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!

When Prophets Get Things Wrong – and How We Can Get It Right

“Was that really the voice of God?”

We all have moments when we question our own ability to hear God clearly; and in late 2020 many of us have misgivings about the ability of the prophets to have any kind of idea of what God may be saying about world events. How can we determine what an authentic prophetic ministry is, whether it belongs to us or someone else?

Doubt is a normal part of any exploration of prophetic gifts and ministry. For those of us taking our first baby steps in listening to God we are bound to question our own prophetic experiences until we become more confident in our ability to recognise the particular tone and content of Jesus’ voice. And even for those of us who have been using prophetic gifts for years, I believe that it’s appropriate and healthy to hold things lightly, to be cautious, and to ask questions of what we think God is saying. We are all learners. We should never assume we get it 100% right and we certainly need our Christian communities to help us with discernment and accountability; especially when we claim to be hearing God for other people.

I love prophetic ministry, which we can define as seeking God’s heart for those around us. The New Testament teaches us that we can all learn to use the gift of prophecy, and 1 Corinthians 14:3 is clear that this wonderful gift does so much to strengthen, encourage and comfort other people. But in pursuing this gift we also need to recognise the huge responsibility involved, particularly as we move from:

Hearing God for ourselves

To hearing God for someone else (personal prophecy)

To hearing God for the bigger picture (public prophecy)

If we claim to speak for God we have to ensure that we have been ruthless in setting aside anything that might conspire to twist, distort or filter the true word of God. In order to tune into God’s voice we have to learn to tune out all the other voices that are fighting for our attention, and some of these “other voices” are very subtle and deceptive.

  • They may be issues of the heart, such as emotional pain, fear, hurts, unforgiveness, brokenness, and trauma.
  • They may be issues of the mind, such as our mindsets, prejudices, world-views, belief systems, opinions, ideologies, judgments, and theology.

But these all have the ability to cloud our prophetic perception. If we are going to hear God clearly we have to surrender them back to God.

As I’ve observed many different expressions of prophetic ministry over the years there are two particular scenarios that concern me, ones where I see many mistakes being made:

  • Emotionally charged environments
  • Politically charged environments

It is really hard to hear God clearly and precisely in these contexts and even experienced prophets may miss the mark.

When a dear friend of mine is desperately ill in hospital, I know that the voice of my emotions is going to be very loud, and I’m extremely cautious not to confuse their voice with the voice of God. In any situation where there are a lot of emotions involved we have to exercise considerable vigilance when seeking to hear from him.

I believe that it’s even harder to hear God about some of the political issues that have dominated our collective consciousness in recent years. Not impossible; but it’s so hard because, certainly here in the UK, we cherish (and even idolise) our carefully nurtured opinions. Politics is a big part of life, and now, with social media, everyone has an opinion. Personal biases that have been shaped by our upbringing, culture, and experience can have a devastating impact on our prophetic perception. And the stakes seem so high. For those of us in the UK and US, as politics has heated up in recent years, it seems that any public prophecy, whether speaking into Brexit or American politics, is taking place in a context that is both emotionally and politically charged.

Getting our agendas, opinions and feelings out of the way is hard enough when prophesying over an individual. But it’s ten times harder when prophesying over a nation.

It’s not at all surprising that many “big name” prophets have got things wrong recently. I personally think part of the problem is that the rest of the church venerates them too much: we have slipped into an Old Testament mindset: “I can’t hear God for myself – I need a prophet to tell me what God is saying”.

If you want to be able to hear what God is saying about Trump, Brexit, Boris or the EU, please understand that you don’t have to go to a prophet. The remarkable Spirit of Truth has been given to you and you can ask him yourself. It is his delight to search the heart of the Father and make his thoughts known to you. But I’d strongly recommend you also follow these three steps:

1. Ask yourself “Why?” Why do you want to hear God about that particular issue? The main reason God speaks to us about global events is so that we will pray. So will you faithfully commit to pray about these things?

2. Stay rooted in love: love for God, love for his world, and love for our leaders – especially the ones we disagree with.

3. Ruthlessly and radically surrender all your opinions, agendas and feelings before God. This may takes days, weeks or years. Consider carefully the warnings in Jeremiah 23:16 and Ezekiel 14:3 which indicate the perils of inquiring of God through the lenses of our own understanding and our idols. The aim is to be an empty vessel that God can fill with his pure revelation. Humble yourself and remember the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6 “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him.”

