The Power of Prophetic Prayer

This blog has been written by a member of the Accessible Prophecy team.

A few years ago I experienced for the first time the power of crafted, prophetic prayer, and I would love to share with you what I learnt through this.

What do we mean by crafted, prophetic prayer?

This is the process by which we prayerfully seek God for the specific words to pray over a particular situation; we write them down; and then we pray these words regularly until either the situation changes or God tells us we need no longer pray them.

Often this may revolve around a number of scriptures which God will bring to mind. Once we have noted them and prayed over them, we ask the Holy Spirit to bring to our mind how He wants us to pray these scriptures over the situation or person. Then with His help, we write out a prayer which we feel reflects the Father’s heart. Then we declare or speak out God’s truth audibly over that situation. By continuing to pray this crafted prophetic prayer we keep our heart and mind focussed on God’s will rather than our own. When we are deeply distressed about something it helps to be able to read a prayer on a daily basis rather than having to fight our way through our own feelings afresh before we can pray.

A good friend of mine was experiencing difficulty in her marriage. Both she and her husband are Christians and I confess I was angry with him for being, as I saw it, the cause of her deep distress. I wanted to support them both in prayer but noticed that the attitude of my prayer for him was one of judgement rather than grace. I also realised that I was praying that his behaviour would change in ways which I believed would help my friend. My prayers had become manipulative.

In an effort to become a clean vessel of blessing I enrolled the help of a prophetic friend, asking her to ask the Lord what I could pray regularly over this man which would be in line with God’s will, rather than my own.
Unsurprisingly enough, God gave her 4 or 5 passages from the Bible which addressed, not his behaviour, but his heart, his identity, his up-building, strengthening and encouragement.

My friend then wrote out a prayer for me to use which declared over this man truths about God’s love for him and God’s desires for his life.

By way of example: “Lord, You have given xxx the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Yourself. Open the eyes of his heart so that he may know the hope to which You have called him. Reveal to him the riches of Your grace, his inheritance in You, Your greatness and mighty power which raised Christ from the dead. Show him that as his Father You can heal any hurt, repair any brokenness. You have the power to make all things new.” Based on Ephesians 1:17-20

Because I was so despairing about this situation I found it difficult to pray my own spontaneous prayers of hope over this man, so having this to read daily helped me engage constructively in the spiritual battle for this couple’s marriage.

After a number of months of praying this crafted, prophetic prayer I found to my delight that change was being wrought, not just in my friend’s husband but also in the attitude of my heart towards him. Instead of judgement I found I had grown in grace and hope both for him and for his marriage. In my heart I found I could love and accept him in his frailty and had grown supportive once more of them as a couple. Within the year my friend and her husband had grown much closer both to God and one another.

I believe that as my friend listened prophetically to God’s desire for this man’s life He gave her a prayer with which to build him up in Christ but also release me from the bitter root of judgement which I had allowed to grow in me.

I found Graham Cooke’s book “Crafted Prayer” very helpful in understanding how I can write my own crafted prayers both for my life and for the lives of others.

Carriers of the Revelation of God

My new book on the prophetic church is coming out later this year. Here’s an extract.

What does it mean to be a prophetic church?

When we have a clear understanding of what the prophetic is, then we can start to make sense of our calling to be a prophetic community. So, here’s an holistic definition of the prophetic; one that aligns with the biblical narrative and prophetic tradition, and that helps us take hold of our corporate identity:

The prophetic is about the faithful holding out of God’s reality, so that it can be clearly seen and responded to, so that transformation can take place, and so that relationship can be restored.

This holding out of reality – what we can call revelation – is at the heart of what God’s people are called to do; in fact, what we’ve always been called to do.

God’s people have always had a collective purpose in holding out God’s reality. We could even say that this is our defining role: a people who carry and demonstrate God’s reality to the world around us, a people who thus represent God. So, in a very fundamental way the people of God have always been a prophetic body – something we need to pay close attention to as we go on to consider what a prophetic church or organisation is.

