Revelation: Eyes To See

How does God speak to you? What spiritual language does the Holy Spirit use to bring his revelation to you?

We can perceive the great unveiling in many different ways; we are each uniquely designed to catch the flow of the Spirit and tune in to God’s voice. One of the most common ways is through ‘seeing’, when God communicates to us through the visual dimension of the prophetic, whether it’s a simple internal picture or an ‘open-eyed’ vision.

Prophetic seeing is usually an internal process, and we perceive the content through our ‘mind’s eye’. This may be a simple, still image or it could be a moving picture like a scene from a movie. Sometimes it will be very hazy, as if we have just glimpsed something out of the corner of our eye; at other times it may be incredibly sharp and detailed. Sometimes the picture will come to us fully formed, at other times it may emerge slowly. I often have the experience of a prophetic picture slowly coming into focus, as if I were trying to focus on something through a camera lens. What I’ve learnt over the years is that I must resist the urge to dismiss the revelation at the partially formed stage because it doesn’t make sense. Rather I need to stay in a place of receptivity, patiently waiting for the picture to fully emerge.

Another important principle that God has taught me about the visual dimension of prophecy is that pictures and visions are an invitation to a conversation: they should be a relational, not functional, experience. In fact they are doorways to an encounter with God. If the Holy Spirit gives you a prophetic picture, see it as an opportunity to meet him and go deeper with him, rather than a puzzle to be solved. There is a real joy to be found in exploring prophetic pictures and visions with the Holy Spirit. Let him take you by the hand and go on a journey of discovery into all that you are seeing. Focus in on some details and ask him questions. Enjoy simply dwelling in the revelation a while.

The subject of how to interpret prophetic pictures and visions is an important one. It’s helpful to think in terms of two broad categories of visual revelation (though there is often overlap between them):

Metaphorical language  This is when God uses pictures symbolically to communicate truth to us. An example of this would be receiving a prophetic picture of a bunch of flowers because God wants you to know that he loves you.

Seeing into a different reality  This is when God opens our spiritual eyes so that we see something of the invisible realm of the Spirit. An example of this would be seeing an angel or having a vision of God’s throne in heaven.

Interpretation is a very important aspect of the first category. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions and attach our own interpretations to prophetic pictures, rather than having the discipline of asking the Holy Spirit what he is saying to us. For many prophetic people, receiving the visual revelation is the easy part; the challenge is discerning the right interpretation. We should always ask the Lord for an interpretation to revelation he gives us, and be content to wait patiently if it doesn’t come straight away.

When we think about the second category of visual revelation it’s good to remember Paul’s encouragement to us in 2 Corinthians 4:18:

  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The Bible speaks to us of two worlds: the physical, material world and the spiritual world, and as Christians we need to be engaging with both realities. To perceive the spiritual dimension of God’s kingdom requires eyes of faith and expectation. There are many biblical accounts of people being shown aspects of the spiritual realm, such Elisha and his servant seeing the heavenly army in 2 Kings 6:17, and the many encounters with angels described throughout scripture. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and John all had visions of God on his throne in heaven (with many similar details). Paul even writes about being caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Ezekiel had a series of remarkable visions and heavenly encounters, and does his best to describe the indescribable:

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it I fell face down… Ezekiel 1:28

But we too can be expectant for glimpses of the realm of glory. We can start by simply asking God for them, and then meditating on passages of scripture that describe visions of God, Jesus and heaven. Setting aside time to prayerfully contemplate John’s visionary description of Jesus in Revelation 1 is a great place to start. Worship too provides a wonderful context for opening the eyes of our hearts to the reality of God’s kingdom and the realm of the Spirit. The next time you are in a time of corporate worship, ask the Lord to give you a fresh revelation of his glory. Ask him to show you what is happening in heaven right now.

So far we’ve largely been talking about seeing with our ‘inner eye’ or with spiritual sight, but of course God can talk to us through the things we observe with our physical eyes. He loves to speak through the ordinary and everyday, especially through the beauty of the natural world. We just need to slow down enough so that we can properly pay attention and look.

However we see the things of God, whether it’s internal or external, what is key is that we are paying attention. God is the great Communicator, but to tune in to his revelation requires us to be active and alert, to be practiced observers – ready to peer in whenever the veil is drawn back. We need to have eyes to see.

 

 

 

 

Revelation: the Great Unveiling

Unveiling; disclosure; uncovering; exposure; when something is made known that was previously secret or hidden

This is how dictionaries tend to define the word ‘revelation’. When I think about the word, I see it as describing the essence of communication between God and man. Revelation is the unveiling of God’s truth to us, the point at which the vastness of God’s thoughts touch our limited human consciousness.

When we stop and think about it, it is extraordinary that we might have any kind of access to the mind of Almighty God. As he declares in Isaiah 55:9,

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,  and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yet despite the huge gulf between the mind of the Creator and the human mind, the Bible makes it clear that God readily chooses to communicate with people and unveil his thoughts to us. In fact revelation is inherent to the very nature of God. It’s not just through the written words of scripture that this happens. Throughout the biblical narrative God speaks to people: through creation, through angels and other supernatural experiences, but primarily through his voice.

We know that all creation bears testimony to God and speaks of his majesty, but we can also understand revelation as connection points between the physical world and the supernatural kingdom of God: points in space and time where we get glimpses of the realm of glory. So when we receive revelation from God it’s as if the curtains draw back for a few moments and we get to gaze through a window onto the greater and eternal reality.

God is very good, and it is his good intention that his people have access to his heart, mind and will. We also know that this side of glory there are limitations to what we can perceive: it will be ‘in part,’ like ‘a reflection as in a mirror,’ as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:9 and 12. But we need never settle for silence. He will never be completely hidden from us.

