Those of you who know me well will be very surprised at the title of this blog, so let me explain.
How It All Started
It all started when I saw an ad on facebook for an online course in New Zealand run by Bethel. The ad said Bethel wanted to raise ‘revivalists’ in every country because believers in Christ ‘owe the world a supernatural encounter with Jesus’. On face value that seemed like exactly what I want to achieve in New Zealand, so I sent away for an info pack asking how I could be involved.
A few days later I received a phone call from someone at Bethel asking whether I wanted to join the course. I was flattered that they would ring me personally and I mentioned that I felt like I knew enough already so didn’t need to join the course but that I was hugely passionate about training up others and offered to be a leader. This led to another call a day later from someone further up the chain inviting me to be a leader.
Before saying yes, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself in for because I had heard a few horror stories about Bethel. Namely things like grave-soaking and astral-travel. After having some lengthy discussions with a few trusted friends, I decided to go ahead, with the warning ringing in my ears to fast and pray a lot. I figured that I was discerning enough to know error from truth and, even if the teaching was totally wrong, I could hopefully influence one or two students in the course and point them in the right direction if I did withdraw.
The Three Day ‘Intensive’ Training
The course started with the usual introductions and information about the course. I was also told that there would be an ‘intensive’ in a few weeks where all the NZ students would come together for a face to face intense period of training for 3 days. I was looking forward to this and made plans to drive to Auckland to attend.
At the start of the intensive I was very guarded and expected a spiritual attack at any moment. As a leader I had to get to the venue early and help set up. My main tasks were to set up chairs, blow up balloons and put up decorations. Although this seemed a bit weird to me, I was prepared to concede that the people involved have different personality types and God had created them that way. If they want to engage their senses of sight and sound with lights, decorations and balloons, who am I to judge them?
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”Romans 14:4
Over the course of the three days my guard slowly dropped, and I met some great people. I saw that the Bethel course taught a lot of solid Biblical ideas. They headed out on the streets to reach people with God’s love, they practised prophesying over each other in a safe environment before trying it out in a real-life situation. They certainly loved God and seemed to know the Bible well and I left the training feeling quite positive about the experience. I felt like I’d learnt some powerful tools to help advance the kingdom of God.
That was until I experienced something horrible.
The day after the intensive ended, my wife and I drove to Hamilton to stay with my in-laws. Our children are always spoiled silly by their grandparents so I can normally do some work on my computer when we are there. This time was no exception and I opened my computer to catch up on some work for 30-40 minutes. I was so busy focusing on what I was doing that I didn’t notice my thoughts slowly changing and becoming more reclusive.
As soon as I got off my computer, all I wanted to do was to be alone. But it wasn’t just a sense of needing a break to recharge like I often feel, it was more of an awful Gollum-like feeling that I didn’t want anyone else around and that everyone else was preventing me from reaching my full potential. I can’t fully describe it but it was almost like I hated everyone else and the only reason they were there was to serve me.
I asked God to help me out of this horrible situation and show me why I was feeling that way. I had never thought like this in the past. I tried to think about what I’d done differently. I’d been to Auckland many times, worked on my computer many times and been to my in-laws many times but never felt like this.
The only thing I could think of that I’d done differently was the ‘activations’ I’d partaken in when I was at the ‘intensives’ training.
The ‘activations’ at the School of Faith were not what I had expected.
When I heard the word ‘activation’, I thought of getting something or someone moving in the right direction. I expected it to look like a revivalist teaching others how to share the gospel, to pray for the sick or simply how to pray effectively.
But the activations ran at the School of Faith were nothing like this. They were exercises in imagining or visualising yourself in different situations with God.
Here are some examples:
“Ask God to show you an ‘outfit’ that is on your partner” (i.e. it may be a deep-sea diving suit or a ball gown)
“Picture yourself” kneeling before the King of Kings; he is placing a crown on your head and a royal robe around your shoulders. The crown has a word on the front that is specifically tied to IDENTITY. What is the word on the crown?”
“Imagine you are in a peaceful place and Jesus comes to you. He has a gift for you. What is inside?”
I did some research and found that this process is known as “mental imagery” or “guided imagery”.
Mental Imagery As An Escape
I remember I used to use mental imagery when I was an unbeliever as a way of escaping my drudgery. After a hard day at work I would imagine myself on a beach with a cold drink in my hand or having scored the winning runs in an important cricket game. It was a way of feeling positive about my life when I otherwise wouldn’t have.
I haven’t indulged in any forms of mental imagery since becoming a Christian and haven’t felt the need to. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ask anyone to ‘imagine’ or ‘visualise’ themselves in a situation to help them ‘escape’.
I realised what I saw at the Bethel course was really just fantasy escapism wrapped up in a ‘Godly’ package. It is not Godly. It may be spiritual, but it is certainly not of the spirit of God. By allowing myself to take part in one of these activations was what caused me to open the door to be spiritually attacked.
“Mental imagery has been shown to play a key role in contributing to, exacerbating, or intensifying the experience and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compulsive cravings, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa” and a multitude of other conditions.Wikipedia
I quickly apologised to God for allowing myself to be moved by my feelings rather than the word of God. God wanted more from me though. I needed to completely distance myself from Bethel so that it would never happen again. That is why I have left, never to return or have anything to do with mental imagery ever again.
Check out ‘guided imagery’ on Wikipedia if you want to know more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guided_imagery.