Is Prophecy Your Normal?

So, when did you last talk openly about the things God is saying to you? If you started to share about that really profound dream you had last week, or that godly sense of urgency to challenge injustice, or that longing to express God’s word of encouragement for someone – would you just feel plain awkward?

Let’s face it: in much of our culture (both church and world) it’s just not normal to talk about prophetic things. We feel awkward and embarrassed talking about prophetic gifts. We’re worried that people are going to think we’re weird and odd. We get uncomfortable at the thought of divulging our inner conversation with God.

In many ways this is completely understandable. It’s true that there’s an otherworldly aspect to the prophetic, and sometimes it can be really difficult to express in human words what it is we are sensing the Spirit whisper to us. In the world’s eyes hearing from God is strange, and getting a ‘vision’ from God is bizarre. At the end of the day prophecy is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that challenges rationality and can take some getting used to.

But the problem is, if we never talk about our prophetic experiences, if we never share the things that God is sharing with us, then it’s very hard to grow a culture where the prophetic is normalised and mature. To grow a healthy prophetic culture there has to be a level of normalisation, where people are confident and free to talk about whatever it is that God might be saying to them. After all, true discipleship can’t happen in our churches if people feel awkward answering the two fundamental questions for disciples of Jesus:

What is God saying to you?  What are you going to do about it?

A healthy, mature prophetic culture is one in which people are excited and expectant that whenever we gather together God is present and active in our midst, that the Spirit of Revelation might just show up with some incredible truth to share with us.

If we don’t talk about revelation we are putting up huge barriers to the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. And by avoiding the subject we are not exactly in line with scripture:

Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

Paul was convinced that prophecy was essential for any Christian community; indeed he goes on to give this instruction:

For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.                  1 Corinthians 14:31

So how can we start to make the gift of prophecy more normal in our church contexts?

Here are three suggestions:

Be intentional with language   Find language that de-mystifies the prophetic, that makes it accessible and inclusive for everyone. In some church cultures using the phrase ‘listening prayer’ rather than prophecy is much better at drawing people in. Talk about prophecy in such a way that it becomes a part of everyday conversation. Talk about it in a way that conveys the message: “We can all learn to hear God!”

Model it well   If you are in any position of influence or leadership in your church make sure that you are open with people about your own journey towards hearing God better. Give people access to your inner world of communication with God. Tell your stories, both successes and failures, as you learn to step out with the gift of prophecy.

Look at the scriptures together   Spend time studying John 10 and Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would know his voice. Read Paul’s writings on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament church. And then work out what a faithful response should be. What would it look like for your church to start “eagerly desiring” prophecy?

I love being in a church community where prophecy has become normalised. In my church in Sheffield the prophetic is expected, it’s accepted; no-one bats an eyelid if someone gives someone else a prophecy. It’s become well embedded in our culture, from Sunday services to missional communities to friends meeting up to pray for each other. This supernatural gift of God has become natural. It’s our normal.

Revelation: A Heart to Know

Deep calls to deep… Psalm 42:7

 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things… When he comes, he will guide you into all truth… John 14:26 & 16:13

As we continue looking at different ways we can tune into God and receive his revelation, in this blog we’re moving beyond ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ to explore the somewhat less tangible idea of ‘sensing’ or prophetic instinct.

Sometimes we just know something because we know something. Which shouldn’t surprise us, because the Holy Spirit is residing within us, connecting us to the Father, and committed to leading us into all truth. That’s good news! And if we’re pursuing an increasingly close walk with the Spirit we can expect God-given revelation to come to us in the form of gut-feelings, impressions and intuition: that ‘just-knowing’ awareness that defies logic.

Another way to describe this is as a Spirit-to-spirit connection: deep calling to deep.

This is challenging for those of us who prefer a logical and rational approach to life, and it’s easy to look at our more intuitive friends and misunderstand or dismiss their instincts and perceptions as lacking in substance. But regardless of our personalities I believe that we all need to learn to connect with the ‘just-knowing’ part of walking with the Spirit.

We can describe this type of revelation as ‘sensing’ and it’s a really valid way of hearing God’s voice; in fact, for many prophetic people it’s their primary way of receiving revelation. However it’s quite hard to pin down and describe, so sometimes we’re in danger of not paying as much attention to those Holy Spirit ‘vibes’ as we do to more concrete things like words and pictures.

A great first step is to learn to monitor our internal sense of peace. Paul’s advice to us in Colossians 3:15 is to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (literally ‘be an umpire’) and it’s by paying close attention to the peace of Christ that we take important steps towards a prophetic lifestyle. This first of all means learning to recognise the peace, and then monitoring it regularly: in every decision we make and path we take we ask ourselves where the peace of Christ is leading us. And if we find we’ve lost the peace then we stop and pray and ask the Lord to re-set our steps.

