Note to first-time visitors: The Prayer Shack was the name of the original site that was started back in 1995 (which later was changed to TruthForFree). “Prayer Shack” was a nickname given to the home I lived in, which was pretty much a run-down shack… but God touched the lives of three flat mates there who turned their home into a 24 hour prayer house (literally) that would stay that way for the next 5 years. It wasn’t something we scheduled… It was simply the fruit of what God was doing in our lives. People would see the sign in our window, walk up and come in to pray or receive prayer. Our door was always open, even if we weren’t home.
At that time it wasn’t unusual for me to come home from work, walk in the house and find people standing with their hands raised, worshiping the Lord, or sometimes they’d be laid out, or kneeling on the living room floor, praying. Sometimes people would sing, even dance. Sometimes they’d be sitting comfortably against the wall with a pillow, Bible open, reading some verses or sharing in conversation with each other about something the Lord was doing in their life. Some nights we literally would stay up all through the night praying and worshiping the Lord until daylight. I could tell you some stories!
It sounds impressive perhaps, but don’t think for a moment that I’m bragging… because the truth is that, despite our excitement about seeking God in prayer (and the fact that God truly did do some wonderful things among us, which I praise Him for), we were also under the influence of the Toronto Blessing movement at the time – of which I have a number of regrets (I do not any longer endorse the Toronto Blessing or any similar offshoot of this movement in any way shape or form). This is also the reason why I eventually changed the name of the website to TruthForFree. The Prayer Shack days had passed… God was leading me after Him and I had to let the old thing go completely.
The hunger for God we experienced as brothers in Christ I do believe was absolutely genuine (and I can say that because I had been close with these guys for a number of years already) and despite some of the weirdness going on through the Toronto thing, our experience in many ways seemed to be unique from some of the focus I observed in typical (what we referred to as “renewal”) meetings, where many people were fixated on manifestations and experiences. We experienced our share of that too (to an embarrassing extreme at times), but I don’t recall that ever being something we desired to focus on. We really wanted to make Jesus Lord of our lives and we sought that earnestly. I loved the times that we would sing and dance before the Lord. There was a lot of expressed joy and I believe that virtually all of it was focused on the great goodness of the Lord. We were sincerely intent upon making every facet of our lives unashamedly about Christ and His kingdom. We genuinely desired that!
God also responded to our prayers in this regard… Though we also entertained things that (I now feel) we should have been wiser to leave alone (not necessarily “spiritually-nefarious” things, but predominantly “flesh-oriented” things, and by “flesh” I mean by experiences derived largely from our own mindsets, actions, imaginations, and excitement). Some of those things were just, simply, stupid (looking back on them). They had no Scriptural means of support, but we found ways (unconsciously) to rationalize them (and there were plenty of religious leaders around to help with that process). It’s truly humbling to admit any involvement I might have had with something that (at least, significant aspects of) could easily be regarded as “not of God” but I can’t be proud and I won’t attempt to defend all that. God has healed and delivered me of much and for that I am truly thankful.
- Just as an additional note here about all this… I do acknowledge something that I tend to call “psychosomatic” results; That is, things that relate to, involve, or are concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional influences (yep, I got most of that outta the dictionary – hehe). What I mean by that is that people can sometimes be led to think that something “spiritual” is happening (even miraculous) when it’s actually the product of an intensive emotional experience (or something that is “worked up” in the mind/flesh and thus produces various kinds of euphoria or even bodily changes because of those mental influences). These things may have no actual spiritual component to them, yet spiritual significance is often attributed out of ignorance. I’ve seen people that, in the moment, believed they were miraculously healed… only to discover later that they were not.
I also think, sometimes, the devil gets blamed for a lot of stuff that is just our human flesh deluding us (and sadly there are religious leaders that have learned how to take advantage of these weaknesses in humanity, to manipulate mindsets, or even to extract money from people – both of which I also observed during the Toronto phenomenon).