We are carriers of revelation – the revelation of God – and this core purpose is at the heart of the biblical narrative. The Israelites, God’s people under the old covenant, carried the revelation of the One True God Yahweh – which was a pretty big revelation at the time. In fact, it was unimaginably radical in those days. The countries of the world were full of false gods and the abominations associated with them. Thus the revelation of monotheism was a startling light in the darkness: the God of love, the God of covenant, the Great I Am. This was the God who was Presence – cloud and fire – and the God who spoke: not an abstract concept or distant entity, but relational and communicating. The God of Israel was truly unique. ‘Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The people of Israel were essentially a prophetic community because their primary task was to hold out this revelation to the nations of the world. Theirs was a most holy and prophetic calling: to represent Yahweh on the earth and be the embodiment of a people in covenantal relationship with him. God’s original intention for them was that they would be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6), walking so closely with their God that they would hear his voice and represent him before all other nations (but of course at the critical moment on Mount Sinai they chose to hold back and have Moses as their intermediary).

This reality, this revelation of Yahweh, was so precious but so vulnerable to idolatry. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the one people group chosen to transform the world through its revelation struggled repeatedly to stay faithful to their call. At times they just couldn’t resist running to other gods and compromising the covenant relationship. Because idolatry pollutes, distorts and counterfeits the true revelation of God, it was, and still is, a central prophetic concern.

As we move from Old to New Testament, we see the people of God are still called to carry the revelation of God, but now with even deeper resonance. The church of Jesus Christ, God’s people under the new covenant, are called to carry the revelation of the Trinity. The reality that we now hold out to the world is the revelation of the family of the Godhead.The revelation of the triune God is at the heart of the gospel. This pre-eminent reality that we hold out to everyone is that within the unity of the Godhead there is a community of three persons:

• Our glorious Father who loves us unconditionally and extravagantly, and who invites us into his eternal embrace.

• Jesus our Saviour, the Light of the world, through whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

• The Holy Spirit, our ever-present friend and helper, who dwells in our innermost being to constantly bring us wisdom and insight.

A central theme of the New Testament is the unveiling – the making known – of the reality of the Trinity, and through it, God’s plan of salvation and restoration. This three-part personhood is unveiled to the world at Jesus’ baptism, where ‘Heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’ (Matthew 3:16-17) The Trinity give us a picture of a perfect three-way relationship of pure, self-giving and eternal love. This is the reality of the God we worship. And it’s our responsibility as Jesus’ church to faithfully take this true revelation of God and hold it for all to see: ‘This is who God is and this is his reality.’

The ultimate goal of prophetic ministry is to reveal who God is; to reveal the truth of the nature of God to those who cannot yet see him. To reveal that they have a Father in heaven who loves them; to unveil Jesus their Saviour to them; and to introduce them to the Holy Spirit who will never leave them.

The prophetically-awakened church is a channel of God’s beautiful communication to his world: the means by which the world can hear the invitation to come back, to find your true identity, to meet the one who loves you with an everlasting love.


Stewarding Our Prophetic Gifts

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

You are in possession of some remarkable prophetic gifts.

The New Testament makes it clear that our good and generous Father is the great gift-giver and, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all God’s people, revelatory gifts are available to all. The beautiful gift of prophecy is accessible to every disciple of Jesus: it’s certainly not something reserved for the prophets. We all have the potential to take hold of this gift by faith and move powerfully in the prophetic for the encouragement and strengthening of everyone.

But it seems to me that many of us, for whatever reason, fail to properly step into this potential. Perhaps another way of putting it is that we don’t always do a great job of stewarding the gifts that God has freely given us through his Spirit.

In this blog I want to touch on one particular area of stewarding prophetic gifts. This is the area of spiritual disciplines and how getting the right ones in place can open the door in all sorts of incredible ways to an authentic prophetic lifestyle.

