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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Why We Love Prophecy- Part Two

In our February blog, we posted the first part of “Why We Love Prophecy” which you can find here. This month we come back for Part Two, which explores three more reasons as to why prophecy is such an exciting and useful gift.

Prophecy builds confidence and gives strength to endure

 A good example of this from the Bible is 1 Timothy 1:18:

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight.

mXgo1nAWe see here that Paul encourages Timothy that he is able to fight the good fight by reminding him of the prophecies that have previously been made about him. By doing this, Paul ensures that Timothy can be confident and strengthened in what God has called him to, and reaffirms that God is by his side to “fight the good fight.”

God frequently speaks to us to affirm us in what He has already called us into. It is not uncommon to hear people comment “Ooh, someone else prophesied that over me last week!” or, “I was really struggling with that, now I know to keep going!” when we give them a prophetic word. God loves to affirm us, and when we hear from God, affirming us in what He has called us into, naturally our confidence is built, and it gives us strength to keep on going.

Just last week I was given a prophetic word which I have been given a number of times. Each time I have been given this word, last week included, I was reminded that God has promised me this, that he’s given me that passion for a reason, that I’m gifted in it, and to keep seeking it. Each time I hear this word from God, my confidence is built and it gives me strength and confidence to keep on going for it.

Prophecy leads people to Jesus

For me personally, one of the things I love the most about the prophetic is that it leads people to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 tells us that

 If an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!

mg1YtRQThe above passage shows us that a prophetic atmosphere reveals the Father.  It  shows us that when we prophesy, people who don’t know God hear His voice. This can look like conviction of sin, or it can look like God speaking into them words of life and truth. A couple of years ago a friend of mine came to a Christmas service at church after being invited by her housemate. She walked into the service as an atheist, heard God’s voice calling her to a life dedicated to Him, and walked out as a follower of Jesus. It wasn’t the talk that brought her to Jesus, but it was hearing God’s voice for herself. Therefore, let us prophesy not only to encourage and bless people, but to bring people to their loving Father.

 Prophecy is a vital tool for mission

Prophecy is not a gift to only be used within Christian circles, waiting for people to come in, but is also a vital tool for mission. Using the prophetic in mission can often feel a lot more difficult than using it within Christian communities, it can feel like a much bigger sacrifice because it feels less safe. However, speaking the words of God to people who do not know him, as we have just seen, can lead them to a relationship with the Father.

Recently I heard a testimony from a friend about utilising the gift of prophecy for mission. He really felt God saying to him to tell a man he saw across the street that God loved him. My friend was obedient even though he felt the word was a bit simple, impersonal and even a little bit cheesy.  To my friends surprise, the man was overwhelmed and started to cry. As it turned out, just the day before this man had considered suicide and asked God for a sign to show him that he was loved. By stepping out in faith, not only did this man hear God loved him but he had his own prayers answered. This encounter lead him to life.

If we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit and let ourselves be guided by Him, we can be confident that we are still safe. So, let’s be available for God to speak through us to all the people he leads us to.

God speaks to all his people, and that includes those who don’t know him yet. We need to act as channels for them, until they learn to hear God’s voice for themselves. Even though it can feel super scary, the potential of stepping out and seeing someone meet Jesus should by far surpass any fear of getting it wrong. Prophecy leads people to Jesus, therefore, let’s use it to bring His lost children back to Him. Align yourself with the Holy Spirit, draw your confidence from God and see who he takes you to.

  • Who can you give a prophecy to today to build their confidence and help them keep on going?
  • For whom can you act as a channel for God’s voice?

Motivated by Love

We hear so many great testimonies of prophecy and the joy that hearing God’s living word brings to people. However, it’s amazing and sobering to see how such a wonderful gift as prophecy, which enables us to reach into the heart of our heavenly Father and communicate His thoughts and purposes to people, can occasionally end up getting a bad press.

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I’m sure some of you reading this will have heard of a bad report about prophecy.  Future events being predicted that never occurred; marriages and babies being prophesied that never materialised; ministries and destinies being called forth that just ended up in disappointment and disillusionment.

It’s really hard to ‘eagerly pursue’ a spiritual gift, as we’re encouraged to do in 1 Corinthians 14:1, if we’ve had a bad experience of it or observed it being handled badly.

Once we’ve seen the bad side it’s very hard to wholeheartedly embrace this particular gift of the Spirit. Surely it’s safer to give it a wide berth. The problem is we can end up being held back by fear, or taking on the mind-set that only the most experienced of leaders could ever be trusted to use the gift.

Which is pretty tragic.

If fear and apprehension hold us back – the voice that tells us we might do it wrong and cause more damage than good – we miss out on what the Bible tells us is a very important gift, both to the church and to the world around us.

Fortunately, there is a way forward, a way to ensure our prophecies are on the right track, meaning that we can all enjoy using the gift of prophecy in its fullness without fear:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Cor 13:1-3

When we look to follow Jesus’ example we see that throughout the gospels He is so often moved with compassion. We always see that Jesus loves first. Therefore we need to make sure that we love first too.

mgytoDkMany years ago a friend of mine was having a terrible time because her husband had just left her. As I prayed for her one day the prophetic picture God gave me was of her going down into a deep valley – the lowest point of her life. But as I prayed for her, I saw that at the very lowest point in this valley there was a bench, and on that bench Jesus was sitting waiting for her. Jesus was waiting for her there even before it had happened and as she travelled down through the valley, Jesus was there for her the whole time. He was sat waiting for her with a space on the bench next to Him. It absolutely blew me away that Jesus loved my friend that much. Engaging with the prophetic that day enabled me to catch a glimpse of the profound depths of love that God has for His people. I was able to connect with His heart, and realised that this is the foundation of everything – being plugged in to God’s love.

The primary solution to the problem of bad and ugly prophecy is very simple – it is that we need to be motivated and consumed by love. Prophecy needs to be refined and purified by love – when this happens it becomes the most wonderful of spiritual gifts.

Of course this may seem easier said than done, but here are some simple steps to help you to make sure that you are following Jesus and truly loving people through prophecy:

1) Choose to base your identity and security in your heavenly Father’s love for you. You’re His beloved child. He’s always pleased with you.
2) Lay down your own agendas. Do not let your own opinions manipulate the revelation God gives to you.
3) Ask God to show you His heart for people. Try this with everyone you meet today. Ask to see them as He sees them.

My favourite definition of the prophetic is ‘a passion for the heart of God’. I know that as I choose to lay down my own agendas and begin to really seek God’s heart for people that my prophetic ministry is going to be both purified and simplified – because all that matters is that I hear the heartbeat of God, and by His grace I get to reveal the Father’s burning passion for the people around me.

The focus needs to shift – from ourselves and all the reasons why we couldn’t possibly use the gift of prophecy – to the men, women and children around us who need more than anything to hear a word of love, compassion and hope from the very heart of the greatest Father in the universe.

We need to start thinking, “What have I got in my spiritual tool-kit that will reveal God’s love to the person in front of me today?”

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