Petitioning God

By David Sheldon

Recently, a phenomenon has been sweeping the visible church called "circle-making" prayer. The idea is to draw a circle around oneself and pray to God inside that circle. The practice usually involves calling for God to do great things or send revival.

For example, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, a radio host and author, says, "Would you ask God to revive His people? Would you let the Holy Spirit draw a circle within your own heart? Then say, "Lord, I long for You to send a revival to my nation, my church, my marriage, and my children. But Lord, would You first start a revival inside this circle? Let it begin in me." Revive Our Hearts

And, author, blogger, and speaker, Jen Hatmaker, says, "Do you need to be a Circle Maker right now? Is it time for a righteous boldness in your life? For me, it is. I am drawing a circle around my mom and begging God to move. I am asking for healing because God said I could. I am asking boldly because Jesus made that posture possible. While I'm in the dirt, I am drawing circles around my children and marriage, my neighborhood and church. I am drawing a circle around our work and ministry. I am drawing a circle around the terrors in the Middle East right now and begging God to intervene." JenHatmaker.com

Has this way of praying always been a part of Christianity, or is it a kind of "new way" to pray? Most recently, we can trace the "circle-making" idea's popularity to Mark Batterson and his book The Circle-Maker. The book is based on a legend of a man named Honi. As it goes, Honi drew a circle around himself in the sand, wherein he prayed for God to pour forth rain with "the authority of the prophet Elijah" (p. 10). Rain came - or so they say.

The Talmud and Midrash, ancient Jewish writings, make reference to Honi as well as the ancient Jewish writer Josephus. But he is found nowhere in the Scriptures. Batterson brings attention to the idea that some questioned the circle maker, but that he "was ultimately honored for his act of prayerful bravado," that his prayer "was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel," and that "the circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol" (p. 11). Did you catch that – a sacred symbol?

But, this is just legend, right? Well, the first sentence of chapter two says, "The earth has circled the sun more than two thousand times since the day Honi drew his circle in the sand, but God is still looking for circle makers" (p. 13). Batterson is saying that prayer circles are a sacred symbol and that this method of praying should be imitated. Thus, we are forced to weigh and consider our participation.

Believers in Christ have the privilege of being able to go to the King of Glory by way of prayer. God has provided prayer as a means of grace for us to rely and depend on Him. It is only because of the blood of Jesus Christ that a Christian has great boldness of access into His presence.

"19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB

God alone provides access to Himself. When we pray we can have confidence before God as we pray according to His will, believing Him.

"14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him." 1 John 5:14-15 NASB

Batterson says that, "Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills" (p.14). But Scripture never mentions that prayer should include drawing circles, rather figurative or literal, around ourselves or anyone else. When you think about who is at the center of the circle, it really is a rather strange picture, isn't it? And, the picture that Batterson paints doesn't stop there. He says that God is honored when we pray with boldness and bigness (p. 13) and goes on to say that "prayers are prophecies. They are the best predictors of your spiritual future" (p. 14). He further states, "One day as I was dreaming about the church God wanted to establish on Capitol Hill, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to do a prayer walk. I would often pace and pray in the spare bedroom in our house that doubled as the church office, but this prompting was different. I was reading through the book of Joshua at the time, and one of the promises jumped off the page and into my spirit. 'I'm giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on – just as I promised Moses.' As I read that promise given to Joshua, I felt that God wanted me to stake claim to the land He had called us to and pray a perimeter all the way around Capitol Hill. I had a Honi-like confidence that just as this promise had been transferred from Moses to Joshua, God would transfer the promise to me if I had enough faith to circle it" (p. 15-16). (Emphasis added)

True faith does please God, but the promise that God gave initially to Abraham, regarding Israel's possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-15; Genesis 15:18-2), which was reiterated to Moses in Deuteronomy 11, and confirmed again to Joshua in Joshua 1:1-4 is just that – a promise from God. It is not a command or some sort of prescribed way of getting God to act. But Batterson says, "we have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not" (p. 17). Joshua specifically obeyed God based on the promise of God. He was not venturing out on his own. Indeed, there are clear promises and commands given for us in Scripture, but God is not obliged to do the same kind of miracles for us, even if we pray circling territories.

Don't be confused. We should indeed pray for personal revival as well as corporate revival. In fact, we can petition God for all kinds of things which will bring glory to Him. But we should note something very clearly. Actual revivals in the history of the people of God have come as God has addressed His people through His truth. There are clear references to these in the Bible itself. There are also testimonies to revivals in the church in post-Biblical times. They always involve incredible conviction of our own sinfulness in light of God's Word and then repentance. However, God chooses when He will send revival. They don't start with desires of our own choosing or making. Does this current generation actually know what true revival looks like! An appropriate understanding might start with reading "Revival and Revivalism" by Ian Murray. A good review can be found here: 9 Marks

Praying is not just something we can do, it is something we ought to do. We are commanded to pray:

"Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart," Luke 18:1 NASB

When believers pray, when they abide in Christ, and Christ abides in them, they will bear fruit.

"7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." John 15:7-8 NASB

Christians cannot account for any of this fruit bearing in and of themselves. It is a result of believing and being obedient to God's Word. God brings the fruit.

In fact true Christian faith has its wellspring in God's Word and our ability to pray in the Spirit according to God's truth comes from this very source.

"17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Romans 10:17 NASB

We are to pray continually and humbly before God based in these truths. We can indeed bring all of our daily and personal burdens before God's throne. But it is not true that, as Batterson would say, "we have not because we circle not" (p.17). The Sovereign God of the universe chooses and does what pleases Him no matter what.

So, there is a huge difference between humbly submitting to the Holy Spirit through prayer and petition according to the truths of God's Word versus summoning God to do our bidding which we are convinced is His will. Circle-making as Batterson describes it, as some ritualistic practice of man, is actually an attempt to invoke deity. It is found nowhere in the Scriptures, however it is found in things like gypsy culture and paganism and witchcraft. Yet, it seems this legend (and it's teachings of course!) has become a sacred symbol for Christians to imitate! This is where we must stop and confess that circle-making prayer goes way beyond the Biblical concept. Prayer circles for revival that has me in the center? A practice not found in the Bible but drawn from legend and paganism? A "sacred symbol" based in false teaching?

Sadly, this teaching about circles is just another piece of the puzzle and sets the stage for a continual downward spiral. Somehow we can now mix practices borrowed from paganism with false teaching at the center of "new" Christian practice and come out unscathed. This is the sad state of the visible church. There already are and will be plenty more of other false doctrines that ride in on this deceptive carpet.

Copyright © 4 Truth Ministry 2014, all rights reserved.
By David Sheldon. Edited by Kerri Sheldon
Can be copied in its entirety for personal use or to be distributed, but not for profit.

Theological Studies
Contemporary Concerns
Deception in the Visible Church