Train yourself for godliness… 1 Timothy 4:7

By spiritual disciplines I mean the regular habits that we put in place to help us stay connected to God, which usually include things like Bible reading, prayer, worship, contemplation and listening. These disciplines provide devotional pathways for us: patterns we can build into our day-to-day lives that draw us back to the reality of being immersed in the sacred presence of God’s light and love. The right disciplines keep us spiritually healthy and help us avoid complacency: they nurture our desire for God, allowing us to be captivated by the divine beauty and maintain our awareness of his nearness.

A healthy prophetic culture is one that recognises that although God is always with us, there are certain patterns and rhythms that help develop attentiveness to his presence and openness to his voice.

Spiritual disciplines help us stay attentive to God’s voice day by day. In fact getting the right spiritual patterns and disciplines in place is one very important way in which we can steward the prophetic gifts that God has given us.

Now, some of us find routine something of a challenge. It can be difficult, first of all, to find the daily disciplines that work for us. And secondly, to stick to them.

But this is why having a conversation with God about them can make all the difference.

In my previous blog I wrote about seeking God for a word – the word – for the year ahead. Which is a life-giving and discipleship-enhancing practice that we can all do. But equally important I believe is asking God for what the pattern of our spiritual disciplines should be throughout 2021.

If one of your goals for this year is to hear God more clearly, then it follows that you need to build the right patterns and habits into your life to best facilitate this. Many of us are only scratching the surface of the prophetic because of busyness, hurry and distraction. Revelatory gifts need to be carefully nurtured and attended to. After all – those of you who have run a marathon will know that without months of regular, disciplined, scheduled training, there is no way you would be able to complete those 26 plus miles on the day of the event.

Very few of us these days live in a monastery with the provision of regular times of prayer throughout the day (and night!) So we need to be proactive and intentional about getting the right patterns in place.

What I’ve learnt over the years is that if I ask God to help me with spiritual disciples he will faithfully lead me to the right ones for any particular period of time. We need to remember that one size does not fit all: we can’t prescribe identikit disciplines to every Christian, because we’re all different. Those of us who grew up with the evangelical concept of the daily ‘quiet time’ may need to start thinking outside the box and be open to new and creative ways for maintaining attentiveness to God.

These may be disciplines, but they are there to be life-giving and to feed our souls. They are not a task, a mechanical exercise; they are not something to fail at. Rather, God wants to meet us and speak to us through them according to the way he made us.

Here’s an example: one really simple daily discipline I’m doing over winter is to light a candle at 4pm and spend a few minutes sitting in God’s presence and meditating on Jesus being the Light of the World. I’m finding that this habit is regularly opening the door to fresh revelation.

So my challenge to you is to ask God for specifics. He has created each one of us and knows us perfectly. And he knows what particular routines and rhythms are going to work best for us. This time of year is the ideal time to be seeking God for this detailed information.

  • What daily disciplines are going to keep you rooted and grounded in the scriptures?
  • What daily habits are going to create the space for you to hear God in a deeper way?
  • What daily schedule is going to keep you centred on the presence of God and filled with the Spirit?

As God starts to answer these questions for you, and a plan emerges, I recommend that you find at least one person to share it with who can pray for you and hold you accountable.

What’s Your Word for 2021?

For the past few years I have been in the habit of using December as a time to seek God for a prophetic word for the year ahead – a personal word for my life.

  • A word that will have significance for the coming months.
  • A word that defines the theme of the next stage of my faith journey.
  • A word that will lead me into closer relationship with Jesus.

And it is usually – literally – just one word.

Sometimes the word has come straightaway; sometimes it has taken much longer to discern. But God has always been faithful in providing a word to guide me, strengthen me, and give me hope. After all, Jesus is my Good Shepherd who has promised to lead me by His voice (John 10:27) – a promise that is true for every single follower of Christ.

This year is no different. At the end of a turbulent 2020 I believe that now more than ever we need to be seeking our Heavenly Father for the words that will light the path ahead of us as we face all the uncertainty of the year ahead.

