How Mature Prophets Shape the Culture Around Them

Part 1

We all have a sphere of influence. As Christians we each have the ability to bring a Christ-like influence to wherever God has placed us. One helpful way to reflect on this is to use the framework of the fivefold ministries in Ephesians 4.

Each of the fivefold roles has the potential to shape culture in a unique way, whether that is the culture of our household, our church, our team or our workplace. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers all have a particular way of inspiring and challenging the people around them. Each of the five roles has the potential to build a special type of intelligence, consciousness and ethic in whatever group they are part of. If we are at all interested in the church’s ability to become healthy, united and mature; if we long to see our neighbourhoods impacted for the kingdom, then we would do well to consider how best to release this culture-shaping potential.

So how do fivefold prophets shape culture?

I love working with prophets and helping them navigate a path towards a mature, Jesus-shaped expression of the role. There is so much potential for good contained within this particular aspect of the fivefold ministry. But far too many churches have struggled with their prophets over the years and failed to welcome their influence. And let’s be honest – prophets don’t always have a great reputation for being easy to work with. Their tendencies to

• see everything in black and white,
• call out sin and compromise when they see it,
• love the prayer closet more than the party,
• question everything,
• and be a little weird at times

…don’t win them many popularity contests.

But we really need them. Prophets bring something unique and vital to the church and the world, something we can’t get anywhere else. We need their wisdom, experience, unique perspective and their passion.

In considering how mature prophets shape the culture around them, we can look at two areas of life:

Church – There is much more to being a prophet than just bringing prophecies. Mature prophets are very good at shaping the culture of the church by:

• Keeping everyone’s attention on God.
• Helping to maintain the spiritual health of the body.
• Speaking covenant identity into people’s lives.
• Strengthening a culture of worship and prayer.
• Developing a growing community awareness of God’s presence and voice.
• Listening to God on behalf of the community so that we can all keep aligned with God’s heart and purposes.
• Making sure that the downtrodden are protected.
• Protecting the community from encroaching evil.
• Cultivating an alternative consciousness.
• Preparing the church for what God is about to do.

Most of us will know individuals in our local churches who are passionate about prayer and worship, those who are most likely to bring the subject of a conversation back to God, those who have a tendency to challenge a lack of holy desire for more of God. It’s these people who are likely to be fivefold prophets, even if they would not describe themselves as such, and we need to be welcoming their influence.

Workplace – Prophetic consciousness and influence are equally relevant in the corporate world as they are in the church, and understanding how the prophetic function contributes to the health and productivity of the non-church organisation will enable us to properly support our fivefold prophets in their place of work.

Mature prophets will shape the culture of any workplace by:
• Prioritising values and integrity, ensuring that things are done right and in line with the vision of the organisation.
• Questioning policy and decisions when they become self-protective or oppressive.
• Bringing strategic and critical insight that enables people to understand their current reality.
• Being creative, forward-looking visionaries, pointing people to future possibilities.
• Questioning the status quo in a way that enables the organisation to reform, grow and develop.
• Advocating for the less-heard and marginalised members of the organisation.
• Standing up for truth and justice.

Many of us will know people in our workplaces who are prepared to speak truth to power and bring necessary critique, who provoke for change when it is needed, and who are able to bring creative solutions to problems. This is the prophetic wiring being expressed.

Mature prophets shape the culture around them, both inside and outside the church. We can watch how they provide vision, nurture hope, bring discernment, and prioritise authentic spirituality to create a culture that is ethical, radical and prefigurative.

The next step is to work out the how: how to enable our prophets to do this well. That’s what we’ll look at in the next blog.

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!

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 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?

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?

Utilising Prophets in a Global Pandemic

Did you know that you have prophets in your church?

Ephesians 4 make it clear that the ascended Christ has gifted this particular bunch of folks to his Body, along with the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. And these roles are not just for leaders, they are for every Christian.

