There’s a prayer and deliverance ministry that you may or may not have heard of. It’s called Sozo. And many churches worldwide have implemented it to help Christians experience inner healing and ultimately draw closer to God.
But the reactions have been mixed.
While some have wholly embraced it and testified to how much it has changed their lives, others have denounced it as unbiblical and warned Christians to stay away.
So what is Sozo?
The Sozo ministry or Sozo prayer started in Redding, California, in 1997 by Bethel Church — a nondenominational charismatic megachurch. The idea was inspired after a healing evangelist, Randy Clark, held a prayer training at the church.
"Sozo" is a Greek word that the ministry's founders, Dawna DeSilva and Teresa Liebscher, two leaders at Bethel, say is found in the New Testament 110 times. Strong’s Concordance translates the word as “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue.” Liebscher defines it specifically as "to be made whole."
The Gospel of Matthew is the first time the word Sozo is used in the New Testament when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child who is to be named Jesus. “He will save His people from their sins," Matthew 1:21 states. Sozo is translated into the word “save” in this passage.
The Bethel Sozo website describes Sozo ministry as “a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry aimed to get to the root of things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
Co-leader Liebscher describes “the Sozo ministry” as a place one goes to uncover wounds or lies and their roots.
“Sozo is not counseling, it is not a prayer ministry, it is a team of people going in helping you make that connection with the Godhead and thus have a place to go to deal with all the issues and crises that will happen with you,” Liebscher shares in a promotional video of the experience. “It is also a deliverance ministry, because once you go in and heal the wounds and lies, heal the reasons why the demonic thinks it has legal access, the demonic has to leave, and that's in essence what deliverance is.”
Churches that have a Sozo ministry have leaders who are trained by Bethel's team. Training typically lasts two to four days.
What happens during a Sozo?
Assemblies of God Pastor Paula Noble, wife of Pastor Jason Noble, the subject behind the new blockbuster hit film “Breakthrough,” is a big fan of the Sozo prayer and has used the method in her ministry throughout the years. She told The Christian Post that she initially started the practice because of how it personally affected her own life.
When conducting an inner healing session, Noble and her team arrive early to prepare their “hearts and really surrender” themselves to hearing God. After the appointment is set up, the person seeking inner healing meets with no less than two leaders, one who leads the Sozo prayer and another who records what God says throughout the meeting.
"In a session of inner healing, there's the leader of the session and then there is a second person. What they're doing is they're writing down all of the good stuff that Jesus said to that person during this session, so they have a written account to take with them. It's not a written account that we keep for any reason. We write it down so they have it to take with them when they leave the room,” she told CP.
"We get there, we pray, and then when the person comes we just kind of explain what's going to happen and get it started,” Noble shared. “I always have the person keep their eyes closed during the times so that they're not looking at me. I want them to keep their eyes closed so they can clearly hear what Jesus is saying to them, in the way that He communicates stuff to them, and everyone is different. Some people see pictures, some people have the word come to their mind. It's just so different how everyone communicates with Jesus, but everyone can communicate with Jesus. They keep their eyes closed so that they don't feel like they're talking to me, I want them talking to Jesus.”
Noble would then proceed to explain to the subject or sozoee what will take place during the session.
"'I'm going to give you questions and it's really important for you to communicate to me what He (God) says to you because He's not talking to me, He's talking to you about this, so I want to know where He's going with you,'” she illustrated. “We do a lot of asking questions and hearing what He has to say about those specific things. Based on what they are hearing from Him, gives me an idea of where He's going with them. Sometimes it's quick and easy and sometimes it's longer.”
A Sozo goes far beyond just one session in a church, noted Noble. It’s usually the beginning or continuation of someone's communication with God.
"I really want a person to leave a session and just digest what has happened. That communication doesn't stop when I end a session because now they're hearing Him. Usually, that process continues for a person for a while, a few weeks afterward,” she said, adding that she always encourages people to come back for another session.
The average Sozo session can last an hour to three hours long, though when DeSilva and Liebscher first started it lasted three to six hours long.