So here are some simple steps that we can follow as we “incline our ears and listen” (Isaiah 55:3) to the One who knows us, loves us, and generously pours out His revelation into our hearts:

1. Create space to listen

We first of all need to create an environment where we can pay attention, and engage with God’s presence and voice. It’s very hard to hear God when we’re busy and distracted, so we need to slow right down and listen from a place of peace and stillness. This won’t happen accidentally; rather it is intentionality that opens up the doors to revelation. So grab a coffee, go for a walk, retreat to a quiet spot – do whatever you need to do to get some precious time alone with God.

2. Ask

Sometimes we forget the simple step of asking God the relevant question. So go ahead and ask Him: “What is Your word of life and transformation for me for 2021?” And then listen for His answer, with faith and expectancy. Remember that God speaks in all sorts of creative ways. It may be through a dream, through a picture that pops into your mind, through a Bible verse, or through a conversation with a friend. But stay alert for the word that He has for you.

3. Weigh it

The Bible makes it clear that we should test and weigh prophecy. So, once you start to have a sense of what God is saying to you, write it down and pray about it. Does it resonate? Does it sound like the voice of Jesus? Have you got a friend or prayer partner that you could share it with to help you discern?

4. Say “Yes” to the word

God doesn’t force prophecies on us; rather He invites us to walk with Him to see the fulfilment He intends. Every word He speaks into our lives is an invitation to transformation. So will you yield? Will you say, “Yes”? Will you fully embrace all that He wants to do in you through this word?

5. Make a plan

An authentic prophetic lifestyle is as much about responding as it is about hearing. So what simple, step-by-step plan do you need to make so that you can respond with obedience to the word throughout the year ahead?

My prayer for all of you reading this post is that you will be able to lean into the heart of our Good Father and hear the particular word of life that He has for you in 2021. Happy New Year!

Lessons from Nehemiah: The recovery phase

This blog has been written by Ceri and Simon Harris and is the second of a series of blogs on Nehemiah

We are experiencing tumultuous times.  We know that times of great disturbance or disaster follow three broad phases:

Response:  the immediate emergency response to the situation 

Recovery: the long slow period of getting back to a new normal

Reconstruction: the long term rebuilding, and protection from a future reoccurrence

We see that Nehemiah went through these same stages.  In this series of three blogs we are exploring his journey and seeing what lessons we can draw in being attentive and responsive to the voice of God. 

In the first blog in this series –The Response Phase – we saw how Nehemiah heard the voice of God in the midst of disaster. Now as the recovery phase gets underway and the task of building the walls of Jerusalem begins we see, in this second blog,  Nehemiah’s responsiveness to God’s voice. 

1. His active response was thoughtful 

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. Nehemiah 2:11-12

Nehemiah’s response was thoughtful.  He didn’t rush but travelling around he made an honest assessment of the land.  Having allowed the full weight of God’s word to rest on him in chapter 1, we see in chapter 2 that he allows the true reality of the situation to sink in.  This will be no quick fix or shallow response but allowing the the truth about the situation to become clear.  

What do we need to be more thoughtful about?

2. His active response was in community  

Nehemiah knew that responding to God’s word needed to take place in community. 

Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ Nehemiah 2:17

Chapter 3, which follows, is a marvellous picture of a community hearing and responding to the word of God. 

Where are we trying to go alone when God’s plan is to go with others?

3. His active response was all in 

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. Nehemiah 4:6

Their whole hearts were engaged. This was no half-hearted, luke-warm response but in response to God’s word they gave it everything that they had.

Where are we going through the motions but our hearts are not engaged?

4. His active response was resolute

Nehemiah and the people were attacked from within and without. It’s always the same when we respond to God’s voice. Attack is near far away, but they were resolute in standing firm. 

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. Nehemiah 4:8-9

Where do we need to be more resolute?

5. He active response was compassionate 

Nehemiah was compassionate. When we are gripped by what God has said we can be aggressive and a little harsh in our desire to see it done. But Nehemiah allowed compassion to be at the centre of the community.

