The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Category: Life

A Prayer for Death and A Prayer for Life

Some memories are so painful that we try our best to “bury them” in the farthest recesses of our memory banks. Still, every once in a while, an event triggers the memory and we relive the pain again. It’s almost like ripping the scab off of an almost healed wound, but only worse. That being said, there are those rare occasions when reliving a painful memory ultimately proves to be a blessing. This phenomenon happened to me a year ago, and I’m sitting here trying to figure out why it has taken me this long to share it…

 

For the past two years I have had the privilege and honor of leading or co-leading a group of young men through an eleven-week curriculum in our church called LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday). My group is only one of more than one hundred other LIFE groups that meet on different days and in various locations throughout our church community each semester. The LIFE semester culminates with a two-day retreat that’s ingeniously designed to “seal the deal” of removing barriers between people and God.

 

I’ve had the blessing of serving as an Anointer at three of these retreats. An Anointer’s role is to pray for an individual to be freed from a burden that he’s been carrying for years, such as addictions, forgiving others, shame, and self-condemnation for mistakes in the past.

 

I love to witness the transformation of people being released from bondage. I don’t know if I can adequately describe what it’s like, but I’m going to press on and see what comes out… 

 

Sometimes it’s a gradual process, and as I pray I both feel and see the weight coming off. When the person walks away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re on the way to freedom and a new relationship with God.

 

At other times, the reaction is immediate. The moment that I begin to pray, there are tears and slumped shoulders and a palpable release of the burden. I promise you that it’s almost miraculous as a metamorphosis unfolds before me. Amazing…humbling…at times overwhelming. Sometimes I find myself on the verge of forgetting to pray as I get caught up in the moment of watching God work.

 

Then there are those times when I don’t know that the individual has been touched at all. Their demeanor remains the same, and when they walk away I don’t know if they’re any better off than before we prayed. When that happens, I can only hope that a seed has been planted that will eventually bear fruit in the life of that person.

 

In any case, I pour everything that I have into praying for those people, as I’m sure do all of the individuals serving as Anointers. There’s a dynamic going on here that’s hard to explain. I’m saying the prayers, but the Holy Spirit is giving me the words. God is doing the healing, and I’m blessed enough to witness it. Jesus won the forgiveness, and I’m there to serve as a reminder of that forgiveness for those who have forgotten it or have never known it at all.

 

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s all God, and not me, that is transforming the lives of these people. My role in the entire process is to be a vessel, or a conductor, if you will, of what God wants to give to the person in my path. The pressure is off of me, or at least it should be, right? The answer is yes.

 

So why do I feel as if an individual’s life hangs in the balance of my prayers? Perhaps it’s the burden, imagined or real, that I feel because I know just how life-altering LIFE can be.

 

Wiped Out.

 

That’s exactly how I felt after praying for other men for a day and a half. My voice was nothing more than a whisper, and my brain felt as if it were pulp. As I sat in one of the chairs in the back of the Sanctuary, I realized that I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. I was ready to go home and crash.

 

There was just one problem.

 

One session remained, and it had nothing to do with baggage, or bondage, or forgiveness, or freedom. This one was about receiving the Holy Spirit. In fact, it’s referred to as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and unlike the Baptism that most often first comes to mind, this one has nothing to do with water. It’s all about prayer.

 

I’ve said on more than one occasion that one day I was going to broach the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not because of the gifts themselves, but because of the controversy and questions that surrounds them, and especially one in particular, the gift of Tongues. Relax. I’m not going down that trail today, but I will before too very long.

 

Because of that apprehension, not every Anointer is expected to take part in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. In fact, it’s optional. You can pray if you want to, or remain seated if you don’t.

 

When the cue came for Anointers to take their places around the Sanctuary, I told myself that I was gonna pass on it because I was so tired. After all, it looked as if there were plenty of other Anointers taking their places to pray. I would just sit this one out. Or at least that’s what I thought, as I closed my eyes and began to drift off into La-la Land.

