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.

When Prophets are the Enemy of the Prophetic

In last month’s blog Chris Wanstall shared some of the things she’s has learnt about pursuing maturity in prophecy and finding healthy ways to communicate what God puts on our hearts. This month’s blog follows a similar theme as we consider the dangers that an immature prophetic ministry can bring.

The New Testament is pretty clear: prophecy is a gift for all God’s children. A gift to be eagerly desired, that brings enormous blessing as it connects people to the Father’s heart. Over the years I’ve seen the potential of prophetic ministry to bring encouragement, hope and freedom to countless people. And I’ve seen the joy that comes when we realise that we can all join in: it’s not an exclusive gift for a mysterious elite, but a dispensation of grace that the Holy Spirit pours out abundantly. We can all use this gift and be channels of God’s love as we seek His heart for everyone we meet. A healthy prophetic culture is one where there is an active understanding that prophetic revelation is available to all.

So it’s a sobering thought that often the biggest barriers to releasing a healthy prophetic culture are the prophets themselves. All too often the thing that stops people engaging with the gift of prophecy is the immaturity and unhelpful behaviour of prophetic people. By ‘prophet’ I mean the New Testament ‘five-fold-ministry’ prophet that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4: that section of the church who have a particular calling to help the church hear God’s voice. Jesus has given certain ministries or callings to the church, distributing them among all the people as He sees fit. God has made each one of us to fit a certain place where we can serve Him best. These five ministries are given so that the whole body of Christ might grow and mature, that we might live out the unity Paul describes at the beginning of the chapter. That we would become the people Jesus intended us to be.

We get a little glimpse of the mature New Testament prophet from this verse in Acts 15:32:

    “Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to strengthen and         encourage the believers.”

This is a great snapshot of what the prophets were up to in the early church: they were channels of God’s strength and encouragement. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:3, when we prophesy we speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. I would have loved the opportunity to hang out with Judas and Silas and be a recipient of their wonderful ministry.

Alongside bringing prophecies and speaking encouragement, the primary role of the New Testament prophet is to help other people hear God for themselves. Mature prophets do this by laying down their own agendas, and the desire to go it alone, and instead focus on investing in others. They find ways to effectively multiply their ministry and allow others to imitate them. They give people a framework to climb on and an invitation to come and join in.

A mature prophet has a key role to play in establishing a healthy prophetic culture in their church. Their heart will be set on edifying the body by encouraging others to step out and listen to God, and they will model a humble, accountable and community-focused approach to the gift. In fact they will model it in such a way that it’s infectious – people will eagerly desire prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) because they see the fruit of the gift in the mature prophet’s life.

But all too often we see the opposite dynamic happening – immature prophets that actually put people off prophecy. And this is how it happens:  

  • By their attitude and language they imply that this gift is exclusively theirs. Their inability to convey their prophetic experiences in normal, accessible language means it appears unattainable for the rest of the church.
  • Their stubborn independence leads to a lack of accountability and submission. They won’t engage with discipleship and they won’t embrace the common vision of their church family. They end up being a critical voice on the edge of church, quick to point out every problem they see.
  • Their lack of rootedness in community and their avoidance of accountability means they quickly rush into acting on whatever they think God is telling them to do, without the discipline of properly weighing and testing their word with others.
  • Their tendency to speak judgement rather than mercy creates a culture of fear.
  • Because their identity is so caught up in their prophetic ministry, if their prophecies are rejected they feel personally rejected. Anyone who questions their actions or words gets accused of quenching the Spirit.
  • Their lack of humility and grace means they demand to be listened and responded to, becoming frustrated when leaders don’t immediately act on the revelation they bring.

No wonder the response of so many church leaders is to shut down or tightly control any expression of prophetic ministry. No wonder so many church members avoid an active engagement with prophecy.

