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.

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?