Enjoying God Audaciously

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

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

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

John puts it like this in his letters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Sense of the Old Testament Prophets: 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amos makes this very clear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for us?

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

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.

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?

The Prophetic Process: Discernment

“OK, so what exactly do you mean by that?”

Have you ever said that to God?

I’m doing a series of blogs over the summer on the prophetic process, the process that starts with revelation from the heart of God, and finishes, hopefully, with fulfilment and transformation. As I said in the first of these blogs, prophecy is not a one-time event, but rather a long-term process, as we align our lives and properly walk out the word from God. To have a prophetic lifestyle – and to be a disciple of Jesus – involves engaging with the whole of this process.

The three parts to the process are: first of all tuning in to God’s revelation, next discerning the interpretation, and then actively responding to what God is saying. It’s really helpful to separate out these three parts and to be conscious of where perhaps we are stronger or weaker, where we need to be more intentional.

In this blog I’m focusing on the middle part, the discerning part, where we work out the essence of what God is actually saying to us – the full meaning behind the vision, dream, word. The part where we properly unpack it and interpret it.

“What does this lovely picture of a waterfall actually mean?”

“What on earth was God saying to me through that dream of a white horse last night?”

This is all about asking God what the revelation means and getting clarity on exactly what God is saying to us through it. It’s about accurately interpreting the revelation so we then know how to respond to it.

Discernment is a vital part of the prophetic process, one that we can’t rush; and unfortunately it’s usually the part of the process where most errors are made. The easiest mistake to make is that we stick our own interpretation on God-given revelation. In fact most problems or controversy associated with prophetic ministry are actually not because of weak revelation, but because of wrong interpretation. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions and read our own interpretations into genuine revelation.

To do interpretation well we have to lay down our own reasoning and agendas, and actively enquire of the Lord. We have to ask him!

It’s important to recognise the symbolic nature of a lot of God-given revelation; sometimes prophecy is pretty strange and mysterious. To be honest I sometimes wish that God’s communication was more straightforward at times. I’m rather jealous of Moses:

“When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; 
he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles.” Numbers 12:6-8

But I think this is a good reminder that a healthy engagement with the prophetic flows out of deep relationship with God, and perhaps he chooses to speak in riddles at times so that we have to lean in extra close to him to hear the interpretation.

In whatever way God may be communicating with us, and revelation can take many wonderful and varied forms, we need to get to a point of clarity so we know exactly what he is saying to us. Yes, sometimes the interpretation comes quickly and clearly, but there are many times when we need to actively seek God for it.

When I’m helping other people process their prophecies I will often suggest they express the essence of God’s word to them as if Jesus was standing next to them and speaking directly to them. This is often a brilliant way of distilling down the meaning of the prophecy to the clarity of a few simple words.

It’s good to remember that we don’t have to work everything out by ourselves and often it’s really helpful to involve other people in the interpretation process.

As we seek to get greater clarity, good questions to ask are:

  • Why has God brought me this revelation at this time? What are his purposes?
  • What scripture is relevant?
  • What truth does God want me to get hold of?

Discerning the interpretation of prophecy is something we need to take seriously. It’s a skill we can all grow in, being confident that the Holy Spirit will faithfully lead us. So the next time you receive something from the Lord, don’t be afraid to ask him exactly what he means by it. And then listen carefully for the explanation.

The Prophetic Process: Tuning In

When did you last hear God speak to you? What did his voice sound like?

Was it like the sound of mighty waters? Or as quiet as the gentle whisper?

Whatever it sounds like, hearing God speak to us is a joy. And as disciples of Jesus and children of our perfect heavenly Father, the door is always open to his revelation. The eternal promise of Jesus is that we’ll hear and recognise his voice. In fact he wants you to hear his voice.

In my previous blog I introduced the idea of the ‘Prophetic Process’: hearing God is not an event, it’s a process – a process in which we fully engage with the intentionality of God’s words to us.

The first part of this process is Tuning In: recognising and receiving revelation from God. And in this blog I want to share some thoughts about this first step and consider how we can all find a way to do this well. I’d love everyone reading this to catch a vision for what it would look like for you to have an unhindered flow of revelation straight from the Father’s heart; because that is what is promised to us as Pentecost people who live out the reality of John 7:38. There is an invitation to live so close to God’s heart that tuning in to his frequency is a natural and everyday expression of relationship with him.

I’m going to start with these four simple steps – you’ll hear us reference them a lot at Accessible Prophecy:

  1. Know who you are: really get to grips with your covenant identity as a beloved child of God, learning to listen to him from a place of security, love and rest.
  1. Recognise all the ‘normal’ everyday ways God does speak to us and be thankful: because most of the time he speaks in normal, everyday ways to normal and everyday people – so pay attention to all the ways God is already speaking to you.
  1. Understand that we are all different and we all hear God in different ways: it’s important to identify the way you primarily hear God speak, your unique language of revelation.
  1. Be expectant: cultivate your faith that God will speak to you!