Over the next few blogs we’re going to look at revelation and how we can all grow in eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to know God. But here I want to share a few thoughts about how we can posture ourselves for revelation: how we can best place ourselves for the great unveiling that is God’s communication to us.

 

Family

As followers of Jesus our primary identity is that of children of God, and a growing understanding of this identity is key for receiving revelation. We have to change the way we think and choose to live in the truth of our spiritual adoption. We are sons and daughters of a perfect heavenly Father who wants the very best for us and desires that we should hear his voice. After all, fathers like talking to their children. Knowing in the depth of our being that we are beloved children of God takes us to the place where we can joyfully anticipate God’s presence and voice.

Furthermore, our identity as members of God’s family reminds us that he has designed us for community, and that the best context for receiving revelation is usually in the communities of God’s people that we belong to. It’s together that we are best placed to listen and respond to God’s spoken word to us.

 

Friendship

One of the wonders of the New Covenant that we belong to is that God has given us his Spirit. Jesus’ name for the Holy Spirit is Parakletos: the Friend who will never leave us. And it’s through our relationship with this Friend that we have incredible access to revelation from the very heart of God:

“When he comes he will guide you into all truth… he will speak what he hears… the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”   John 16:13-15

 The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  1 Corinthians 2:10-11

 The Holy Spirit is the agent of revelation: he reveals God’s heart and mind to us. A fundamental part of his ministry is to search out the deep hidden things of God and unveil them to us. He speaks directly to our spirits and in this way reveals things to us that our natural eyes or ears could never perceive.

It’s this third Person of the Trinity, this Parakletos, who invites us into close fellowship and friendship. We can walk with him daily, talking to him and listening to him, seeing the world from his perspective. We learn his ways and see what he sees.

 

Follow

Jesus provides us with a wonderfully clear picture of what revelation is supposed to look like in the life of a disciple when he describes himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”  John 10:27

This is the Shepherd with a voice, and with sheep that know this voice above all others. This passage reminds us that along with revelation comes the imperative to respond (“…and they follow me”.) Jesus promises us that we will know his voice to such an extent that we will be able to follow it. We can never be passive receivers of his revelation. Like he says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we have to “hear these words of mine and put them into practice.”

Part of our role as followers of Jesus is to follow him in the way he revealed the Father. Jesus came to this earth for many important reasons, but a primary reason was to reveal the Father and give us a true picture of what he is like. Jesus’ revelation of the Father is the greatest and most profound revelation – the greatest prophecy – of all time. But as disciples of Jesus we get to join in as well. The ultimate goal of our ministry is to reveal who God is; to reveal the truth of the nature of God to those who cannot yet see him.

 

Creative Ways to Hear God

The God we love and worship is a communicating God. All the way through scripture he is speaking; whether through creation, supernatural encounters, dreams, or directly through his voice. The promise for the New Covenant people of God is of unrestricted access to the Father’s presence through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who searches out the deep things of God and makes them known to us (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).

As followers of Jesus we need to pay close attention to what he says in John 10:27:

         My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

Every Christian can learn to know and listen to God’s voice; the promise of Jesus is for all of us. But to grow in our ability to hear God requires active engagement and intentional pursuit. In a world full of competing voices and a myriad of distractions we have to take the time to create the space and to learn the disciplines that will help us tune in.

As we look ahead into this new year, it’s helpful to consider what rhythms and practices will help us to connect with God’s voice and develop a listening lifestyle. Finding a more creative way to tune in will help many of us to re-boot our devotional times. What active steps do you need to take this year so that you are intentionally listening to God?

Here I’m sharing a few suggestions with you that I hope you find helpful, regardless of where you are on your prophetic journey.

Scripture  This is a wonderful place to start. God speaks to us in many ways through scripture, whether through careful study or through the Holy Spirit leading us to specific verses or passages. Whenever we are praying for someone it’s good to ask God if there is a Bible verse that he wants to encourage them with.

At the start of this year I spent some time asking God what the key verses were going to be for me this year. I’ve printed them off, stuck them above my desk and am in the process of memorising them. I’m expectant that God will be speaking to me through them over the next 12 months.

My friend Nathan recently shared with me three questions that he asks God when he reads a passage from the Bible, as a way of hearing God’s voice in the words he is reading. I really like them because they encourage us to be actively listening to God in whatever part of the Bible we’re reading:

  • How can I worship God from this?
  • How can I receive God’s love from this?
  • How can I minister in love out of this?

Find your ‘thin place’ for this year  We can hear God anywhere. In our homes, workplaces, schools, gardens, on top of a mountain, or in the middle of a supermarket. But for most of us there will be a special place or context where we find it easier to tune in to God’s voice. Perhaps it’s a favourite beach or coffee shop, or a quiet room at home. The ancient Celtic Christians used the idea of ‘thin places’ – places where God’s presence seems especially close and accessible.

For me, at the moment, my ‘thin place’ is sitting on a bench in the greenhouse at the bottom of the garden, usually with a thick coat and a cup of tea! During December I carved out at least 20 minutes from my schedule most days and went and sat there in God’s presence with my journal. It’s become a place to encounter God’s peace and quiet whispers, and hear him speak into my life in fresh ways.

I’d encourage you to ask God what special place he has got for you in the year ahead, and then prayerfully put some times in your diary to visit that place as often as you can.

Art  You don’t have to be especially artistic to learn to hear God through activities like drawing and painting. One idea that I like, and which friends of mine use, is to put some worship music on, get out some paper and pens/paints, and then allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you draw or paint something. It may be simple colours and patterns, or it may be a more representational prophetic picture. Whatever images you create, enjoy collaborating with the Holy Spirit in producing something that helps you (or someone else) tune into God’s voice and heart.

