Many Christians feel disengaged with God, and Jennifer Barnett’s First Freedoms can help them reengage to form a wholehearted prayer life.
I wrote First Freedoms to help Christians who struggle with an inactive prayer life and who are disengaged with community in the church. Most followers of Jesus know they should pray and want to pray more, but they often feel guilty about their lack of a personal devotional life.
Those same followers of Jesus know they were made for community and want to find it in the church, but they struggle to get past the surface and end up disillusioned and disappointed.
God created us to commune with him and one another.
His created design requires, however, that we cultivate active and intimate prayer lives in transparent community and relationship. We cannot stay at a distance from God or from one another. We grow cold and numb.
My heart in writing First Freedoms to both men and women was to offer a resource to help people experience a healthier, wholehearted personal prayer life, while simultaneously establishing connected community and igniting a culture of freedom.
As I’ve prayed with and discipled many people over the last 25 years, I have noticed an alarming increase in followers of Jesus lacking close connection to God and who are often removed from the biblical description of the Christian journey. They seem to be standing on very shaky foundations, sometimes going through the motions of the normal Christian life, inwardly disappointed if not outwardly on their way out of the church.
They confess their prayer life is either nonexistent or lacking.
And they feel blocked from the abundant life with God that they know they should have. As I have listened to their vulnerable confessions, I have noticed the sobering reality that the desire for communion was present, but the discipleship of an abiding prayer life was missing.
The desire was present, but the discipleship was missing.
A Resource to Disciple People in Prayer
First Freedoms is unique because it not only introduces tools for freedom, but it also explores steps for an abiding prayer life as well as common issues that hinder the continued growth and maturity in prayer. It offers both personal and group prompts so the book can be utilized in both ways.
While this book is similar to other resources in that it offers tools for freedom in Christ that will promote a secure identity in God, it goes beyond that into deeper waters.
Other resources rightly focus on knowing our identity as Christians. This is often a place of struggle for most people. They ask foundational questions such as, “Who is God?” and, “Who am I?” and need biblical answers that are often distorted due to trial, sin, or suffering.
So First Freedoms aligns with resources that focus on inner healing, pastoral care, Christian counseling, and spiritual direction. Those who have written in these areas are kindred in the mission to see people set free and healed, and I and those involved with Freedom Prayer ministries honor our friends and allied ministries and their resources and support their work.
What Makes First Freedoms Unique
First Freedoms is different, though, because my primary motivation for writing the book wasn’t just to discuss the goal of a secure identity in Christ and the freedom required to arrive there (although those are important themes of the book).
Many resources and models assume some preexisting aspect of connection with God to navigate the steps or understand the concepts. Thus, many people know how to give the correct theological answer but lack the ability to pray, listen, and wait on the Lord as well as the ability to access their heart transparently before God.
Freedom comes in accessing both the mind and the heart.
They may know the pain, feel the pain, sense the distance from God, but they do not have a foundational starting point in which to bridge the gap in relationship. So they are stuck and don’t know the freedom that comes in accessing both the mind and heart.
Ideally, an individual works through the book personally and meets once a week with a group to discuss the community questions. The book can stand alone for someone who wants to discover these truths on their own, but it’s designed to offer community connection and support in the process.
While other resources are dependent on a trained facilitator, the questions and prompts in this book are designed for anyone to facilitate and lead regardless of experience. A facilitator who walks in a measure of freedom is ideal but not necessary for a successful First Freedoms group. The prompts in the book are detailed with specific steps and ample explanations for each.
We need more than just mind-level engagement.
Unfortunately, many believers have only been discipled into a relationship with God that engages their mind—what they know about him, what they think, and what they conclude.
Many are left to build a relationship on their own understanding of these truths and have not been discipled into connecting to God on a heart level. They have never received practical instruction on how to allow God to search, guard, and fill their heart as a son or daughter of the King and how to navigate the Christian journey from that place, along with what they know about him.
If the heart is “the wellspring of life,” we must start there. First Freedoms begins at this oft-neglected place in discipleship and moves into identity, freedom, and purpose from an intentionally practical discipleship model. This book is unique in offering:
1. Questions and prompts that engage God from a heart level.
Instead of asking generic questions like: “Are there situations in your life that cause pain?” this book leads the reader to inquire of God in order to build a relationship and an abiding prayer life. You’ll find prompts such as: “Ask the Lord if he will show you the root cause of this hurt that you’ve carried. Wait on him and allow him to bring to mind the area that he knows you need freedom in today.” Gentle prompts and questions are offered to teach what a conversation in prayer looks like.
2. Connection is the first step.
Much of the beginning of the book focuses on discipling a connection, attaching to the Father, and abiding with God.
