Revelation: Ears to Hear

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”    John 10:27

Do you know what Jesus’ voice sounds like? Can you recognise it?

As we continue our exploration of different ways that we can tune into God and connect with his heart, this time we’re looking at ‘hearing’ – revelation that comes in the form of words, phrases and sentences.

On a personal level, generally I’m much more of a ‘see-er’ than a ‘hearer’ – so the times when I do hear words from God are really special. I’ve never heard the audible voice of God myself (I know a number of people who have), but there have been plenty of occasions when a word or phrase pops into my head – not connected with my train of thoughts – that catches my attention and resonates in my spirit. To me these are a good indication that it may be God speaking to me, especially if I’m already focussed on him through prayer or worship. Sometimes these words are very faint, but I’ve learnt to pay attention to them, particularly if they appear in my mind from nowhere. I pay much less attention if a thought comes to mind which is just connected with what I’ve already been thinking about – experience has shown me that this is just my brain at work: that it’s just me and my own train of thought.

The command, “Hear the word of the Lord” echoes through scripture and the Bible is full of stories of people who heard the very voice of God, though we’re rarely told the exact nature of these experiences. As is true for us today, I’m sure that in some of these it was the audible voice of God that was heard, but others would have involved the quiet internal voice.

One thing that has helped me in my own journey of hearing God better is the realisation that most of the time God speaks in whispers. He’s the God of the still, small voice, and so to tune in to him requires us to be attentive to those quiet nudges and prompts that are so easy to miss. Most of us live in a very noisy world, full of competing voices and a myriad of distractions, so we have to be very intentional about creating space and a quietened heart to hear him. Remember: there is nothing wrong with God’s voice. He is speaking much more than we realise, we’re just not always very good at paying attention.

There is something very special about the quality of God’s voice that helps us distinguish it from our own thoughts. Yes, he may talk in whispers, but these whispers have the ability to resound deeply in our spirits, and they are full of light and wisdom. Listen for the voice that is wise and kind, and you’ll soon be able to discern the voice of God.

The Bible teaches us that there is a lot of power in spoken words (after all, God created the world through his voice), and I think we sometimes need to be much bolder in speaking out the words that the Lord gives us. When we’re prophesying with pictures (which is my own experience most of the time) we’re just describing the picture; but when we’re prophesying God’s words we are speaking the very words he gives us. It’s as we align our voices with what heaven is speaking we can really start to see breakthrough in situations – really see the power of the spoken prophetic word. Remember what happened when Ezekiel stepped out and spoke God’s words:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”    Ezekiel 37:4

So pay attention to those specific words and phrases that just appear out of nowhere, and if they have an accompanying sense of God’s presence, then take a step of faith and have a go at speaking them out, even if no one else can hear you.

A great way to grow in hearing God’s voice is to ask him questions. It’s important that we don’t lose the child-like freedom to ask questions of our heavenly Father. After all, the One we worship has the answer to every question we could ever ask:

“Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”   Romans 11:33

“Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”   Colossians 2:3

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Spirit of Truth, lives within each of us, and Jesus promises that the Spirit will teach us all things (John 14:26). So let’s be confident that if we inquire of the Lord he will have an answer for us.

Journaling is one of the best ways to listen to God’s answers: this is where we write down our conversations with God. I love to sit in a quiet place with my journal, and after a time of simple prayer and worship, start to write down my conversation with the Father. Sometimes the answers come straight away; sometimes they emerge over time as I take note of the different things he draws my attention to in scripture and as I go about my daily life.

As well as journaling there is also the habit of asking questions of God in the moment, throughout the day. Wherever we are we can ask, “Holy Spirit, what are you saying or doing here? How can I join in?” Practising this form of dialogue with the Spirit will sharpen our ability to stay tuned in to his voice. The ability to discern his voice from our own thoughts grows as we step out in faith and act on the whispers.

If you’re someone who finds it relatively easy to receive prophetic pictures but much harder to hear God’s words (I’m describing myself here!), I’d encourage you to persevere with ‘hearing’, even if it feels a bit outside your comfort zone. There is something very special about being able to hear and speak the word of the Lord.

Who has listened and heard his word?   Jeremiah 23:18

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.

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.

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…”

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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Prophets Need Community

 

All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

Acts 2:44

Sometimes it just seems easier to go it alone.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and find ourselves drawn to prophetic ministry, there is often a temptation to turn our backs on the wider Christian community and run to Elijah’s ravine or John the Baptist’s desert: that place where it’s just ourselves and the voice of God.