As well as ensuring our own prophetic perception is untainted, we want to be able to weigh and discern other prophetic voices that we come across. The New Testament makes it clear we should test all prophecies. It’s hard to weigh and test strident prophetic voices when they speak so loudly about issues and claim the Bible backs them up. But we all have the Holy Spirit. And most importantly we all have the beautiful image of Jesus before us. As we seek to weigh other people’s prophecies we can ask, “Does this look like and sound like Jesus?”

Prophets will make mistakes. Well known prophets will get things wrong. We are all seeing through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). But this should never be a reason to avoid the precious gifts of the Spirit. Prophecy has been used to abuse, manipulate and control people. It has been used to push political agendas. But the beautiful Spirit of Truth has never abandoned the church of Jesus. And he loves a humble heart.

            “But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:13

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?

Hearing God’s Voice in a Time of Shaking

As someone who has sought after the voice of God for most of my adult life I know how comforting and reassuring it can be to hear the gentle voice of the Lord speaking to us in the midst of the storms of life. There are plenty of other ‘voices’ out there right now; voices of fear, panic and confusion that make it especially hard to connect with the ‘still small voice’ of God. This global pandemic has arrived at a time of unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression; so more than ever we need to be able to hear the kind and reassuring words of the Lord: his ‘now’ words that speak directly into our current, specific reality. We need to hear his voice in our hearts.

Jesus’ promise that his ‘sheep’ would hear his voice remains true, regardless of circumstances. This is a promise for every single one of us. The language of the Spirit – the spiritual, internal language that Jesus speaks to us through – is one of incredible depth and beauty, but so simple that a child can learn it. Through ‘listening prayer’ we can all learn to connect with the profound joy of God’s presence and the voice that speaks into our deepest needs. Even if you feel a long way from Jesus right now I want to reassure you that he’s so much closer and so much better than you can even imagine, and well able to pierce the darkness with his brilliant light and his words of love.

So – how do we tune in to God’s voice in a time of great shaking? If you are well practiced in listening prayer and the prophetic gifts, then you just have to do what you have always done, but with much more intentionality. If this is all new to you, I hope you find the following helpful:

1. Remember who God is

What better place to start than by reminding ourselves of the goodness of God! There are so many passages in the Bible that encourage us fix our eyes on God in a time of crisis and speak to us of his constant love and sovereign power. He is the Alpha and Omega who holds all things together. And to hear his voice we need to remember that it is his very nature to call us close and welcome us into his glorious presence. He is our safe place, our portion, and our delight.

God is the great Communicator, unlimited in the ways he speaks to us. He is our perfect heavenly Father who delights to talk to us. He is a relational God who speaks in order to make himself known, and to share his heart and mind with his people. Our Good Father is relentlessly good and kind, and he wants to encourage us and lead us through his voice.

2. Remember who you are

In order to hear God’s voice clearly we have to be secure in our identity as beloved children of God. We have to learn to think like a son or daughter of our perfect heavenly Father. The world around us is constantly trying to tell us that we’re not good enough, clever enough, attractive enough, successful enough. But we have to remember that we are God’s beloved children invited into the richest of relationships, recipients of unquenchable and unconditional love. He is already pleased with us and he calls us his friends. We can live in child-like faith and expectation that we’re welcomed into his presence and that we’ll hear his voice.

3. Prioritise stillness and rest

If there is one thing I’ve learnt about tuning in to God’s voice, it’s that you can’t hear him from a place of striving, stress and hurry. We can only hear him clearly if we’re listening from a place of rest.

Which is all very well, but how can we find that place of peace, stillness and rest when the whole world has gone crazy??

This is where good rhythms and spiritual practices come in. It’s possible for all of us to find simple ways to practice the perfect stillness that can only truly be found in the presence of God. We have to take on the discipline of rest.

There are many great books and resources out there to help, but here’s a simple ‘stillness’ exercise that I am regularly practicing at the moment. It helps me cultivate a God-centred peace and really helps me to tune in to God’s heart so I can hear his words of encouragement to me.

