Lessons from Nehemiah: The Response Phase

This blog has been written by Ceri and Simon Harris, leaders of Burlington Baptist church in Ipswich. Ceri leads the Accessible Prophecy UK team.

We are experiencing tumultuous times.  We know that times of great disturbance or disaster follow three broad phases:

Response:  the immediate emergency response to the situation 

Recovery: the long slow period of getting back to a new normal

Reconstruction: the long term rebuilding and protection from a future reoccurrence

We see that Nehemiah went through these same stages.  In this series of three blogs we will explore his journey and see what lessons we can draw in being attentive to the voice of God.

In the midst of the disaster facing his people, Nehemiah heard the voice of God.  Chapter 1 of Nehemiah helps us understand the environment that enables him hear.

1. He was attentive with his mind

I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:2

Nehemiah was quick to seek out news.  To understand what was happening.  To connect with the world around him.  We are reminded of how connected the prophets were with their culture and context.  Hearing God speak is never in a vacuum.  

What are we enquiring after?  

2. He was attentive with his heart 

This current crisis has caused many of us to shut out the daily news as its impact can be overwhelming.  But here are we are gently reminded that Nehemiah not only enquired but that he also engaged his heart.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:3

We must be appropriate of course, and guard becoming overwhelmed, however for Nehemiah it was as he enquired his mind and engaged his heart that he began to hear the voice of God.

What are we weeping about?

3. He was attentive in prayer 

This seems obvious.  It is.  But it’s not easy.  The time stamp of chapter 1:1 and chapter 2:1 is a period of 4 months.  

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

The voice of God can be a quick and instant reality, but at other times it is a growing conviction borne out of days, weeks, months of prayer.

What are we praying for?

4. He was attentive to God

We all have a history, a context, a reality.  Nehemiah certainly did.  Even though he was serving in a foreign land he kept his faith & God’s faithfulness at the centre of his focus.  This seems really important.  His prayer didn’t focus on the disaster, but rather on God.

Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments … Nehemiah 1:5

God was all powerful and able (v5)

God’s love was dependable (v5)

God’s promises were certain (v5)

God is merciful (v6)

God keeps his promises (v8-9)

Where is our focus?

5. He was attentive to God’s timing 

Four months!  That’s waiting.  That’s patience.  That’s a careful, poised, God is in control wait.  When exactly did he know that God was asking him to return to do the rebuilding? We might suspect pretty early on, although we don’t know.  God’s word though is never rushed.  We do well to sit with it, meditate on it and pray over it.  A little seed, a quiet whisper begins to grow.  God’s word grows in clarity, in depth, in richness as we wait. 

How long do you wait when we think we have heard God speak?

6.  He was ready to take action 

So at the right moment he jumped into action.  Looking sad in the King’s presence (risking his life if the king was displease) the thing was perfect.  God had gone ahead of his word, and may the way ready.  The king asked what Nehemiah wanted:

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:4-5

He was an active responder.  Poised, ready to act on what God was saying despite the challenge and obstacles ahead, despite the ridicule and moments of self doubt. 

Such is the posture of those who faithfully hear the word of the Lord.

When we hear God speak are we passive receivers or an active responders?

Utilising Prophets in a Global Pandemic

Did you know that you have prophets in your church?

Ephesians 4 make it clear that the ascended Christ has gifted this particular bunch of folks to his Body, along with the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. And these roles are not just for leaders, they are for every Christian.

Jesus has given prophets to his church! So even if you feel a bit uncomfortable about the idea of labelling someone a ‘prophet’ there are plenty of them around, and they are there for “equipping Christ’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13)

I really hope that’s your experience of fivefold prophets. (I’m all too aware that there have been plenty of prophets who have not lived up to these verses, who have not humbly equipped the church and produced unity and maturity – which is why I’m passionate about discipling prophets and helping them be all that Jesus intends them to be.)

In giving prophets to the church Jesus has given us a part of his beautiful and perfect ministry. After all, Jesus is the perfect prophet, the most complete example of prophetic ministry we have ever had, and the One on whom we must model our own prophetic lifestyle and call. The fivefold role of the prophet is fundamentally there to serve the Body of Christ and help it become mature. It’s a ministry that we should be celebrating and releasing, along with the other fivefold roles.