After all, many of us need a place of quiet and solitude to be able to hear God clearly: a place where we don’t have to explain or defend our prophetic sensibilities; a place where we can pursue the sweet presence of Jesus uninterrupted.

And when we look at prophetic people in our churches we often find that they occupy those more isolated places: perhaps disconnected from a thriving community, and often on the very margins of church life. Isolation and separation are temptations for many prophets. When you can hear God so well by yourself it’s easy to end up thinking, “I don’t need anyone else – I can hear God!”  When you have encountered misunderstanding and even rejection because of your prophetic calling it’s very easy to emotionally and spiritually withdraw from the Christian community you are part of.

But an isolated prophet is an unaccountable prophet and this is a dangerous place for prophets to occupy. The most precarious place for prophetic ministry is right on the edge of things – a long way from the leadership, a long way from the central heartbeat of the church, a long way from accountable relationships. And in this place it’s all too easy for the prophet to end up being a critical voice outside the church – manifesting the spirit of independence and refusing to submit to any counsel or correction.

To gain a biblical perspective on prophetic ministry it’s important to see the huge shift that happens as we move from the old to the new covenant in respect to the role and ministry of prophets. The prophets of the Old Testament often had to minister as ‘lone-rangers’: they were sometimes a single voice in the midst of a corrupt and rebellious nation; often with a message addressed at unbelievers. They were working in isolation and alienation.

But the New Testament paints a very different picture of prophetic ministry and the context it operates in. Community is the crucial lens through which we must now 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. The church has become the centre of prophetic activity: a family of listeners, who discern God’s voice together.

New covenant prophets need community. It was all very well for the likes of Jeremiah and Co to minister in isolation, but under the new covenant a commitment to community is the deal for everyone, regardless of what our five-fold ministry is. Jesus never let his disciples do anything by themselves: they even had to find a donkey as a pair. So in order to have a balanced and fruitful ministry we have to overcome the challenges of community and pursue deep fellowship with our fellow believers.

It’s vital that prophetic people have a strong inward dimension to their lives, fully embedded in community, with healthy relationships with other believers. God created us to be social beings and his design for his church is that we are one body. In fact the love that Christians have for one another is the mark that identifies us as Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). We are all called to live out our faith alongside others.

Prophets need a sense of belonging, so that when they bring a word to the church, they are listened to because they are part of the family. A leader’s job is to help prophets find a supportive community. But more important than that is the need to create a culture where prophets can gain a vision for community, so that they are able to maintain a soft heart towards the body – a heart to build up the body.

So we have to create an environment that draws prophets close to the centre and ensures that they are firmly embedded in community; a place where prophets feel loved, accepted, valued, and invited in. We want to create a culture that communicates that the prophets, and all that they bring, are valued.

A strong culture of community, enhanced by the right sort of language, is going to be key for the healthy development of prophets. A strong community will naturally create trust, and it’s worth recognising that many prophetic people have to overcome their fear of judgement and rejection in order to mature and thrive. It’s really important that prophets feel that they can trust their community not to reject them if they share revelation.

And a strong community will create an environment of healthy submission and mutual respect: the prophet is happy to submit to his/her leader because they are part of the same family.

If we are sensing the temptation to go it alone, here are some searching questions we can ask ourselves that will help us stay focused on loving and blessing our community:

  • Am I committed to my church community?
  • Am I submitted to my leaders?
  • Am I accountable about my life and my prophetic ministry?
  • Am I making myself vulnerable to others?

Prophetic Art

 

This month we interviewed John Rainford who is passionate about using the prophetic in his art.

Who are you?
I’m John Rainford, I’m married to Louise and we have two beautiful daughters. I work for the health service as a sonographer, doing ultrasound scans for patients referred by doctors, helping to make a diagnosis. From school age, art has always been a passion of mine. The only reason I didn’t choose art as a career was because I listened to a careers advisor who recommended I went down the science route instead! It’s interesting speaking to my professional artist friends, as they tell me having art as a hobby rather than a job means that art gives you more pleasure, rather than being something you have to do. Having said that, if I managed to make a career out of art that would be amazing!