Practising these steps daily is a great way to develop a ‘tuned-in’ lifestyle. But to take things a little deeper, I want to consider the posture of such a lifestyle.

SITTING: Being a good listener is a skill. When someone really needs us to hear them we are wise to stop whatever else we’re doing and give them our full attention. Ideally we sit down with them over a nice cup of tea (if you’re English!) and look directly at them.

We choose to be fully present in the moment.

It’s exactly the same when we’re listening to God. Tuning in well requires the right posture: one of receptivity. We can’t make God speak, but we can ensure that when he does we are giving him our full attention and properly listening.

Tuning in well isn’t a technical exercise – it’s always about relationship – and we do it best when our faces are turned fully towards God, fully present, fully expectant, basking in his peace and love. This is why worship is often the best context to tune in to God’s revelation: it gives us an environment where we’ve got time, space and focus.

Tuning in well means that we are comfortable with silence – it’s enough to simply be in his presence. And wait.

And as our hearts start to leap for joy at his voice – that’s the moment when we dive in deep. We should never rush this moment; instead we need to embrace it and let it resound deeply in our spirits. We allow the door to fully open to the encounter with God, engaging all our prophetic senses. We allow the Holy Spirit to take our hand and lead us deeper into the full measure of communication from the Father’s heart.

Now I realise of course that there are situations where we don’t have all day to simply dwell in the revelation. If we’re doing prophetic ministry there are often time constraints. But even in these situations my encouragement to you is to spend a little bit longer in the tuning in.

Because at the end of the day we are talking about engaging with God’s heart – which is a vast spacious place that needs time and focus to explore.

Let us be a prophetic people consumed with the very heart of God, being prepared to take our time to explore his heart for everyone we meet. Get the kettle on and go and sit down with him. He’s waiting for you.

The Prophetic Process

I’m the sort of person who loves getting to the bottom of things. I enjoy unpacking concepts and ideas and finding the fundamentals of an issue. So it’s good to reflect on what is actually going on when God speaks to us, and what our posture should be to fully enter into the impact of God’s voice. At the heart of our prophetic experiences is, I believe, something I term the ‘prophetic process’.

You see, there is a tendency in charismatic circles to focus on the delivery of the prophetic word: that’s what we get excited about. The prophet coming and telling us whatever it is that God wants to communicate to us. The prophetic event.

But a mature prophetic culture requires something much deeper and, to be honest, something much more time-consuming: a process in which we sit with the revelation, we discern the interpretation, and we embrace the application.

Let’s remind ourselves of the potential for transformation that comes with God’s spoken word to us:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

God speaks. His word goes forth. And in that moment is contained unimaginable potential for transformation and fruitfulness.

I love that fact that God is the Great Communicator: he talks to his people very often, and one of the joys of being a disciple of Jesus is learning to tune into his voice. But we mustn’t forget that there is something profoundly intentional about his words to us. They are never random or accidental. God always speaks for a purpose.

We may be very good at hearing God, but if we don’t engage properly with what he’s saying and respond with obedience we will waste the full potential of his spoken word to us.

To fully engage with the intentionality of God’s words to us, and to embrace the transformation he intends them to achieve, we need to understand the three vital parts of the prophetic process:

  1. Tuning in: recognising and receiving revelation from God. It’s good, if possible, to make space to fully dwell in the revelation for a while. It should be a relational, not functional, experience.
  1. Discerning: unpacking the revelation (whether it’s a prophetic picture, word or dream) and working out the essence of what God is actually saying to us through it.
  1. Responding: working out the application and what it looks like to walk in obedience. “If this is what Jesus is saying to me, what am I going to do about it?”

This process is necessary regardless of what God might be saying to us. With everything from hearing him say, “I love you”, to hearing him for the future direction of our church, or how he wants us to combat homelessness in our city, this process enables us to align our lives with his heart and intention for us.

To be mature practitioners of prophecy we need to take hold of each of the three parts separately. We need to encounter the Holy Spirit in each part of the process, and involve our faith communities as we walk it out. And as we dig deep into each of the three parts we will come face to face with both lament (things need to change!) and hope (God is able!).

I’m going to look at each part of the process in turn over some future blogs, but in the meantime I’d invite you to consider one or two significant words that God has given to you for you recently and reflect on to what extent you have really taken hold of them. Are you seeing the full measure of transformation and fruitfulness that God has intended for these words he has spoken to you? If not, which part of the prophetic process needs some more attention?