There is a spiritual battle going on. Prophecy is a wonderful and powerful gift that God has given His church but the enemy hates it and does all he can to twist and distort it . I’m aware of a number of situations at the moment where the desire of churches to develop a healthy and mature prophetic culture is being jeopardised by the attitude and actions of immature and unaccountable prophets. Of course this is exactly what the devil wants.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and long to see prophecy welcomed in our churches, here are some hints on how to be a help rather than a hindrance:

  • Remember: it’s not about you and your ‘gifting’ or ‘anointing’ – rather the focus needs to be on how you can help others hear God for themselves.
  • Actively seek out accountability. Find a safe place of accountability where you can be transparent about your life and ministry.
  • Cultivate a servant heart; read Philippians 2.
  • Get some training on how to communicate your ideas with humility and grace.
  • Look for creative ways to bless your leaders with your prophetic gift.
  • Don’t be weird or super spiritual – aim to be as normal as possible.
  • Hang out with apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors. Choose to learn from them and their perspectives.
  • Follow in Judas and Silas’ footsteps and seek to say much to encourage and strengthen believers – all the time!

Let us heed these words from 1 Peter 4:10:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…”

Why We Love Prophecy- Part Two

In our February blog, we posted the first part of “Why We Love Prophecy” which you can find here. This month we come back for Part Two, which explores three more reasons as to why prophecy is such an exciting and useful gift.

Prophecy builds confidence and gives strength to endure

 A good example of this from the Bible is 1 Timothy 1:18:

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight.

mXgo1nAWe see here that Paul encourages Timothy that he is able to fight the good fight by reminding him of the prophecies that have previously been made about him. By doing this, Paul ensures that Timothy can be confident and strengthened in what God has called him to, and reaffirms that God is by his side to “fight the good fight.”

God frequently speaks to us to affirm us in what He has already called us into. It is not uncommon to hear people comment “Ooh, someone else prophesied that over me last week!” or, “I was really struggling with that, now I know to keep going!” when we give them a prophetic word. God loves to affirm us, and when we hear from God, affirming us in what He has called us into, naturally our confidence is built, and it gives us strength to keep on going.

Just last week I was given a prophetic word which I have been given a number of times. Each time I have been given this word, last week included, I was reminded that God has promised me this, that he’s given me that passion for a reason, that I’m gifted in it, and to keep seeking it. Each time I hear this word from God, my confidence is built and it gives me strength and confidence to keep on going for it.

Prophecy leads people to Jesus

For me personally, one of the things I love the most about the prophetic is that it leads people to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 tells us that

 If an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!

mg1YtRQThe above passage shows us that a prophetic atmosphere reveals the Father.  It  shows us that when we prophesy, people who don’t know God hear His voice. This can look like conviction of sin, or it can look like God speaking into them words of life and truth. A couple of years ago a friend of mine came to a Christmas service at church after being invited by her housemate. She walked into the service as an atheist, heard God’s voice calling her to a life dedicated to Him, and walked out as a follower of Jesus. It wasn’t the talk that brought her to Jesus, but it was hearing God’s voice for herself. Therefore, let us prophesy not only to encourage and bless people, but to bring people to their loving Father.

 Prophecy is a vital tool for mission

Prophecy is not a gift to only be used within Christian circles, waiting for people to come in, but is also a vital tool for mission. Using the prophetic in mission can often feel a lot more difficult than using it within Christian communities, it can feel like a much bigger sacrifice because it feels less safe. However, speaking the words of God to people who do not know him, as we have just seen, can lead them to a relationship with the Father.

Recently I heard a testimony from a friend about utilising the gift of prophecy for mission. He really felt God saying to him to tell a man he saw across the street that God loved him. My friend was obedient even though he felt the word was a bit simple, impersonal and even a little bit cheesy.  To my friends surprise, the man was overwhelmed and started to cry. As it turned out, just the day before this man had considered suicide and asked God for a sign to show him that he was loved. By stepping out in faith, not only did this man hear God loved him but he had his own prayers answered. This encounter lead him to life.

If we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit and let ourselves be guided by Him, we can be confident that we are still safe. So, let’s be available for God to speak through us to all the people he leads us to.

God speaks to all his people, and that includes those who don’t know him yet. We need to act as channels for them, until they learn to hear God’s voice for themselves. Even though it can feel super scary, the potential of stepping out and seeing someone meet Jesus should by far surpass any fear of getting it wrong. Prophecy leads people to Jesus, therefore, let’s use it to bring His lost children back to Him. Align yourself with the Holy Spirit, draw your confidence from God and see who he takes you to.

  • Who can you give a prophecy to today to build their confidence and help them keep on going?
  • For whom can you act as a channel for God’s voice?