The Bethel team created six tools to use that have made the sessions go more quickly. According to Bethel's website, the model of “deliverance” they use came from Clark's teaching which began in Argentina. The following are the six tools:
1: Father Ladder
The Father Ladder tool was designed to explore how the subject's relationships with the people in their life may be affecting how they relate to the Trinity.
A sample breakdown of the Father Ladder’s structure equates God to someone's earthly father or an authority figure in their life, Jesus to siblings or friends and the Holy Spirit to one's mother or the nourishers in their life.
2: Four Doors (hatred, fear, occult, sexual sin)
During a Sozo prayer, the leader tries to identify which of the four sins may have opened up a spiritual “door” to demonic possession or oppression. DeSilva introduced the tool after attending a series of meetings at her church. Although the tool encourages confession and renunciation of sin, which is encouraged in the Bible, its specificity of just the fours sins (hatred, fear, occult, and sexual sin) is often criticized because they are not the only sins spoken of in Scripture that can “invite the demonic” into their lives.
3. Presenting Jesus
“Presenting Jesus” takes a sozoee on a journey into their past. They are instructed to recall their most painful memories and discover Jesus in the moments in order to bring healing. Dr. Ed Smith’s Theophostic Prayer Ministry teachings is said to have helped form the inner healing principles that inspired this tool.
“This Sozo tool roots out lies we believe that cause us to experience emotional pain greater than our circumstances warrant. We invite the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ to speak into places in our hearts where these ungodly beliefs were formed. Once Jesus speaks truth, emotional wounds are healed, and our present circumstances are no longer so painful,” a basic Sozo training handout from The Freedom Resource website details.
4: The Wall
From the website Flash Card Machine, we learn that the Wall is “a negative blockage in a person's soul that impedes the flow of God’s love which can activate that person’s gifting and character in Christ.” The Sozo prayer wishes to identify any walls the sozoee might have.
The final two are considered “advanced tools.”
5: Trigger Mechanisms
This tool identifies the feelings associated with our memories and was allegedly inspired by “button pushing,” a tool created by brain science expert Dr. Aiko Hormann.
6: Divine Editing
Divine editing has also been linked to Dr. Aiko Hormann in relation to the Sozo prayer.
“If your childhood lacked nurturing, invite your Heavenly Father to fill in the voids created by lack of nurturing. He will ‘edit’ your memories — both ‘edit out’ painful memories and ‘edit in’ His nurturing,” Hormann’s website describes.
The idea was first associated with Sigmund Freud though without the "divine" aspect. American Christian writer Agnes Sanford is responsible for teaching the Christian method of inner healing.
During a Sozo, “you help people meditate on things in order to find freedom from them,” Silk told CP in an interview.
"If you notice the [meditation teachings] I do [in Soultime], I pretty much do a mini Sozo prayer in every one of the ones I do, which is, ‘Are there any lies that I am believing about this area of my life?' If so, 'Lord, please show me what they are,'” Silk said.
“'What is the truth that you want me to believe? Do I need to forgive anyone?' — which is classically the obstacle to peace or freedom, that I've not forgiven somebody that scarred me or hurt me, whether it be my parents, or my spouse, or a friend or whatever. Many times in a Sozo there's a block that's going to be a place where my soul is all knotted up. My spirit wants to be free but my soul has this knot."
The Bethel leader described a Sozo prayer as a deep massage for your spirit.
"A Sozo is where we're just going to keep pushing those spots until you go 'ouch' and then we’ll apply the remedy which classically is forgiveness and aligning your heart up with the truth and turning away from the lie,” Silk said.
In 2002, Bethel created an advanced Sozo ministry called Shabar, which is the Hebrew word for “broken.” The ministry is for those who still seek healing after experiencing two Sozo prayer sessions.
“Should persons attending Sozo sessions be unable to hold on to their healing, they may be encouraged to seek a ‘Shabar’ session …. Shabar is a ministry to individuals who have continued to have inner healing ministry and yet cannot hold on to their healing,” the Bethel Sozo website explains.