Nature  I think we’d all agree that getting out in nature – whether that’s fields, hills, water, or just our own garden – can be a great way to connect with God and hear his voice. But to what extent are we doing this purposefully and intentionally? How often are we slowing down enough to really look for the revelation of God in the wonder of the natural world around us? It’s good to get into the habit of asking the Lord, “How are you speaking to me today through the beauty of the created world?” and then pause long enough to hear the answer.

Psalm 19 reminds us that God is continually speaking through his creation:

         The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

Take some time to get out into your garden or the local park and let the Spirit draw you to something he wants to show you, perhaps a leaf or the pattern of clouds in the sky. Be fully present in the moment and listen to the still small voice.

Ask for dreams  The Bible has many stories about God speaking to people in dreams, and with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost came the promise that Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams… Of course, you don’t have to be an old man to receive prophetic dreams! I know people of all ages who hear God regularly through their dreams.

I don’t have many prophetic dreams myself, but I’m increasing challenged that I can actively seek more of them, by praying for them each night before I go to sleep: “Lord, thank you that you love to speak to me. Holy Spirit, as I sleep tonight, would you bring the presence and the revelation of the Father and speak deep into my spirit? Please speak to me through my dreams.”

 

My prayer for all of you reading this is that 2018 will be a year of increasing revelation and clearer hearing. Remember that it’s the Father’s delight to speak to you; you simply have to create the space and patterns in your life to properly tune in.

Help! No one is listening!

For those of us who are ‘prophet’-shaped, one of the challenges of working out a mature expression of our calling and ministry is dealing with the frustration of not being listened to. How do we keep our hearts right? This month’s blog addresses this question and is written by Christine Wanstall who leads Accessible Prophecy in Australasia.

 

Occasionally I will have a blog or a prophecy cross my desk and it is clear that the prophet who wrote it is frustrated by the lack of response to their prophetic gift. Often these prophecies are strong in judgment and condemnation and it is clear the prophet is frustrated. I feel for these prophets. I can feel how frustrated they are and I recognise times when I have been frustrated and angry when I have not felt heard. “Don’t they realise this is from God?” or, “If they had only listened to me they would not have found themselves in this situation.” Often when we find ourselves in these spaces we end up on the edge of community, not being heard and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of frustration, condemnation and judgment.

It causes me to pause and think, as a prophet, how do I make sure I don’t end up in these places? We know communication is a two-way process so if I am not being heard, maybe there is an issue with how I am communicating, rather than the person receiving it not hearing it correctly? Here are a few thoughts I have found helpful in managing my frustration and placing myself in a posture where the prophetic words I communicate can be well received.

Recognise that a prophet is only one of the five-fold gifts that God gives the church

Being a prophet is no more special than being an apostle or a shepherd, teacher or evangelist. Although my gift means that I have a strong connection to the Father’s heart, this is no more important than the evangelist who sees opportunities to speak the gospel or the teacher who helps people understand the word of God. The New Testament talks strongly about being in community and living as the body of Christ.

If I am a prophet who is constantly speaking words of judgment and condemnation, then I quickly become someone that people don’t want to hang around with or listen to. I am learning to value community and trusting that God is able to speak through other gifts, and that I am not the most important super special. It is a humbling experience…

Make sure I am speaking words of encouragement, comfort and words that build up the body

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,” the Lord declares in Jeremiah. It is challenging to take a posture of kindness when I am frustrated and annoyed. If I have a word that is more condemning than kind, I am learning to process these with trusted people who help me work out how to communicate them or to discern if maybe they are just words for me to pray through and not communicate!!

Recognise that I don’t always get it right

Although I would like to think I am perfect – I know that this is not the case! There are times when my own agenda, hurt, frustration, ideas and thoughts come to the fore rather than a genuine prophetic word. Taking a posture of humility means that I recognise that I may not always get things right and that’s ok. My identity sits in relationship with the Father outside of my ability to hear God perfectly. So if the prophetic words are not being heard, then maybe I have got it wrong.

Learning to grow in my prophetic gift

It is important to recognise that my prophetic gift is like any other gift that God gives. It requires me to learn and grow in my understanding and ability to hear God and communicate this well to others. This requires patience and tenacity to find the right place and people to help me learn and grow. I deeply value the Accessible Prophecy huddle process where I find myself in a safe environment to be challenged and encouraged to grow in my prophetic gift. I want to steward well the gift God has given me.

Find opportunities to serve the church and the people in the community that God has placed me in

I need to make sure this is not an attitude of, “Let me serve you a cup of broken glass,” but an attitude of genuine love and care for the well-being and future of the people I am placed with in community. Again this requires humility to genuinely serve people with whom I might feel angry or annoyed. In doing this, it has taught me to see that I need to trust the leaders God has placed me under. This includes trusting them in applying the prophetic words rather than me telling them how these words should be applied. Serving the church means releasing the words I hear and caring for, supporting and loving the people that I am placed in community with.

 

It is deeply challenging to find ourselves, as prophets, in a frustrated and angry place and feel like we are not being heard. I invite you today to consider how we can allow God to speak to us about our frustration and grow in our prophetic gift to serve the body of Christ. Listening to God about what sits beneath our frustration allows us to grow and mature in our gift and we then see prophecy taking its place within the community of Christ as a valued gift to the body.

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Learning to be Prophetic

Our blog this month is written by  Kate Hindley from Liverpool.

I’ve always wanted to be prophetic.  I mean who doesn’t want to hear God speak!  Can there be anything more wonderful than hearing what God has to say?

