UNDERSTANDING PROPHETS (Part 1)

Not many people are that comfortable going around calling themselves a ‘prophet’. It’s not how I would introduce myself to someone at a party. But Ephesians 4 tells us that Jesus has gifted this bunch of folks to his church along with the apostles, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. And these roles are not just for leaders: they are for every follower of Christ.

Fivefold thinking enables us to view prophets as simply ‘one of five’: some people are prophet-shaped, a God-given role, and alongside the other fivefold callings, their ultimate aim is to build up the body of Christ:

…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

That is some calling!

The problem with the word ‘prophet’ is that it has so many Old Testament style associations that can lead to misunderstanding about the prophet’s ministry. Over a couple of blogs I want to explore the role and calling of prophets, but in order to do that we have to move away (to a certain extent) from an Old Testament perspective and grasp a broader paradigm more influenced by the new covenant we now live in.

In this blog I’m going to focus on how prophets are wired. What makes them tick? And in the next blog we’ll be looking at how their role works out in the life of the church.

More than anything, prophets have a passion for the heart of God. That’s where their attention keeps returning to, that’s what they’ll always be chasing after.

Prophets are focused on God and they are very spiritually aware. Therefore they are acutely conscious of the gap – ok the huge gulf – between all that is beautiful, sacred, loving, righteous and life-giving in God’s presence…. and all that is broken, messed-up, unjust, sinful and dying apart from God’s presence.

The primary impulse of the prophet is to somehow bridge that gap. To find a place – any place – where they can stand between heaven and earth and facilitate some sort of connection. To search God’s heart for the words or imagery that will draw people back to God, for actions that will demonstrate a God-shaped alternative. Prophets translate God so that the world can re-orientate itself back towards him. They eagerly pursue whatever words, imagery or action will bring the much-needed realignment of created with Creator.

The gap is a place of tension for prophets: tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, the ‘actual’ and the ‘ideal’. They are simultaneously focussed on the glory of God and, at the same time, sensitive to the existing reality in the world around them, with all its injustice and unfaithfulness. Because of this the prophet is someone who at heart wants to challenge the status quo, bringing an alternative consciousness to the dominant culture, and questioning everything that does not reflect the values of God’s kingdom. For a prophet this often feels that they are like a fish swimming up stream.

In occupying the gap prophets are wired both for worship and for warfare. Their passion for God’s heart carries with it urgency for reverence and devotion. They prioritise prayer and the pursuit of God’s presence. But their sensitivity to injustice and unrighteousness creates such a holy discontent that they are intent on confronting the powers that oppress people, whether cultural or spiritual.

Prophets are enthusiasts for God, carrying a message that he is so much closer and so much better than we can think or imagine. With their eyes turned heavenward, and awake to divine promise, they long for God’s renewal of all things. They love to release hope and expectation in the Body of Christ, anticipating the new thing that God is doing.

Prophets are wired for the message of transformation: “We have to change! Things have to change!” Remaining as we are is never an option for a prophet. Why stay here when there is something better around the corner? They know that God is on the move and want the rest of the Body to catch up. As they pursue God’s heart they discern the work of the Spirit in refining and purifying his people and speak a message of transformation to the world around them.

*******

Does any of this resonate with you personally? You are probably a prophet if you:

  • Have a passion to see people walk more closely with God
  • Love prayer, worship and pursuing God’s presence
  • Often get a sense of what God is saying about a situation
  • Long for every Christian to hear God’s voice
  • Tend to see things a little differently from everyone else
  • Find your heart breaking for the poor, oppressed and marginalised

Whatever fivefold ministry we most closely identify with it’s important that we get a clearer understanding of the role of the prophets and embrace the particular grace they bring to the Body of Christ.

From Listening to Doing

We’re delighted to have Brandon Kelly from the States as our guest blogger this month. Brandon is part of the Accessible Prophecy US team.