Unfortunately, not all churches know what to do with their prophets at the best of times, let alone when there is a global pandemic happening. So in this blog I want to share a few thoughts on how churches can best utilise their prophets at a time like this – a time when so much is being shaken.

PRAYER: Now more than ever the church needs to be praying – and prophets love prayer. They particularly love being alone in their own private prayer closets, so now is a good time to challenge them to share their passion for intercession with others and to think about how to get the whole church committed to praying. Welcome their insights into how your church can develop a much healthier prayer culture.

A couple of practical suggestions:

  • Ask your prophets to mobilize a 24-7 prayer event particularly focusing on the needs of the local community and the impact of Covid-19.
  • If you are a church leader then ask your prophets to be interceding for you and your ministry at this time. Choose some that you trust and get them praying.

LISTENING: This is a time of sifting and refining, when we need to be reimagining how we do church and where God is leading us. Prophets function as the eyes and ears of the Body, alert to the purposes of God and the promptings of his Spirit. They can bring both God’s words for now, speaking into the current situation, and God’s words for the future as we discern the way forward. They can hear God for both individuals, speaking much needed words of strengthening and comfort, and corporate words for the Body, city and nation.

A practical suggestion:

  • Gather your prophets regularly (online!) over the next few months with the specific purpose of giving them a safe space to share what they sense God is saying to your church at this time. They will need this space to process everything they have been discerning over the last few months. Give them permission to seek God’s heart for words of encouragement and direction for the Body.

ORIENTATE: Because of their passion for God’s presence prophets have an important role to play in re-focusing attention back on God and reminding people of his unfailing love and care for his people. Prophets strengthen the church by helping people draw closer to God and by supplying a life-giving God-awareness. This pandemic is increasing already record levels of anxiety, fear and distraction. We need the ministry of the prophets to help us stay centred on Jesus and the peace that can only be found in his presence.

A practical suggestion:

  • Get your prophets leading a daily online ‘drop-in’ session where people can come and be refreshed in God’s presence through stillness, quiet reflection, mediation on God’s love, and prophetic ministry.

QUESTIONING: Prophets live in a place of tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, the ‘actual’ and the ‘ideal’. They are simultaneously focussed on the glory of God and, at the same time, sensitive to the existing reality in the world around them, with all its injustice and brokenness. This ‘gap-consciousness’ means they are wired to ask questions, to provoke, to confront, and to challenge the status quo. The prophet’s questioning can feel threatening for church leaders, but I believe that in this current season the church urgently needs the prophets to be bringing an alternative consciousness and helping us think outside the box. In a time of shaking we need to be alert to the new things that God is doing. The world right now is grieving, but it is also full of possibilities, and prophets are very much awake to divine promise and the newness that comes through godly questioning. They know that God is on the move and want the rest of the Body to catch up.

A couple of practical suggestions:

  • Commission your prophets to dream with God and to bring some grace-filled prayer-soaked questioning to the community. Allow them to reimagine what the church might look like post-Covid.
  • Ask your prophets to bring their prophetic imagination to the question of how, as we face a global recession, we can better offer support for the poor and marginalised in our city.

This is undoubtably a time of great shaking, for society and for the church. But there is something about the prophetic personality that relishes a bit of shaking and instinctively knows how to navigate a way through it. Fivefold prophets are alive and well in the church today. We need to find them, disciple them, embed them in community, and put them to work.

Hearing God’s Voice in a Time of Shaking

As someone who has sought after the voice of God for most of my adult life I know how comforting and reassuring it can be to hear the gentle voice of the Lord speaking to us in the midst of the storms of life. There are plenty of other ‘voices’ out there right now; voices of fear, panic and confusion that make it especially hard to connect with the ‘still small voice’ of God. This global pandemic has arrived at a time of unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression; so more than ever we need to be able to hear the kind and reassuring words of the Lord: his ‘now’ words that speak directly into our current, specific reality. We need to hear his voice in our hearts.