As I’ve allowed the peace of Christ to be an umpire in my life it means that from time to time I get a sense of warning or an ‘unsettled’ feeling in my spirit, and I’m then prompted to listen carefully to God for how to respond. Sometimes he tells me to pray protection over a particular friend or family member; sometimes it’s because I’m about to do something I shouldn’t. Yes, sometimes it seems easier to ignore these little prompts, but more and more I’m taking them seriously and acting on them straight away. And the more I practice responding to them the more I learn how to weigh them (because, as with all prophetic experiences, they need to be tested!)

When I’m trying to make a decision about something – those times when there are two options in front of me, and I have to choose one of them – I try to spend at least a few moments stepping back into my spirit and sensing which one comes with a deep sense of peace and a feeling of ‘right-ness’. This is one practical outworking of a commitment to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) on a daily basis.

Whenever we have the opportunity to pray and minister to people we should be paying attention to Holy Spirit prompts and impressions. We may experience physical sensations or emotions that point our ministry in the right direction. Perhaps the Lord allows us to feel what he is feeling for that person, or we get insight into their pain or brokenness. With each piece of revelation we get it’s important to keep an ongoing dialogue with the Holy Spirit so that he can lead us step by step. As with all forms of revelation we need to be disciplined in asking God for the interpretation and application.

For a lot of people ‘sensing’ is the form of revelation they receive in the busyness of daily life, when there is little practical time to find a quiet room and wait for the word of the Lord. But those little impressions and prompts are God’s grace at work in the activity of our lives, and we can wait on God for them on the busiest of days. A God-conscious lifestyle is one that delights in the smallest of touches or impressions.

Why don’t you stop right now and become consciously aware of the presence of God. Give thanks that he’s right here with you, that his Spirit is connected to your spirit. Have a go at tuning in to his quiet nudges and prompts. Where is his peace leading you?

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

Revelation: Eyes To See

How does God speak to you? What spiritual language does the Holy Spirit use to bring his revelation to you?

We can perceive the great unveiling in many different ways; we are each uniquely designed to catch the flow of the Spirit and tune in to God’s voice. One of the most common ways is through ‘seeing’, when God communicates to us through the visual dimension of the prophetic, whether it’s a simple internal picture or an ‘open-eyed’ vision.

Prophetic seeing is usually an internal process, and we perceive the content through our ‘mind’s eye’. This may be a simple, still image or it could be a moving picture like a scene from a movie. Sometimes it will be very hazy, as if we have just glimpsed something out of the corner of our eye; at other times it may be incredibly sharp and detailed. Sometimes the picture will come to us fully formed, at other times it may emerge slowly. I often have the experience of a prophetic picture slowly coming into focus, as if I were trying to focus on something through a camera lens. What I’ve learnt over the years is that I must resist the urge to dismiss the revelation at the partially formed stage because it doesn’t make sense. Rather I need to stay in a place of receptivity, patiently waiting for the picture to fully emerge.

Another important principle that God has taught me about the visual dimension of prophecy is that pictures and visions are an invitation to a conversation: they should be a relational, not functional, experience. In fact they are doorways to an encounter with God. If the Holy Spirit gives you a prophetic picture, see it as an opportunity to meet him and go deeper with him, rather than a puzzle to be solved. There is a real joy to be found in exploring prophetic pictures and visions with the Holy Spirit. Let him take you by the hand and go on a journey of discovery into all that you are seeing. Focus in on some details and ask him questions. Enjoy simply dwelling in the revelation a while.

The subject of how to interpret prophetic pictures and visions is an important one. It’s helpful to think in terms of two broad categories of visual revelation (though there is often overlap between them):

Metaphorical language  This is when God uses pictures symbolically to communicate truth to us. An example of this would be receiving a prophetic picture of a bunch of flowers because God wants you to know that he loves you.

Seeing into a different reality  This is when God opens our spiritual eyes so that we see something of the invisible realm of the Spirit. An example of this would be seeing an angel or having a vision of God’s throne in heaven.

Interpretation is a very important aspect of the first category. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions and attach our own interpretations to prophetic pictures, rather than having the discipline of asking the Holy Spirit what he is saying to us. For many prophetic people, receiving the visual revelation is the easy part; the challenge is discerning the right interpretation. We should always ask the Lord for an interpretation to revelation he gives us, and be content to wait patiently if it doesn’t come straight away.