What is Prophetic Art?
The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, prophecy is all about pointing to Jesus and to the things of the kingdom. You can have a painting of a field of flowers that is just a painting of a field of flowers. However, when you paint a field of flowers prophetically there will be all kinds of things God is speaking to you about in that painting as you paint it. Images are very powerful in our culture, and God uses art in a way to reach people’s hearts to speak to them. Of course there is cross over as God can also speak through “secular” paintings and not every image produced in a prophetic setting will speak to people. The difference is that as you are prophetically painting, you are listening to God and worshipping him through your art.

How did you get into Prophetic Art?
In our prophecy team at church, we looked at our passions and what we would like to see happen in the setting of a church gathering in terms of the prophetic. This is the meeting that helped start prophetic welcome in our church which has been going really well, and also making sure we recorded any prophecies brought to the gathering. My idea was that I wanted to see prophetic art take place in the gatherings. This was something we had seen before in church, but the people that used to do it had left. So Cath said “Yes! What’s the next step?” This led me to liaise with church and get the chance to start painting within the morning gathering. Since then I’ve painted a few pictures whilst in the gathering. The first one was based on the topic “Home.” (You can see this just above this text.) This got me well and truly out of my comfort zone, I hadn’t prepared myself for how vulnerable you are standing at the front painting a picture! It’s been a year and half since then and I’ve been invited every now and again to paint at the front of church since.

What’s the difference for you between painting ‘normal’ art and painting prophetic art?
The difference between using your own imagination to paint and having a picture from God to paint is really significant. I think it’s a similar distinction to how when I read a book, I will visualise what the characters look like, whereas someone else may never have thought to do that, so won’t have a picture in their mind of what a character looks like. So using my imagination to paint, rather than the Holy Spirit, doesn’t give me the same sense of awe as when God gives me a picture in my mind’s eye of something to paint. When I paint in the prophetic I use skills that I’ve learnt and am developing, but I also listen to God while I’m painting and this brings a sense of awe while I do it in God’s presence. It’s about stepping out with God in it and engaging with him. I can barely remember the last time I painted something just for the sake of it rather than painting something prophetically.

How does it help you to engage with God?
Because of the way I’m made, the times I’ve spent soaking (resting in God’s presence), worshipping and then drawing have been really significant. As believers in Jesus we don’t just have our sins washed away but we have the righteousness of Jesus given to us so that we are righteous and can please God. That being able to please God, that my sketches are pleasing to God really encourages me. My little sketches are pleasing to God! It’s really interesting what God spoke to me through the harvest field painting. I tried drawing a few sketches beforehand just drawing, but at the end of my soaking time, I felt God say to put my sketches aside and start with a blank canvas and he would give me what I needed. I feel God takes me through steps of faith where it gets more nerve wrecking in one sense, but I know that he is faithful.

How do you go about painting a prophetic picture?
It’s been different on different occasions. Sometimes I’ve gone with something I’ve had quite a clear picture of in my head already. Other times, I really haven’t. Having talked to Oliver Pengilley (a fantastic prophetic artist) about this I’ve discovered he has had a similar journey too. Sometimes you know what you’re going to do but other times you have no idea. On those occasions, I’ve just begun by painting and worshipping, putting colour on a canvas and just using the skills I have and saying “God I want to praise you in this.” Prophecy comes from a place of love, so I like to show my love of God through my painting. One painting I started just by making little swirls on the canvas, simply having fun with God and enjoying his presence and then gradually something started to build up which eventually led me to know where to go next. It’s about engaging with God in every step, asking God “what should I do next?” I recently chatted to another prophetic artist, Oliver Pengilley, he as a professional uses a lot of reference photographs and pictures and I use these too, learning how things look and using those to help me make a picture. I use my skills as an artist, but prophetic art is all about coming from a place of intimacy, I always soak before a painting, so it’s about spending time with God in doing this thing that I enjoy.

How do you use prophetic art as worship?
Just like a musician can sing and worship God by raising their voice and playing an instrument, a painter or artist can paint to worship the Lord. It’s interesting that scripture says “don’t make graven images” it’s important that you’re not lifting your art above God, making sure that it’s not seen as putting something in the way of God, but that it’s actually something engaging with the Holy Spirit and praising God. It’s knowing the pleasure that God has in us deriving from the fact that we are his children and he delights in us worshipping him by doing a painting. It’s something that at home I haven’t really done much, but it would be good for me to get into the habit of saying God I just want to paint for you not for the purposes of anything other than worship, more often that I am now.