Jesus’ promise that his ‘sheep’ would hear his voice remains true, regardless of circumstances. This is a promise for every single one of us. The language of the Spirit – the spiritual, internal language that Jesus speaks to us through – is one of incredible depth and beauty, but so simple that a child can learn it. Through ‘listening prayer’ we can all learn to connect with the profound joy of God’s presence and the voice that speaks into our deepest needs. Even if you feel a long way from Jesus right now I want to reassure you that he’s so much closer and so much better than you can even imagine, and well able to pierce the darkness with his brilliant light and his words of love.

So – how do we tune in to God’s voice in a time of great shaking? If you are well practiced in listening prayer and the prophetic gifts, then you just have to do what you have always done, but with much more intentionality. If this is all new to you, I hope you find the following helpful:

1. Remember who God is

What better place to start than by reminding ourselves of the goodness of God! There are so many passages in the Bible that encourage us fix our eyes on God in a time of crisis and speak to us of his constant love and sovereign power. He is the Alpha and Omega who holds all things together. And to hear his voice we need to remember that it is his very nature to call us close and welcome us into his glorious presence. He is our safe place, our portion, and our delight.

God is the great Communicator, unlimited in the ways he speaks to us. He is our perfect heavenly Father who delights to talk to us. He is a relational God who speaks in order to make himself known, and to share his heart and mind with his people. Our Good Father is relentlessly good and kind, and he wants to encourage us and lead us through his voice.

2. Remember who you are

In order to hear God’s voice clearly we have to be secure in our identity as beloved children of God. We have to learn to think like a son or daughter of our perfect heavenly Father. The world around us is constantly trying to tell us that we’re not good enough, clever enough, attractive enough, successful enough. But we have to remember that we are God’s beloved children invited into the richest of relationships, recipients of unquenchable and unconditional love. He is already pleased with us and he calls us his friends. We can live in child-like faith and expectation that we’re welcomed into his presence and that we’ll hear his voice.

3. Prioritise stillness and rest

If there is one thing I’ve learnt about tuning in to God’s voice, it’s that you can’t hear him from a place of striving, stress and hurry. We can only hear him clearly if we’re listening from a place of rest.

Which is all very well, but how can we find that place of peace, stillness and rest when the whole world has gone crazy??

This is where good rhythms and spiritual practices come in. It’s possible for all of us to find simple ways to practice the perfect stillness that can only truly be found in the presence of God. We have to take on the discipline of rest.

There are many great books and resources out there to help, but here’s a simple ‘stillness’ exercise that I am regularly practicing at the moment. It helps me cultivate a God-centred peace and really helps me to tune in to God’s heart so I can hear his words of encouragement to me.

  • Find a quiet spot to sit in for a few minutes.
  • Give thanks to God that he’s here with you right now and that he loves you unconditionally.
  • Give him any worries or anxieties – he’ll gladly take them off you.
  • Practice Paul’s exhortation from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
    • So, find something to rejoice in;
    • Choose something to pray about;
    • Be thankful about something – even if it’s as simple as being thankful for the cup of tea that you’re holding.
  • Finally, ask God if there is anything he wants to say to you. Remember that God speaks in many different ways. So you may find that a fleeting image pops into your head, or the name of a friend, or a verse from the Bible. It may be something as simple as a sense of peace or love. Just go with it; don’t dismiss it. Write it down and give thanks.

I want to finish with some words from Psalm 46, a Psalm that is very apt for the circumstances we all find ourselves in right now. It reminds us that no matter what is going on, God is the One who calls everything to stillness and to the knowledge of his reality and presence.

            God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is with her, she will not fall…

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts….

He says, “Be still and know that I am God…”

Making Sense of the Old Testament Prophets: 2

As we saw in the previous blog, one way of making sense of the Old Testament prophets is to summarise their ministry according to these two dimensions:

  • Vertical dimension: focused on protecting and maintaining the covenant relationship between God and his people.
  • Horizontal dimension: focused on God’s concerns in the world.

In this blog I’m going to unpack the Horizontal dimension a bit more, and look at how the prophet’s passion for God was often channelled into a passionate engagement with the world around him. Because, at the end of the day,

You can’t worship God and be unmoved by the things that move God.

