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.

Disqualified?

Our blog this month is written by Lucy Fardon who is part of the Accessible Prophecy team here in Sheffield.

‘“O Sovereign Lord” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”’ Jeremiah 1:7

I remember when I first read this line in the Bible. I immediately grabbed my blue highlighter pen; scribbling and underlining what summed up in a sentence a thought that had gnawed at me for a good many years. In my mind, my juvenile status limited me entirely when it came to speaking out what I thought God was saying. After all, He is 100% definitely and without a doubt going to speak to someone older and wiser and a lot more mature than me. Isn’t He?

I grew up in a lovely church, surrounded by a bucket load of lovely people all of whom encouraged me in my walk with Jesus and the adventure of learning to hear His voice. Therefore, as you can imagine, I’m struggling to see where and when this idea of ‘being too young for use’ crept into my heart. But regardless, it was there. The more I thought about it, the more I overthought it, and the more I overthought it, the more it dominated my vision, until I was convinced that if I ever dared to speak a prophetic word, I’d humiliate myself. It was basically the church version of the ‘get-to-school-with-no-trousers-on’ nightmare.

Anyway, back to Jeremiah. So as I’m sure you’re all aware, Jeremiah was one of the major Old Testament prophets, writing both Jeremiah and Lamentations. His prophetic ministry extended over 40 years, spanning the lives of five kings, the fall of Jerusalem and Judah, and the destruction of the Holy Temple- pretty hefty stuff to say the least. It is believed that when God first called him, he was 16. Sixteen! No wonder he felt inadequate. Yet God doesn’t let him stay in this inadequacy. Rather, He leads Jeremiah out of his doubts, in a practical and simple way.

What I love most about God’s response to Jeremiah is this kind, slow, parent-like nature in which He explains it to him.

“Look, Jeremiah. What do you see?”

“I see a branch from an almond tree”

“That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.” Jeremiah 1:11-12

There is no complicated theology or complex theories, Jeremiah just looks out and names the first thing he sees- a branch. I always imagine a father and son from this dialogue, it’s such a lovely demonstration of a dad teaching his son how to look deeper. Step by step God takes what’s in front of Jeremiah and tells him what it means. The word for ‘almond tree’ written in Hebrew is almost identical to the Hebrew word meaning ‘my word will be fulfilled’. As Jeremiah steps out of his comfort zone and tunes into God’s voice, God affirms what he has heard is true, “That’s right”. Continually Jeremiah is told, “Do not be afraid of them” (vs 8 & 17), “I have made you strong” (vs 18), “For I am with you, and I will take care of you” (vs 19). To God, age was regardless. Jeremiah was willing to take leaps of trust, no matter how big or small, and so His heart was ready for God to use.

Now of course not everyone is going to have struggles with age. However, I think we can all fall into the trap of disqualifying ourselves from hearing God’s voice in one way or another. Maybe you doubt your ability to hear accurately, or perhaps you doubt God would even want to speak to you in the first place. But like most good and true things, prophecy at times can be something we must fight to take hold of. The enemy is all too aware of the freedom you will bring when you speak aloud the Truth, and so he works on trying to make those doubts louder than God’s voice. The best way I’ve found to silence the enemy in this situation is to work out what he’s saying. What are the lies you’re being told? Because once you know the lies, you can recognise them every time they come up, and you can replace them with a truth. “Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed”, Proverbs 12:19.

God is true and He is powerful, as is His word. If we go back to Jeremiah, when God asked him what he saw, God knew that Jeremiah’s eyes were fixed on Him hence why Jeremiah could interpret reality through heavenly eyes. Take your eyes off God for a moment and the perspective is shifted from a heavenly reality to an earthly reality, and when it comes to hearing God’s voice that shift makes an enormous difference. The more you see yourself as heaven does- as God’s kid- the more your age, gender, past mistakes, income, experience and status all fade.

So I challenge you:
What is making you doubt God’s calling? Be it age, gender, status etc.
What is God saying in response to this doubt?
Finally, what do you see? Take a look out of your office, car, or bedroom window- what do you see?

 

A New Book on Prophecy

Cath’s new book My Sheep Have Ears is being published next week! You can order it from 3dm Publishing at http://3dmpublishing.com/. This is an interview she gave about the book.

