Is Prophecy Your Normal?

So, when did you last talk openly about the things God is saying to you? If you started to share about that really profound dream you had last week, or that godly sense of urgency to challenge injustice, or that longing to express God’s word of encouragement for someone – would you just feel plain awkward?

Let’s face it: in much of our culture (both church and world) it’s just not normal to talk about prophetic things. We feel awkward and embarrassed talking about prophetic gifts. We’re worried that people are going to think we’re weird and odd. We get uncomfortable at the thought of divulging our inner conversation with God.

In many ways this is completely understandable. It’s true that there’s an otherworldly aspect to the prophetic, and sometimes it can be really difficult to express in human words what it is we are sensing the Spirit whisper to us. In the world’s eyes hearing from God is strange, and getting a ‘vision’ from God is bizarre. At the end of the day prophecy is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that challenges rationality and can take some getting used to.

But the problem is, if we never talk about our prophetic experiences, if we never share the things that God is sharing with us, then it’s very hard to grow a culture where the prophetic is normalised and mature. To grow a healthy prophetic culture there has to be a level of normalisation, where people are confident and free to talk about whatever it is that God might be saying to them. After all, true discipleship can’t happen in our churches if people feel awkward answering the two fundamental questions for disciples of Jesus:

What is God saying to you?  What are you going to do about it?

A healthy, mature prophetic culture is one in which people are excited and expectant that whenever we gather together God is present and active in our midst, that the Spirit of Revelation might just show up with some incredible truth to share with us.

If we don’t talk about revelation we are putting up huge barriers to the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. And by avoiding the subject we are not exactly in line with scripture:

Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

Paul was convinced that prophecy was essential for any Christian community; indeed he goes on to give this instruction:

For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.                  1 Corinthians 14:31

So how can we start to make the gift of prophecy more normal in our church contexts?

Here are three suggestions:

Be intentional with language   Find language that de-mystifies the prophetic, that makes it accessible and inclusive for everyone. In some church cultures using the phrase ‘listening prayer’ rather than prophecy is much better at drawing people in. Talk about prophecy in such a way that it becomes a part of everyday conversation. Talk about it in a way that conveys the message: “We can all learn to hear God!”

Model it well   If you are in any position of influence or leadership in your church make sure that you are open with people about your own journey towards hearing God better. Give people access to your inner world of communication with God. Tell your stories, both successes and failures, as you learn to step out with the gift of prophecy.

Look at the scriptures together   Spend time studying John 10 and Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would know his voice. Read Paul’s writings on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament church. And then work out what a faithful response should be. What would it look like for your church to start “eagerly desiring” prophecy?

I love being in a church community where prophecy has become normalised. In my church in Sheffield the prophetic is expected, it’s accepted; no-one bats an eyelid if someone gives someone else a prophecy. It’s become well embedded in our culture, from Sunday services to missional communities to friends meeting up to pray for each other. This supernatural gift of God has become natural. It’s our normal.

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.

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?