Often assumed but missing, these foundational elements can be difficult to teach and practice but must be first in establishing a relationship with God. Many mature believers were told to pray but never taught how and what to do when the spiritual discipline of prayer becomes difficult. Roadblocks, hinderances, and general anxieties about prayer are discussed with steps to overcome them.
3. Tools that are Core to Freedom Prayer ministry.
The middle part of the book focuses on four key strongholds found in Luke 15 and equips the reader with tools for freedom in those areas. Wounding, entanglement, sin, and ungodly belief are presented as key areas of bondage, and the book gives practical steps for not only walking out freedom but keeping it and engaging God quickly when struggles arise.
After the Connection and Core tools are taught, First Freedoms offers the Culmination of those pieces in areas that are often more difficult to navigate in the Christian walk. Handling suffering, engaging in spiritual warfare, holding holy authority, recognizing the glory of God, and laying down burdens and counterfeit identities are presented. These topics often trip up even the mature believer, and the book presents guideposts for seeking the Lord’s heart in each area.
How Churches Can Use First Freedoms
First Freedoms offers next steps for personal and church growth. Because First Freedoms is connected to Freedom Prayer ministry, our mission is to equip the church in these fundamental tools. We believe in the church’s mandate to be a place of hope and healing, where prayer is central.
Freedom Prayer’s mission is to equip the church.
The tools presented in First Freedoms can help introduce and disciple these truths, but they can also lead to forming and equipping a Freedom Prayer team who can offer these truths for individuals in personal prayer times for their church and community. In churches where First Freedoms was piloted, many participants were eager to attend a prayer time to continue to allow space for God to search their heart and bring freedom as well as practice learning to wait on him. Those Freedom Prayer times of ministry partnered well with the process of sanctification that First Freedoms introduced.
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly surfaced a greater pandemic of loneliness, isolation, and distance from God. Freedom Prayer ministries can equip the church to be the antidote to these issues.
First Freedoms is a much-needed tool kit for the discipleship of a wholehearted prayer life.
This book also serves as a launching pad for greater application of prayer in the church culture. It’s an initial step in accessing a much-needed tool kit for discipling and equipping a wholehearted prayer life, but it also leads to a greater understanding of God’s heart for freedom, other types of prayer, and how to walk as a Spirit-led, mature follower of Jesus.
First Freedoms can be used in a small group study, Bible study, Sunday School class, or “Freedom” group format. It is adaptable and easily partners with a variety of Christian education models in the local church. It tackles these fundamental discipleship components while effortlessly fostering deep community and corporate prayer.
Several mixed-gender groups around the country have piloted the book in various forms. A variety of churches have vetted its content in both its biblical foundations and its model of giving practical questions for prayer and discussion.
It is accessible for someone engaging these truths for the first time but weighty enough in its theology for a seasoned follower of God.
While “freedom” has been a buzz word in the church for some years, many ask, “But practically, how do you get there?” Testimonies are powerful, but practical steps bring education and transformation.
Often those who encounter this material describe it as “drinking from a fire hydrant.” They also confess it was necessary for their freedom and building a stronger relationship with God.
Current Crisis in the Church
When I talk with church leaders around the country, I hear of a very pressing need to help their community, but most feel ill-equipped and overwhelmed.
As congregations navigate the new normal, families seem to be barely hanging on as marriages unravel, teens struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, and once-active church goers no longer step foot inside the building.
A gnawing emptiness floods many church members as issues that were hidden for years can no longer be ignored. Sexual brokenness is on the rise as well as addictions, plaguing thoughts and mental illness, uncertainty, and a general sense of being overburdened, tossed, and untethered to God.
Families seem to be barely hanging on.
The answers must be found in the church, which is designed to be an unwavering beacon of hope in tumultuous times. But the church needs a practical tool kit, both in prayer and discipleship, when it comes to accessing the heart and making it whole. We have to walk in freedom to offer it to the lost outside of our church walls. But we are barely hanging on.
They need Scriptures about hope and healing, such as:
- And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
- Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Ps. 26:2).
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37).
- I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve (Jer. 17:10).
I have observed repeatedly that the mind is engaged but the heart is cut off from experiencing God. And God is most interested in the heart. Consider such verses as:
- Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov. 4:23).
- You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart (Jer. 29:13).
- Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Ps. 51:10).
- Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5–6).
First Freedoms was a labor of love to write and was written for those who seek God and don’t know how to find him. I offer practical steps not only in finding him but attaching to him, thereby securing freedom and a lifestyle of abiding with him.
One must set those foundations firm, so the abundant life with Jesus can flourish. These foundations are necessary for producing healthy disciples who know God and are known. I am constantly aware of the reality of “the love of many growing cold.” If they really know him, their love will burn for the good God who offers connection and freedom.
My hope is First Freedoms equips the church, both individually and corporately for such a time as this, so the bride of Christ can be spotless and truly know him.
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