Do you think those who aren’t artistic could benefit from prophetic painting?
Absolutely! Oliver Pengilley ran a workshop at our church a couple of weeks ago and we had a few people that hadn’t painted since school age and it was a very positive experience for them. One of the ladies who was there had felt God say “I want you to paint for me” so she was there not having painted since school, and it was getting out of her comfort zone but it was really positive. The number of people that said “this is incredibly relaxing!” was very encouraging. There’s a sense of disengaging with many of your thoughts and stresses that are occupying your mind and just focussing on worshipping God through painting. It can be quite therapeutic, people came in with crowded thoughts, but then just focused on God and the painting so lots of people found it distressing. A lot of people who have quite a lot of brokenness or hurts find art very therapeutic hence art therapy. A lot of people say “I can’t do that” but I think everyone can learn to be creative, not everyone will create “masterpieces”, but everyone can learn to engage with art, have a go and have fun with God.

Do you have any tips for those wanting to give it a go?
“The longest journey starts with a single step.” You just need to show up and have a go. Grab a pencil and paper, spend time waiting on God, maybe reading the word of God, perhaps a good place to start is by looking at one of the Psalms and meditate on the word of God and let that be you inspiration. Then just begin, don’t be discouraged if what you see isn’t what gets put on the paper, just keep going and learning. Also, it would be great for us in gatherings to have times where you might have a couple artists doing things because it would be interesting to have two prophetic artists and see how God speaks through both in different ways. It’s all about willingness to have a go, all the amazing artists you see all had a first time for doing it. So I think it’s about just stepping out and seeing what God speaks through your drawings whether they’re just a mix of colours and shapes, or a master piece.

Where can we see your art, potentially commission a piece?
I have an e-mail address jrpropheticart@gmail.com if you want to get in touch or commission any art, currently I don’t have a website but it is something I need to get cracking on with. I’ll update you when I have one!

A note from Jo:

John painted my husband and I a prophetic picture for our living room when we bought a new house. It’s so lovely to have a painting that you know has been painted in worship to God, with the Holy Spirit’s input on what you will see when you look at it. This painting is based on a few different verses in the Bible  that were highlighted to John as he was worshipping God and praying for us such as Psalm 121:1-2 and Isaiah 40:31, and also on the way in which God speaks to both Shaun and I. I love water, waterfalls, rivers etc. and Shaun loves the imagery of the temple in the Bible so John was able to include those in the painting for us as well. I’ve also enjoyed doing a little prophetic art myself, although it’s only doodles in my journal, I find that God really speaks to me through the pictures that I find myself drawing.

 

All the pictures featured in this blog post are prophetic paintings by John Rainford.

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

To 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

A 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

A 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

One 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.
  • John is a talented artist and paints prophetic picture  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.

Receiving Prophecy: God has spoken to me, what do I do now?

When we start to hear from God, for ourselves and through other people, it is important to know how to take hold of what God says to us, and to respond well. It can become all too easy to simply enjoy a prophecy in the moment and then forget about it the next day. However, God is very intentional in the way He speaks to us, and we need to take on the discipline of being intentional in the way we respond to prophecies.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1

Here we can see that the Bible tells us not to take prophecy lightly, but to test everything and hold on to the good things that God says to us. So how do we do this? How should we respond? What should we do when we receive a prophetic word, or God speaks to us directly?

I have been immersed in a prophetic culture for three years now, and in those three years I have learnt how to do this.

So, here are my top 5 tips on how to receive a word from God well. I’ll be using the example of a simple prophecy given to me in the past, “God loves you,” in order to demonstrate how to do this.

1) Write it down!

This is absolutely vital. Even if you hwriting-in-diary-786818-mave recorded the prophecy on your phone, I would recommend you also write it down when you get the chance. By writing it down, even if you don’t have time to process it immediately, it is easy to come back to. I personally have a journal specifically for prophecy, so that I don’t mislay loose bits of paper with God’s words for me on them! Also, I am far more likely to purposefully pick up my prophecy journal and flick through it, than to go through voice recordings on my phone.

By doing this:

    • All my prophecies are in the same place.
    • I don’t forget prophecies which I am given.
    • I am able to look back on prophecies from the past and see the fruit from them.
    • I am able to come back to prophecies which were given to me which I didn’t have time to process when they were given to me.

When I look back at old prophecies, I really do see fruit from them, so I cannot recommended enough getting your own journal dedicated for prophetic words.

2) Weigh it

Weighing prophecy is essential in order to check that the word you have been given is wholly from God. When we weigh a prophecy, we do not judge the person who has given us the word; we are testing the word that was given.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself and God, which should help you identify whether or not the word is from God.