Remember me with favour, my God, for all I have done for these people. Nehemiah 5:19

Where have we developed a hard edge because we are trying to get the job done?

God is Closer

Right now, how close do you feel to God?

I was talking to someone in one of my huddles a few days ago and she was rejoicing in the fact that she has become so much more aware of God’s presence recently: she described it as being able to “feel God’s presence” all the time. That is definitely something to celebrate.

I love testimonies like this, from normal, everyday Christians, who are seeking a closer connection and fellowship with Jesus. Many of us would make the words of Psalm 42:1-2 our own:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

But I think a mistake we sometimes make is to assume God’s presence has to be hunted down or conjured up; and an even greater mistake is to think that we will somehow be blessed by God’s presence if we pray hard enough, worship hard enough or jump through other religious hoops. There is a mindset in some churches that if we are spiritual enough we get to earn God’s presence; that his tangible presence is a reward for good behaviour.

This is a mistake because the truth is that God is always with us. Even on a bad day. Even when we are overwhelmed by the state of the world. Even in the turbulence and uncertainty of a global pandemic. He has never left us, not for one minute. Jesus promised that through his Spirit he would be with us always. We are all offered life with God; in fact the Bible is all about God’s desire to be with people. The central promise in the Bible is “I will be with you,” and when Jesus came to this earth he was given the name Immanuel: God with us. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

God is so much closer than we can think or imagine. His glory, light and kingdom are less than a hair’s breadth away. His very Spirit has taken up residence in our hearts.

At the end of the day I believe the key question is not about whether or not we can “feel” his presence. Yes, we all love those goose-bump moments when his presence seems tangible and our hearts sing at the joy of it. And most of us will be aware of those darker days when God “feels” a million miles away. But for me the key issue is about the way we think, about choosing to cultivate a mindset of God’s presence, one that is less dependent on our feelings.

There is much we can learn from the Contemplative tradition about developing such a mindset. This tradition emphasises that God is already present with us and that spiritual growth happens as we learn to attend to and practice his presence. Contemplative prayer is, at its basic level, openness to God who is always with us. At the heart of the Contemplative tradition is a call to focus our loving attention on God: to set our minds and hearts on him and attend to his presence. The word “contemplation” means to look at, observe, or gaze at attentively. To put it simply, this tradition is about contemplating God. As Richard Foster describes it, “the contemplative life is the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us.” In gazing upon God we are concentrating all our senses on his majestic beauty and glory.

We hear the clear call to contemplative practice in the ancient words of the Psalms:

            Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Psalm 48:9

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Meditating.

Gazing.

Seeking.

Contemplating.

A deliberate choice to fix our minds on the reality of God’s presence, whether we “feel” it or not.

God is closer than we think. Much closer. We all need to slow down a little bit and retrain our minds so that we can cultivate an ongoing awareness of his presence and start to live from this wonderful reality.

I’ll finish with a quote from Martin Laird from his book Into the Silent Land:

God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word.

What could you do today to help you focus on the reality of God’s presence in your life?

Theological Roots of the Prophetic

I’ve spent lockdown working hard on my new book about the prophetic church. Here’s an extract from chapter 2, “So What is the Prophetic All About?”

To truly understand prophecy we have to start with the character and nature of God. In fact we have to start with the theology of the prophetic in its literal sense. Theology is the study of God, and the prophetic is first and foremost rooted in who God is. Understanding the nature of God is the foundation for all our thinking on the prophetic.

The really big picture to be grasped is that prophetic consciousness and intelligence is a reflection of who God himself is. The prophetic originates with God; it’s grounded and sourced in him. We will get the fullest understanding of the prophetic role and ministry if we are able to pull right back and look at God himself, to see how prophetic roots (and in fact all fivefold roots) are found in the nature and purposes of God, to see how God’s nature informs and shapes the prophetic function and calling:

The God who chooses to be known Scripture shows us a God who wants to be known, the Deus revelatus. Despite the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the infinite, uncreated God and his creation, he takes the initiative and breaks into the finite created realm to reveal himself in love to us. He make knowing him possible. Self-disclosure is an aspect of his divine nature. Not completely known so that he becomes predictable or packaged; but still, he tells us his name; he speaks forth his character; he allows us to know his emotions. We love him because we know him. He holds out the promise that he can be found by those who truly seek him.