 

 Cath – tell us a bit about yourself:

I live in Sheffield and have been involved in prophetic ministry for over 15 years. For the last 10 years, I have overseen the prophetic ministry here at St Thomas’ Church, which has involved things such as teaching, mentoring, leading ministry sessions, and leading a prophetic council to serve the church. Over the last few years I have worked increasingly with other churches that want to learn what we have developed here, and how they can embrace this kind of culture too. This has involved developing various forms of training, coaching and resourcing, which I have done as part of the 3DM Europe team.

My vision has always been to make prophecy normal and accessible to everyone. There are lots of perspectives on what prophecy is, but in its simplest form I would say prophecy is hearing God speak and being able to repeat what He says, communicating the heart, mind and intention of God. That’s what I am passionate about training individuals and churches to do.

So, where has this book come from?

I’ve always had a heart to help other people grow in hearing God’s voice and using the gift of prophecy. I believe in the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians 4, and as someone who would see themselves as a ‘prophet’ I believe that one of the key roles of the prophet is helping other people learn how to hear God for themselves. My approach is “If I can prophesy, then I’m going to make sure as many other people as possible can too!”

My journey with learning to hear God’s voice has been an interesting one. I wouldn’t see myself as a ‘born natural’. I know many people who have grown up naturally being able to hear God speak to them in various ways from a very young age, which is brilliant. But I believe they are in the minority. In my experience, for the majority of Christians it’s much more of a journey and a process to learn to do this. That’s certainly been my personal story. It’s something I have actively and intentionally gone after – and haven’t just waited for ‘it’ to happen. I’ve read lots of books, been to conferences, prayed for God to teach me and generally used lots of ways to pursue the gift of prophecy. So because I have been on this journey, I know what the experience is like for the majority of us. I think this has really enabled me to help and teach others who are struggling to hear God speak. If I’m honest, I think it can sometimes be much harder for people who easily hear God’s voice to teach others, as it’s not a skill they have had to learn in the same way.

 

From your perspective, what would some of the aims of the book be?

Our ministry is all about making prophecy accessible (it’s in the name!) so I really wanted to unpack the process of what it actually looks like for someone to hear God. I make the point in the book that the Bible is full of stories about God speaking to people, but it doesn’t really tell you much of HOW that actually happened. Was it an audible voice? Was it internal? I think hearing stories from ordinary people about how they hear God is always helpful, so there are lots of these in the book.

The book is aimed at people and churches that would like to be open to the prophetic and are looking for practical teaching on what it looks like to use this gift on a day-to-day basis. I think that in the past there have been some expressions of prophecy that have come wrapped up in unhelpful packaging! This can lead to bad experiences and consequently an unhelpful reputation. Often it becomes associated with unaccountable, lone-ranger style prophets hopping from church to church, speaking judgement over people. I have seen that kind of thing go on myself and don’t like it, which is why having the context of community and discipleship is key in grounding prophecy and allowing it to edify the body in the way God intended. I feel it’s important not to allow our bad experiences to create a fear that stops us from reading the scriptures and learning how the Holy Spirit has always intended to operate within the church. My prayer is that through this book I am able to offer something on this amazing gift of prophecy God has given us, in a way that people can easily take hold of.

One of the clear themes throughout the book is community – that we hear God together and we weigh things together. Prophecy doesn’t happen in an isolated vacuum, rather as part of community life. I have read so many good books on prophecy, but lots of them are generally focussed on how I as an individual can learn to hear God better for myself. I don’t believe you can practice the gift of prophecy healthily outside of community. The strategic part of my book is working through the questions “How can we hear God together and how can we grow this culture together?” I explore some practical ways to do this.

 

How does this book relate to the 3DM movement?

As I have worked with 3DM much more closely over the recent years, it’s been a huge opportunity to reflect on what God has taught me in the area of prophecy through the lenses of discipleship and mission. This journey is reflected in the book, meaning much of the perspective I write from is one of missional discipleship. So my hope is that anyone who is generally interested in the prophetic would be able to pick up this book and find it helpful, but also people who are already familiar with the DNA of missional discipleship will find it uses much of the same language.

One of the key questions the whole ministry of Accessible Prophecy seeks to help people answer is: “How can we grow a healthy, biblical prophetic culture that both resources discipleship and empowers mission?”

In this movement we are part of, we know that discipleship is all about asking, “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?” So teaching people how to hear God is a key part of discipleship! In addition, God is by nature a missional God; therefore if we are hearing his heart and responding to his voice, we will find ourselves being sent out on the mission field. So resourcing discipleship and empowering mission are two strong themes of the book.

