Jennifer Barnett gives an overview of her new book and how both churches and individuals can benefit from First Freedoms.
I can easily recall the very first day the message of First Freedoms was taught at my church. Men and women arrived, looking to know God more and gain tools for a stronger prayer life.
As we dove into the first chapters of the book, I saw a hopeful vulnerability as layers of performance, guilt, disappointment, and confusion disappeared, and for the first time many of the participants developed a hunger to abide with God.
This hunger led not only to deeper personal prayer lives, but it fortified community as many stepped into prayer times with one another. God even led some to serve in prayer ministry long-term as they sought to offer the renewal they had experienced to others. They had encountered God and desired to make that the standard in their daily lives with their friends, family, and community.
I’ve had the privilege of praying with thousands of people over the last twenty-five years. They were seeking God but had not been taught how to pray or draw near to him. They feared their lack of relationship with God was insurmountable and they were destined to be distant and disappointed.
The effects of that deficit had produced half-hearted disciples of Christ.
They knew much about him but did not truly know him.
But they wanted to know him, and they longed for that relationship that seemed to be out of reach. They had years of residue from lives at a distance from God, with strongholds built that ultimately kept them from communion. They simply did not know how to encounter him in prayer.
I wrote First Freedoms in response to this need for wholehearted disciples.
In this post I explain the aims of the book, give an overview of the three main sections of the book, and finally share how First Freedoms has impacted several pilot groups who studied it.
The Aims of First Freedoms
Many Christians have never learned profound truths such as how Christ came to bring freedom (Gal. 5) or that God searches and knows us (Ps. 139:1), not to bring condemnation but healing and right relationship.
I wrote this book in response to many leaders and friends who asked for a devotional Bible study that would:
- Thoroughly examine the concepts of abiding, freedom, and inner healing while stressing these tools as foundational in one’s daily devotional life.
- Supplement the ministry of Freedom Prayer teams globally by offering a devotional study that can support a growing culture of prayer and freedom in a church.
- Advocate for the inclusion of Freedom Prayer teams and training in local churches to meet the fast-growing needs facing church leaderships in the areas of brokenness, sin, struggling, and wounding as well as the resulting mental health crisis and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Offer key tools that are essential to basic disciple-making in the areas of prayer and communion with God so prayer takes it rightful place in the process of growing healthy followers of Jesus.
First Freedoms Overview
The book consists of three sequential parts that will support a healthy prayer life.
- Part 1 introduces “Connection,” which explains how attaching to God as Father is foundational for further growth.
- Part 2 offers a “Core” lens and tools to allow God to search and know truly one’s heart and remove anything that would block wholehearted relationship.
- Part 3 dives into the “Culmination” of a healthy abiding prayer life with goals in the mature Christian walk; it also explores complex themes that can hinder even seasoned followers of Christ.
Part 1: The Connection
First Freedoms intentionally begins with how we can connect with God.
From the beginning of our Christian journey, we are instructed to pray. Many followers of Jesus learn that prayer is a conversation in intimate relationship with God, but they are ill-equipped on how to start that conversation.
Just as we give important people in our lives our time and attention in close proximity, we are to do the same with God. I have met many mature Christians who confess their prayer life is lacking, and it mainly consists of throwing requests into the atmosphere without experiencing the nearness of God—without even knowing if God hears or cares about their requests.
Part 1 addresses this problem of Christians not knowing God in close relationship. I address communing with God and how to prepare our spiritual eyes and ears for listening to God from a wholehearted posture.
The next chapter presents roadblocks that can hinder our understanding of God as our Father.
Then I outline steps to building a relationship with the Father in personal prayer times.
After this, I examine how our response to God in prayer is often at a significant distance. Finally, I present a lifestyle of abiding in prayer and the fruitfulness that follows in being attached to the Vine.
These Connection pieces are vital and foundational for a healthy follower of Jesus. Learning them can prevent hearing the sobering warning of Jesus: “I never knew you. Away from me” (Matt. 7:23).
Attachment is necessary but often neglected.
When attachment receives the time it deserves, the resulting fruit is not only a deeper connection with God, but a “home base” to return to while dealing with the issues of daily life.
Part 2: The Core
Part 2 focuses on tools to identify the issues that can block a person from the fullness of a relationship with God. These helpful tools allow God full access to all areas of the heart where strongholds are most often found.
Based on Luke 15, Part 2 explores wounding, ungodly beliefs, entanglements, and sin as the key areas of struggle in the Christian journey. We can use this lens to identify the issue and learn of his heart and plan for restoration. Often our personal hinderances and strongholds are felt but hard to identify.
Having this lens with the resulting biblical tools for freedom is transformational.
This Core comes from the core tools of Freedom Prayer, which finds its basis in years of fruitful ministry, as individuals from all over the world have been freed from spiritual hinderances.
It is again foundational to the healthy Christian life, especially as these tools allow an individual to obey the psalmist’s cry to “search me . . . and know [me]” (Ps. 139:23). God designed tools for freedom as a response to that prayer.