Jesus has given prophets to his church! So even if you feel a bit uncomfortable about the idea of labelling someone a ‘prophet’ there are plenty of them around, and they are there for “equipping Christ’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13)

I really hope that’s your experience of fivefold prophets. (I’m all too aware that there have been plenty of prophets who have not lived up to these verses, who have not humbly equipped the church and produced unity and maturity – which is why I’m passionate about discipling prophets and helping them be all that Jesus intends them to be.)

In giving prophets to the church Jesus has given us a part of his beautiful and perfect ministry. After all, Jesus is the perfect prophet, the most complete example of prophetic ministry we have ever had, and the One on whom we must model our own prophetic lifestyle and call. The fivefold role of the prophet is fundamentally there to serve the Body of Christ and help it become mature. It’s a ministry that we should be celebrating and releasing, along with the other fivefold roles.

Unfortunately, not all churches know what to do with their prophets at the best of times, let alone when there is a global pandemic happening. So in this blog I want to share a few thoughts on how churches can best utilise their prophets at a time like this – a time when so much is being shaken.

PRAYER: Now more than ever the church needs to be praying – and prophets love prayer. They particularly love being alone in their own private prayer closets, so now is a good time to challenge them to share their passion for intercession with others and to think about how to get the whole church committed to praying. Welcome their insights into how your church can develop a much healthier prayer culture.

A couple of practical suggestions:

  • Ask your prophets to mobilize a 24-7 prayer event particularly focusing on the needs of the local community and the impact of Covid-19.
  • If you are a church leader then ask your prophets to be interceding for you and your ministry at this time. Choose some that you trust and get them praying.

LISTENING: This is a time of sifting and refining, when we need to be reimagining how we do church and where God is leading us. Prophets function as the eyes and ears of the Body, alert to the purposes of God and the promptings of his Spirit. They can bring both God’s words for now, speaking into the current situation, and God’s words for the future as we discern the way forward. They can hear God for both individuals, speaking much needed words of strengthening and comfort, and corporate words for the Body, city and nation.

A practical suggestion:

  • Gather your prophets regularly (online!) over the next few months with the specific purpose of giving them a safe space to share what they sense God is saying to your church at this time. They will need this space to process everything they have been discerning over the last few months. Give them permission to seek God’s heart for words of encouragement and direction for the Body.

ORIENTATE: Because of their passion for God’s presence prophets have an important role to play in re-focusing attention back on God and reminding people of his unfailing love and care for his people. Prophets strengthen the church by helping people draw closer to God and by supplying a life-giving God-awareness. This pandemic is increasing already record levels of anxiety, fear and distraction. We need the ministry of the prophets to help us stay centred on Jesus and the peace that can only be found in his presence.

A practical suggestion:

  • Get your prophets leading a daily online ‘drop-in’ session where people can come and be refreshed in God’s presence through stillness, quiet reflection, mediation on God’s love, and prophetic ministry.

QUESTIONING: Prophets live in a place of tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, the ‘actual’ and the ‘ideal’. They are simultaneously focussed on the glory of God and, at the same time, sensitive to the existing reality in the world around them, with all its injustice and brokenness. This ‘gap-consciousness’ means they are wired to ask questions, to provoke, to confront, and to challenge the status quo. The prophet’s questioning can feel threatening for church leaders, but I believe that in this current season the church urgently needs the prophets to be bringing an alternative consciousness and helping us think outside the box. In a time of shaking we need to be alert to the new things that God is doing. The world right now is grieving, but it is also full of possibilities, and prophets are very much awake to divine promise and the newness that comes through godly questioning. They know that God is on the move and want the rest of the Body to catch up.

A couple of practical suggestions:

  • Commission your prophets to dream with God and to bring some grace-filled prayer-soaked questioning to the community. Allow them to reimagine what the church might look like post-Covid.
  • Ask your prophets to bring their prophetic imagination to the question of how, as we face a global recession, we can better offer support for the poor and marginalised in our city.

This is undoubtably a time of great shaking, for society and for the church. But there is something about the prophetic personality that relishes a bit of shaking and instinctively knows how to navigate a way through it. Fivefold prophets are alive and well in the church today. We need to find them, disciple them, embed them in community, and put them to work.