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.

 

Help! No one is listening!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognise that I don’t always get it right

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

Learning to grow in my prophetic gift

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

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

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

 

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

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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.