Lastly, what would your hopes be for someone who picks up a copy of this book?

There would probably be two things: Firstly – realising the joy in hearing the voice of the Father. Knowing as a disciples that your heavenly Father is speaking directly to you and that you can hear the Shepherd’s voice is something I would want for everyone, and it’s why I have worked so hard over the years to equip people to do this as much as I can. My book is an expression of this.

Secondly – I would love this book to help people explore how they can become a church that embraces the prophetic. To me, this kind of church is a place where people are confident in hearing God for themselves and where there is a sense of individual and cooperate vision, inspired by hearing God together. But it’s also a place where the gift of prophecy is taken out in to the world and God’s word is released to others.

 

Prophecy and Mission

This blog is written by John White, exploring his thoughts and revelation on prophecy and mission.

“He is the missionary Spirit of the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary church.” (The Cape Town Commitment)

As the missionary Spirit breathes life and power into God’s missionary church, so God’s people are released into prophetic missional activity. Prophecy is to mission as a heart is to life. Prophecy lies at the heart of the mission of God’s people. This has been the case throughout Scripture, whether under the Old or New Covenant.

The history of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles clearly shows the connection between the gift of the Spirit and the missional activity of the early disciples. The Acts of the Apostles is not just about God’s guidance; it is about specific directions from the Spirit for mission.

Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Explore, dream and discover.

There is an extraordinary connection between three chapters in the Bible; Joel 2, Acts 2, and Numbers 11, and all three present an opportunity to ‘explore, dream and discover’.

In Numbers 1 – 10, God was preparing his people for the journey from Sinai through the wilderness to the land that God had promised them. How were the people to relate to a holy God? How were they to be a people on mission? The story of the Bible is how God called a people to himself through Abraham, beginning with liberating the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.

So if Numbers 1-10 is an exploration of how to relate to a holy God, Numbers 11 is a ‘bridge’ chapter, that reveals the pressure the people of God faced when starting to walk out God’s mission. It is a chapter of ‘responses’ – the people’s, Moses’ and God’s. Response after response. It is hard being a people on mission for God. So the people complained. Why couldn’t they have stayed in Egypt? What on earth are they doing here in a wilderness? And as for the food; all they got was manna, conveniently forgetting that the manna was God’s gracious provision to keep them alive in the desert.

They craved meat. They looked back to Egypt, hardly halcyon days. They grumbled and complained. Not one for missing an opportunity to get involved, Moses added his complaint. He was fed up with the burden of leading God’s people.

What happens? Seventy people, who were already exercising some form of leadership, were chosen to be elders. God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy elders. The result was that the seventy began to prophesy. Two others, who were not part of the original seventy, also began to prophesy. Joshua thought that they should be stopped, but Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Moses’ pipe dream? Yes, but one that would be linked through a promise in Joel 2 (2:28 – “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy …”) to the fulfilment in Acts 2. What was a pipe dream in Numbers 11, and a prophecy in Joel 2, eventually become a reality in Acts 2.

If Numbers 11 is about empowering God’s people to fulfil God’s mission to the world under the Old Covenant, so Acts 2 is the same, but this time under the New Covenant.

Joel’s promise of the gift of prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost, enabling God’s people to take up Abraham’s call to be a blessing to the nations, a prophetic blessing to the nations. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called by God, who blesses him so that he will be a blessing to the nations. Later, in Genesis 20:7, Abraham is described as a prophet. His ministry was to the nations. His was a missionary call to the nations that had at its heart the prophetic equipping and empowering of God’s people.

Prophecy and mission are intertwined together. As Robert P Menzies has written in ‘Empowered for Witness – The Spirit in Luke-Acts’, “According to Luke, the Spirit of Pentecost is the source of prophetic inspiration and, as such, the Spirit of mission.” The Acts of the Apostles shows us the first disciples seeking to live out their mission as the Spirit-filled prophets, thus demonstrating the outworking of the link between Numbers 11, Joel 2 and Acts 2.

In G Vandervelde & W R Barr’s book, ‘The Spirit in the Proclamation of the Church’, we read: “All God’s people are “to prophesy” … are called to proclaim the story of God’s love.” Frank DeCenso Jr. writes in his book, ‘Amazed by the Power of God’, “… God wants His children to catch the vision of moving in His power to change other’s lives and to tell all people that He is in love with them.”