The prophets of old knew both the ecstasy of being caught up with the glory of God and the agony of seeing the broken world from God’s perspective. For many of them, as they encountered God they simultaneously encountered the divine pathos: the deep emotions in the very heart of God. And a common outcome of this was the prophet being used by God to challenge the various injustices prevalent in the society of the day.

The best place to start is with Moses. Thousands of years may have passed but his embodiment of the prophetic role, along both dimensions, still resonates clearly. Moses heard from God and became the Lord’s friend, and it’s Moses’ ongoing relationship with God that marks him out as the prototype for all other prophets. And when God was moved by the suffering of the Israelites and initiated his great rescue plan he chose Moses as his prophet:

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt”  Exodus 3:9-10

Moses stands as a towering figure over the Old Testament. The Exodus story is the narrative of the Old Testament and Moses is the protagonist of the Exodus narrative – the great archetypal story of an enslaved people becoming free. God raised up Moses as his representative, commissioned to lead his people, and to confront the evil regime of Pharaoh. Through Moses, the first prophet, God’s reality crashed headlong into the dominant imperial culture, into Pharaoh’s version of reality, so that the false gods were exposed and so that God’s people could break free from oppression and exploitation.

Moses gives us a great framework for understanding the Horizontal aspect of prophetic ministry and helps us make sense of how many prophets after him engaged with God’s heart for social justice. In the Old Testament we see that part of the prophet’s role was as political commentator and activist: concerned with challenging empire and society, and taking the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. They spoke truth to power, and experienced anguish at injustice and oppression. 

Amos makes this very clear:

Let justice roll on like a river…  Amos 5:24

The Horizontal dimension of the prophet’s ministry is about calling for change: for societal transformation so that the poor, downtrodden and marginalised are protected. This is about advocacy for the powerless and being prepared to stand with the oppressed. The Hebrew prophets were not afraid of emphasising the need for God’s people to live ethically and to love justice.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”  Isaiah 58:6

Something that has helped me make better sense of the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, especially in the Horizontal dimension, is Walter Brueggemann’s remarkable book “The Prophetic Imagination” and his insight into the prophet’s role of nurturing an alternative consciousness to that of the dominant culture. It’s a two-step process:

1. Criticise The prophetic task is to first of all name the realities of brokenness, exploitation and injustice. This means being able to stand apart from the prevailing culture and being able to speak to it, with eyes to see and ears to hear. The prophet has to be prepared to lament, to allow God to “break my heart for what breaks yours” and to then to name things for what they are.

2. Energise The second part of the prophetic task is to energise and empower God’s people by ministering hope and expectation, and propelling them into godly action. This is the prophet helping people to imagine an alternative to the status quo and anticipate God’s renewal of all things. The prophet helps us stay attuned to God’s promises and remind us that God is faithful.

In holding these two together – criticism and energising – the biblical prophetic tradition challenges the status quo of oppression and injustice and enables God’s people to embrace an alternative way of thinking and acting.

What does this mean for us?

One thing we can take from the prophets of old is that an embrace of prophetic ministry is not just about seeking God’s voice and presence, but also being prepared to represent his holy concerns. As we pursue God’s heart we will certainly encounter his heart for justice and righteousness. A mature prophetic lifestyle is about being first prepared to sit with God and lament, and then to rejoice with God and dance upon injustice.

What’s Discipleship Got To Do With It?

Here at Accessible Prophecy we love our coaching huddles! This month I’m training up six new coaches who will soon be starting their own prophetic huddles: the multiplication process that this training represents is a core value for us and a great way to grow healthy prophetic culture in many different contexts.

As many of you know from first hand experience, at the heart of the huddle you find two questions:

            What is God saying to you?

            What are you going to do about it?

These two questions illuminate the fundamental process of discipleship that Jesus presents to us time and again in the gospels, and that he uses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Discipleship is at the very heart of our faith. The call on our lives is not simply to believe in Jesus but to actively follow him as disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be constantly looking to Jesus to hear what he wants us to do, and then living it out. Disciples intentionally choose to listen and obey.

Discipleship is intrinsically linked to the prophetic. To follow Jesus faithfully requires a sensitivity to his voice: that ability to discern what he is saying to us in the midst of many other clamouring voices fighting for our attention. So if we want to grow a discipleship culture one of the first things we have to do is teach the people of God how to hear him, both in the written Word of scripture and through the ‘now’ words of the Spirit.