  • Find a quiet spot to sit in for a few minutes.
  • Give thanks to God that he’s here with you right now and that he loves you unconditionally.
  • Give him any worries or anxieties – he’ll gladly take them off you.
  • Practice Paul’s exhortation from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
    • So, find something to rejoice in;
    • Choose something to pray about;
    • Be thankful about something – even if it’s as simple as being thankful for the cup of tea that you’re holding.
  • Finally, ask God if there is anything he wants to say to you. Remember that God speaks in many different ways. So you may find that a fleeting image pops into your head, or the name of a friend, or a verse from the Bible. It may be something as simple as a sense of peace or love. Just go with it; don’t dismiss it. Write it down and give thanks.

I want to finish with some words from Psalm 46, a Psalm that is very apt for the circumstances we all find ourselves in right now. It reminds us that no matter what is going on, God is the One who calls everything to stillness and to the knowledge of his reality and presence.

            God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is with her, she will not fall…

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts….

He says, “Be still and know that I am God…”

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.

Making Sense of the Old Testament Prophets: 1

The prophets of old are an interesting bunch. Their words are challenging and their behaviour is very strange at times. But we can’t ignore them.

The Old Testament prophets make up a sizeable chunk of the Bible; indeed a whole genre of biblical literature is devoted to them. If we include both the writing prophets who produced the Bible’s prophetic literature (Isaiah through to Malachi) as well as the additional characters identified as prophets (such as Elijah) their ministry spans virtually the whole of the Old Testament narrative. Thousands of years after they were recorded their writings and actions speak powerfully to the contemporary church and to the world around us.

But how closely related are the Hebrew prophets of old to the fivefold prophets of the New Testament and the church today. What can we learn from their lives, words and ministry?

There are two dangers in studying Old Testament prophets: at one end of the spectrum we ignore them completely; at other end we base our understanding of prophetic ministry wholly on them.

To properly take hold of the role and ministry of prophets we have to move away, to a certain extent, from an Old Testament perspective and grasp a broader paradigm more influenced by the new covenant we now live in. The church of Jesus is born into the age of the Spirit and we require new wineskins. But at the same time we have to find a way to allow the prophets of Israel to speak into the realities of the church today and to learn what we can from their ministry and their experiences of God. When we take time to understand their context they have much to teach us.

It’s important to recognise that the Hebrew prophets operated in a very different context compared to the New Testament church. In Old Testament times the ability to hear the voice of God was quite rare. We see a concentration of the prophetic gift in a small number of people. Most people couldn’t hear God’s voice, because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit they couldn’t weigh and discern either. So the onus was on the prophet to get it right and deliver the prophetic word faithfully. Under the old covenant, the prophets were commissioned by God to speak his words with an absolute divine authority, and the people listening to these words were expected to treat them as the ‘very words of God’. There was no room for error and the response to a false prophet was to have him stoned (Deuteronomy 18:20).

So, if that’s the context, what was at the heart of their role and ministry?

As we seek to understand the breadth of their calling, a helpful framework is to consider the two primary dimensions of prophetic expression:

  • 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.

We see the Old Testament prophets engaging in both dimensions. In our next blog we’re going to focus on the Horizontal dimension. But here are some reflections on the Vertical dimension.

The Vertical: At the heart of the prophets’ message was the reminder of who God’s people really were. A people defined by their covenantal relationship with Yahweh the one true God. An alternative community to every other culture around them, shaped by God’s incomparably alternative reality.

The prophets held out hope to God’s people by reminding them that, at the end of the day, they belonged to Yahweh.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour… Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you.” Isaiah 43:2-4

In communicating God’s heart to his people the prophets did all they could to keep the Israelites’ attention on God. They helped them understand their present circumstances through the eyes of God, and encouraged them with words of future hope: speaking of a time when he would bring restoration to all things.

But there was an ongoing battle – an internal battle – that overshadowed the prophets’ ministry and in some ways defined it: the relentless pull of idolatry.

Idolatry was the prevailing sin of the Israelites, the dark cloud they could never escape from. The idols they turned to held out a false promise and a quick fix. The prophets knew that these idols appealed to a distorted sense of identity: if I bow to this idol my life will be better and people will like me. In succumbing to idolatry God’s people were denying their true identity and living out of a false one. Jeremiah conveys this reality very powerfully:

“Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord. “For my people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

The agonising message that Jeremiah had to deliver was: in turning away from your true love, you are tearing up your covenantal identity.

That’s why the call to holiness is so central to the prophet’s message and they would constantly promote worship of Yahweh because worship is one of the best ways to stay true to the covenant and stay faithful to God.

