Trip to Novi Sad, Serbia

Last month I had the privilege of travelling to the city of Novi Sad in Serbia to lead a prophetic conference with a team from the Netherlands. I’ve asked Marleen, one of the team, to write up her thoughts about the trip.

The Holy Spirit had established a warm cross-European connection between our two churches the year before. Back then, a group of people from Crossroads Rotterdam visited ‘Protestantska Hrišćanska Zajednica’ in Novi Sad, to do some Alpha training with the Serbian church. This had been such a warm acquaintance that we from the Rotterdam group were delighted to be invited again – this time to support Cath Livesey in leading a conference on listening to God’s voice and prophecy.

This Protestant church, in the second city of Serbia, is considered a ‘mega church’ within the Balkan area. Since the Orthodox Church is the main denomination, with strong ties to the state government, there is very little acceptance of other expressions of the Christian faith. Especially because Eastern Europe completely missed out on the Reformation, this Protestant church is considered a religious sect. Understanding this, it was quite amazing to see about a hundred people attending the conference. People came not only from this church but also from smaller churches near the Croatian and Bosnian border.

Although I am familiar with the concept of prophecy, have attended the Prophecy Course, have read books about prophecy and had several opportunities to practice hearing God’s voice, I was actually a bit hesitant when arriving in Serbia. I somehow felt a pressure to ‘perform’. Which is silly because one of the most important things that Cath taught me through the Prophecy Course, is that it’s not about me and my effort: I hear God because I’m His child; it’s certainly not about striving.

It was really remarkable to be part of this conference, where so many people, men and women, young and elderly came together with a hunger for more of Jesus. The desire that we felt in the congregation to draw closer to Him was so inspiring and moving. And although most of the people had never received teaching on hearing God’s voice, hardly anything stood in the way for them to open up and hear His words and see visions. We were so encouraged to hear many stories of people hearing God and stepping out in prophecy for the first time.

During the conference there were several moments when we were asked to mix up and get into groups of two or three people in order to put theory into practice. At one point I formed a group with an elderly lady and a teenage girl, and we were asked to listen to God for prophetic words for each other. When, after a moment of silence during which we listened for the girl, I asked the elderly lady, “Did you receive a word or something?” She replied, “No, there was nothing.” So I asked again, “Wasn’t there anything, something that just popped up in your mind?”

And then, at first hesitantly but then more and more confidently, she started describing an image that she had for the girl in our group. It was very vivid and rather detailed. The girl was really was touched by the picture, and was certain that she should devote this to her personal prayers to receive more insight on it so that she could fully understand it. But most of all, this elderly woman receiving her first ‘word’ from the Lord, was a great encouragement for the three of us!

There were many experiences like this: people whose relationship with Jesus is very strong and loving, but who, up till now, were ignorant of the way God speaks to us to encourage others. It really humbled me that only a few nudges and simple encouragements were sufficient to activate that communication with Jesus. It wasn’t us, the people from Western Europe, who brought the gifts. We weren’t needed there. God’s love for His Serbian people, and their love and desire for Him is enough.

This also became clear to me right before the conference started. The Dutch team was asked to offer ‘prophetic appointments’, where people could come at a set time and receive some prophetic ministry. Our job as team was to listen to God and ask Him, “What do You want this person to be encouraged with? What image or words of knowledge do You want us to pass on to this person?” So I sat with one of my Dutch travel companions, and a young lady came to sit with us. We closed our eyes and we brought this woman in God’s presence. And with my eyes closed, I saw her standing on a pedestal, with her arms open wide, face up towards a beaming light. In this image, the expression on her face was of pure joy – it looked like she was fully soaking up the warmth and the light. Then I opened my eyes and looked at her in ‘real-time’ – and she had exactly that expression on her face! She smiled with her eyes closed and she looked so happy.

I was drawn to tears because of this precious moment. I asked her why she looked like that, what happened to her at that moment. She said that it’s just that she loves Jesus so much and she loves to be near him. That touched me deeply. She had come to the conference to learn about hearing God’s voice. Prophecy was something that she never had received teaching in. But her relationship with Jesus was so apparent and intimate, that she only needed a bit of biblical reference and confirmation in order to activate the heavenly communication. Sharing with her the vision that I had about her was just a confirmation of what she already grasped.

We left Serbia richer than how we arrived.

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…”

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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Why We Love Prophecy- Part One

Before joining St Thomas’ Church Philadelphia I had a limited understanding of prophecy. It was used very occasionally on special occasions to encourage someone at something like a baptism, but other than that I rarely saw it used. However, since being at Philadelphia, I have discovered that not only is prophecy a great gift which blesses people, it is actually an essential tool which is vital for the church.

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Prophecy is essential, as it says in 1 Corinthians 14:3, because it strengthens, encourages and comforts people. This is probably the most common way I have seen prophecy utilised as a gift: God talking to us about ourselves and each other in order to encourage us. Most of the prophetic words I have received from other people fall under this category. One of my favourite words that I have been given was from a speaker who told me he saw Jesus sitting in a garden with me, and he said that he heard God say that Jesus loved spending time and simply being with me. This came at a time in which I was struggling with striving, so this word really encouraged, strengthened and comforted me to just be with Jesus and not do. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time of my life and I still find it to be beautiful and encouraging to this very day, two years on. Prophecies like this are essential as in addition to strengthening, encouraging and comforting us, through them we hear God’s heart for us. This builds up hope and leads us to a place of thanksgiving and praise.

Another reason prophecy is essential is because it helps us know how to pray. I often used to find myself praying to God and running out of things to pray for, meaning that my prayer life became very repetitive, short, and if I’m completly honest, not particularly heartfelt. However since listening to God in prayer I have found that prophecy provides us with an agenda for prayer. Hearing what God says when we pray means that we are able to agree with Him and say Amen to His will. When we ask God what to pray for and align our prayers with Him, we are letting the Holy Spirit lead our prayers rather than our own minds. This is helpful in our personal prayer lives, and also when praying for other people. By listening to God whilst praying for others, we hear God’s viewpoint on their situation and are able to pray from a heavenly perspective, speaking right into the heart of the issue. Not only does this mean that we pray more effectively because our prayers are aligned with the Holy Spirit, but praying in this way gives us confidence in prayer and therefore builds our faith for answered prayers.

mqcfS1E When we dig deeper into this, we can see that prophecy and intercession go hand-in-hand. Prophecy is a powerful tool in counselling and personal ministry situations as it brings God’s insight. When we use prophecy to help us intercede and hear God’s insight we are humbling ourselves and ridding our prayers of our own agenda. It is very easy to judge a person’s situation ourselves and decide what it is they need praying into, however if we listen to God we know what it is that God wants us to pray into, and therefore we pray far more effectively. This saves us a lot of time as it means that we don’t have to figure out for ourselves what the root of the issue is. Prophecy is also essential in counselling situations because it helps us to focus our eyes on Jesus. It is often easy to get caught up in the issues and problems of a situation, however prophecy leads us straight to Jesus the deliverer.

These are just a couple of the many reasons why prophecy is an essential tool for the church; we will be looking at some others in upcoming posts. The main reason we love prophecy however is because it is how we hear from God Himself, and there is nothing better than hearing from the One who loves us.


Images courtesy of:
Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
lilamilka / RGBstock.com