 

As an apostle, my admiration and appreciation of prophets and prophecy has grown significantly over the past couple of years. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience a prophetic huddle and have spent a great deal of time with prophets, both of which have developed my understanding and experience of prophecy for my own life. There’s one thing, though, that continues to stand out in most interactions that I have with prophets – they spend too much time listening and not enough time doing.

Now to be fair, apostles spend too much time doing and very little time listening. Once during a prophetic huddle, I was sharing how I always immediately respond to what I think God is saying and was considering giving myself a twenty four hour wait time before I acted on anything. Bursting with pride, I thought that I would be an example to the prophets in my huddle of what it looks like to be patient and wait on God. After everyone stopped laughing, I realized twenty four hours is nothing to a prophet. I was challenged to consider a week or maybe more to fully engage with the voice of God and hear clearly what he is saying before I do anything.

This is why apostles and prophets work so well together. Prophets keep apostles on track with what God has spoken, helping them to hear clearly and deeply. Apostles keep prophets moving forward, helping them to take action. When both are represented there’s an equilibrium of listening and doing in the life of the church. What can a prophet learn from an apostle to help them take action on what God has said?

I’ve found that there are five questions that are helpful to ask yourself, and others, when moving from listening to doing:

  1. What’s one way that you can respond to what God is saying in the next two weeks?
    Usually, there’s never any lack of inspiration for large and lofty plans for us to accomplish when we’ve heard from God. The dreaming of what God can do in us and through us can be significant, especially for more profound and memorable prophetic words. However, if we can’t identify the next action step that’s needed to move us on the journey to God’s words, the likelihood is that we’ll never do anything about it. Asking what someone can do in the next two weeks presses them to the next practical step that can be done. If it can’t be done within two weeks, there’s probably a smaller step that could be taken to move them in the right direction. I like the two week timeframe because it allows enough space for unforeseen issues that come up, but is short enough that the action and word remains fresh in your heart and mind.
  1. When are you going to do that?
    Once the next action step has been identified, it’s helpful to get specific about when the action will take place. If you leave out the specifics now, it’s unlikely they’ll get clearer as time passes on. You need a plan for when your response to God’s word will take place. What day will it be? What time will it be? Even categories of time – in the morning… at lunch… – aren’t specific enough. Will you do it before breakfast or right after you wake up? The amount of clarity that you have about your plan now is directly related to the likelihood of follow through later.
  1. Who’s going to hold you accountable?
    When the plan is in place for what you’ll do and when you’ll do it, you need to figure out who can hold you accountable. This isn’t someone who will guilt and shame you for failing to do what you’re supposed to do, but someone to support and encourage you to do the things you’ve said you will do. It could be someone in your huddle, a friend, a spouse, or anyone that you trust will actually follow up with you. It doesn’t do you any good to be held accountable by someone who won’t hold you accountable. It also doesn’t do you any good to lie about what you’ve accomplished, it misses the point of accountability. Be honest and admit when you’ve fallen short. The person holding you accountable should respond with grace and offer support for making your action step happen.
  1. What can you do right now to ensure that it will happen?
    There are often small things that can be done right away to help ensure that the action step gets accomplished. These are usually simple and quick items such as: emailing or calling the person who’s going to hold you accountable, placing the action step on your calendar, writing yourself a note, or setting up a reminder on your phone. If you can do one of these now, you can set yourself up for success later on.
  1. What roadblocks would stop you from doing it?
    We can’t always foresee the road ahead, but sometimes we can anticipate roadblocks before we run into them. If we can identify roadblocks now, we may be able to adjust the plans we’re making or add some steps along the way that will overcome them before they become an issue. Roadblocks could include: not having the right resources (think time, materials, and knowledge), someone who may be adverse to what you’re trying to do, personal fears, spiritual warfare, etc.

Listening to God is vital to the life of a disciple, but equally important is responding to what He says. As we consider taking action, we can set ourselves up for success by putting some additional thought and intentionality into our planning.

What have you found to be helpful in moving from listening to doing?

What other questions might you ask to bring greater clarity to plans and actions?