This blog is written by John White, exploring his thoughts and revelation on prophecy and mission.
“He is the missionary Spirit of the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary church.” (The Cape Town Commitment)
As the missionary Spirit breathes life and power into God’s missionary church, so God’s people are released into prophetic missional activity. Prophecy is to mission as a heart is to life. Prophecy lies at the heart of the mission of God’s people. This has been the case throughout Scripture, whether under the Old or New Covenant.
The history of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles clearly shows the connection between the gift of the Spirit and the missional activity of the early disciples. The Acts of the Apostles is not just about God’s guidance; it is about specific directions from the Spirit for mission.
Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Explore, dream and discover.
There is an extraordinary connection between three chapters in the Bible; Joel 2, Acts 2, and Numbers 11, and all three present an opportunity to ‘explore, dream and discover’.
In Numbers 1 – 10, God was preparing his people for the journey from Sinai through the wilderness to the land that God had promised them. How were the people to relate to a holy God? How were they to be a people on mission? The story of the Bible is how God called a people to himself through Abraham, beginning with liberating the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.
So if Numbers 1-10 is an exploration of how to relate to a holy God, Numbers 11 is a ‘bridge’ chapter, that reveals the pressure the people of God faced when starting to walk out God’s mission. It is a chapter of ‘responses’ – the people’s, Moses’ and God’s. Response after response. It is hard being a people on mission for God. So the people complained. Why couldn’t they have stayed in Egypt? What on earth are they doing here in a wilderness? And as for the food; all they got was manna, conveniently forgetting that the manna was God’s gracious provision to keep them alive in the desert.
They craved meat. They looked back to Egypt, hardly halcyon days. They grumbled and complained. Not one for missing an opportunity to get involved, Moses added his complaint. He was fed up with the burden of leading God’s people.
What happens? Seventy people, who were already exercising some form of leadership, were chosen to be elders. God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy elders. The result was that the seventy began to prophesy. Two others, who were not part of the original seventy, also began to prophesy. Joshua thought that they should be stopped, but Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Moses’ pipe dream? Yes, but one that would be linked through a promise in Joel 2 (2:28 – “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy …”) to the fulfilment in Acts 2. What was a pipe dream in Numbers 11, and a prophecy in Joel 2, eventually become a reality in Acts 2.
If Numbers 11 is about empowering God’s people to fulfil God’s mission to the world under the Old Covenant, so Acts 2 is the same, but this time under the New Covenant.
Joel’s promise of the gift of prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost, enabling God’s people to take up Abraham’s call to be a blessing to the nations, a prophetic blessing to the nations. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called by God, who blesses him so that he will be a blessing to the nations. Later, in Genesis 20:7, Abraham is described as a prophet. His ministry was to the nations. His was a missionary call to the nations that had at its heart the prophetic equipping and empowering of God’s people.
Prophecy and mission are intertwined together. As Robert P Menzies has written in ‘Empowered for Witness – The Spirit in Luke-Acts’, “According to Luke, the Spirit of Pentecost is the source of prophetic inspiration and, as such, the Spirit of mission.” The Acts of the Apostles shows us the first disciples seeking to live out their mission as the Spirit-filled prophets, thus demonstrating the outworking of the link between Numbers 11, Joel 2 and Acts 2.
In G Vandervelde & W R Barr’s book, ‘The Spirit in the Proclamation of the Church’, we read: “All God’s people are “to prophesy” … are called to proclaim the story of God’s love.” Frank DeCenso Jr. writes in his book, ‘Amazed by the Power of God’, “… God wants His children to catch the vision of moving in His power to change other’s lives and to tell all people that He is in love with them.”
As then, so now. That’s our mission, that’s our calling; to be a prophetic people living in truth and love, and speaking out God’s prophetic word.
Application: how we go about responding to this
Erwin Raphael McManus: “when we become visible, the invisible presence of God becomes visible.” Am I seeking to be intentionally visible in bringing a prophetic word from God to those I meet? Is God calling me to leave the familiar (like Moses leaving the privileged life of a prince, to be drawn into the wilderness) and to speak God’s prophetic word to those outside my immediate context?