’s Comment on Trevecca.” No Pages. Cited March 15, 2010. Online: http://reformednazarene.wordpress.com/emergent-church-what-is-it/dr-boones-comments-on-trevecca/
Anonymous. “Sojourn Video.” No Pages. Cited March 15, 2010. Online: http://www.youtube.com.