When we think about the second category of visual revelation it’s good to remember Paul’s encouragement to us in 2 Corinthians 4:18:

  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The Bible speaks to us of two worlds: the physical, material world and the spiritual world, and as Christians we need to be engaging with both realities. To perceive the spiritual dimension of God’s kingdom requires eyes of faith and expectation. There are many biblical accounts of people being shown aspects of the spiritual realm, such Elisha and his servant seeing the heavenly army in 2 Kings 6:17, and the many encounters with angels described throughout scripture. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and John all had visions of God on his throne in heaven (with many similar details). Paul even writes about being caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Ezekiel had a series of remarkable visions and heavenly encounters, and does his best to describe the indescribable:

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it I fell face down… Ezekiel 1:28

But we too can be expectant for glimpses of the realm of glory. We can start by simply asking God for them, and then meditating on passages of scripture that describe visions of God, Jesus and heaven. Setting aside time to prayerfully contemplate John’s visionary description of Jesus in Revelation 1 is a great place to start. Worship too provides a wonderful context for opening the eyes of our hearts to the reality of God’s kingdom and the realm of the Spirit. The next time you are in a time of corporate worship, ask the Lord to give you a fresh revelation of his glory. Ask him to show you what is happening in heaven right now.

So far we’ve largely been talking about seeing with our ‘inner eye’ or with spiritual sight, but of course God can talk to us through the things we observe with our physical eyes. He loves to speak through the ordinary and everyday, especially through the beauty of the natural world. We just need to slow down enough so that we can properly pay attention and look.

However we see the things of God, whether it’s internal or external, what is key is that we are paying attention. God is the great Communicator, but to tune in to his revelation requires us to be active and alert, to be practiced observers – ready to peer in whenever the veil is drawn back. We need to have eyes to see.

 

 

 

 

Revelation: the Great Unveiling

Unveiling; disclosure; uncovering; exposure; when something is made known that was previously secret or hidden

This is how dictionaries tend to define the word ‘revelation’. When I think about the word, I see it as describing the essence of communication between God and man. Revelation is the unveiling of God’s truth to us, the point at which the vastness of God’s thoughts touch our limited human consciousness.

When we stop and think about it, it is extraordinary that we might have any kind of access to the mind of Almighty God. As he declares in Isaiah 55:9,

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,  and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yet despite the huge gulf between the mind of the Creator and the human mind, the Bible makes it clear that God readily chooses to communicate with people and unveil his thoughts to us. In fact revelation is inherent to the very nature of God. It’s not just through the written words of scripture that this happens. Throughout the biblical narrative God speaks to people: through creation, through angels and other supernatural experiences, but primarily through his voice.

We know that all creation bears testimony to God and speaks of his majesty, but we can also understand revelation as connection points between the physical world and the supernatural kingdom of God: points in space and time where we get glimpses of the realm of glory. So when we receive revelation from God it’s as if the curtains draw back for a few moments and we get to gaze through a window onto the greater and eternal reality.

God is very good, and it is his good intention that his people have access to his heart, mind and will. We also know that this side of glory there are limitations to what we can perceive: it will be ‘in part,’ like ‘a reflection as in a mirror,’ as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:9 and 12. But we need never settle for silence. He will never be completely hidden from us.

Over the next few blogs we’re going to look at revelation and how we can all grow in eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to know God. But here I want to share a few thoughts about how we can posture ourselves for revelation: how we can best place ourselves for the great unveiling that is God’s communication to us.

 

Family

As followers of Jesus our primary identity is that of children of God, and a growing understanding of this identity is key for receiving revelation. We have to change the way we think and choose to live in the truth of our spiritual adoption. We are sons and daughters of a perfect heavenly Father who wants the very best for us and desires that we should hear his voice. After all, fathers like talking to their children. Knowing in the depth of our being that we are beloved children of God takes us to the place where we can joyfully anticipate God’s presence and voice.

Furthermore, our identity as members of God’s family reminds us that he has designed us for community, and that the best context for receiving revelation is usually in the communities of God’s people that we belong to. It’s together that we are best placed to listen and respond to God’s spoken word to us.

 

Friendship

One of the wonders of the New Covenant that we belong to is that God has given us his Spirit. Jesus’ name for the Holy Spirit is Parakletos: the Friend who will never leave us. And it’s through our relationship with this Friend that we have incredible access to revelation from the very heart of God:

“When he comes he will guide you into all truth… he will speak what he hears… the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”   John 16:13-15

 The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  1 Corinthians 2:10-11

 The Holy Spirit is the agent of revelation: he reveals God’s heart and mind to us. A fundamental part of his ministry is to search out the deep hidden things of God and unveil them to us. He speaks directly to our spirits and in this way reveals things to us that our natural eyes or ears could never perceive.

It’s this third Person of the Trinity, this Parakletos, who invites us into close fellowship and friendship. We can walk with him daily, talking to him and listening to him, seeing the world from his perspective. We learn his ways and see what he sees.

 

Follow

Jesus provides us with a wonderfully clear picture of what revelation is supposed to look like in the life of a disciple when he describes himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.

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

This is the Shepherd with a voice, and with sheep that know this voice above all others. This passage reminds us that along with revelation comes the imperative to respond (“…and they follow me”.) Jesus promises us that we will know his voice to such an extent that we will be able to follow it. We can never be passive receivers of his revelation. Like he says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we have to “hear these words of mine and put them into practice.”