As then, so now. That’s our mission, that’s our calling; to be a prophetic people living in truth and love, and speaking out God’s prophetic word.

Application: how we go about responding to this
Erwin Raphael McManus: “when we become visible, the invisible presence of God becomes visible.” Am I seeking to be intentionally visible in bringing a prophetic word from God to those I meet? Is God calling me to leave the familiar (like Moses leaving the privileged life of a prince, to be drawn into the wilderness) and to speak God’s prophetic word to those outside my immediate context?

 

Prophets Need Community

 

All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

Acts 2:44

Sometimes it just seems easier to go it alone.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and find ourselves drawn to prophetic ministry, there is often a temptation to turn our backs on the wider Christian community and run to Elijah’s ravine or John the Baptist’s desert: that place where it’s just ourselves and the voice of God.

After all, many of us need a place of quiet and solitude to be able to hear God clearly: a place where we don’t have to explain or defend our prophetic sensibilities; a place where we can pursue the sweet presence of Jesus uninterrupted.

And when we look at prophetic people in our churches we often find that they occupy those more isolated places: perhaps disconnected from a thriving community, and often on the very margins of church life. Isolation and separation are temptations for many prophets. When you can hear God so well by yourself it’s easy to end up thinking, “I don’t need anyone else – I can hear God!”  When you have encountered misunderstanding and even rejection because of your prophetic calling it’s very easy to emotionally and spiritually withdraw from the Christian community you are part of.

But an isolated prophet is an unaccountable prophet and this is a dangerous place for prophets to occupy. The most precarious place for prophetic ministry is right on the edge of things – a long way from the leadership, a long way from the central heartbeat of the church, a long way from accountable relationships. And in this place it’s all too easy for the prophet to end up being a critical voice outside the church – manifesting the spirit of independence and refusing to submit to any counsel or correction.

To gain a biblical perspective on prophetic ministry it’s important to see the huge shift that happens as we move from the old to the new covenant in respect to the role and ministry of prophets. The prophets of the Old Testament often had to minister as ‘lone-rangers’: they were sometimes a single voice in the midst of a corrupt and rebellious nation; often with a message addressed at unbelievers. They were working in isolation and alienation.

But the New Testament paints a very different picture of prophetic ministry and the context it operates in. Community is the crucial lens through which we must now view prophetic gifts, and as we look at the New Testament model of prophecy we see that its true home is a healthy, thriving community of God’s people. The church has become the centre of prophetic activity: a family of listeners, who discern God’s voice together.

New covenant prophets need community. It was all very well for the likes of Jeremiah and Co to minister in isolation, but under the new covenant a commitment to community is the deal for everyone, regardless of what our five-fold ministry is. Jesus never let his disciples do anything by themselves: they even had to find a donkey as a pair. So in order to have a balanced and fruitful ministry we have to overcome the challenges of community and pursue deep fellowship with our fellow believers.

It’s vital that prophetic people have a strong inward dimension to their lives, fully embedded in community, with healthy relationships with other believers. God created us to be social beings and his design for his church is that we are one body. In fact the love that Christians have for one another is the mark that identifies us as Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). We are all called to live out our faith alongside others.

Prophets need a sense of belonging, so that when they bring a word to the church, they are listened to because they are part of the family. A leader’s job is to help prophets find a supportive community. But more important than that is the need to create a culture where prophets can gain a vision for community, so that they are able to maintain a soft heart towards the body – a heart to build up the body.

So we have to create an environment that draws prophets close to the centre and ensures that they are firmly embedded in community; a place where prophets feel loved, accepted, valued, and invited in. We want to create a culture that communicates that the prophets, and all that they bring, are valued.

A strong culture of community, enhanced by the right sort of language, is going to be key for the healthy development of prophets. A strong community will naturally create trust, and it’s worth recognising that many prophetic people have to overcome their fear of judgement and rejection in order to mature and thrive. It’s really important that prophets feel that they can trust their community not to reject them if they share revelation.

And a strong community will create an environment of healthy submission and mutual respect: the prophet is happy to submit to his/her leader because they are part of the same family.

If we are sensing the temptation to go it alone, here are some searching questions we can ask ourselves that will help us stay focused on loving and blessing our community:

  • Am I committed to my church community?
  • Am I submitted to my leaders?
  • Am I accountable about my life and my prophetic ministry?
  • Am I making myself vulnerable to others?