• Where has it come from?
        o The Holy Spirit
        o My own agendas
        o An evil spirit
• Does it align with scripture?
• Does it strengthen, encourage and comfort?
• Does it point to Jesus and glorify Him?
• Does it resonate, and bring a sense of peace?

If the answer to these questions are the Holy Spirit and yes, then it is time to respond to the prophecy you have been given. If not, give the word back to God and surrender it to Him, ask Him to bring it up again in a different way if it is in fact something He wants you to deal with.

The word “God loves you” is a definite yes to all of these questions. An evil spirit would not tell me that God loves me as that would go against its agenda. However, it is very much like the Holy Spirit to want me to know I am loved. It aligns with scripture, strengthens, encourages and comforts me, points to Jesus and resonates with what I already know. Therefore, I move on to step 3.

3) Reflect

Now you know that the prophecy is from God, it’s time to start thinking about what it might mean. I like to journal my thoughts about it, as writing is something which gets my thoughts flowing. However, you may choose to have some soaking time in order to think about it, or perhaps you like silence. We all hear God in different ways as I explored a few months ago in this blog post, so find a way to reflect which works for you. Once you have reflected on your own, talk to someone else you trust about it too and reflect upon it with them.

Here are some questions you might like to ask yourself when reflecting on a prophecy:

• Does it relate to anything that has been said over me before?
• Is it to do with a particular situation in my life right now?
• Is it an encouragement to change my behaviour?
• Does it resonate with anything I’ve been learning about God recently?
• Why has God chosen to give me this particular word?
        o Is it simply to encourage me and make me feel affirmed and loved?
        o Does God want me to process something deeper?
        o Does God want me to take action?

I very much like to be led by God in my reflecting time. I ask God what He is saying about the prophecy I’ve been given, and ask Him to guide my reflection time. Sometimes I don’t really need to ask many questions, I simply ask God “What is your intention for me with this word?” and then I trust that my thoughts and reflections are guided by the Holy Spirit.

With the word “God loves you” there are many different things God could be saying to me. Perhaps my heart is broken and He wants to heal it with His love. Or maybe I am acting like someone who is unloved and He wants me to change my behaviour. I could be feeling lonely and this could be an encouragement that I am not alone, or God could be encouraging me to go deeper in His love and experience more of it for myself. Even a very simple word such as “God loves you,” which may not seem very personal, has a personal intention specifically for me and therefore it requires reflection and response.

If God tells you that you are loved, then you must begin to know that you are loved; live it, act like it, and be strengthened by it. Do not just let words from the King roll off your back, but allow them into your heart, and be transformed by them.

4) Take it to Jesus

mhGyknCOnce you have reflected on the word for yourself, and discussed it with a friend, repent of anything you have done which has hurt Jesus. For example in this word “God loves you” I need to repent of when I have forgotten that God is there for me and loves me.

Say sorry to God for any wrong behaviours, then hand over that sin to Jesus. I find it very helpful to picture myself handing over that sin to Jesus, and then I ask Him to show me what He is doing with it. You may get a sense that He is pinning it to the cross to die with Him, or perhaps He takes it from you and puts it behind Him so that you can no longer see it.

It is also key to note that repentance doesn’t mean just saying sorry and carrying on, but it means to turn away from it. Therefore, leave behind the sin that God has spoken to you about, and turn your eyes towards Jesus.

5) Make a plan and stick to it!

This one can be difficult. Some people love reflecting on what God says to them, but then never do anything about it, and go straight back to the way they were before. Many other people may not reflect on the word before making a plan straight away, and then fail to stick to it because there hasn’t been a heart change. To respond well to God’s words, we need to make both a heart change, and an external one.

Therefore, once you have reflected and repented, make a plan as to how you are going to start acting on what God has told you. Don’t set yourself unobtainable goals, but set realistic ones which will stretch you and are also believable.

For my word, “God loves you,” I chose to read passages in the Bible which speak of God’s love, in order for His truth to settle on me even more. I also planned to, if ever I had thoughts of feeling unloved, stop in that moment and recheck my thinking, reminding myself of who God is, and what He thinks of me. I then told a close friend that I trusted these things, and asked her to check up on me and hold me accountable to the plans I had made.

So whatever your word is from God, make a plan of how you can hold onto the things He has said, and how you can act upon that word. Then, tell someone you trust about your plan, and ask them to hold you accountable to it.