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me. Jeremiah 9:23-24

The God of Revelation God is the one who initiates communication, the one who speaks first. Revelation is inherent to the very nature of God and is at the heart of the Trinity. It’s not just through the written words of scripture that he communicates to us. Throughout the biblical narrative God speaks to people: through creation, through angels and other supernatural experiences, but primarily through his voice. Indeed the Creator has designed creation itself to carry the revelation of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2

The God of Relationship The God we worship is not a distant, unemotional, unconcerned deity, satisfied with burnt offerings. The Bible speaks profoundly of God’s heart, and reveals the God of love, a God with thoughts and deep emotions, who chose to create people in his own image so that he could be in committed relationship with them. His passion for people is sometimes expressed in righteous anger against injustice. And this God is in fact our heavenly Father: the type of Father who picks up his skirts and runs towards his prodigal children. He’s personal! He’s relational!

Walter Brueggmann expresses it like this:

The prophetic alternative is rooted in the character of God himself… He is one whose person is presented as passion and pathos, the power to care, the capacity to weep, the energy to grieve and then to rejoice.

The God of Shalom The sense of shalom is rooted deep in scripture and in the nature of God. It means peace, wholeness, completeness and well-being. This rich, beautiful word reflects God’s intention that all things shall be restored and made new. Despite humanity’s best efforts to rebel and destroy, to sow division and wage war, God and his kingdom are all about wholeness, healing and peace. His desire is that all of creation will be reconciled and realigned back to him. When Isaiah prophesies the coming Messiah he declares that this king will be called the Prince of Shalom and that his reign will bring Shalom without end (Isaiah 9:6-7).

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Lessons from Nehemiah: The Response Phase

This blog has been written by Ceri and Simon Harris, leaders of Burlington Baptist church in Ipswich. Ceri leads the Accessible Prophecy UK team.

We are experiencing tumultuous times.  We know that times of great disturbance or disaster follow three broad phases:

Response:  the immediate emergency response to the situation 

Recovery: the long slow period of getting back to a new normal

Reconstruction: the long term rebuilding and protection from a future reoccurrence

We see that Nehemiah went through these same stages.  In this series of three blogs we will explore his journey and see what lessons we can draw in being attentive to the voice of God.

In the midst of the disaster facing his people, Nehemiah heard the voice of God.  Chapter 1 of Nehemiah helps us understand the environment that enables him hear.

1. He was attentive with his mind

I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1:2

Nehemiah was quick to seek out news.  To understand what was happening.  To connect with the world around him.  We are reminded of how connected the prophets were with their culture and context.  Hearing God speak is never in a vacuum.  

What are we enquiring after?  

2. He was attentive with his heart 

This current crisis has caused many of us to shut out the daily news as its impact can be overwhelming.  But here are we are gently reminded that Nehemiah not only enquired but that he also engaged his heart.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:3

We must be appropriate of course, and guard becoming overwhelmed, however for Nehemiah it was as he enquired his mind and engaged his heart that he began to hear the voice of God.

What are we weeping about?

3. He was attentive in prayer 

This seems obvious.  It is.  But it’s not easy.  The time stamp of chapter 1:1 and chapter 2:1 is a period of 4 months.  

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

The voice of God can be a quick and instant reality, but at other times it is a growing conviction borne out of days, weeks, months of prayer.

What are we praying for?

4. He was attentive to God

We all have a history, a context, a reality.  Nehemiah certainly did.  Even though he was serving in a foreign land he kept his faith & God’s faithfulness at the centre of his focus.  This seems really important.  His prayer didn’t focus on the disaster, but rather on God.

Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments … Nehemiah 1:5

God was all powerful and able (v5)

God’s love was dependable (v5)

God’s promises were certain (v5)

God is merciful (v6)

God keeps his promises (v8-9)

Where is our focus?

5. He was attentive to God’s timing 

Four months!  That’s waiting.  That’s patience.  That’s a careful, poised, God is in control wait.  When exactly did he know that God was asking him to return to do the rebuilding? We might suspect pretty early on, although we don’t know.  God’s word though is never rushed.  We do well to sit with it, meditate on it and pray over it.  A little seed, a quiet whisper begins to grow.  God’s word grows in clarity, in depth, in richness as we wait. 

How long do you wait when we think we have heard God speak?

6.  He was ready to take action 

So at the right moment he jumped into action.  Looking sad in the King’s presence (risking his life if the king was displease) the thing was perfect.  God had gone ahead of his word, and may the way ready.  The king asked what Nehemiah wanted:

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Nehemiah 2:4-5

He was an active responder.  Poised, ready to act on what God was saying despite the challenge and obstacles ahead, despite the ridicule and moments of self doubt. 

Such is the posture of those who faithfully hear the word of the Lord.

When we hear God speak are we passive receivers or an active responders?

Enjoying God Audaciously

God is so much better, and so much closer, than we can think or imagine. We may assume that we’ve got a handle on his remarkable goodness, kindness, and all round glory, we may think we understand his radical mercy and forgiveness, that we can perceive his expansive beauty, but there is always so much more to discover. Our limited human brains struggle to comprehend it all. The extent to which he loves us is mind-blowingly preposterous when we really stop and think about it: he’s abounding in love! We may run out of words to describe him but there is never any end or limit to his goodness and love. Indeed he went to the Cross because he loves us so much.

The Psalmists do their best to express in mere words the full extent of divine love:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:11-12)

John puts it like this in his letters:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  (1 John 3:1)

His name is Immanuel – God with us. And this Glorious One, the God of the incarnation, has promised to be with us forever. Right now he’s closer to you than you can possibly imagine. Regardless of how you are feeling, regardless of whether or not you can sense his presence, even in the middle of a really crap day (and in the midst of a global pandemic), he’s next to you and his eyes are shining with pure love.

Many of us have a hard time enjoying God. Which is strange, considering how spectacularly good he is. But we get bogged down in all those “shoulds” and “oughts” and we end up being so busy trying to please God that we forget that we’re actually created to enjoy him.

The Westminster Catechism gets it about right when it states that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And I believe that a key element of how we glorify God is by enjoying him. In the face of just how staggeringly glorious he is, if we’re not enjoying him then we are somehow denying or playing down the reality of his nature.

One of the fundamental prophetic tasks of the church is to carry the revelation of the goodness and nearness of the Lord: to proclaim and demonstrate to a broken world that there is a perfect Father who loves them passionately and is within easy reach of every single person on the earth.

If that’s our prophetic message then we need to fully live into it: to be a people who truly, deeply enjoy God.

Now, this is not about being happy-clappy, head-in-the-sand Christians who refuse to engage with any kind of negativity. Scripture is clear that grief and lament are part of our walk with God. Indeed the prophetic church absolutely must occupy that place of tension where it is able to fully lament the brokenness and pain at the same time as being energized by radical hope and joy.

And so, in this strangest of all seasons, we sit and mourn with those who are weeping. We face the agony of the mounting global death toll and the desperate poverty that many are experiencing due to lockdown. But we can still enjoy God. In fact we choose to audaciously enjoy God in the midst of the storm. Because no matter what is going on, he is good and he is here to be enjoyed.

This is so important that Paul makes a point of repeating his exhortation:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

So, friends, my encouragement to you today is to pause a moment and ask yourself whether you are enjoying the pleasure of God’s company. You are already in his presence. He’s closer than you think. Whether it’s through quiet contemplative prayer or passionate praise and worship God is to be thoroughly enjoyed. And by choosing to enjoy him in days like these the church is being radically prophetic, because to enjoy God is to prophesy his goodness and nearness to all who need it.