What is a Prophetic Culture?

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to work alongside many different churches and support them as they grow a healthy prophetic culture. I spend a lot of my time thinking, talking and writing about the kind of prophetic culture that will bring tremendous blessing to God’s people – and have an impact on the world around us. Prophecy is great! It’s one of the most important gifts God has given his church. And it is certainly within reach of every church to develop a healthy and mature prophetic culture. But what exactly do we mean by this?

A prophetic culture is not primarily about structures and activities, but is about values and principles. To be strategic in growing such a culture it’s important to address issues of culture before structure.

A healthy and biblical prophetic culture is going to have these key hallmarks:

  1. Word and Spirit

To grow a holistic prophetic culture, both Word and Spirit need to be encompassed, so that there is healthy engagement with both the Bible and the person of the Holy Spirit. People need to understand how the two interact with each other and how we should grow in engagement with both of them.

  1. Discipleship and Accountability

A prophetic culture needs to be grounded in a culture of discipleship and accountability, where everyone knows that their primary calling and identity is that of a disciple. Discipleship is at the very heart of our Christian faith. It’s about choosing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, hearing him and obeying him.

A discipleship culture is one where we regularly ask ourselves, “What is God saying to me and what am I going to do about it?” – and where we are accountable to others about the answers to these two key questions.

  1. Community

A prophetic culture also needs to be grounded in community. This is the crucial lens through which we must always view prophetic gifts, and as we look at the New Testament model of prophecy we see that its true home is a healthy, thriving community of God’s people. Prophecy is not designed to exist in a vacuum.

Prophetic ministry that is grounded in community will counteract the consumer tendencies inherent in society, because the focus naturally shifts to the community hearing God together, rather than it all being about a few individuals. The more we practice listening to God together, in our local expressions of church, the more we will take on the identity of the flock of Jesus hearing him corporately, with everyone having a valid contribution to make.

A thriving Christian community is one made up of all ages, and one of the best ways to grow a healthy prophetic culture is to release the children and teach them how to prophesy. In fact kids generally find it much easier to hear God’s voice because they tend to have much less emotional ‘baggage’ to get in the way. We recently had all the children praying and prophesying over the adults at the end of a Sunday service, which was a blessing to all concerned, and a great picture of community coming together to engage with God.

  1. Rooted in the Father’s love

A healthy prophetic culture will be one where people are secure in the love of their heavenly Father and their identity as children of God. As we seek to develop prophetic ministry in our churches it’s vital that the foundations of this ministry are a deep understanding of the Covenantal relationship that God calls us into. We can live our lives in the knowledge that the most loving, kind and generous person we will ever meet is extending his arms to us and constantly watching over us. In this relationship we experience amazing love, acceptance and forgiveness; all of our needs for affirmation and approval are met; we know that God is pleased with us.

As we journey deeper into Covenant we find the antidote for legalism and striving. We can’t strive to hear our Father’s voice – we only hear him from a place of love, rest and security.

  1. Expectancy

To grow a thriving and effective prophetic culture it’s important that we become expectant and confident that God will speak to us if we ask him to. This is not about a few faith-filled individuals, but about a community that expects to hear God’s voice. It’s about a corporate attitude of expectancy. Too often the reason we are 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 much, and we’re certainly not putting ourselves in the place where we really need God to speak. As Graham Cooke writes,

Expectancy is the lifeblood of moving in the Spirit.”

  1. Multiplication

One of the things that excites me most about a mature prophetic culture is that it is multipliable: it reproduces itself. We first of all have to demystify the prophetic and make it accessible for everyone. To effectively multiply prophetic ministry we need to do it in such a way so that others can imitate us. We have to give people a framework to climb on. So this means not just doing ministry at the front of church, but being close enough to people so that they can see how it works in our lives on a day-to-day basis. It means inviting people to come and join in with us.

  1. Mission

A mature prophetic culture will always have a strong outward dimension. It sees prophecy as a gift not just to be kept within the confines of the church, but one to be taken outside the church walls, and to be used as an effective tool in evangelism. As we learn to hear and communicate God’s will and intention, his Spirit will always be directing us out into the world. As our spiritual hearing becomes clearer and sharper we will inevitably find ourselves tuning in to the missional heartbeat of God and speaking his words of life to people.