What do I mean by being prophetic and hearing God?  I believe that God is speaking all the time, not just through the Bible (though that obviously is the best way to hear Him) but in real time, right now, and that as His child, I can hear what He is saying.  And as I tell the kids in my Sunday school, He speaks in lots of diffrent ways.  Sometimes we can see pictures in our mind’s eye.  Sometimes He reminds of us a Bible verse.  Sometimes He will cause us to feel something physical in our bodies or emotional in our guts.  And sometimes we just know things in our ‘know-er’ … But in this blog I’m not aiming to explain what prophecy is, there are many more better equipped people to do that.  I’m just sharing how I came to discover prophecy in my own life.

So here’s my story:  Twenty years ago I was on placement with a church in Cape Town, and whilst there, amongst a myriad of great experiences, one moment sticks out.  A lady prophesied over me that in time I would become prophetic.  My immediate thought was “Wow, that’s great! I can’t wait,” and although I longed for her words to come true, I never did anything much about it.  So wait is exactly what I did.  My assumption was that if God wanted to give me the gift of prophecy then at some point He would drop it in my lap.  After all, I’d been nicely brought up not to expect presents or ask for them, but if given one to be suitably appreciative.  Occasionally, I’d have a go at prophesying; listening to God to see if He wanted to give me a word or a picture for someone, but on the whole I was waiting for the time when He would give me a prophetic gift.

Then about two years ago, I persuaded a friend to be my mentor.  The first thing she asked me was: “What spiritual skill would you like to ‘up-skill’ in?”  And although the thought of spiritual skills (as opposed to gifts) was a bit alien to me, my immediate heart’s cry was, “I want to be prophetic.”  I longed to know how to hear God and feel confident that I can and do hear Him.

My mentor suggested I get some training and pointed me in the direction of Accessible Prophecy. I was initially very reluctant, thinking this wasn’t really for me, but was kind of committed since my mentor would be expecting me to follow through on my stated desire to up-skill.  Nothing like being held accountable to get you moving!  So I joined an online prophetic coaching huddle and I’m so grateful I did.  And cutting a 2-year journey short, here is something of what I have discovered about prophecy:

God has shown me that each prophetic word is like an apple.  Yes, an apple.  Bear with me.

My view of the prophetic used to be that IF I were to listen for a friend for a word from God, and IF God had something to say, and IF He wanted to use me to say it, then He would drop that apple in my lap for me to give to my friend.  Somehow regardless of what my head-knowledge might have told me, in my heart I believed that apples were rare.  I believed apples were hard to receive.  Somewhere deep in my heart sat a poverty mindset that apples were rationed.  Not enough for everyone.  Not enough for every day.  My role was to sit and wait to see if He wanted to drop an apple, but I didn’t really expect Him to.  After all, I wasn’t a ‘prophet’, I was merely me.

So why would God use an apple to explain prophecy to me?  Well, in our house with 3 small kids apples are never rationed.  Sweets, yes.  Exotic fruit, yes.  Apples, never.  If you are hungry, even if just before a meal, it’s OK to help yourself to an apple. Now you might need to ask permission to have some things in life, like “may I have a biscuit” but you don’t need to ask for apples.  And it might be considered greedy or rude to ask certain other people for things, like asking friends for birthday presents, but you can always ask anything of your parents.

So what does that mean for prophecy?  Nowadays, when I think of the prophetic, I imagine God’s vast throne room and all down one side of the room there runs a banquet table laden with apples.  All juicy, all crisp, all delicious and good.  There is such an abundance of apples that in a million years you could not run out.  And because I am a child of the King and heir to His Kingdom, I have the freedom to enter the throne room any time I like and help myself to an apple (just as my kids are free to eat as many apples as they like, even without asking, they are there for the taking).  So if I would like an apple to give a friend, I know there are plenty and I can just take one and give it away.  If I’d like an apple for myself, I can go into the throne room and pick one up.  I don’t have to wait; I don’t have to worry there might not be enough apples; I’m not concerned that I might not be permitted or might not be the right person to give out apples.

I’ve come to know that our God is a God who speaks all the time.  He is not distant or remote, but he is a loving Father who loves and longs to talk with His kids.  He is the God of abundance and there is no lack of anything good in His Kingdom.  I believe that I am a child of the King and through Christ have access directly into the throne room of heaven.  I knew all this beforehand in my head, but now I know it in my heart! (contented sigh).  I set out thinking I needed help with a skill … instead I discovered I needed help with a relationship.  My relationship with Abba Father.

So this is what I have learnt about God and about prophecy.  How great is the love that God has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

Apple anyone?

 

The Father’s Work

In John chapter 5 we are given an insight into Jesus’ modus operandi, the basis of his ministry: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

This extraordinary statement comes after Jesus had done something that he wasn’t supposed to have done – at least by the strict standards imposed by the Pharisees. He had healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years, but healed him on a Sabbath: So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. (John 5:16)

And it’s after this that Jesus, perhaps as way of explanation, describes his singular approach to ministry. His Father is always at work, reaching people, loving people, healing people; and Jesus chooses to be the physical expression of the Father’s good works, working in perfect harmony with heaven’s purposes. He sees what God is doing and joins in. It’s that simple.

Of all the desperate and broken people that were gathered around the Pool of Bethesda that day, Jesus was able to perceive that there was one on whom God’s eyes were intently resting. Jesus had eyes so focussed on his Father, and a heart so committed to doing his Father’s will, that he was able to step into that moment of supernatural Kingdom potential, and a man’s life was utterly transformed. Heaven’s healing power invaded earthly reality because Jesus could see where God was at work that day.

“I only do what I see my Father doing.”

What might it look like for us to start following and imitating Jesus in his approach to life and ministry? As disciples of Jesus we are invited into the same way of working and living that he had. We are called to follow him and his ways. So even if it might at first seem unattainable, Jesus wants us to follow his example and model our lives on his.