For years these tools have transformed individuals, families, churches, and cities as the people of God step into real communion with unbound hearts. I present these tools in prayer that promote freedom and transformation when applied in close connection to God.
Some of these tools include forgiving others, renouncing ungodly beliefs, truly confessing, repenting of sin, and breaking ties with unholy bonds. These tools are the responses to the issues presented in the Luke 15 lens.
Both the lens and tools are framed in a metaphor of tending a landscape of owned property, much like tending one’s heart before God. Weeds, vines, and trash all threaten to choke out abundant life.
Each issue is framed in this language with resulting consequences and outlets to experience not only freedom but tools to continue to walk in that freedom. I also show how to use prayer as a weapon in seasons of spiritual warfare in addition to safeguards and biblical anchors in the battle.
Part 3: The Culmination
Part 3 is the culmination of the first two parts of the book. It addresses areas that can affect even the most mature believer. I wrote Part 3 because leaders requested help in areas that can cause stumbling in an otherwise steady Christian walk.
Christians not only need biblical truths to navigate these areas but steps in prayer to remove any lasting residue or distortions from these areas of struggle.
I discuss laying aside burdens and casting crowns at Jesus’ feet. When we carry things we shouldn’t, even good things, a seasoned believer can become heavy with weights they were never meant to carry. Identity can get slightly off-center when one’s accolades and calling define worth.
I also speak on the nearness and goodness of God in the midst of tragedy.
Suffering produces fruit that cannot be harvested elsewhere, but prayer is vital to keeping truth in the most trying of circumstances.
Finally, I explain how holding holy authority and displaying God’s glory are natural outcomes and goals of being deeply rooted in all three sections of First Freedoms.
Connection and navigating freedom from issues discussed in the Core should produce disciples who are not just doing spiritual maintenance, but who are thriving with a heart purposed on God. Freedom is necessary but not the end goal. The glory of God is preeminent in a life that is Spirit-led.
How Churches and Leaders Can Use First Freedoms
I designed First Freedoms to be explored in both an individual and group context. This means working through each chapter in a personal devotional time, while simultaneously exploring the material in a group setting.
This can be done in a Sunday school class, a Bible study, or a small group. There is great benefit to “owning” the material and practicing the steps in personal prayer but even greater benefit to walking these truths with a transparent, connected community.
Applying First Freedoms in a church setting has a proven impact.
It is an invitation to connecting with God and sharpening tools for freedom in prayer. It offers practical steps to grow a personal prayer life, while also diving deeply into these themes for seasoned believers. The book takes the head knowledge of God and partners it with biblical instructions that urge a “tending” of the heart.
When used in a church, First Freedoms equipped individuals with a desire to pray more and to pray effectively. They received steps that bolstered their own devotional time.
In churches where Freedom Prayer ministry already existed, First Freedoms participants were more likely to sign up for a prayer time. They learned in a safe context the gift of seeking God together with transparent hearts that produced true community.
Being known by God and one another is a longing of the human heart, which is easily found in the context of First Freedoms.
Finally, First Freedoms propelled many participants into greater discipleship in their homes and personal relationships.
The tools are easily adapted for use with children and small groups, with many participants reporting success in their families and community gatherings in regard to praying and bearing well with one another. They had tools for freedom that were accessible.
For churches with existing Freedom Prayer ministries, the book continued the conversation and allowed newcomers to experience these concepts. The culture of the church continued to grow in these necessary areas of prayer, which is a hallmark for healthy disciples of Christ.
Connect to God and One Another
The church finds itself currently as a house for the walking wounded, many who have been spiritual orphans for quite some time. The physical isolation mandated in the last few years only uprooted a longstanding emotional and spiritual isolation from true fellowship with God and other followers of Jesus.
By offering both “Personal Communion” and “Community Connection” sections of response, First Freedoms offers solutions to this problem of isolation. Connection to God and one another is foundational to gospel community and Christian maturity, and First Freedoms aims to provide a grid for both.
Outcomes of First Freedoms
Many of my conversations with church leaders begin with their honest need for help in the areas of discipling a culture into prayer and a toolset to responding to the roadblocks that hinder spiritual growth.
First Freedoms, both in content and format, can assist with these areas of need both on an individual level and in community, providing a natural solution for the problem of isolation from God and one another.
It deposits a lens not only to see one’s individual blocks from abiding with God, but that lens translates to understanding other people.
First Freedoms provides tools to tending one’s heart before God, which then leads to tending well to the hearts of others.
Prayer becomes first and foundational as the vitalizing piece in personal discipleship that positively affects all other areas of ministry and relationship. The church desperately needs practical tools to invite this shift from followers of Jesus who just know about him to those who have been transformed by him and walk in abiding freedom.
First Freedoms provides the roadmap to help grow healthy disciples.
My heart is to see believers walk in spiritual freedom and reach the full potential of their relationship with God. As believers do this, the church becomes a place where prayer is central, and the community is free. Free people free other people. When the people of God are near to God, others will be drawn close too. First Freedoms is a great tool to help achieve these necessary goals for a healthy church. Encourage your church leaders to pick up this book and begin your church’s journey of experiencing wholehearted prayer lives.
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