The tragedy of the story is that the people of God forgot who they were. And under the old covenant the only response the prophets could give to an idolatrous people was judgement and death.

For us today we can celebrate our new and better covenant, but we would be wise to heed the warnings of Israel’s prophets: to stay true in our devotion to God and to pursue his heart and presence above all else. Let’s seek to grow a prophetic culture that helps ensure our eyes stay fixed on Jesus and him alone.

What’s Discipleship Got To Do With It?

Here at Accessible Prophecy we love our coaching huddles! This month I’m training up six new coaches who will soon be starting their own prophetic huddles: the multiplication process that this training represents is a core value for us and a great way to grow healthy prophetic culture in many different contexts.

As many of you know from first hand experience, at the heart of the huddle you find two questions:

            What is God saying to you?

            What are you going to do about it?

These two questions illuminate the fundamental process of discipleship that Jesus presents to us time and again in the gospels, and that he uses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Discipleship is at the very heart of our faith. The call on our lives is not simply to believe in Jesus but to actively follow him as disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be constantly looking to Jesus to hear what he wants us to do, and then living it out. Disciples intentionally choose to listen and obey.

Discipleship is intrinsically linked to the prophetic. To follow Jesus faithfully requires a sensitivity to his voice: that ability to discern what he is saying to us in the midst of many other clamouring voices fighting for our attention. So if we want to grow a discipleship culture one of the first things we have to do is teach the people of God how to hear him, both in the written Word of scripture and through the ‘now’ words of the Spirit.

But if it’s true that we need the prophetic in order for discipleship to happen, then we absolutely need discipleship for the prophetic to flourish. A mature prophetic culture is one that is thoroughly rooted in discipleship. Without an emphasis on discipleship the prophetic is highly vulnerable to all sorts of pitfalls and hazards, such as lack of accountability, isolation and judgmentalism.

I’m thankful that here in my church in Sheffield we’ve been able to develop a prophetic culture in the midst of a strong culture of discipleship. And this has been so beneficial. It’s meant that the prophetic is rooted in accountability, and done so much to ensure there is a healthy emphasis not just on “What has God said?” but also on “What are we going to do about it?”. It’s meant that even the most gifted prophets see themselves as disciples first, and has helped develop a culture where the prophetic is normalised: we can all learn to hear God’s voice.

A discipling culture brings with it a necessary emphasis on community – we can’t do discipleship in isolation! – and this is vital for a healthy prophetic culture. The New Covenant model of prophetic ministry is very much rooted in community, and we need to create environments where prophetic expression is embedded in strong accountable relationships.

As we seek to grow a discipleship culture in which the prophetic can flourish it’s very important that we don’t confuse the ability to hear God clearly with spiritual maturity. It’s all too easy to look at an anointed prophet who is getting accurate revelation and therefore assume that he or she is a mature disciple of Jesus. Anointing is not an indication of character. Putting the emphasis on discipleship above gifting helps us to embrace wholeness and maturity. It also helps to avoid any kind of spiritual hierarchy.

It’s worth noting that some leaders are reluctant to actively disciple people who are more prophetically gifted than them. The insecure leader is going to ask, “How can I lead this highly anointed prophet who hears God better than I do?” But this is not fully understanding the process of discipleship. Discipling others is not about hearing better; it’s about holding people accountable to what God is saying to them. It’s about calling people to fruitfulness and engagement with God’s Kingdom. It’s about allowing others to imitate us as we pursue relationship with Jesus.

So let’s celebrate discipleship! We can’t grow a healthy prophetic culture without it.

Expectancy

If we expect God to speak to us then we’ll probably hear him. If we don’t, then we probably won’t.

Now, I realise that’s quite a bold statement, but I observe the reality of it frequently, both in my own life and in many people I meet. Expectancy is such a vital component of hearing God’s voice and if we’re going to operate in prophetic gifts we need to have a well-developed sense of expectation that God is going to do something and say something today.

Expectancy goes hand in hand with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. If we’re going to pursue these wonderful gifts we need to first of all desire them and then be expectant of the Spirit’s generosity and faithfulness in giving them to us.

Expectancy comes from knowing to a greater and greater degree the truth of who God is – relentlessly good and amazingly generous – and the truth of who we are – beloved children, filled with the very Spirit of truth and revelation. God is our perfect heavenly Father who delights to speak to his children; he wants us to hear his voice. An expectant mindset is nurtured as we root ourselves in the truth of our covenant identity and the kingdom purposes for which God has called us. Life in the Spirit means every moment of every day is pregnant with possibilities.