Our starting point is always, that, as God’s beloved children we are rooted in covenantal relationship with him. We don’t have to strive to see and hear him. We have access to his presence at all times. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, has been poured out upon us and he delights to reveal God’s heart and purposes to us (John 16:14, 1 Corinthians 2:9-11).

But to develop a lifestyle of seeing and partnering with the work of the Father requires active participation. To join in with God’s story we need to be intentionally looking: seeking him out with faith and expectancy. For most of us this requires us to change our way of thinking, to cultivate a new posture and mindset. We have to practice!

 

In a recent coaching huddle that I was leading (for more details of huddles see here) we spent time reflecting on how we could begin to imitate Jesus and intentionally live from a place of joining in with whatever the Father is doing. I’m delighted to share with you the testimonies of Donna and Marilyn from Louisiana and their experiences:

 

Marilyn: After our huddle I started asking the Lord every day, “What is it that you want me to see in this day? What are you doing that is of you, Lord? Help me to see you as I go about my day.”

On the first day of starting out with these words, I decided to go by this embroidery shop (it was not part of my plan when I left the house). I arrived at this shop 15 minutes before it opened and decided I didn’t mind waiting, as it would give me time with God as I waited.

Once in the shop I was talking with the young woman about some designs and during our conversation I learned her father had passed away and she used to have a good relationship with him but before he died their relationship had soured. She didn’t have her mother anymore due to drug abuse for as long as she has known her. This young woman had married a man who was addicted to heroine and alcohol. She had 3 young boys. Dealing with all of this had become overwhelming to her. She was crying and said “I don’t know why I am sharing this with you. I don’t cry easy and I never talk about this to anyone.”

I proceeded to talk to her about leaning on God’s word and love. She said she didn’t go to church but talked to Jesus daily. I shared that I knew it was no accident that we met and our conversation went in the direction that it did. It was our Heavenly Father’s plan.  She agreed. I really stressed to her that she needed to hang on to God in her life and, no matter what, to not let go. “In his time he will see you through this,” I encouraged her.

It was a wonderful experience and I plan to see more of this young lady. She knows I am praying for her and her family.  I was on such a high as I left there knowing that God had spoken very clearly to me and to her on this day. Praises!!!!! I love asking him, “What are you up to today?” more that ever before.

 

Donna: My husband and I went to Jazz Fest last month. I had done a huddle earlier that morning where we were challenged to ask Abba Father to show us what he was doing and have us join in with him, which I shared with Larry on the drive into the city. When we go out I normally let my husband do all the talking and just hang out at his side (being an introvert), but that didn’t happen this day.

Part of our Jazz Fest passes included access to the Miller Beer Tent, a private area where you could escape from the big crowd. So after visiting the Gospel Tent we made our way to the Miller Tent to relax. I turned to Larry and told him, “Now would be a great time to ask the Father that question.” “Here?!” he asked. “Why not?” I replied. And so I did and started intentionally looking for the Father’s response. I was not disappointed.

Very soon I felt God draw my attention to a young woman following an older man, both wearing clean-up crew t-shirts. They were walking to the back area, heads down, separate from everyone else. Throughout the day she came into my awareness repeatedly. I noticed how discrete they were in the crowd, and she was always following him.

Larry and I chose the bar located at the very back to use our free drink tickets at. Two young women attended it all day and we easily formed friendly connections with them both (I was more chatty with them than Larry – way out of my normal behavior). We never went to a different bar and would revisit them each time we ventured back to the Miller Tent. Visiting with them became fun for me and for them.

When Larry and I were outside the Miller Tent, the crowd was very big. Thousands of people were milling around the many booths, music tents, food row – it can be intense for an introvert but not this day. Holy Spirit prompted me many times to speak to strangers in my path. One was a cute young girl wearing an eclectic top. “Tell her she looks good in that blouse,” I was prompted, and so I did as I passed her. She beamed with pleasure and thanked me. “Ask him what his food choice is,” I heard, so I did. The young man told me and out of my mouth a reply of, “Oh that’s awesome! It must be delish!” He beamed and said it was. Many times this happened in many different ways and scenarios. Each time I just ‘knew’ that Holy Spirit did ‘something’ in their hearts. I didn’t have to know what it was. I just kept going and I was soaring high with him.

Later in the afternoon, Larry and I ate at a table near the back bar. As we finished, the clean-up crew of two came walking our way and I was acutely aware of them. The man was at my side to pass me when it all went into slow motion. I looked at the young woman, and she at me as my hand went upward toward her. Her hand immediately reached toward mine and fitted right into my hand. I told her, “Thank you,” with great feeling. Her face lit up with the most beautiful smile, her eyes very bright, and she mumbled a response that I think was, “You’re welcome.” She had not slowed her stride and was passing me, our hands still together. As she moved out of my reach, our hands slid apart and our eyes slowing turned away from each other. It was very crowded all around us, and very noisy (Larry and I had been having to lean in to talk and listen to each other), but Holy Spirit had done something and I was very aware of that. That was the last time I saw her that day.

Right after that moment, I clearly heard God say to me, “Those girls [the bartenders] have not had a break or anything to eat today,” and I knew I could get them some refreshment. I immediately got up, went to the bar and asked if they had had a break or any lunch. They both told me no, no, they don’t get breaks and would eat after they got off that night. So I told them that I wanted to get them something to eat. They kept insisting that I didn’t have to do that, they would be fine, but I eventually persuaded them and went off to get them some strawberry shortcake. Amazingly there was no queue at the shortcake booth and I quickly bought two. When I arrived back at the bar the two young women were astonished. One of them exclaimed three times how she couldn’t believe I came ‘right back’. I left them with their treats knowing Holy Spirit had just done something.