I lead a local huddle with five members of my church, and in this huddle I see the microcosm of a thriving, dynamic prophetic culture:

  • Joanna and Shaun lead a missional community that is focussed on the area of Hillsborough. They are committed to building a community that is confident in the use of prophetic gifts to the extent that these gifts can be taken out into Hillsborough and used to reveal the goodness and love of God to people.
  • Tony is working alongside one of Sheffield’s ‘Healing on the Streets’ teams and regularly goes out on the streets to share words of life with passers-by.
  • John is a talented artist and paints prophetic picture  in response to what God is saying to us as a church. These wonderful paintings are a visual aspect of the worship life of our church.
  • Joanne helps leads the Prophetic Welcome team at church. Once a month a trained team welcome people as they walk into church by giving them prophetic words

All five are being regularly discipled through my huddle and are motivated by a desire to serve the church and extend the Kingdom through the prophetic gifts God has given them. They are also committed to the principle of multiplication and are regularly investing in others.

How to Grow in the Gift of Prophecy (Prophetic Activations)

Together with my husband and a couple of friends, I lead a missional community called Navi. One of the visions for our community is that everyone in it will learn to hear from God for themselves, for each other, and for people we meet on the street. We have a group of people who are all praying to hear God more and hear His voice more clearly, but who are very varied in their experience. Some have been growing in the gift of prophecy for years, and others are at the very beginning of their journeys. Every other week when we meet together, we do something called a ‘Prophetic Activation’ to help us grow in the gift of prophecy.

It’s important once you have decided that you want to grow in the gift of prophecy and hearing God’s voice, and you have asked God for the gift to start listening. However, telling someone to ‘just listen’ isn’t very helpful if you’ve never done it before. Therefore, I have put together a list of ‘Prophetic Activations’ which we use in our missional community which will hopefully help you on your journey to grow in the gift of prophecy.

But firstly, what is a Prophetic Activation?

A Prophetic Activation is an exercise to help us grow in the gift of prophecy by practicing. Activations aim to help us learn how God speaks to us, and how to decipher when it’s God speaking and not our own thoughts. This is one of the biggest battles we face when we begin to grow in the gift of prophecy- “How do I know it’s God speaking, and it’s not just me?” There is no simple answer to this- all we can do is practice. The more we step out in prophecy, the clearer God’s voice will become.

It’s important that when you try these exercises, you try them in a small group of Christians who feel safe with one another. Make sure everyone knows that you’re allowed to get it wrong. The important thing here is not to get it right, but to move forward on our journey to getting it right. Learning from our mistakes help us on that journey, more so than always getting it right does!

Basic Activations- for beginners

  • Bible Character
    • Get into pairs. Ask God “which bible character is my partner like?” Who pops into your mind? Share with your partner whoever that character is. Now ask God, “why is my partner like that character?” Share again whatever pops into your mind about that bible character.
  • Fruit
    • Get into pairs. Ask God “what fruit is my partner like?” Whatever fruit pops into your mind, share that with your partner. Now ask God, “why is my partner like that piece of fruit?” Again, share with your partner whatever it is that pops into your mind. This one often makes people laugh as it feels silly. Laughter is a great way to relieve pressure and enjoy the process of learning.
  • Bible Verse
    • Get into pairs. Ask God “what bible verse/passage do you want to speak over my partner?” It’s likely that God will bring a few verses/passages/stories to mind that you know well. The better we know our bibles, the better we are likely to be at this activation. Share with your partner the verse that is on your mind for them. Don’t start preaching to them, or explaining what it means, but ask God what you think is significant about that passage for your partner in that moment.

These activations are purposed to help us get rid of some of the noise going on in our brains. Although limiting God to a piece of fruit may feel silly, it helps us to focus. After sharing with your partner, ask them what felt right and what felt wrong. It may be that you got it completely wrong! That’s absolutely fine. Keep praying, and keep trying. The more you get it wrong, the more you know what not to do.

Blind Activations

It’s often easy to ‘cheat’ at prophecy by using facial clues, or by going on knowledge that we already know about the person. This is often why it’s so difficult to prophesy over those closest to us, such as our spouse, because we know too much about them!  These next few activations are designed to help us be completely dependent on God, rather than what we already know. They also help us practice for when we prophesy over strangers, rather than those we know and feel safe with.