Part of our role as followers of Jesus is to follow him in the way he revealed the Father. Jesus came to this earth for many important reasons, but a primary reason was to reveal the Father and give us a true picture of what he is like. Jesus’ revelation of the Father is the greatest and most profound revelation – the greatest prophecy – of all time. But as disciples of Jesus we get to join in as well. The ultimate goal of our ministry is to reveal who God is; to reveal the truth of the nature of God to those who cannot yet see him.

 

Åbenbaring

This month’s blog is written by Anders Lindegaard who is a graduate from The University of Copenhagen with a Masters of Theology. He’s part of Byens Valgmenighed where he leads prophetic ministry. He is also launching ‘Røst’, which is the Danish branch of Accessible Prophecy.

 

Unless you are from Scandinavia or you are, for some reason, familiar with the Danish language, then the title of this blog probably won’t mean anything to you. But allow me to enlighten you with a very small Danish lesson. The word åbenbaring is the Danish word for revelation. It is closely related to the German word offenbaren and is best translated into English as to openly bear/carry something.

For the past nine months I have been intensively studying the prophetic as it was the subject for my Theology Masters thesis. I find it hard to isolate a single aspect of the prophetic and deem it the key purpose of prophecy. It might even be that the purpose of prophecy is entirely relative, since God reveals himself for different people in different ways for a number of different reasons. That being said, I do believe that one of the key reasons for God revealing himself is relationship, which is a concept that is captured in the Danish word åbenbaring.

When we look at the Bible, in particular Genesis, we see how the relationship between God and man was, in it’s original state, one of immediate communication. There was a complete openness where we were able to communicate directly with God. This continuous openness between God and Adam meant that there wasn’t need for any particular moments of revelation. God was showing all of himself all of the time to Adam because he loved him. When you love someone, you desire that other person to be open and transparent. It is absolutely vital. Without openness there is no chance and no room for communication and love to survive. This is the case in every relationship we have with someone.

From the beginning, God was inviting us in to a deep and profound love; a love that already existed within the Trinity. Augustine reflects profoundly on the relationship between revelation and love when discussing the theology of the Trinity. The foundation of the Christian concept of revelation is that God is love and that love can never be love without a person to love, hence meaning that the dynamic bond between the three persons of the Trinity is one of love. This dynamic bond is not only an internal one (Augustine’s words: ad intra operatio) that exists solely between the three persons of the Godhead. It is rather a Trinitarian power that is directed out to other creatures (ad extra operatio). The inner-Trinitarian love between the Trinity’s three persons cannot be separated from the One God’s desire to love others. This means that we are invited into that very love that exists within the Trinity itself.

With the Fall, the immediate openness between God and man was broken and hence revelation became a necessary premise for us to continuously communicate with God. For as we know, God is love! Love is dependent on communication and openness to exist. God’s desire is for us to be part of Him; he desires for the same state as before the Fall. For God then to communicate with man and thereby show his love, he needs to reveal himself to man. God’s love makes revelation a necessity!

Reading the Bible, we see how the Old Testament prophets are the champions of continued openness and communication between God and man; they were his instruments through which he sought to re-establish the broken unity. It is this role of Old Testament prophets that continues with the prophets in a New Testament paradigm.

Revelation is an expression of God’s continued longing to communicate with his people, whom he deeply loves. Through revelation and prophecy God wants to equip, build and edify his people and his church. Revelation manifests as God’s personal words to the individual believer as well as to the church in general. It is an expression of God that still intervenes and cares for his people, both as individuals and the whole church. Hence revelation expresses God’s longing to restore that open and immediate communication that was interrupted by the Fall, which can now only exist through God’s revelation. Revelation allows humanity to access the most insight into who God is.

This understanding of God as being relational and revealing himself in order to show his love was the biggest eye-opener for me growing into the prophetic. Cath Livesey describes my process in her new book My Sheep Have Ears (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

“When Anders moved to a church with a different approach, people started regularly asking him the question ‘What is God saying to you today?’ At first Anders’ response was based on his analysis of the sermon. But as people kept asking him the same question he started to consider the possibility that he might be able to hear God speak to him personally. In this new environment Anders’ mind began to change. As his mind changed he started actively listening for God and found a relational God that was really speaking to him. The new mind-set opened up a whole new dimension of his faith and today Anders hears God with great clarity.”
Cath Livesey, My Sheep Have Ears.

This is why prophecy is so important. It’s revealing purpose in showing people the heart of their loving Father as well as speaking true identity into peoples’ lives, allows them to understand who they really are. It allows them to further understand that they are most beloved children. Prophecy is absolutely dependent on revelation in order to understand and know God and for people to grow into a covenant identity with him.