 

“You need to go up there.” I sat up as straight as a board and looked around for the person who had told me to “go up there.” Seeing no one anywhere near me, I settled back into my seat and once again closed my eyes. Once again I heard a voice saying, “You need to go up there.” And once again I searched for the source of the instruction that I’d been given, only to find no one. I closed my eyes yet again, but this time I didn’t settle in because, well because I was a bit unsettled.

 

“You need to go up there.” When I heard it the third time I bolted right out of my chair and headed for the front. This time I realized that the voice was inside my head, and I didn’t know if God was telling me to get up there or if it was my own conviction, but it didn’t matter cause I was on my way to the front of the Sanctuary to pray!

 

I took my place in the front and waited for the first man to step forward. I didn’t have to wait long. Samuel, one of the young men that had been in my Life group, was approaching, and he was being escorted by two of his friends who had also been in the group. Actually, the guys were almost dragging Samuel to the front. As they did, my friend Samuel had the look of absolute fear on his face.

 

A brief word about Samuel… He came from a Jewish background and had accepted Jesus as his Savior as a teenager. While his parents didn’t agree with Samuel’s beliefs, they nonetheless supported his decision to attend a Christian school of ministry, which I found to be quite remarkable. That being said, Samuel enrolled in Highlands College with an eagerness to learn and to grow spiritually. That eagerness, though, was tempered and tested by stepping into a culture completely foreign to what he was accustomed to, and by a fear of the unknown. Throughout the course of the semester, whenever the subject of the Holy Spirit came up, Samuel’s fear was so strong that it was palpable.

 

And so it was on that Saturday evening, when a kind-of-willing yet terrified young man stood before me in church, battling his fears to receive what God had in store for him.

 

At first we just talked. I told Samuel that all I wanted him to do was to invite the Holy Spirit in. Nothing more. And I asked Samuel if he would allow me to pray for him to the end, to which he reluctantly, yet willingly agreed.

 

I placed my hands on Samuel’s shoulders, closed my eyes, and began to pray for him. Initially, I just began to pray for him to calm down. His heart was pounding so hard that I could feel it through his shoulders! I prayed for his fears to be gone and for him to release everything that he’d ever heard about the Holy Spirit that was negative. As I prayed, I became aware of other voices praying, and of hands on my shoulders. Opening my eyes, I saw that we had been surrounded by at least a dozen other students who were lifting Samuel up in prayer.

 

With a renewed sense of vigor, I closed my eyes and prayed even harder than I had before. I was praying for Samuel to let go, and for the Holy Spirit to fill him, and for God to take control of the moment and to give me just the right words for this young man to let go and let God. I don’t know how long this went on. It could’ve been a couple of minutes or it could have been fifteen. I was totally caught up in the moment, and caught up in prayer. Everything else faded away.

 

At some point I became aware of the fact that the other voices had died down, and that Samuel had actually relaxed a bit. Opening my eyes, I realized that during my prayers I had placed my hands on Samuel’s chest, and that I had been crying. A lot.

 

As Samuel walked away, it was one of those instances where I didn’t know if the individual had actually received anything, but I was certain that a seed had been planted. I was also certain that for some reason, I had been impacted greatly.

 

The Last Supper 

 

The next day, all of the guys in my group gathered at my house for what I jokingly refer to as “The Last Supper.” It’s an opportunity for us to gather one last time as a group to eat, to share, to review our semester together, and to “unpack” the Life Retreat. No curriculum. No agenda. Just the overflow of the heart.

 

After dinner, the eighteen of us gathered in a large circle in our den, and a few shared some things that were on their hearts. I went last, because I knew that what I had to say was gonna “mess me up.” I’d had an epiphany in the twenty-four hours since the retreat had ended, and I wanted to share it with them.