I cannot describe the spiritual high of that day and the hunger to live every day like it. It hasn’t happened exactly like that again, but I do ask Abba Father the question, “Show me what you are doing and how I can join in,” every day now.

Going Slow

Going Slow

“Slow down, you move too fast…” sang Simon and Garfunkel rather a long time ago. The Spirit has been whispering a similar refrain to me recently.

I know it’s become a cliché but the pace of modern life is extraordinary. Instant communication around the world, homes full of the latest technology, 24-7 everything. Perhaps that’s why I like gardening so much because you have to slow down and go at nature’s pace for once, with lots of patient waiting for things to happen.

When we’re going too fast our spiritual well-being is jeopardised by a shallow engagement with the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29 The Message). We lose the ability to still our hearts and minds and fully encounter God’s presence (Psalm 46:10). We fail to heed the gentle whisper of the Lover of our souls (1 Kings 19:12).

A few years ago I came across a quote that has stuck with me and still challenges me:

                “You know what sin is? It’s not paying attention.”

Now, at this point I don’t want to get into a theological discussion about the nature of sin. But I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. Our failure to pay attention to God, and our failure to pay attention to our neighbour, will stifle our ability to follow the two greatest commandments. And the more we rush through life, filling our days with activity, the harder it is to really pay attention.

To grow in our ability to hear God’s voice, and to develop a God-conscious existence, we have to take on the discipline of slowing down a bit. I know in my own life that I have many days when I’m rushing too much from activity to activity, and it’s only when I get to bedtime that I realise that I haven’t heard God that day. And it’s not because God isn’t speaking. I’ve just been too busy and unfocused to pay attention to what he’s saying to me.

I recognise that for most of us this is a real challenge. But how tragic if the reality of our lives is that we don’t have time to listen to God. What are we missing because we’re not paying attention?

Most of the time God speaks in whispers. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tend to shout revelation; rather he chooses to speak in the still, small voice and in fleeting impressions. He speaks in the kind of voice where we have to lean in, get close, and pay attention. It’s the voice of the tender Father rather than a sergeant major. A voice that is easy to miss if we’re going too fast. But if we slow down enough we find a voice of clarity, kindness and breathtaking beauty.

In John 10 we are presented with a simple yet profound picture of how our relationship with Jesus is supposed to work. It’s not complicated: he is our Good Shepherd and we are his precious sheep. We know – and listen to – his voice, and we follow him. This imagery of a shepherd with his sheep reminds us that following Jesus should fundamentally be about a simplicity of lifestyle and a gentle pace: sheep don’t tend to be manically busy.

And to properly tune in to God’s voice we need to choose a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity – that it’s really worth slowing down to listen – because there is so much God wants to show us. We should remind ourselves every day that the Kingdom is indeed at hand, that the Holy Spirit has very much been poured out upon us, that the spiritual realm is in fact the superior reality.

To really grow in the prophetic – to grow in our ability to hear and see things of the Spirit – we have to slow down. We have to embrace a lifestyle of going slow enough to hear, of re-ordering our priorities, of staying attuned and in synch.

I’ll finish with a few simple suggestions of how we can begin to break the habit of going too fast. Why don’t you choose one of these and have a go over the next few days?

  • Put some reminders on your phone throughout the day to stop for a couple of minutes and engage with God’s loving presence. Welcome the Holy Spirit and ask him to show you what he’s doing in the world around you.
  • Find 10 minutes every day to connect with God through nature and to marvel at the wonder of his creation. For example, time in your garden or a local park; looking at the stars; getting out into the countryside.
  • Do something that intentionally slows you down, like walking to work one day a week, and use that time to pray through the Lord’s Prayer or pray in tongues.
  • When you arrive somewhere by car, spend 2 minutes sitting in stillness and listening before you get out and get on with your day.
  • Go to your favourite coffee shop and enjoy Jesus’ presence as you read your Bible.

The Meeting Place

Where have you met Jesus today?

I hope you have at least one special place where you find it easy to connect with God. Perhaps it’s a comfy chair in a quiet spot in your house; a sunny bench in your garden; or walking in a local park. I’m about to head off to one of my special places: Burbage Valley in the Peak District is only six minutes away by car, great for dog-walking, and somewhere I find it really easy to pray and connect with Jesus.

Of course we know that God is present everywhere, and Romans 8:29 teaches us that there is nowhere in the whole of creation where we are separated from his love. But throughout the Bible narrative we see God choosing certain places to meet with his people, places of encounter such as Mount Sinai or Gideon’s tree.

The ancient Celtic Christians used the concept of ‘thin places’ – places where God’s presence seemed more accessible and heaven seemed closer. These might be places in creation – perhaps a hill, river, or lake – where connection with the Divine Presence was somehow much easier. These were physical places, and we all need those special locations that we journey to for spiritual refreshment and abiding, whether the pilgrimage is of a few steps or many miles.

Reading the gospels we see that Jesus often used mountains as special places to meet with his heavenly Father:

           After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that   night, he was there alone. Matthew 14:23

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.   Luke 6:12

It’s interesting that Jesus, who did everything out of relationship with his Father (John 5:19-20), still needed to go and find the special places to retreat to where he could meet with his Father in prayer.

Once a week I try to get out to my favourite coffee shop because it’s a place where I love to sit in Jesus’ presence and hear him speak to me as I read my Bible and write in my journal. It’s an easy place for spiritual engagement, one of my own ‘thin places’. The presence of Jesus is often so real and tangible that I want to reach out and touch his hand as he sits at the table with me.

