Question: I have heard of a number of churches that are giving copies of Rocky Fleming's The Prayer Cottage and the Sacred Garden to church members. Are you familiar with the book, and is there a reason to be concerned?
Response: This devotional book is promoted as an invitation to those "overwhelmed by the pressures of life" to "enter the Prayer Cottage and the Sacred Garden." Those who accept this invitation will "want to read this beautiful allegory again and again, returning to the Prayer Cottage and the Sacred Garden to find the peace you seek." That's quite a promise--and rather presumptuous when compared to Scripture.
In John:14:27, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Our peace and our rest are to be found in Christ alone. He commands us to come unto Him and "learn of me," and we are to seek Him with all our heart.
The question to ask, therefore, is whether or not this book leads one to a greater relationship with Christ. Does it bring us closer to Christ, who is "our peace" (Eph:2:14), or to "another Jesus" (2 Cor:11:4)?
Beginning with an out-of-body experience that transports the author of this allegory to the "Prayer Cottage," much of what follows sounds more mystical or psychological than devotional. The emphasis is on the experiential. The writer states that it is the Lord who is speaking to him. The words, however, rarely sound like the words of the Lord from Scripture. Instead, these words in the mouth of the "Lord" sound like those of the Shaolin martial arts instructors in the old Kung Fu TV series: "Remain quiet, My child. Say nothing, right now," the Lord whispered.
Consider the biblical model: "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps:46:10).
Several experiences follow, sometimes with sentient inanimate objects. For example, when the writer enters the Prayer Cottage, he finds himself in "the Grace room." He sits down in an overstuffed chair and "immediately feels its loving acceptance" (p. 19). A chair may be comfortable, but is it really "accepting" or "loving"?
Next is the "Examination room," in which the writer tells us that in the "deep recesses" of his mind, this "room had effectively revealed something awful in my life that I had hidden from myself" (p. 27). No, it is the Lord "who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor:4:5). It is the Word of God that "is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb:4:12).
Between the Prayer Cottage and the Sacred Garden is a courtyard, where Fleming realizes that he is on a "vision journey." Shamans and pagans go on vision journeys, but there is no biblical precedent for believers. We are not to go on a vision journey--we are told to come unto Christ.
Next is the Sacred Garden, where "my children and I do our best communicating. In this place poetry, songs, and inspired words are written." Here is where the writer is overwhelmed by his own inadequacy but is reassured by the Lord, who tells him, "The Holy Spirit, right this minute, is speaking heavenly words to Me that are from your heart. He is translating your deep feelings for Me into heavenly words of praise" (p. 35).
What does the Lord grow in the Sacred Garden? "Many other fruits...are provided for special occasions....If special words are needed to encourage someone, I have fruit for that. Or, if a particular person requires extra understanding, I will provide that fruit for My child to give to that person" (p. 37).
The writer is taken to "Meditation Rock," which at first seems more biblical in that he is told "if you really seek understanding, you will find it in My Word." What we find, however, are the "meanings and mysteries of Me from My Word" (p. 45).
Jesus said plainly, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Mt 11:29). No "mysteries" here. What Jesus offers is what we need: "rest unto [our] souls."
The writer is shown a glimpse of the "Valley of Abundance," which is only reached by going through the "Shadow of Death." The path he takes is hundreds of feet high and at points is "only a little wider than a tightrope" (p. 52), sounding as surreal as a painting by Salvador Dali.
After a harrowing journey over the heights to "Restoration Pool," the Lord begins "ministering to me in a way I had never experienced before. Heavenly music filled my ears and found lodging in my soul. A gentle humming anointed me with tranquility and calmness" (p. 61).
Finally, "the Lord" says, "As my champion, you will engage in spiritual warfare, and you will experience spiritual wounds from the enemy." "The Lord" then states that He will deal with the wounds "in the deepest possible way," explaining that many do not have a "concept of Me as a loving Father, because their own earthly fathers wounded them so deeply....I want to be their Abba, their Daddy, if they will let me....I am the Abba that their inner being is crying for" (p. 63).
That may be Freudian psychology, but it certainly isn't biblical truth. It's the same as with the writer of The Shack (see Aug 2008 TBC). God has identified Himself as the "Father" in Scripture, and He certainly must have a reason. That is where our understanding must begin. The failure of fathers (or mothers, or friends) is no excuse for looking to psychobabble.
Furthermore, Fleming's writing is blasphemous in the sense that he is ascribing to God much that is contrary to His Word, and he compounds the error by telling the reader that this is what Jesus communicated to him. Certainly Jesus can speak to a person's heart, or even audibly, if He so chooses. But that will always be subjective and personal for the one receiving the communication, which then must be held up to the light of Scripture (Is 8:20). When it becomes a published communication of the Lord's alleged words, it is nearly always received by the undiscerning as a valid word from the Lord that supplements Scripture. Regarding that serious error, we all need to be reminded: Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted.
The danger in Rocky Fleming's The Prayer Cottage and the Sacred Garden is that it alludes to Scripture, and although the experiential nature of the book may stir emotions, it provides the reader no insight or practical truth to draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ who "loved us, and hath given himself for us..." (Eph:5:2).