 

And especially with Samuel. Turning to him, I told him of my reluctance to step forward for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and jokingly informed him of the one-way conversation that I’d had with either God or myself. Everyone laughed.

 

I then I told Samuel of the blessing that I’d received by praying for him, a blessing that caught me totally by surprise. I thanked him for allowing me to pray for him, and I told him the story of why it was so important to me…

 

Ron

 

The last time that I had my hands on a man’s chest and was praying so hard that I’d lost all sense of time and space was over twenty years ago when I had been praying for my younger brother, Ron.

 

Ron had a brain tumor that was inoperable. The tumor’s location was interrupting the signals that his brain was sending to his body to function and he was slowly but surely wasting away to nothing. In the course of a six-month period, we watched my brother’s motor skills and muscle control diminish to the point that he was a quadriplegic, completely paralyzed and dependent on my Dad and Mom for everything. The heartbreaking and inhumane part was that while Ron’s body was dying, his mind was totally alert. Ron knew that he was going to die, but was just afraid to let go. He fought it with all that was in him to stay alive.

 

At the moment of his death, my hands were on Ron’s chest, and I was praying with all that was in me for Ron to get past his fears and to let go. I didn’t know that he had drawn his last breath until someone in the room put a hand on my shoulder and informed me that he was gone. I didn’t even know that he had stopped breathing. It was the hardest that I’d ever prayed.

 

As I finished telling the story of my brother to the young men gathered in my den, I thanked Samuel once again for the blessing of praying for him. And I was reminded of my Dad’s saying that “God works in mysterious ways.” In 1991 I had placed my hands on my brother’s chest and prayed for life to leave him. Over twenty years later, I placed those very same hands on the chest of one of my brothers and prayed for him to be filled by a Spirit-filled life. A prayer for death, and a prayer for life. Only God could have arranged that. A life-giving moment for that Samuel. A healing moment for this one.

 

Today…

 

Samuel is indeed Spirit-filled. He’s passionate for God, for people, and for living, and he impacts the life of most every person that he meets.

 

And because of a few minutes of prayer, he’ll hold a special place in my heart and mind forever.

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 12/28/2012 at 7:43 AM | Categories: Faith - Life -

A footnote to "We have an enemy."

My last post ended with the statement, The battle was over, but not the war.

 

Actually, that wasn’t the end of the post. For some “mysterious” reason, the software program that I use wouldn’t accept the last few paragraphs. After several unsuccessful attempts to include the post in its entirety, I decided to give up and settled for where it ended. The battle was indeed over, and I figured that at least it closed on a positive note.

 

My frustrations were only beginning. It took me five tries to get the server to post on my home page, and when it finally did, it had mysteriously omitted the last paragraph that I’d “settled” for, abruptly ending in the middle of a sentence.

 

Undaunted, but growing evermore impatient, I pressed on until I finally got it to work, only to find out that the link the subscribers to The Seed receive announcing a new post led to a blank page! Aaagghhh!!!!

 

I have to share two of the several responses that I received from readers.

 

The first said, “And he stole your post! Sorry, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying! Love you, Sam. Linda”

 

The second said, “How interesting. I clicked on the link to ‘We have an enemy’ and the post message came up ‘the blog post we have an enemy was not found.’

I guess we have no enemy. ‘Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.’ Love you, Annie”

 

Okay, since I have the tenacity of a bulldog, I’m trying this one more time…

 

Now, in the words of legendary radio personality Paul Harvey, here’s “The rest of the story.”

 

The battle was over, but not the war.

 

Today I’m still standing, still smiling, and still asking God for those opportunities each day, with a renewed sense of anticipation and determination. Most importantly, I’m filled with God’s peace. Funny, when I’m filled with that peace I sometimes take it for granted, but I miss it the moment that it’s gone.

 

With God’s help, I’m still waging war against the enemy every day. Every day. And I suspect that there’ll be another battle, and another, and another. That’s okay. You see, I know that the enemy isn’t gonna back down. But he knows that I’m not going to either.