Making Sense of the Old Testament Prophets: 2

As we saw in the previous blog, one way of making sense of the Old Testament prophets is to summarise their ministry according to these two dimensions:

  • Vertical dimension: focused on protecting and maintaining the covenant relationship between God and his people.
  • Horizontal dimension: focused on God’s concerns in the world.

In this blog I’m going to unpack the Horizontal dimension a bit more, and look at how the prophet’s passion for God was often channelled into a passionate engagement with the world around him. Because, at the end of the day,

You can’t worship God and be unmoved by the things that move God.

The prophets of old knew both the ecstasy of being caught up with the glory of God and the agony of seeing the broken world from God’s perspective. For many of them, as they encountered God they simultaneously encountered the divine pathos: the deep emotions in the very heart of God. And a common outcome of this was the prophet being used by God to challenge the various injustices prevalent in the society of the day.

The best place to start is with Moses. Thousands of years may have passed but his embodiment of the prophetic role, along both dimensions, still resonates clearly. Moses heard from God and became the Lord’s friend, and it’s Moses’ ongoing relationship with God that marks him out as the prototype for all other prophets. And when God was moved by the suffering of the Israelites and initiated his great rescue plan he chose Moses as his prophet:

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt”  Exodus 3:9-10

Moses stands as a towering figure over the Old Testament. The Exodus story is the narrative of the Old Testament and Moses is the protagonist of the Exodus narrative – the great archetypal story of an enslaved people becoming free. God raised up Moses as his representative, commissioned to lead his people, and to confront the evil regime of Pharaoh. Through Moses, the first prophet, God’s reality crashed headlong into the dominant imperial culture, into Pharaoh’s version of reality, so that the false gods were exposed and so that God’s people could break free from oppression and exploitation.

Moses gives us a great framework for understanding the Horizontal aspect of prophetic ministry and helps us make sense of how many prophets after him engaged with God’s heart for social justice. In the Old Testament we see that part of the prophet’s role was as political commentator and activist: concerned with challenging empire and society, and taking the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. They spoke truth to power, and experienced anguish at injustice and oppression. 

Amos makes this very clear:

Let justice roll on like a river…  Amos 5:24

The Horizontal dimension of the prophet’s ministry is about calling for change: for societal transformation so that the poor, downtrodden and marginalised are protected. This is about advocacy for the powerless and being prepared to stand with the oppressed. The Hebrew prophets were not afraid of emphasising the need for God’s people to live ethically and to love justice.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”  Isaiah 58:6

Something that has helped me make better sense of the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, especially in the Horizontal dimension, is Walter Brueggemann’s remarkable book “The Prophetic Imagination” and his insight into the prophet’s role of nurturing an alternative consciousness to that of the dominant culture. It’s a two-step process:

1. Criticise The prophetic task is to first of all name the realities of brokenness, exploitation and injustice. This means being able to stand apart from the prevailing culture and being able to speak to it, with eyes to see and ears to hear. The prophet has to be prepared to lament, to allow God to “break my heart for what breaks yours” and to then to name things for what they are.

2. Energise The second part of the prophetic task is to energise and empower God’s people by ministering hope and expectation, and propelling them into godly action. This is the prophet helping people to imagine an alternative to the status quo and anticipate God’s renewal of all things. The prophet helps us stay attuned to God’s promises and remind us that God is faithful.

In holding these two together – criticism and energising – the biblical prophetic tradition challenges the status quo of oppression and injustice and enables God’s people to embrace an alternative way of thinking and acting.

What does this mean for us?

One thing we can take from the prophets of old is that an embrace of prophetic ministry is not just about seeking God’s voice and presence, but also being prepared to represent his holy concerns. As we pursue God’s heart we will certainly encounter his heart for justice and righteousness. A mature prophetic lifestyle is about being first prepared to sit with God and lament, and then to rejoice with God and dance upon injustice.