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.

 

 

 

 

Inquire of the Lord

Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him… (1 Samuel 23:4)

When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritualists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? (Isaiah 8:19)

 

The Lord makes it pretty clear throughout scripture that we are to inquire of him – for him to be our first port of call with a query, our first line of inquiry. If you are anything like me, I’m sure you make time to inquire of the Lord with the big decisions in life – those times when we have no choice but to stop at a major crossroads and try and work out which way to go. And yet for many of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, our day-to-day reality shows little practical application of this biblical principle. Is it because we are just too busy and preoccupied? Or somewhat nervous about what answer we might get back?

In recent months God has been challenging me to regularly inquire of him in the midst of the many daily decisions I am making – to take the time to pause and seek him for the next step and right call, rather than just trusting in a general sense of, “Well, this feels ok so I’ll go with.”

There is a practical outworking to this call to regularly inquire of God, and we’ve looked at the subject of asking God questions in a previous blog. But the oft-repeated phrase inquire of the Lord also raises deeper issues, and in this blog I want to dig a bit further and look at some fundamental issues of the heart.

The key question the phrase inquire of the Lord generates in my own discipleship journey is:

Am I surrended to God to the extent that I’m prepared to ask him any question about my life, and listen for the answer?

Am I prepared to ask God what his opinion is of my relationships, marriage, ministry and call? Am I ready to inquire of him regarding any sin he sees in my life? Am I willing to ask him what I can do for him every day rather than simply asking him to bless my plans? Am I ready to ask him what he really thinks about my world-view and political opinions?

At its heart, the biblical principle of inquiring of the Lord is less about decision-making and more about submission. It challenges us to examine our heart posture towards God: our motivations, our focus, and our priorities. It requires us to ask ourselves who really is on the throne of our lives.

If there is something in us that resists the call to inquire of the Lord, is this because we have not fully submitted our lives to him? That we’ve given him a certain level of access to our lives without the Access All Areas that he really demands?

The Old Testament prophets frequently hold up a mirror to us with which to examine our hearts. They present a unfavourable description of those to be judged for their sins, but in these black and white pronouncements we often find windows into our own souls. I read this verse in Isaiah the other day and just couldn’t get past it:

Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. (Isaiah 3:8)

To defy God’s glorious presence – to turn our backs on the Lord of Glory – is the very essence of the sin of pride. To defy God’s presence means to openly resist him, to refuse to obey, instead of yielding and surrendering to his light, truth and fiery love. And to maintain a posture of inquiring of the Lord requires us to yield and surrender to him on a daily basis.

I know that I’m not actively and consciously defying God, but reading this verse caused me to examine my heart and consider all the ways I may slightly and subtlety defy him without even really noticing it. What am I hiding from him? Where am I quietly but stubbornly sticking to my plans and my agendas?

We know that in God’s glorious presence there is complete truth and purest light. There is infinite wisdom and relentless love. As his beloved children we are welcome here every day of our lives; but when we stand in this place we must lay aside every one of our own agendas and opinions and surrender every part of our lives to him.

It’s as we engage in the process of surrender that we are best placed to hear God’s voice and receive his revelation. God looks for those who are seeking him, and he can be found by those who seek him with all their heart. Humility is vital for accessing the truth he reveals to us. A humble and submitted heart will easily connect with God’s voice.

As you go about your day today, I’d encourage you to have moments when you pause, reconnect with the Father, and humbly ask his opinion about whatever it is you are doing. Choose to lean a little less on your own understanding….

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding;

In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

 

 

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…”

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

hand-453220_640To 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

friends-581753_1280A 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

boy-373441_640A 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

hare-595136_640One 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.
  • johnrainfordJohn is a talented artist and paints prophetic picture (such as this one) 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.