 

There’s one more thing that I know. God already dropkicked the devil’s rear end when he cast him out of heaven! That battle lasted no longer than a nanosecond. BAM! It was over.

 

When God thinks that I’ve battled long enough, and am worn out, and am literally on my knees from fighting the good fight, all He has to do is think it. And my battle is over.

 

You think that I’m gonna quit fighting?

 

Not a chance.

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/30/2012 at 2:52 PM | Categories: Faith - Life -

We have an enemy.

My last post was on October 31. A month ago. I can’t believe that it’s been that long; not since I last wrote, but since the battle began.

 

This post was supposed to be a follow-up to the previous one, which was titled …about visions. My plan was to pick up where I’d left off and share with you the visions that I had for my life when I was younger, and why they never materialized. I was so excited about sharing this. So much so that I already pretty much knew what Part II was going to be about before I’d finished the first part, which doesn’t happen very often.

 

That was one day before it began.

 

On the very next day, November 1, 2012, the fifteen-year old daughter of some long-time friends tragically took her own life. This beautiful girl knew the Lord. Take note of what I just said. She didn’t merely know about God. She knew God, and had a relationship with Him. Huge difference. She was active in church, attended a Christian school, and was loved by all who knew her. 

 

She was, quite simply, the least likely of candidates who would choose to end her own life. What happened?

 

We have an enemy.

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 NLT

 

We dohave an enemy, and he is relentless. No one is above reproach. No one gets a free pass. No one slides though unnoticed. Not Presidents, or Pastors, or doctors, or lawyers, or husbands, or wives. And obviously, not even the young.

 

And here’s the kicker: The closer you get to God, and the more you live your life “walking it out” as a Christian, and the greater your sphere of influence in leading others to Christ, or leading a nation, or leading a family, the more the enemy is gonna come at you with a vengeance.

 

Do you really think it was a coincidence that this young lady’s life “just happened” to end in the manner that it did? Neither do I.

 

Monday, November 5th

 

My wife Jackie and I attended the funeral service that day, and while driving to church I realized that I was consumed with anger. I was livid that the enemy had succeeded in claiming another victim with his lies.

 

Let me add something here. We’re all victims to some degree at some point in our lives. All of us have fallen victim to the enemy’s ways, by way of fear, anger, jealousy, lust, addiction, lying, or any other act or emotion that is not of God. Quite often it’s his manipulation of others that wreaks havoc in our lives, either through their words or actions. He’s always at work. In this instance it involved a tragic loss of life, and quite honestly, my anger was intensified because I knew this family.

 

As we walked into church, I realized that I was being consumed by what I like to call “justified anger.” Would you agree that when we’ve been offended by someone unjustly, we believe that we have the right to be angry? Well we do, but not if that angerconsumes us. When that happens we lose control of our emotions and rage takes over, and we put our Godly ways on the shelf. And when that happens the enemy wins the day.

 

During the service I was praying for our friends, their three daughters, and curiously enough, for myself. I was asking God to quell the rage that was boiling up inside of me.

 

LIFE

 

That night I was co-leading a LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) group involving a handful full of young men who are attending Highlands College, a ministry program at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham, where Jackie and I are members.

 

We had just finished singing a worship song and were getting ready to dive into the curriculum when I interrupted the flow of things and told the guys that I needed to share something that was on my heart.

 

I recounted the events of the day, including the incomprehensible grief that I felt, not only in the hearts of the parents, but also in the hearts of everyone in the church. I told them of the war that was raging in me, and of my struggle to control the anger that was threatening to consume me.

