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.

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.

 

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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A New Book on Prophecy

Cath’s new book My Sheep Have Ears is being published next week! You can order it from 3dm Publishing at http://3dmpublishing.com/. This is an interview she gave about the book.

 

 Cath – tell us a bit about yourself:

I live in Sheffield and have been involved in prophetic ministry for over 15 years. For the last 10 years, I have overseen the prophetic ministry here at St Thomas’ Church, which has involved things such as teaching, mentoring, leading ministry sessions, and leading a prophetic council to serve the church. Over the last few years I have worked increasingly with other churches that want to learn what we have developed here, and how they can embrace this kind of culture too. This has involved developing various forms of training, coaching and resourcing, which I have done as part of the 3DM Europe team.

My vision has always been to make prophecy normal and accessible to everyone. There are lots of perspectives on what prophecy is, but in its simplest form I would say prophecy is hearing God speak and being able to repeat what He says, communicating the heart, mind and intention of God. That’s what I am passionate about training individuals and churches to do.

So, where has this book come from?

I’ve always had a heart to help other people grow in hearing God’s voice and using the gift of prophecy. I believe in the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians 4, and as someone who would see themselves as a ‘prophet’ I believe that one of the key roles of the prophet is helping other people learn how to hear God for themselves. My approach is “If I can prophesy, then I’m going to make sure as many other people as possible can too!”

My journey with learning to hear God’s voice has been an interesting one. I wouldn’t see myself as a ‘born natural’. I know many people who have grown up naturally being able to hear God speak to them in various ways from a very young age, which is brilliant. But I believe they are in the minority. In my experience, for the majority of Christians it’s much more of a journey and a process to learn to do this. That’s certainly been my personal story. It’s something I have actively and intentionally gone after – and haven’t just waited for ‘it’ to happen. I’ve read lots of books, been to conferences, prayed for God to teach me and generally used lots of ways to pursue the gift of prophecy. So because I have been on this journey, I know what the experience is like for the majority of us. I think this has really enabled me to help and teach others who are struggling to hear God speak. If I’m honest, I think it can sometimes be much harder for people who easily hear God’s voice to teach others, as it’s not a skill they have had to learn in the same way.

 

From your perspective, what would some of the aims of the book be?

Our ministry is all about making prophecy accessible (it’s in the name!) so I really wanted to unpack the process of what it actually looks like for someone to hear God. I make the point in the book that the Bible is full of stories about God speaking to people, but it doesn’t really tell you much of HOW that actually happened. Was it an audible voice? Was it internal? I think hearing stories from ordinary people about how they hear God is always helpful, so there are lots of these in the book.

The book is aimed at people and churches that would like to be open to the prophetic and are looking for practical teaching on what it looks like to use this gift on a day-to-day basis. I think that in the past there have been some expressions of prophecy that have come wrapped up in unhelpful packaging! This can lead to bad experiences and consequently an unhelpful reputation. Often it becomes associated with unaccountable, lone-ranger style prophets hopping from church to church, speaking judgement over people. I have seen that kind of thing go on myself and don’t like it, which is why having the context of community and discipleship is key in grounding prophecy and allowing it to edify the body in the way God intended. I feel it’s important not to allow our bad experiences to create a fear that stops us from reading the scriptures and learning how the Holy Spirit has always intended to operate within the church. My prayer is that through this book I am able to offer something on this amazing gift of prophecy God has given us, in a way that people can easily take hold of.

One of the clear themes throughout the book is community – that we hear God together and we weigh things together. Prophecy doesn’t happen in an isolated vacuum, rather as part of community life. I have read so many good books on prophecy, but lots of them are generally focussed on how I as an individual can learn to hear God better for myself. I don’t believe you can practice the gift of prophecy healthily outside of community. The strategic part of my book is working through the questions “How can we hear God together and how can we grow this culture together?” I explore some practical ways to do this.

 

How does this book relate to the 3DM movement?

As I have worked with 3DM much more closely over the recent years, it’s been a huge opportunity to reflect on what God has taught me in the area of prophecy through the lenses of discipleship and mission. This journey is reflected in the book, meaning much of the perspective I write from is one of missional discipleship. So my hope is that anyone who is generally interested in the prophetic would be able to pick up this book and find it helpful, but also people who are already familiar with the DNA of missional discipleship will find it uses much of the same language.

One of the key questions the whole ministry of Accessible Prophecy seeks to help people answer is: “How can we grow a healthy, biblical prophetic culture that both resources discipleship and empowers mission?”

In this movement we are part of, we know that discipleship is all about asking, “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?” So teaching people how to hear God is a key part of discipleship! In addition, God is by nature a missional God; therefore if we are hearing his heart and responding to his voice, we will find ourselves being sent out on the mission field. So resourcing discipleship and empowering mission are two strong themes of the book.