  • Blindfolded
    • Get into groups of between 3 and 8. Blindfold one person. Then, silently nominate one of the others in the group to be prophesied over. The blindfolded participant then asks God for a word for the nominated person, and shares it while still blindfolded.
  • Names in a hat
    • This works really well for a large group. Write your names on a slip of paper, then fold it up and put it in a hat. Mix them up! Now everyone takes out a slip of paper but they can’t look at the name on it yet. Ask God for a prophecy for the person on the slip of paper. God knows who it is, but we don’t! Now take it in turns to share the word you have. When you have said what the word is, open up your piece of paper. That’s who it was for- it could even have been your name on the paper meaning you have prophesied over yourself!
  • Prophecy Consequences
    • Get in a group of at least 6 in a circle. Everyone needs a piece of paper. Write your name at the top of the paper and then fold over so you can’t see your name, but there is the majority of the paper left unfolded. Now, collect all the pieces of paper together, shuffle them, and hand them out. Do not look at the name you are given. Next, ask God for a prophecy for that person- whatever comes to mind is fine. Write it down underneath the fold, and then fold over what you have just written. Then pass this piece of paper to the person on your right. Continue asking God for prophecies for each of the pieces of paper you are given, until you run out of space on the paper. Now unfold the paper and hand it to the person on the top.

These activations are great practice for when you go out on mission and know nothing about the person you are walking up to. The final two can also help us to prophesy over ourselves without even knowing it. This can be very encouraging as often we are braver with prophesies over other people, than hearing God for ourselves. I remember one lady prophesying that the person was a great leader, to then find she’d spoken over herself something she never would have said otherwise. It was a very powerful moment!

God Speaks in Different Ways

So far, you may have found some of these activations easier than others- that’s because we are all different and God speaks to us all in our own language and ways we understand. The following activation aims to help you understand in what way you find it easiest to hear from God, and to help you grow in the other ways.

  • Word/Picture/Bible Verse/Sense
    • Get into groups of 4. Name yourselves A, B, C and D. A asks God for a word for B. B asks God for a picture for C. C asks God for a bible verse for D. D asks God for a sense/feeling for A. Spend some time listening to God and then share with each other. Then swap who is doing what. A asks God for a picture for B etc.

I find it easiest to hear God through pictures, however it’s really important that I don’t limit God to this. You may also find one easiest, which is brilliant, but make sure you are also practicing the other ways as we don’t want to miss anything God says to us. You may also find that each of these ways (word, picture, sense etc.) feed into each other; it can be difficult to separate them. Don’t worry too much, just give it a go!

 

I hope these prophetic activations help you on your journey to grow in the gift of prophecy. They have definitely helped me on my journey, and are also helping those in our missional community to step out and listen too.

 

Receiving Prophecy: God has spoken to me, what do I do now?

When we start to hear from God, for ourselves and through other people, it is important to know how to take hold of what God says to us, and to respond well. It can become all too easy to simply enjoy a prophecy in the moment and then forget about it the next day. However, God is very intentional in the way He speaks to us, and we need to take on the discipline of being intentional in the way we respond to prophecies.

“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

Here we can see that the Bible tells us not to take prophecy lightly, but to test everything and hold on to the good things that God says to us. So how do we do this? How should we respond? What should we do when we receive a prophetic word, or God speaks to us directly?

I have been immersed in a prophetic culture for three years now, and in those three years I have learnt how to do this.

So, here are my top 5 tips on how to receive a word from God well. I’ll be using the example of a simple prophecy given to me in the past, “God loves you,” in order to demonstrate how to do this.

1) Write it down!

This is absolutely vital. Even if you have recorded the prophecy on your phone, I would recommend you also write it down when you get the chance. By writing it down, even if you don’t have time to process it immediately, it is easy to come back to. I personally have a journal specifically for prophecy, so that I don’t mislay loose bits of paper with God’s words for me on them! Also, I am far more likely to purposefully pick up my prophecy journal and flick through it, than to go through voice recordings on my phone.

By doing this:

    • All my prophecies are in the same place.
    • I don’t forget prophecies which I am given.
    • I am able to look back on prophecies from the past and see the fruit from them.
    • I am able to come back to prophecies which were given to me which I didn’t have time to process when they were given to me.

When I look back at old prophecies, I really do see fruit from them, so I cannot recommended enough getting your own journal dedicated for prophetic words.

2) Weigh it

Weighing prophecy is essential in order to check that the word you have been given is wholly from God. When we weigh a prophecy, we do not judge the person who has given us the word; we are testing the word that was given.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself and God, which should help you identify whether or not the word is from God.