 

And then I did something that many would consider to be foolish, if not insane. I waged war against the devil. I openly proclaimed that one of my purposes in life from that day forward would be to be an enemy of the enemy. I would stand against him whenever I saw oppression, or depression, or hopelessness, or anguish, or anything else that he used against an individual. I was sick and tired of his crap. I’d had it with people being robbed of their joy because of him. I called him out, and even as I was doing so I heard this little voice in the back of my mind screaming, “What are you doing? You know that you’re asking for trouble! Shut up!” Then there was another voice screaming just as loudly, “You shut up. I’m over this. I cannot just sit back and do nothing. God will protect me.” I had thrown down the gauntlet, and I wasn’t backing up.

 

The battle.

 

The last month has been a bit of a blur. To be honest with you, it’s been really hard. Oh, I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities to listen to people’s hearts, and to pray with them. Of course, I ask God for those opportunities every day. It’s as if Satan said, “Okay, you want to stand in the gap for people who are hurting? Here you go. Have at it.”

 

In the past few weeks, in ways that I really can’t explain, I’ve come to truly realize just how many people are suffering in the world today. Economic issues, relationship problems, self-image distortions, baggage from the past, worry, fear, oppression, anger management, depression, guilt and unworthiness abounds in the minds and hearts of so many people. There have been days when the prayer room in our salon has virtually been a revolving door. The opportunities have been a bit overwhelming at times, and left me in a bit of a weakened state; so much so that there have been a couple of days when I just really didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.

 

To make matters worse, we had been having some computer issues and hot water problems in the hair salon that Jackie and I own. And if that wasn’t enough, I had a breakout of a rash that was preventing me from sleeping at night.

 

When you add all of the above to the responsibilities of being a husband, boss, mentor, small groups coach, and the challenge of walking it out as a Christian each day, you end up with a man completely drained. That was me. The tank was almost empty.

 

That’s exactly what the enemy was waiting for. When a lion is on the prowl, he seeks out the smallest, or the lame, or the weakest in a herd because it’s the easiest to take down. I was weak because I was drained, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I became the prey.

 

Oppression

 

One definition of oppression is “a sense of being weighed down in body or mind.” I was wearing oppression like a custom fitted suit, and despite my best efforts, through prayer, and listening to worship music, and talking to my best friend, and laying around the house doing nothing to find some energy, nothing was working. I had no desire at all to write, which strangely enough, served in adding guilt to my ever-growing list of things that added to the weight that I was carrying. I recognized the oppression because I’ve been there before.

 

During this entire process I came to realize that my periods of oppression are marked by a very short temper. Curiously enough my biggest challenge before my spiritual awakening six years ago was anger management. I had no patience for anyone or anything, and my “fuse” was as long as the tiniest crack that you can create when bringing your index finger and thumb together.

 

That’s exactly what my disposition had been for the last few weeks. I had apologized to Jackie more times during that period than I had the six months preceding it. What’s worse was that I knew when I was being short-tempered and couldn’t do a thing about it. I was praying it off of me and casting of the enemy, and I was still being a hot head.

 

The end.

 

This past Monday night we were having LIFE again, and wouldn’t you just know that the curriculum topic was “Oppression and Possession.” (I love God’s sense of timing!) I wasn’t scheduled to teach that night, so I asked one of my co-leaders if I could share something that was on my heart before he began. Not really waiting for an answer, I began to speak.

 

Actually, it was more of a blow-up, a rant, a come-apart. I told them about what I’d been through since I had called out the devil one month earlier. I told them to take a good look at me, and they’d know exactly what oppression looked and sounded like. And I cautioned them that no one, no one, NO ONE, is exempt from the attacks of the enemy.

 

And I asked them to pray for me, because there are some things that we simply cannot do alone, regardless of the level of our faith. God wants us to reach out to others for help, to draw strength from one another. It’s one of the reasons that we have “church.” And then fourteen men put me in the middle of a small circle they had formed and prayed for me. As they did, I could feel the weight being lifted. And it was broken. Just like that.

 

The battle was over, but not the war.

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/28/2012 at 3:18 PM | Categories: Faith - Life -

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