None of this is to say that I don’t think there was any possibility that there might have been some spiritually concerning phenomenon that could have been entertained on some occasions (because I do think that’s entirely possible – and it’s a frightening thought indeed), but (just judging from my own personal involvement) I think human flesh gets the blame for probably most of what happened, though I believe the devil was working an overall deception through the movement as a whole, opening up masses of people to unbiblical concepts (and I would even regard some of the concepts that were being taught by various leaders at the time as being, not only unbiblical, but tending toward New Age spirituality, which is devilish). In any case, the Lord knows I have repented from any possible involvement with anything that might have been displeasing to Him or which might have distracted me from His truth.
I share these things with humility and a sense of urgency toward those who are still involved with similar type movements going on today (like Bethel Church, Jesus Culture, the New Apostolic Reformation, Morningstar Ministries, Seattle Revival Center, etc.) that perhaps someone might read this and hear the Spirit of Lord calling them to come away from all that biblically-slighted, fleshly and even devilish nonsense! Believe me, I understand the appeal that elements of these movements pose, and I know how hard it might be to entertain the notion that you might have fallen into some level of deception, but I’ve walked down that road myself and God set me free. Please don’t let your pride keep you from hearing His voice. Cling only to HIM.
One thing I know is that, even though we erred at times in our ignorance, God was merciful to us as I believe that our intention was to make ourselves willing servants of the Holy Spirit. I also believe God did work in our midst despite whatever mistakes we entertained along the way. That detail makes it a bit complexing at times to look back on that period of my life and try to figure out what exactly to think of it all. I’m sure there are others, not unlike myself (i.e. during the Toronto movement), who may currently be involved in some of the more recent movements I have mentioned that are sincerely endeavoring to seek the Lord and who love Jesus but are either simply ignorant of the expanse of unbiblical, spiritually deceptive concepts or maybe some have already sensed the Lord pricking their discernment, but didn’t know how to respond to it.
The Lord loves you and I am praying for you; that you would begin to hear His voice ever more clearly and that He would give you the strength to resist the deception being thrust upon your mind at this time. Trust me in this: Life outside of these wild movements is no less exciting. The devil has duped many people to think that if they discard all the exciting and sometimes bizarre phenomenon that is so typically present in these movements, they will basically turn into a boring Baptist (no offense meant to my baptist friends). Those of you engulfed in the throngs of modern Pentecostalism and Charismania will know what I mean. Believe me, I get it! But God is NOT boring – EVER! There is NEVER anything about walking in true relationship with Christ that is boring… and the devil wants to distract you from the richness (and power) of a truly close relationship with the Father that will spell devastation to the devil’s kingdom and which will change your life!
I got a little off track there from my story about the Shack, but I wanted to share that as I really felt compelled to. As I said, God still worked in many of our lives despite some mistakes along the way. Some of the wonderful things I watched Him do through the work He was performing in our hearts I can never forget…
The decision to open our home up, literally, to allow anyone to just walk in to pray is something I had not heard of anyone doing at the time (though we did hear of others starting their own “prayer shacks” after they found out about ours). In fact, it’s almost hard to imagine we did that, looking back. We literally did not care if someone might steal our belongings. That thought wasn’t even in our heads. In fact, I remember us guys even praying that if anyone should come in while we’re gone and steal something that God would just grab a hold of their lives and save them radically. Our zeal was so great that I dare say we almost hoped that someone would steal something. We fully believed that our home belonged to the Lord and He was invited to do whatever He’d like. We never took up an offering or had any thought in our minds to organize anything. We weren’t starting a church or a home group. It was just a “prayer shack”. We weren’t proud of our house… it was, really, in shambles. The roof leaked, we had mice, the foundation was rotting, but we were in love with the Lord and doing our best to seek Him.