In order to grow our expectancy we need to recognise the things that can thwart and frustrate it: disappointment and fear of failure being two of the usual suspects. We have to persevere in our pursuit of God’s voice. Developing expectancy is a daily choice and an attitude to cultivate. Having a mindset of expectancy means that we have developed a particular way of thinking: “I’m a child of God; of course he’s going to speak to me, and he’s going to use me to be a channel of blessing for others. I can seek his heart for everyone I meet today.”

Each one of us needs to be growing our expectancy as individuals, but we also need to be developing a culture of expectancy in our churches. A healthy, mature prophetic culture is one in which people are excited and expectant that whenever we gather together God is present and active in our midst and that the Spirit of Revelation might just show up with some incredible truth to share with us: a community that expects to hear God with a corporate attitude of expectancy. Too often the reason we’re not seeing the kingdom of God break out in our midst with signs and wonders is because we’re not actually expecting God to do very much.

Expectancy flows from the presence of God and a renewed mind: it’s first and foremost an internal process, where we shape our way of thinking. But there is also an external process, a practical aspect of cultivating expectancy, where we intentionally create space to hear God and create opportunities to use the gift of prophecy. It’s often as simple as making room to listen to God, actively seeking his revelation together. Whenever we’re gathered we can get in the habit of saying, “Let’s just wait on the Lord for a few minutes…” It’s also about giving people plenty of opportunities to practice prophecy in a safe and releasing environment.

We can practice expectancy by starting every day in joyful anticipation of an encounter with God’s heart and his voice. And by asking him about who we might meet and how he wants to bless them. Let’s believe the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:11

How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The Prophetic Process: Responding

In a recent series of blogs we have been exploring the ‘prophetic process’ and considering how hearing God’s voice is much more than a one-off event, but rather something to be properly unpacked and worked through. We’ve looked at the ‘tuning in’ part and the ‘discernment’ part. And finally we come to what in many ways is the most crucial element of the whole process: what we do in response to God speaking to us.

As we consider how to respond to God’s voice we find ourselves at the place where the prophetic intersects with discipleship. In many ways this intersection is at the heart of our relationship with Jesus. Because as Christians we know that the call on our lives is not just to believe in Jesus but also to follow him as disciples. And we can only consistently and effectively follow him if we learn to recognise his voice and then respond with obedience.

As disciples of Jesus we are constantly looking to him to hear what he wants us to do – and then living it out. That’s the essence of discipleship: hear and obey.

Listen to what Jesus says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.Matthew 7:24

It’s not enough to simply hear Jesus’ words to us – we also need to align our lives with them and obey.

We can have the most incredible 3D technicolour visions, encounter angels, and hear the audible voice of God (and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing those things), but if we don’t respond – if we don’t allow God’s voice to change us and change the world around us – there is a problem somewhere. We have to learn how to walk in obedience to whatever God is speaking to us about.

When God speaks to us he speaks for a purpose and he looks for a response. There is a profound intentionality to God’s spoken words to us. We need to be active responders to his revelation rather than passive receivers.

We need to remember that the voice of God is here to change us, not just make us feel good. When God speaks to us it’s an invitation to transformation. Sometimes the transformation will be internal – a change of heart or mind – and sometimes the transformation will be external – where we need to change our behaviour or environment – but God is always in the business of renewal. He speaks into our lives as a Good Father who desires to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and to use us as instruments of transformation in the world around us.

So, how do we become good responders to God’s voice? How do we learn to walk into the fulfilment of his precious words to us?

As I’ve coached many people over the years one thing I’ve noticed is that the ones who are prepared to make concrete, specific and accountable plans in response to God’s voice are usually the people who step into the greatest levels of transformation and grow fastest in the prophetic. When God speaks to us, whether he is speaking deeply into our identity, showing us how to tackle homelessness in our city, or anything in between, we need a plan. True discipleship is more than a theoretical acknowledgement of the truth of what he’s saying or vague notions of how we might chew over his words to us. We need to learn to respond intentionally and wholeheartedly every time the Good Shepherd speaks into our lives.

So the next time God speaks to you, for you, how about asking yourself these two questions:

  • How do I start to step into this in a very practical way over the next few days?
  • Who am I going to be accountable to?