Advent Reflections

We are delighted to have Karenza Mahtani write a series of Advent reflections for us over the next few weeks. Karenza is part of the Accessible Prophecy UK team. Art work is by Carolyn Higgins, another member of the team.

Advent can often be simply a time to prepare for Christmas – buying too much food, writing cards, agonising over which present to buy that person who has everything. Each year it can pass us by without recognition, except by way of tiny open doors and hidden chocolate. However, Advent is a key point in the church calendar. It offers us all a vital time to pause and to reflect as we await the celebration day of the birth of Jesus. It is summed up in the Latin root of Advent – advenire – meaning ‘to come’. But Advent also shows us that we don’t need to race to December 25th. Instead, we are offered a profound time where we hope for, lament, wrestle, prepare, rejoice and thank God for sending us Jesus and we long for his return.

Over these Advent weeks, we will be following a similar pattern to the traditional Advent wreath – 5 candles, 5 opportunities to reflect on different parts of the story. What each of these candles represents tends to vary across theological and ecclesiastical traditions, but each representation offers a fresh moment to pause and connect with God. I encourage you to take these moments as we move through this season.


Advent Reflection 1: Great is Your Faithfulness!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1 v 1-5

Our season of Advent usually lasts around four weeks. However, when we understand the breadth of time that Advent truly represents, we begin to see that the whole of history leading up to the birth of Jesus was advent – a story waiting for the main character to arrive. From the very beginning, we see that Jesus resides above and within the fabric of creation, as we read in this famous passage from John 1. Moreover, as this week often is given to represent the Patriarchs and the promises made to those who went before Jesus, we see that Jesus has always been the plan – even as far back as Genesis 3, where God curses the serpent by declaring there will be “hostility… between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (v 15). This moment sets up the rest of the story of God’s redeeming work towards mankind. Jesus is promised, as one who will crush the Enemy, defeat sin and return mankind to perfect relationship with God, as it was intended.

Moreover, as the story proceeds, God continues to promise the revelation of Jesus to specific individuals along the way. Maybe take some time to read through these stories of promises today. To Abraham, he promises that through his offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12 v 3 & Genesis 22 v 18), a promise that is repeated as Isaac is born. To Jacob, this promise continues through Balaam’s Third Oracle: “I see him, but not now: I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a sceptre will arise from Israel” (Numbers 24 v 17). Similarly, Jacob continues these promises to Judah in his last words, when he says “The sceptre will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him” (Genesis 49 v 10). Later on, we see the continuation of this when Nathan prophesies to David: “When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant…and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7 v 12 -13).

In this way, throughout the Old Testament, God continues to reveal his plan to redeem mankind and promises various individuals that it is through their family that he will bring about his Kingdom and the restoration of all things. This is reflected in the Antiphon – O Radix Jesse: “O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples, before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.” Each generation held onto the promise God had made, passing it down to those that came after despite not seeing its fulfilment. However, we also see through both the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, written for a Jewish audience who were familiar with the promises to the Patriarchs, but also further back into Genesis 11 and 5, that not only does God fulfil his promises to these specific individuals – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David – but that he also bestows honour and brings redemption. For example, Ruth, a foreign woman who refused to desert her mother-in-law when disaster struck, is honoured as the one who gave birth to Obed, father of Jesse, father to David. Moreover, we see in this genealogy that Jesus is descended from the line of Tamar who – as we read in Genesis 38 – was the daughter-in-law of Judah, yet was impregnated by him and subsequently gave birth to Perez (an ancestor of Jesus). Similarly, usually connected with David’s great sins of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), Bathsheba also receives mention within the genealogy, not only as the mother of Solomon, but also as the wife of Uriah – her rightful husband. Despite the sins of David, God still uses his descendent born of Bathsheba, to redeem not just the whole world, but also to a certain extent the misdeeds of his own family. Within these we see that God’s promises and faithfulness remain true regardless of the ethical or sexual purity of people’s behaviour. In this same way, we see after David, a long line of kings from whom Jesus is descended through Joseph, some of whom pleased the Lord, such as Josiah, many of whom failed and led the people of God astray to great destruction.

Despite all of this, the promises of God hold true. No matter the sin – individual and collective – or the background or circumstances of those involved in Jesus’ family history, God still works through this to redeem and restore mankind, but also those who came before him. Whilst on the one hand, the actions of many within this genealogy would seem utterly disqualifying, all of them are given a clear mention in being part of fulfilling the promises of God through the birth of Jesus.