In the beginning I was very afraid of putting a label on things. People had adopted the nickname of “Prayer Shack” and someone proposed putting a sign in the window and I was initially against that. I thought it would amount to “building a temple” on a move of God, much like Peter wanted to do when Jesus was transfigured before him. I didn’t want to entertain pride or upset any good thing that God was doing or might want to do… but, eventually, we put up a sign. A friend encouraged me that what God was beginning to do in our lives and in our home was not just for us. Everyone already was calling the place “the Prayer Shack” so it just seemed natural to dedicate our home totally to that purpose and so we did.
Once the sign went up in the window it began… and boy did it begin! Many nights our home was FULL with people. Strangers would walk up and ask, “what’s a prayer shack?” We’d invite them in to pray. One of the guys from the local biker gang stopped by one time and said, “I need prayer, please.” We gathered around and prayed for God to do a work in this man’s life. Tears were streaming down his face. Another time a Mormon lady received Christ. We saw this kind of thing regularly over the next 5 years… and when we weren’t praying, we were having barbecues with the couches outside on the patio and everyone was sitting around talking about Jesus. It was a most remarkable experience.
Though the Toronto stuff was happening at the same time, I don’t recall any bizarre doctrines seeping in to what was happening in our home gatherings… Still, we entertained plenty of the typical phenomenon that became trademark of the movement; Things like “holy laughter” and what often was referred to as “spiritual drunkenness”.
That having been said, God kept us through it and actually did a lot of wonderful things in our lives despite our being influenced by that phenomenon. I remember when the Toronto thing first hit the church group I was involved with at the time, I prayed and I asked God to protect me… If you never were one to get involved with or be touched by the Toronto Blessing thing, good for you, but it might be difficult for you to understand why I would pray a prayer like that and then still jump in… It’s a reasonable question to ponder. One would think that would have been pretty clear evidence of the Holy Spirit convicting me through my conscience… Well, I grew up in a Pentecostal church and have always been desirous to embrace the working of the Holy Spirit, even if it was not comfortable to me or even seemed a little weird to others. In all honesty though, there were a number of things with the Toronto ordeal that made me very uncomfortable at the outset, but I intended to keep my heart open to the Lord and did not want to despise a legitimate work of the Holy Spirit if indeed that’s what it was. After observing some close friends who embraced it and gave a good testimony, I prayed, “Lord, I desire only what is from Your hand and I don’t want to reject anything that You are doing, even if I don’t understand it, so please, if I am missing the mark, protect me Lord… and I ask that You would do whatever You will in my life through this time.”
Looking back, I know that God honored my prayer. Though I got off track in some areas, I also learned a great deal at the instruction of the Holy Spirit… and it’s one reason I am so concerned about those that still involve themselves with this movement (though it has taken on different names now). I speak about it from a position of humility because I embraced it fully myself (to my shame) and I endorsed a number of the teachers that I now cannot because the Lord has corrected my path, restored me to truth, and set me free.
Even during my involvement, God was at work in my life (and so I have to believe the same is true for so many that are presently caught up in various kinds of spiritual error). God knows the hearts. He did draw close to me in my sincere intent of pursuit of Him. He produced a hunger for the Word of God in my heart like I hadn’t had before. This was part of what God used to draw me out of the aspects of error I had embraced.