• Where has it come from?
        o The Holy Spirit
        o My own agendas
        o An evil spirit
• Does it align with scripture?
• Does it strengthen, encourage and comfort?
• Does it point to Jesus and glorify Him?
• Does it resonate, and bring a sense of peace?

If the answer to these questions are the Holy Spirit and yes, then it is time to respond to the prophecy you have been given. If not, give the word back to God and surrender it to Him, ask Him to bring it up again in a different way if it is in fact something He wants you to deal with.

The word “God loves you” is a definite yes to all of these questions. An evil spirit would not tell me that God loves me as that would go against its agenda. However, it is very much like the Holy Spirit to want me to know I am loved. It aligns with scripture, strengthens, encourages and comforts me, points to Jesus and resonates with what I already know. Therefore, I move on to step 3.

3) Reflect

Now you know that the prophecy is from God, it’s time to start thinking about what it might mean. I like to journal my thoughts about it, as writing is something which gets my thoughts flowing. However, you may choose to have some soaking time in order to think about it, or perhaps you like silence. We all hear God in different ways as I explored a few months ago in this blog post, so find a way to reflect which works for you. Once you have reflected on your own, talk to someone else you trust about it too and reflect upon it with them.

Here are some questions you might like to ask yourself when reflecting on a prophecy:

• Does it relate to anything that has been said over me before?
• Is it to do with a particular situation in my life right now?
• Is it an encouragement to change my behaviour?
• Does it resonate with anything I’ve been learning about God recently?
• Why has God chosen to give me this particular word?
        o Is it simply to encourage me and make me feel affirmed and loved?
        o Does God want me to process something deeper?
        o Does God want me to take action?

I very much like to be led by God in my reflecting time. I ask God what He is saying about the prophecy I’ve been given, and ask Him to guide my reflection time. Sometimes I don’t really need to ask many questions, I simply ask God “What is your intention for me with this word?” and then I trust that my thoughts and reflections are guided by the Holy Spirit.

With the word “God loves you” there are many different things God could be saying to me. Perhaps my heart is broken and He wants to heal it with His love. Or maybe I am acting like someone who is unloved and He wants me to change my behaviour. I could be feeling lonely and this could be an encouragement that I am not alone, or God could be encouraging me to go deeper in His love and experience more of it for myself. Even a very simple word such as “God loves you,” which may not seem very personal, has a personal intention specifically for me and therefore it requires reflection and response.

If God tells you that you are loved, then you must begin to know that you are loved; live it, act like it, and be strengthened by it. Do not just let words from the King roll off your back, but allow them into your heart, and be transformed by them.

4) Take it to Jesus

Once you have reflected on the word for yourself, and discussed it with a friend, repent of anything you have done which has hurt Jesus. For example in this word “God loves you” I need to repent of when I have forgotten that God is there for me and loves me.

Say sorry to God for any wrong behaviours, then hand over that sin to Jesus. I find it very helpful to picture myself handing over that sin to Jesus, and then I ask Him to show me what He is doing with it. You may get a sense that He is pinning it to the cross to die with Him, or perhaps He takes it from you and puts it behind Him so that you can no longer see it.

It is also key to note that repentance doesn’t mean just saying sorry and carrying on, but it means to turn away from it. Therefore, leave behind the sin that God has spoken to you about, and turn your eyes towards Jesus.

5) Make a plan and stick to it!

This one can be difficult. Some people love reflecting on what God says to them, but then never do anything about it, and go straight back to the way they were before. Many other people may not reflect on the word before making a plan straight away, and then fail to stick to it because there hasn’t been a heart change. To respond well to God’s words, we need to make both a heart change, and an external one.

Therefore, once you have reflected and repented, make a plan as to how you are going to start acting on what God has told you. Don’t set yourself unobtainable goals, but set realistic ones which will stretch you and are also believable.

For my word, “God loves you,” I chose to read passages in the Bible which speak of God’s love, in order for His truth to settle on me even more. I also planned to, if ever I had thoughts of feeling unloved, stop in that moment and recheck my thinking, reminding myself of who God is, and what He thinks of me. I then told a close friend that I trusted these things, and asked her to check up on me and hold me accountable to the plans I had made.

So whatever your word is from God, make a plan of how you can hold onto the things He has said, and how you can act upon that word. Then, tell someone you trust about your plan, and ask them to hold you accountable to it.