As we begin Advent this week, take some time to reflect on some of the promises God has made to you. Maybe make a physical list or simply ask God to bring them to mind. Use the song below or the image to help you focus and process some of the things that God raises with you during this time. Be encouraged that God works through hundreds of years and some of the worst evil that humanity can produce and still brings promises to fulfilment. Allow yourself to rest in the promise in Isaiah 55 that God’s words do not return to him empty – they are fulfilled, even if this happens on a different time scale, in a different way or through surprising people or circumstances, beyond what we were expecting. Moreover, ask God for fresh hope and faith to pray these promises to fulfilment, and for the eyes to see where he is already moving in your life and the lives of those around you. Or you could spend some time looking through the promises God makes and fulfils across the Bible to various people, as we have done briefly above. Thank him for his faithfulness and goodness to us, despite the ways that we often fall short and forget what he has done before.

I pray that in this first week of Advent, you would be blessed by the testimony of the Patriarchs and by the God who keeps his promises.

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?

From Listening to Doing

We’re delighted to have Brandon Kelly from the States as our guest blogger this month. Brandon is part of the Accessible Prophecy US team.

 

As an apostle, my admiration and appreciation of prophets and prophecy has grown significantly over the past couple of years. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience a prophetic huddle and have spent a great deal of time with prophets, both of which have developed my understanding and experience of prophecy for my own life. There’s one thing, though, that continues to stand out in most interactions that I have with prophets – they spend too much time listening and not enough time doing.

Now to be fair, apostles spend too much time doing and very little time listening. Once during a prophetic huddle, I was sharing how I always immediately respond to what I think God is saying and was considering giving myself a twenty four hour wait time before I acted on anything. Bursting with pride, I thought that I would be an example to the prophets in my huddle of what it looks like to be patient and wait on God. After everyone stopped laughing, I realized twenty four hours is nothing to a prophet. I was challenged to consider a week or maybe more to fully engage with the voice of God and hear clearly what he is saying before I do anything.

This is why apostles and prophets work so well together. Prophets keep apostles on track with what God has spoken, helping them to hear clearly and deeply. Apostles keep prophets moving forward, helping them to take action. When both are represented there’s an equilibrium of listening and doing in the life of the church. What can a prophet learn from an apostle to help them take action on what God has said?

I’ve found that there are five questions that are helpful to ask yourself, and others, when moving from listening to doing:

  1. What’s one way that you can respond to what God is saying in the next two weeks?
    Usually, there’s never any lack of inspiration for large and lofty plans for us to accomplish when we’ve heard from God. The dreaming of what God can do in us and through us can be significant, especially for more profound and memorable prophetic words. However, if we can’t identify the next action step that’s needed to move us on the journey to God’s words, the likelihood is that we’ll never do anything about it. Asking what someone can do in the next two weeks presses them to the next practical step that can be done. If it can’t be done within two weeks, there’s probably a smaller step that could be taken to move them in the right direction. I like the two week timeframe because it allows enough space for unforeseen issues that come up, but is short enough that the action and word remains fresh in your heart and mind.
  1. When are you going to do that?
    Once the next action step has been identified, it’s helpful to get specific about when the action will take place. If you leave out the specifics now, it’s unlikely they’ll get clearer as time passes on. You need a plan for when your response to God’s word will take place. What day will it be? What time will it be? Even categories of time – in the morning… at lunch… – aren’t specific enough. Will you do it before breakfast or right after you wake up? The amount of clarity that you have about your plan now is directly related to the likelihood of follow through later.
  1. Who’s going to hold you accountable?
    When the plan is in place for what you’ll do and when you’ll do it, you need to figure out who can hold you accountable. This isn’t someone who will guilt and shame you for failing to do what you’re supposed to do, but someone to support and encourage you to do the things you’ve said you will do. It could be someone in your huddle, a friend, a spouse, or anyone that you trust will actually follow up with you. It doesn’t do you any good to be held accountable by someone who won’t hold you accountable. It also doesn’t do you any good to lie about what you’ve accomplished, it misses the point of accountability. Be honest and admit when you’ve fallen short. The person holding you accountable should respond with grace and offer support for making your action step happen.
  1. What can you do right now to ensure that it will happen?
    There are often small things that can be done right away to help ensure that the action step gets accomplished. These are usually simple and quick items such as: emailing or calling the person who’s going to hold you accountable, placing the action step on your calendar, writing yourself a note, or setting up a reminder on your phone. If you can do one of these now, you can set yourself up for success later on.
  1. What roadblocks would stop you from doing it?
    We can’t always foresee the road ahead, but sometimes we can anticipate roadblocks before we run into them. If we can identify roadblocks now, we may be able to adjust the plans we’re making or add some steps along the way that will overcome them before they become an issue. Roadblocks could include: not having the right resources (think time, materials, and knowledge), someone who may be adverse to what you’re trying to do, personal fears, spiritual warfare, etc.

Listening to God is vital to the life of a disciple, but equally important is responding to what He says. As we consider taking action, we can set ourselves up for success by putting some additional thought and intentionality into our planning.

What have you found to be helpful in moving from listening to doing?

What other questions might you ask to bring greater clarity to plans and actions?

Åbenbaring

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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