The Toronto movement produced a lot of hype and excitement. People were craving phenomenon, experiences and manifestations. Though I’m certainly disappointed at my own stumblings, I also recognize that there was a genuine quality of spiritual hunger that possessed a lot of people. Without their even realizing it, people were tired of church as usual. They were tired of a powerless, lifeless religion. But since the entire system of church world is largely saturated in an environment of religious entertainment already, once people were no longer entertained, I believe that many exchanged their growing hunger for God for a substitute of stimuli, produced by euphoria through spiritualistic experiences. Suddenly church was entertaining again. Something was happening and it wasn’t the old stuffy, dry religious routine and so many people (including myself) said, “Ah this is it! This is revival! This is what God wanted all along!” We didn’t realize we were being fed a counterfeit in large part. We were already used to pastors telling us what the Bible said, instead of knowing it for ourselves, so when they fed us explanations, we embraced them too. The devil did not want us to find true freedom. So he fed us a substitute, labeled with “Holy Spirit”, drenched in phenomenon. He got people to believe they were free and no longer trapped in religion because they embraced strange experiences while others resisted them. Those who resisted were automatically branded as “religious” (derogatory tone intended). It was a brilliant deception because those of us who thought we were getting so free of religion, were often acting worse than Pharisees to other brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead of heeding their warnings or paying attention to those who were operating in discernment and love, we rejected and divided ourselves from them. We even made fun of them. We thought they were uptight, boring, stuffed-shirts who were nowhere as close to God as we were. We did not even recognize our own supreme arrogance. This was not a demonstration of good spiritual fruit. We were deceived. The devil was rejoicing. Meanwhile, we were just as drenched in churchianity, religious mindsets and un-Christ-like behavior as those we thought we had exposed through our embracing of the Toronto Blessing. The devil had gotten us to think that God was bringing revival to the Church. In reality, in so many ways, he was just keeping us in the realm of his influence and had successfully lulled us into delusion. Truly, if it was not for God’s goodness and grace, I’d still be back there!
If we had been in our prayer closets, truly seeking Christ, engaged in a day-by-day relationship with the Holy Spirit we would have had discernment. We would have lovingly listened to our brothers and sisters who were trying to warn us. I guess maybe I needed to learn a few things… Learn a few things I did. You know, I often think about that Scripture verse that tells us it is God who will send strong delusion when people do not love the truth.
It’s difficult to look back at the Prayer Shack days for me. Difficult because sometimes I’m not sure exactly what to think about it all. On the one hand, I know that God worked in my life and I remember the great zeal I had, the willingness I had to do anything for the sake of Christ, and the excitement to pray for hours each day… I also remember the friendships I enjoyed; especially with my two flatmates, John and Curtis. Great guys who love Jesus! I also remember some wonderful times spent with so many of the regulars to the Shack during those days (like my buddy Gus, Nick, Elijah, Mike, Polly, Orland, and so many others)… but I also remember that not all the fruit produced was pleasing to the Lord. I remember my religious attitudes and mindsets (and the friendships it cost me). And, most of all, I remember the flood of false doctrines that poured into the church after the ground had been prepared through this “renewal” phenomenon. God gave me a hunger for the Word and as I began to read it and study it, I began to see the error that so many were walking right into (including myself)… often without hesitation. I saw relationships destroyed and marriages broken. I repented of my involvement with the Torronto error (and even spoke out against it to many that I had beforehand endorsed), yet I am amazed at God’s goodness even in the midst of my involvement. It gives me compassion toward those I know who are presently still persuaded by these kinds of movements because I really do understand the pull and I pray that God will deliver many more still. Some of the people who knew me during the Toronto thing might wonder how I could have turned so far the opposite direction. I hope some of them read this. I hope they will see that I love them dearly and I do not suppose myself to be any better than any of them. I gave myself to the same error and the Lord rescued me. I speak from a sincere place of compassion because I truly have been there! I’ve walked wholeheartedly in those shoes! I’ve shaked, rattled and rolled with laughter like the rest of them. It did not produce fruit in my life… but my relationship now with the Holy Spirit and my new-found love and respect for the Word of God (i.e. the Scriptures) is producing genuine fruit! And the more time I spend with Him, the more amazing things I see Him do. And to find that I can walk with God and grow spiritually and experience genuine fellowship in Christ WITHOUT churchianity any longer is wonderful to behold. God is so good!
Below is a (semi-current) picture of myself (Dave) and my two former flatmates (John and Curtis) who lived with me during the Shack days. I don’t get to see either of them very often but I love these guys and pray for them. John now lives in Scotland with his wife and children and Curtis lives here in Washington State about 20 miles away from me.