But as well as physical places, God’s Spirit delights to lead us to internal and spiritual places of meeting, which are just as real as their physical counterparts; places of the heart. There are many stories in the Bible of God meeting with people through prophetic experiences such as dreams and visions. Think of Isaiah’s incredible encounter in Isaiah 6, or Jacob meeting God in his dream of a heavenly staircase in Genesis 28. These were real encounters, but took place in the spiritual realm.

One of my favourite ‘listening’ exercises I do with people I’m coaching is to use the scriptural concept of a ‘spacious place’ and ask God to show what this place looks like for each of us, using our God-given imagination.

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.           Psalm 18:19

         You have set my feet in a spacious place. Psalm 31:8

As we do this exercise we have a time of quiet and simply ask the Holy Spirit for an internal picture of the spacious place, the place of meeting; something that we can perceive with the eyes of our heart. We then look to see where Jesus is in this place and engage with what he is doing. I love hearing the details of the revelation that God brings to people as his Spirit touches their spirits and opens the way for meeting him. These are not one-off prophetic pictures, but places that we can return to again and again: meeting places in the spiritual realm.

In my own Christian walk I have found that God gives me new internal meeting places depending on the particular season of life I’m going through. A couple of years ago, when I was going through an intense pruning season [see the blog post Embracing Pruning], God gave me the image of a desert to find a meeting place with Jesus. I sat down with him every day in that desert place as he did some really deep work in my heart, and this internal meeting place became a regular venue of fellowship and encounter.

The idea of a ‘meeting place’, whether physical or internal, brings a fresh dimension to prayer, when we start to see prayer fundamentally as an intimate meeting place with God. There is a profound depth to prayer when we approach it as a context or a place that is first and foremost about meeting God before we say any words – a place to wait on his presence and to fix our eyes on Jesus.

The wonderful thing about discovering the meeting places that God has for each one of us, is that he is already there waiting for us. This is the Father that picked up his skirts and ran to embrace the prodigal son. He delights to meet with us – so we don’t have to fear he won’t turn up. Whatever our meeting place looks like the important thing is that it’s a venue for communion and fellowship and deep abiding.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:13-14

 

 

Hearing God for our Churches

What does a listening church look like? How can we hear God together for our churches? God loves every local expression of the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us the heart and intentions of the Father so that together we can step into his Kingdom purposes. The gift of prophecy is not just for individuals, and a mature expression of the ministry will involve corporate hearing and responding. A healthy prophetic culture is one in which people have a shared vision of what God is calling them to as a church.

The second and third chapters of the book of Revelation are made up of Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Asia Minor and give an interesting perspective on what God’s word looks like when directed to a church rather than an individual. Each of these letters starts with an expression of the nature and character of Christ, then a specific commendation, followed by a complaint, correction and conclusion. Each letter is precise and to the point. Can we hear God as clearly as that for our churches? Do we know the particular revelation of his nature that Jesus wants us to take hold of in this season? Can we hear his words of affirmation and correction? Can we state with confidence, “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand….”?

It’s important for every church to know the call of God. Proverbs 29:18 warns that without prophetic vision the people of God perish. Every church needs eyes to see and ears to hear: to discern the bigger picture of God’s intention for us as a body and where he is calling us.

Hearing

Whenever we come together in worship and fellowship there are opportunities to hear the corporate ‘now’ word from the Lord. We simply need to create the space and expectation, and get in the habit of saying, “Let’s just pause for a few minutes and listen to what God is saying to us.” An obvious place to do this is in our Sunday services, but we can do this whenever we are gathered together.

A number of years ago, at my church in Sheffield, we set up a Prophetic Council that has been a very helpful way of discerning what God is saying to us as a church. The Council is made up of a number of mature Christians who have a good track record of bringing accurate prophecies to the church and have a heart to serve the leadership. We meet 6 times a year: each time we meet we share what we think God is saying to the church and city, and then seek to discern, weigh and sharpen God’s rhema word. We then submit these words to the church leadership team.

Other churches I know have set up Listening Groups as a way of encouraging people to hear God together. These are open to everyone who wants to come, and usually follow a simple pattern of worship, basic teaching on hearing God’s voice, and then space to listen. They provide a positive context to pursue God’s heart and intention for his church, and everyone is encouraged that they can listen and contribute.

Recording

If we are serious about hearing God for our churches then we have to be intentional about recording prophecies. God’s voice is incredibly precious, but how do we ensure we keep a proper record of what he is saying to us?

At my church we’ve got files that go back years: we’ve done our best to keep a copy of every prophecy that has been given to our church. We also have a book that is available at Sunday services to record prophecies that are shared. Having everything written down enables us to keep in step with the Holy Spirit and track the themes that emerge over time. We find confirmation for prophecies when we realise that the same word has come from different people over a period of time.

Weighing

The New Testament makes it very clear that prophecy has to be weighed and tested:

     Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.                    1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.                                           1 Thessalonians 5:20-21

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

Most prophecies we hear and speak will not be 100% accurate and infallible. Some may come very close, but at the end of the day it’s still a human vessel trying to communicate the very mind of God using contemporary language, and we will always need a healthy dose of realism and humility to properly discern what God is actually saying.

Weighing is a very important part of the whole process of hearing what God is saying to our churches. At my church we have encouraged our missional communities to weigh corporate prophecies by discussion, prayer and asking the Holy Spirit for his discernment. Our leadership team also take the process of weighing prophecies seriously. The key question when we weigh significant prophecies is, “Does this word find confirmation in scripture, in our community of faith, and in the witness of the Holy Spirit?”