But if it’s true that we need the prophetic in order for discipleship to happen, then we absolutely need discipleship for the prophetic to flourish. A mature prophetic culture is one that is thoroughly rooted in discipleship. Without an emphasis on discipleship the prophetic is highly vulnerable to all sorts of pitfalls and hazards, such as lack of accountability, isolation and judgmentalism.

I’m thankful that here in my church in Sheffield we’ve been able to develop a prophetic culture in the midst of a strong culture of discipleship. And this has been so beneficial. It’s meant that the prophetic is rooted in accountability, and done so much to ensure there is a healthy emphasis not just on “What has God said?” but also on “What are we going to do about it?”. It’s meant that even the most gifted prophets see themselves as disciples first, and has helped develop a culture where the prophetic is normalised: we can all learn to hear God’s voice.

A discipling culture brings with it a necessary emphasis on community – we can’t do discipleship in isolation! – and this is vital for a healthy prophetic culture. The New Covenant model of prophetic ministry is very much rooted in community, and we need to create environments where prophetic expression is embedded in strong accountable relationships.

As we seek to grow a discipleship culture in which the prophetic can flourish it’s very important that we don’t confuse the ability to hear God clearly with spiritual maturity. It’s all too easy to look at an anointed prophet who is getting accurate revelation and therefore assume that he or she is a mature disciple of Jesus. Anointing is not an indication of character. Putting the emphasis on discipleship above gifting helps us to embrace wholeness and maturity. It also helps to avoid any kind of spiritual hierarchy.

It’s worth noting that some leaders are reluctant to actively disciple people who are more prophetically gifted than them. The insecure leader is going to ask, “How can I lead this highly anointed prophet who hears God better than I do?” But this is not fully understanding the process of discipleship. Discipling others is not about hearing better; it’s about holding people accountable to what God is saying to them. It’s about calling people to fruitfulness and engagement with God’s Kingdom. It’s about allowing others to imitate us as we pursue relationship with Jesus.

So let’s celebrate discipleship! We can’t grow a healthy prophetic culture without it.

Expectancy

If we expect God to speak to us then we’ll probably hear him. If we don’t, then we probably won’t.

Now, I realise that’s quite a bold statement, but I observe the reality of it frequently, both in my own life and in many people I meet. Expectancy is such a vital component of hearing God’s voice and if we’re going to operate in prophetic gifts we need to have a well-developed sense of expectation that God is going to do something and say something today.

Expectancy goes hand in hand with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. If we’re going to pursue these wonderful gifts we need to first of all desire them and then be expectant of the Spirit’s generosity and faithfulness in giving them to us.

Expectancy comes from knowing to a greater and greater degree the truth of who God is – relentlessly good and amazingly generous – and the truth of who we are – beloved children, filled with the very Spirit of truth and revelation. God is our perfect heavenly Father who delights to speak to his children; he wants us to hear his voice. An expectant mindset is nurtured as we root ourselves in the truth of our covenant identity and the kingdom purposes for which God has called us. Life in the Spirit means every moment of every day is pregnant with possibilities.

In order to grow our expectancy we need to recognise the things that can thwart and frustrate it: disappointment and fear of failure being two of the usual suspects. We have to persevere in our pursuit of God’s voice. Developing expectancy is a daily choice and an attitude to cultivate. Having a mindset of expectancy means that we have developed a particular way of thinking: “I’m a child of God; of course he’s going to speak to me, and he’s going to use me to be a channel of blessing for others. I can seek his heart for everyone I meet today.”

Each one of us needs to be growing our expectancy as individuals, but we also need to be developing a culture of expectancy in our churches. A healthy, mature prophetic culture is one in which people are excited and expectant that whenever we gather together God is present and active in our midst and that the Spirit of Revelation might just show up with some incredible truth to share with us: a community that expects to hear God with a corporate attitude of expectancy. Too often the reason we’re not seeing the kingdom of God break out in our midst with signs and wonders is because we’re not actually expecting God to do very much.