Lastly, what would your hopes be for someone who picks up a copy of this book?

There would probably be two things: Firstly – realising the joy in hearing the voice of the Father. Knowing as a disciples that your heavenly Father is speaking directly to you and that you can hear the Shepherd’s voice is something I would want for everyone, and it’s why I have worked so hard over the years to equip people to do this as much as I can. My book is an expression of this.

Secondly – I would love this book to help people explore how they can become a church that embraces the prophetic. To me, this kind of church is a place where people are confident in hearing God for themselves and where there is a sense of individual and cooperate vision, inspired by hearing God together. But it’s also a place where the gift of prophecy is taken out in to the world and God’s word is released to others.

 

Prophecy and Mission

This blog is written by John White, exploring his thoughts and revelation on prophecy and mission.

“He is the missionary Spirit of the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary church.” (The Cape Town Commitment)

As the missionary Spirit breathes life and power into God’s missionary church, so God’s people are released into prophetic missional activity. Prophecy is to mission as a heart is to life. Prophecy lies at the heart of the mission of God’s people. This has been the case throughout Scripture, whether under the Old or New Covenant.

The history of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles clearly shows the connection between the gift of the Spirit and the missional activity of the early disciples. The Acts of the Apostles is not just about God’s guidance; it is about specific directions from the Spirit for mission.

Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Explore, dream and discover.

There is an extraordinary connection between three chapters in the Bible; Joel 2, Acts 2, and Numbers 11, and all three present an opportunity to ‘explore, dream and discover’.

In Numbers 1 – 10, God was preparing his people for the journey from Sinai through the wilderness to the land that God had promised them. How were the people to relate to a holy God? How were they to be a people on mission? The story of the Bible is how God called a people to himself through Abraham, beginning with liberating the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.

So if Numbers 1-10 is an exploration of how to relate to a holy God, Numbers 11 is a ‘bridge’ chapter, that reveals the pressure the people of God faced when starting to walk out God’s mission. It is a chapter of ‘responses’ – the people’s, Moses’ and God’s. Response after response. It is hard being a people on mission for God. So the people complained. Why couldn’t they have stayed in Egypt? What on earth are they doing here in a wilderness? And as for the food; all they got was manna, conveniently forgetting that the manna was God’s gracious provision to keep them alive in the desert.

They craved meat. They looked back to Egypt, hardly halcyon days. They grumbled and complained. Not one for missing an opportunity to get involved, Moses added his complaint. He was fed up with the burden of leading God’s people.

What happens? Seventy people, who were already exercising some form of leadership, were chosen to be elders. God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy elders. The result was that the seventy began to prophesy. Two others, who were not part of the original seventy, also began to prophesy. Joshua thought that they should be stopped, but Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Moses’ pipe dream? Yes, but one that would be linked through a promise in Joel 2 (2:28 – “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy …”) to the fulfilment in Acts 2. What was a pipe dream in Numbers 11, and a prophecy in Joel 2, eventually become a reality in Acts 2.

If Numbers 11 is about empowering God’s people to fulfil God’s mission to the world under the Old Covenant, so Acts 2 is the same, but this time under the New Covenant.

Joel’s promise of the gift of prophecy is fulfilled at Pentecost, enabling God’s people to take up Abraham’s call to be a blessing to the nations, a prophetic blessing to the nations. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called by God, who blesses him so that he will be a blessing to the nations. Later, in Genesis 20:7, Abraham is described as a prophet. His ministry was to the nations. His was a missionary call to the nations that had at its heart the prophetic equipping and empowering of God’s people.

Prophecy and mission are intertwined together. As Robert P Menzies has written in ‘Empowered for Witness – The Spirit in Luke-Acts’, “According to Luke, the Spirit of Pentecost is the source of prophetic inspiration and, as such, the Spirit of mission.” The Acts of the Apostles shows us the first disciples seeking to live out their mission as the Spirit-filled prophets, thus demonstrating the outworking of the link between Numbers 11, Joel 2 and Acts 2.

In G Vandervelde & W R Barr’s book, ‘The Spirit in the Proclamation of the Church’, we read: “All God’s people are “to prophesy” … are called to proclaim the story of God’s love.” Frank DeCenso Jr. writes in his book, ‘Amazed by the Power of God’, “… God wants His children to catch the vision of moving in His power to change other’s lives and to tell all people that He is in love with them.”

As then, so now. That’s our mission, that’s our calling; to be a prophetic people living in truth and love, and speaking out God’s prophetic word.

Application: how we go about responding to this
Erwin Raphael McManus: “when we become visible, the invisible presence of God becomes visible.” Am I seeking to be intentionally visible in bringing a prophetic word from God to those I meet? Is God calling me to leave the familiar (like Moses leaving the privileged life of a prince, to be drawn into the wilderness) and to speak God’s prophetic word to those outside my immediate context?

 

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?