 Communication

This is probably stating the obvious, but if we’re going to hear God’s voice together then we need to be good at communication. It’s vital that both the church leaders and the intercessors know what the prophets are discerning at any time, but we also need effective channels of communication so that the whole church knows what God is saying in a particular season. Sometimes the greatest gift to a prophetic team is someone who is really good at administration and can take on the role of ensuring good communication. Notice boards and newsletters are great places to share key prophecies.

Responding

The final part of the process, and in many ways the most important, is responding together to God’s spoken word: “If this is what God is saying to us, then what are we going to do about it?”

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 have to beware a casual attitude to them. We need to be active responders rather than passive receivers.

An incredible helpful framework for processing the prophetic is understanding that there are three parts to any prophecy: Revelation (the picture, word, or dream given to the person by God); Interpretation (“What does it mean?”); and Application (“What are we going to do about it?”) All three parts are equally important, and a mature prophetic culture is one where emphasis and training is applied to all three. Revelation may come from just one person, but the application of prophecy has to be discerned within a context of community and usually requires input from people who are gifted in strategy.

Once we all know what God is saying to us as a church, then wise and strategic leaders can release the Body to step out in faith and obey God’s voice. There is so much God wants to say to his church: let’s be hearers – and do-ers – of his word. Together!

 

Asking God Questions

Children ask the best questions. One that is famous in our family was asked by my then 3-year old daughter:

“Daddy, why do we have two hands?”

The best answer my husband could come up with was:

“Well, I suppose it’s better than one but not quite as good as three…”

One of the joys of being around young children is their natural curiosity about the world around them and the wonderful questions they come up with. Their assumption of course is that adults will have all the answers. Part of the journey for any parent is the realisation that we can’t answer all those questions, but it’s lots of fun trying to.

Questions are good. And for those of us who are parents, on our best days we never get (too) tired of our children’s questions. But what about asking questions of God? Many of us get to a place in our faith journey where we feel we can no longer ask God questions: we might fear the answer, or feel the question is too hard. Perhaps we doubt our ability to hear God’s response, or fear that He will remain silent.

It’s so important that we don’t lose that child-like freedom to ask questions of our heavenly Father. In fact a key part of our journey in learning to hear God’s voice better is asking Him questions – and listening for the answer.

It’s good to remind ourselves of God’s incredible wisdom; that the One we worship has the answer to every question we could ever ask:

All this comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.
Isaiah 28:29

Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!   Romans 11:33

Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:3

These verses encourage me that it’s always worth pausing to ask God questions about every aspect of my life and the world around me. I want to learn how to lean into His wisdom and counsel, and trust His perspective. Rather than rushing into decisions and assumptions based on my limited human understanding, I need to seek His counsel so much more. He has given each of us the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor who teaches us all things (John 14:26), so why are we sometimes so reluctant to ask Him when we need help?

In the Bible David was someone who knew the wisdom of asking God questions; in fact one of the things that set him apart from Saul was his willingness to ‘inquire of the Lord’ on a regular basis, as we see from these two verses:

Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him.  1 Samuel 23:4

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.   1 Chronicles 10:13-14

 

Here are some simple steps we can take towards seeking the wisdom of God and asking Him questions in a way that will deepen our walk with Him:

 

 

  1. Deal with the fear

It’s important to recognize that for some of us there is fear associated with asking God questions, so the first step is to acknowledge these fears: perhaps it’s the fear of not getting an answer, or the fear of getting an answer we don’t like. Whatever the fear is, we can bring it to God and have faith that His love and grace is sufficient to deal with it.

  1. Come like a child

He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”   Matthew 18:2-4

We are in the best place to ask questions of God, and hear His answers, when our posture is that of little children and we approach God as our loving heavenly Father. Sometimes that will mean putting aside cynicism and doubt and anger; it always means choosing a humble heart and choosing to trust Him. I’m sure that the little children who came to Jesus had great fun asking Him all sorts of wonderful questions.

  1. Journal your questions… and God’s answers

A perfectly valid response to this subject is, “It’s all very well asking God questions, how do I know I can hear the answers?”

Journaling is one of the best ways to listen to God’s answers: this is where we write down our conversations with God. I love to sit in a quiet place with my journal, and after a time of simple prayer and worship, start to write down my conversation with the Father. Sometimes the answers come straight away; sometimes they emerge over time as I take note of the different things He draws my attention to in scripture and as I go about my daily life.

As well as journaling there is also the habit of asking questions of the Holy Spirit in the moment, throughout the day, and at these times the answers usually come in the form of simple words or a sense of ‘just knowing’. I find that, after years of practising this form dialogue with the Spirit, I can ask Him about a particular course of action and His answer will be a deep sense of peace if I’m on the right track.

  1. Ask the right questions!

Of course there are no right or wrong questions to ask God: He can cope with anything we ask Him. But I’ve found that there are some great questions that deepen my relationship with God and help me align myself with His purposes, so it’s these that I tend to use.

I like to focus on the Who, How and What questions. For example, these ones are always a good way to start the day:

  • Who would You like me to encourage today?
  • What do You want me to do for You today, Holy Spirit?
  • Is there anyone I’m supposed to meet today?
  • How can I show Your love to people today, Father?

I’ve learnt over the years that, when faced with the pain and brokenness of the world around me, God doesn’t want me to stay fixated on the problem in front of me, but rather seek Him for the word of life that will open the door to His light and love. One of the marks of a healthy prophetic culture is that rather than asking, “Why is this bad thing happening?” we instead ask, “What’s Your word that will transform this situation?” That’s not to invalidate the heart-felt Why questions, but to recognise that our role is to be Speakers of Life into every situation God puts us in.

 

I’ll finish with a suggestion for you: a good question to ask at this time of year is, “What’s Your word for me for 2017?” Sit down with your journal, ask God that question and listen for His answer.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.   James 1:5