Expectancy flows from the presence of God and a renewed mind: it’s first and foremost an internal process, where we shape our way of thinking. But there is also an external process, a practical aspect of cultivating expectancy, where we intentionally create space to hear God and create opportunities to use the gift of prophecy. It’s often as simple as making room to listen to God, actively seeking his revelation together. Whenever we’re gathered we can get in the habit of saying, “Let’s just wait on the Lord for a few minutes…” It’s also about giving people plenty of opportunities to practice prophecy in a safe and releasing environment.

We can practice expectancy by starting every day in joyful anticipation of an encounter with God’s heart and his voice. And by asking him about who we might meet and how he wants to bless them. Let’s believe the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:11

How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The Prophetic Process: Responding

In a recent series of blogs we have been exploring the ‘prophetic process’ and considering how hearing God’s voice is much more than a one-off event, but rather something to be properly unpacked and worked through. We’ve looked at the ‘tuning in’ part and the ‘discernment’ part. And finally we come to what in many ways is the most crucial element of the whole process: what we do in response to God speaking to us.

As we consider how to respond to God’s voice we find ourselves at the place where the prophetic intersects with discipleship. In many ways this intersection is at the heart of our relationship with Jesus. Because as Christians we know that the call on our lives is not just to believe in Jesus but also to follow him as disciples. And we can only consistently and effectively follow him if we learn to recognise his voice and then respond with obedience.

As disciples of Jesus we are constantly looking to him to hear what he wants us to do – and then living it out. That’s the essence of discipleship: hear and obey.

Listen to what Jesus says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.Matthew 7:24

It’s not enough to simply hear Jesus’ words to us – we also need to align our lives with them and obey.

We can have the most incredible 3D technicolour visions, encounter angels, and hear the audible voice of God (and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing those things), but if we don’t respond – if we don’t allow God’s voice to change us and change the world around us – there is a problem somewhere. We have to learn how to walk in obedience to whatever God is speaking to us about.

When God speaks to us he speaks for a purpose and he looks for a response. There is a profound intentionality to God’s spoken words to us. We need to be active responders to his revelation rather than passive receivers.

We need to remember that the voice of God is here to change us, not just make us feel good. When God speaks to us it’s an invitation to transformation. Sometimes the transformation will be internal – a change of heart or mind – and sometimes the transformation will be external – where we need to change our behaviour or environment – but God is always in the business of renewal. He speaks into our lives as a Good Father who desires to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and to use us as instruments of transformation in the world around us.

So, how do we become good responders to God’s voice? How do we learn to walk into the fulfilment of his precious words to us?

As I’ve coached many people over the years one thing I’ve noticed is that the ones who are prepared to make concrete, specific and accountable plans in response to God’s voice are usually the people who step into the greatest levels of transformation and grow fastest in the prophetic. When God speaks to us, whether he is speaking deeply into our identity, showing us how to tackle homelessness in our city, or anything in between, we need a plan. True discipleship is more than a theoretical acknowledgement of the truth of what he’s saying or vague notions of how we might chew over his words to us. We need to learn to respond intentionally and wholeheartedly every time the Good Shepherd speaks into our lives.

So the next time God speaks to you, for you, how about asking yourself these two questions:

  • How do I start to step into this in a very practical way over the next few days?
  • Who am I going to be accountable to?

The Prophetic Process: Discernment

“OK, so what exactly do you mean by that?”

Have you ever said that to God?

I’m doing a series of blogs over the summer on the prophetic process, the process that starts with revelation from the heart of God, and finishes, hopefully, with fulfilment and transformation. As I said in the first of these blogs, prophecy is not a one-time event, but rather a long-term process, as we align our lives and properly walk out the word from God. To have a prophetic lifestyle – and to be a disciple of Jesus – involves engaging with the whole of this process.

The three parts to the process are: first of all tuning in to God’s revelation, next discerning the interpretation, and then actively responding to what God is saying. It’s really helpful to separate out these three parts and to be conscious of where perhaps we are stronger or weaker, where we need to be more intentional.

In this blog I’m focusing on the middle part, the discerning part, where we work out the essence of what God is actually saying to us – the full meaning behind the vision, dream, word. The part where we properly unpack it and interpret it.

