Richard Foster Promotes Sanford’s “Prayer”


Richard Foster’s website for his contemplative organization, Renovare, promotes his mentor, Agnes Sanford . Foster offers a page promoting Sanford (1897-1982) with excerpts from her  “much-loved” book, The Healing Light. Examining this is crucial for understanding Foster’s idea of prayer.


A personal note: When I was only about 3 days old in Christ, I came across this book by Sanford that Foster quotes from. Looking through it, I was shocked to see that Sanford recommended visualizing a white light to heal an injured finger (I had no idea at the time who Foster and Sanford were). This is what I had learned in the New Age. I was confused since this was the section on Christianity and so I quickly put the book back. I didn’t know what to think. (This was a secular bookstore but Sanford’s books are in Christian bookstores and venues).


Sanford’s Prayer

Here is the except from Sanford that Foster offers which I have divided up in order to make comments:


The One who knew said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Happy, that is, are those people who know that their spirituality is small, that their creeds are imperfect, that their instruction concerning God and man is incomplete. Happy are those who know that they do not know all of truth. For only those who admit their spiritual poverty are willing to learn.


The above is an excellent example of reading your own meaning into the text. The text says nothing of what Sanford so confidently asserts. The “poor in spirit” are those who recognize their spiritual poverty, their need for dependence on God.


Sanford’s statement also dismisses the idea that we can know truth with God’s word. If “instruction” about God and man is “incomplete,” then she believed the Bible to be insufficient on truth, on who God is, and on what we need to know. So apparently God failed at providing enough instruction for Christians.


Sanford’s statement reveals either her ignorance, or her dismissal of and/or defiance of God. This is not surprising given her teachings, which were a veiled form of New Thought (although she was ostensibly a Christian and married to an Episcopalian minister). In contrast, God tells us:


All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17


The article then gives Sanford’s “Four Simple Steps Into Prayer” (slightly shortened by me for space):


“The first step in seeking to produce results by any power is to contact that power. The first step then in seeking help from God is to contact God. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Let us then lay aside our worries and cares, quiet our minds and concentrate upon the reality of God. We may not know who God is or what God is, but we know that there is something that sustains this universe, and that something is not ourselves……”


Sanford misuses Psalm 46:10 as so many do today. Psalm 46 is not about prayer or even about being physically still, but rather it is about God being in control and for those striving and in strife to cease and trust God. Astonishingly, Sanford writes:


We may not know who God is or what God Is


Well, if that is the case, then why is she even talking about prayer? Is it not of primary importance to state who God is and recognize him?  Yes, someone who does not know God can call on him but this is supposedly prayer instruction for Christians. As we read on, we see that who God is  is not an essential for Sanford.


The second step is to turn it on, by some such prayer as this ‘Heavenly Father, please increase in me at this time Your life-giving power.’ Or if we do not know this outside life as our Heavenly Father, we can simply say ‘Whoever you are—whatever you are—come into me now!


So prayer is “turning on” power from some God – any God, apparently. And the purpose is to “increase” power.


Asking “whoever you are — whatever you are — come into me now” is not only foolish, it is spiritually dangerous. This is an invitation to be influenced by fallen angels (unclean spirits). Perhaps the reason Sanford seems not to care who God is is that God is a principle in New Thought.


The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it……


Sanford is basing these steps on New Thought principles, that if you truly believe something will happen, it will (and you use methods like her prayers because words allegedly have power). It is very mechanistic, like feeding a slot machine.


Moreover, we don’t ask God to give us power for ourselves but instead we ask to rely on his power so that he will be glorified in the matter.


Sanford seems to think it is fine to ask for this power even if you don’t know who God is. It does not matter to Sanford because this is a New Thought technique, not a prayer. Prayer in New Thought is a technique and the New Thought God is a principle.


Sanford is the “Mother of Inner Healing” and because of her, New Thought inner healing is pervasive in the church.


And the fourth step is to observe the operations of that light and life. In order to do so, we must decide on some tangible thing that we wish accomplished by that power, so that we can know without question whether our experiment succeeded or failed.


Sanford believes that she and anyone who wants it is in charge of this “power.” She writes “we must decide on some tangible thing” that we want from the prayer. This is using prayer as a test to see if we are praying correctly to get what we want. This is compatible with New Thought but not with biblical Christianity. Sanford is not teaching anything Christian on this supposed Christian site from the ever popular Richard Foster.


Sanford and New Thought

Sanford’s teachings are immersed in New Thought, a belief system she once followed but apparently never left. Sanford continued to promote New Thought teacher Emmet Fox even after her alleged conversion to Christianity. Sanford held heretical beliefs, such as writing that God the Father incarnated as Jesus (Behold Your God, 99).


A Wikipedia article on the Inner Healing Movement has this interesting information:


Agnes Sanford (1897–1982) is considered to be the mother of the inner healing movement. Along with her husband, she founded The Agnes Sanford School of Pastoral Care in 1958.

The inner healing movement is also often compared and associated with Inner Healing and Healing of Memories. Other people who feature prominently in its history are Ruth Carter Stapleton,[2] Leanne PayneFrancis MacNutt and Charles Fillmore. A number of organizations are currently active, including Elijah House,[3] Ministries of Pastoral Care,[4] and Sozo Ministries.


Notice the names listed. I recall as a New Ager that someone gave me a book about Ruth Carter Stapleton, who is termed “an American Christian evangelist,” on inner healing (Stapleton was the sister of President Jimmy Carter and I was living in Georgia, where Carter was from). I looked through it but was not interested. However, I found it odd that Stapleton, whom I knew was a Christian, was teaching New Age methods of healing and visualization. It stuck me as quite bizarre.


Regarding the other names, I am familiar somewhat with Leanne Payne (I read a chapter in her book in order to critique it) and Francis MacNutt (1925-2020), whom I investigated years ago because a friend was learning healing ministry and had to watch a film on MacNutt. She was disturbed by his ideas and asked if I knew anything. So I investigated and was appalled by the teachings on his website and his strange spiritual warfare ideas. His methods were occultic to the core (as many “Christian healing” methods are).


The name that really leaps out is CHARLES FILLMORE (1854-1948). Fillmore, along with his wife Myrtle, founded one of the biggest and most successful New Thought churches, the Unity School of Christianity (now just Unity). Myrtle had been influenced deeply by Christian Science and Charles had studied some Eastern religions, among other things. [Note: Unity disclaims being a New Thought church although it is; they claim to be “practical Christianity”]. A Unity site states that “The founders studied Buddhism, Theosophy, Hinduism, as well as Christianity and other spiritual traditions.


What stands out to me is not just that Fillmore’s name is listed, but that he is listed along with three Christians. This is a very visible “tell” that inner healing is New Thought, and it is, so it is not surprising that Sanford is called the “mother of inner healing.”


What makes it worse is that Richard Foster, whose Celebration of Discipline is almost a classic in evangelical Christianity, and whose Renovare Institute (co-founded with the late Dallas Willard) is promoting Sanford and her so-called prayer, and churches promote and recommend Richard Foster and his Celebration of Discipline, which reflects some of Sanford’s New Thought methods.


Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Cor. 6:14, ESV


More Information

CANA Articles

Emmet Fox and Agnes Sanford: Two Dangerous


Dangers of Visualization

(used in Inner Healing)



Expose of Sanford’s teachings by David Cloud


Critique of Inner Healing


Articles by Bob DeWaay

Inner Healing


Healing of Memories


How Deliverance Ministries Lead People to Bondage

(Deliverance and Inner Healing are often linked)


Highly recommended book, Abusing Memory: The Healing Theology of Agnes Sanford by Jane Grumprecht


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