“What does this lovely picture of a waterfall actually mean?”

“What on earth was God saying to me through that dream of a white horse last night?”

This is all about asking God what the revelation means and getting clarity on exactly what God is saying to us through it. It’s about accurately interpreting the revelation so we then know how to respond to it.

Discernment is a vital part of the prophetic process, one that we can’t rush; and unfortunately it’s usually the part of the process where most errors are made. The easiest mistake to make is that we stick our own interpretation on God-given revelation. In fact most problems or controversy associated with prophetic ministry are actually not because of weak revelation, but because of wrong interpretation. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions and read our own interpretations into genuine revelation.

To do interpretation well we have to lay down our own reasoning and agendas, and actively enquire of the Lord. We have to ask him!

It’s important to recognise the symbolic nature of a lot of God-given revelation; sometimes prophecy is pretty strange and mysterious. To be honest I sometimes wish that God’s communication was more straightforward at times. I’m rather jealous of Moses:

“When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; 
he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles.” Numbers 12:6-8

But I think this is a good reminder that a healthy engagement with the prophetic flows out of deep relationship with God, and perhaps he chooses to speak in riddles at times so that we have to lean in extra close to him to hear the interpretation.

In whatever way God may be communicating with us, and revelation can take many wonderful and varied forms, we need to get to a point of clarity so we know exactly what he is saying to us. Yes, sometimes the interpretation comes quickly and clearly, but there are many times when we need to actively seek God for it.

When I’m helping other people process their prophecies I will often suggest they express the essence of God’s word to them as if Jesus was standing next to them and speaking directly to them. This is often a brilliant way of distilling down the meaning of the prophecy to the clarity of a few simple words.

It’s good to remember that we don’t have to work everything out by ourselves and often it’s really helpful to involve other people in the interpretation process.

As we seek to get greater clarity, good questions to ask are:

  • Why has God brought me this revelation at this time? What are his purposes?
  • What scripture is relevant?
  • What truth does God want me to get hold of?

Discerning the interpretation of prophecy is something we need to take seriously. It’s a skill we can all grow in, being confident that the Holy Spirit will faithfully lead us. So the next time you receive something from the Lord, don’t be afraid to ask him exactly what he means by it. And then listen carefully for the explanation.

The Prophetic Process: Tuning In

When did you last hear God speak to you? What did his voice sound like?

Was it like the sound of mighty waters? Or as quiet as the gentle whisper?

Whatever it sounds like, hearing God speak to us is a joy. And as disciples of Jesus and children of our perfect heavenly Father, the door is always open to his revelation. The eternal promise of Jesus is that we’ll hear and recognise his voice. In fact he wants you to hear his voice.

In my previous blog I introduced the idea of the ‘Prophetic Process’: hearing God is not an event, it’s a process – a process in which we fully engage with the intentionality of God’s words to us.

The first part of this process is Tuning In: recognising and receiving revelation from God. And in this blog I want to share some thoughts about this first step and consider how we can all find a way to do this well. I’d love everyone reading this to catch a vision for what it would look like for you to have an unhindered flow of revelation straight from the Father’s heart; because that is what is promised to us as Pentecost people who live out the reality of John 7:38. There is an invitation to live so close to God’s heart that tuning in to his frequency is a natural and everyday expression of relationship with him.

I’m going to start with these four simple steps – you’ll hear us reference them a lot at Accessible Prophecy:

  1. Know who you are: really get to grips with your covenant identity as a beloved child of God, learning to listen to him from a place of security, love and rest.
  1. Recognise all the ‘normal’ everyday ways God does speak to us and be thankful: because most of the time he speaks in normal, everyday ways to normal and everyday people – so pay attention to all the ways God is already speaking to you.
  1. Understand that we are all different and we all hear God in different ways: it’s important to identify the way you primarily hear God speak, your unique language of revelation.
  1. Be expectant: cultivate your faith that God will speak to you!

Practising these steps daily is a great way to develop a ‘tuned-in’ lifestyle. But to take things a little deeper, I want to consider the posture of such a lifestyle.

SITTING: Being a good listener is a skill. When someone really needs us to hear them we are wise to stop whatever else we’re doing and give them our full attention. Ideally we sit down with them over a nice cup of tea (if you’re English!) and look directly at them.

We choose to be fully present in the moment.

It’s exactly the same when we’re listening to God. Tuning in well requires the right posture: one of receptivity. We can’t make God speak, but we can ensure that when he does we are giving him our full attention and properly listening.

Tuning in well isn’t a technical exercise – it’s always about relationship – and we do it best when our faces are turned fully towards God, fully present, fully expectant, basking in his peace and love. This is why worship is often the best context to tune in to God’s revelation: it gives us an environment where we’ve got time, space and focus.

Tuning in well means that we are comfortable with silence – it’s enough to simply be in his presence. And wait.

And as our hearts start to leap for joy at his voice – that’s the moment when we dive in deep. We should never rush this moment; instead we need to embrace it and let it resound deeply in our spirits. We allow the door to fully open to the encounter with God, engaging all our prophetic senses. We allow the Holy Spirit to take our hand and lead us deeper into the full measure of communication from the Father’s heart.

Now I realise of course that there are situations where we don’t have all day to simply dwell in the revelation. If we’re doing prophetic ministry there are often time constraints. But even in these situations my encouragement to you is to spend a little bit longer in the tuning in.

Because at the end of the day we are talking about engaging with God’s heart – which is a vast spacious place that needs time and focus to explore.

Let us be a prophetic people consumed with the very heart of God, being prepared to take our time to explore his heart for everyone we meet. Get the kettle on and go and sit down with him. He’s waiting for you.

The Prophetic Process

I’m the sort of person who loves getting to the bottom of things. I enjoy unpacking concepts and ideas and finding the fundamentals of an issue. So it’s good to reflect on what is actually going on when God speaks to us, and what our posture should be to fully enter into the impact of God’s voice. At the heart of our prophetic experiences is, I believe, something I term the ‘prophetic process’.

You see, there is a tendency in charismatic circles to focus on the delivery of the prophetic word: that’s what we get excited about. The prophet coming and telling us whatever it is that God wants to communicate to us. The prophetic event.

But a mature prophetic culture requires something much deeper and, to be honest, something much more time-consuming: a process in which we sit with the revelation, we discern the interpretation, and we embrace the application.

Let’s remind ourselves of the potential for transformation that comes with God’s spoken word to us:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

God speaks. His word goes forth. And in that moment is contained unimaginable potential for transformation and fruitfulness.

I love that fact that God is the Great Communicator: he talks to his people very often, and one of the joys of being a disciple of Jesus is learning to tune into his voice. But we mustn’t forget that there is something profoundly intentional about his words to us. They are never random or accidental. God always speaks for a purpose.

We may be very good at hearing God, but if we don’t engage properly with what he’s saying and respond with obedience we will waste the full potential of his spoken word to us.

To fully engage with the intentionality of God’s words to us, and to embrace the transformation he intends them to achieve, we need to understand the three vital parts of the prophetic process:

  1. Tuning in: recognising and receiving revelation from God. It’s good, if possible, to make space to fully dwell in the revelation for a while. It should be a relational, not functional, experience.
  1. Discerning: unpacking the revelation (whether it’s a prophetic picture, word or dream) and working out the essence of what God is actually saying to us through it.
  1. Responding: working out the application and what it looks like to walk in obedience. “If this is what Jesus is saying to me, what am I going to do about it?”

This process is necessary regardless of what God might be saying to us. With everything from hearing him say, “I love you”, to hearing him for the future direction of our church, or how he wants us to combat homelessness in our city, this process enables us to align our lives with his heart and intention for us.

To be mature practitioners of prophecy we need to take hold of each of the three parts separately. We need to encounter the Holy Spirit in each part of the process, and involve our faith communities as we walk it out. And as we dig deep into each of the three parts we will come face to face with both lament (things need to change!) and hope (God is able!).

I’m going to look at each part of the process in turn over some future blogs, but in the meantime I’d invite you to consider one or two significant words that God has given to you for you recently and reflect on to what extent you have really taken hold of them. Are you seeing the full measure of transformation and fruitfulness that God has intended for these words he has spoken to you? If not, which part of the prophetic process needs some more attention?