Understanding the Prophetic Function

What does it mean to be a prophetic church, a prophetic body of people?

To fully answer this question we need to see the big picture of exactly what Jesus has called his church to be. As much as I love prophetic ministry and mentoring prophetic people, there is more to an holistic prophetic culture than just activity and experience: we need a broader paradigm than is currently found in many charismatic churches. If all we focus on is giving people prophecies, we miss out on the breadth and depth of prophetic spirituality. If all we focus on is prophets, we miss out on seeing the way the church itself can be prophetic in its very nature.

So to understand the prophetic function of the church we have to step back a little bit from prophetic ministries and individual callings, and begin to view the church in terms of who we are called to be as the Body of Christ. The prophetic function is part of the church’s intrinsic identity and purpose: how we are shaped and defined. We are called to be a prophetic community, and this community needs to look like Jesus.

As I said in my last blog, our number one goal as the Body of Christ should be to imitate Jesus as closely as we possibly can. The church is defined by Jesus: it is Jesus who shows us who we are and what we are called to do. All authentic Christian ministry is based on him. The church, by its very nature, is called to be Jesus-shaped, and the fivefold ministries from Ephesians give us a clear perspective on what a Christ-like church should look like. Jesus has given these five identities to the church so that we can be all that he has called us to be, fully representing him in the world.

So as we consider how the church in its very nature can be prophetic – embodying the prophetic function – we need to embrace the prophetic pattern we see in the life of Jesus. Our life as a prophetic people must be directly formed around the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. We can only define a prophetic church according to Jesus’ ministry as the true and perfect prophet.

When we look at Jesus’ life and ministry we see that he is uncompromisingly prophetic in a whole host of ways:

  • He is the revelation of the Father: he perfectly shows us what God is like.
  • He is the Word of God in flesh.
  • He is the mediator of the New Covenant between God and people.
  • He confronts evil and breaks the power of sin.
  • He calls people to return to God and live righteously.
  • He speaks truth to power (both religious and secular).
  • He only does what he sees the Father doing.
  • He is led by the Spirit and ministers in the power of the Spirit.
  • He prioritises prayer and worship.
  • He speaks prophetically of the future.
  • He discerns the hearts and minds of people.
  • He challenges injustice and unrighteousness.

Jesus is the perfect expression of the prophet and so gives us the blueprint for a mature, holistic, multi-faceted way of being the prophetic church. We need to be prophetic in the way that Jesus was prophetic. Not just as individuals but as a Body with a collective prophetic consciousness.

The really good news is that as we choose to emulate Jesus’ prophetic role in our churches we get to participate in his very work and ministry as the greatest prophet there has ever been. The prophetic function is deeply rooted in the person of Jesus. In building a mature, holistic prophetic culture in our churches we are continuing his work, not having to manufacture something new. And as we do this, Jesus will be more present in our midst as his perfect prophetic identity gets expressed through his people.

So what does a prophetic church look like?  Here I’m using the 3-dimensional pattern of Jesus’ life as a framework for casting a vision for what the mature Jesus-shaped prophetic community can look like:

Upwards to God: Deep spirituality

As a prophetic church we have a passion for the heart of God, desiring to feel what God feels.

We prioritise worship, prayer, and the presence of God.

We are prepared to challenge idolatry and cultivate a hunger for holiness and obedience.

We create a culture of intentional and expectant listening, making space for this in all parts of church life.

The presence and holiness of God is tangible and accessible.

Our church is a place where people’s personal covenantal relationship with God is encouraged and enhanced.

We are developing a culture where individuals have confidence they can hear God for themselves.

Inwards to each other: Thriving prophetic ministry & community

We prophetically reveal the Father’s heart in the way we love each other.

We help each other connect with God’s heart so that together we are strengthened, encouraged and comforted.

The Spirit’s presence is manifested through his revelatory gifts as we meet together.

We demonstrate prefigurative community – radical, holy, covenantal – witnessing to God’s presence and power.

We embrace a prophetic ministry that is servant-hearted, inter-generational and inclusive.

Out to the World: Bringing transformation

We rejoice in revealing the true nature of God to the world around us.

We are connecting with God’s heart for the neighbourhood, city and nation.

We are walking in the power of the Spirit as we serve our communities.

We take a stand against injustice and unrighteousness and share God’s concern for the poor and oppressed.

We confront powers and principalities.

We are not afraid to speak truth to power.

This is the prophetic function alive and well in the church of Jesus. This is the prophetic ministry of Jesus reflected in his people. This is the big picture of the prophetic church. And be encouraged: it’s not too difficult to get there!

Do We Look Like Jesus?

Jesus’ vision for his church is a beautiful thing. A body of people from every imaginable background, tribe, and walk of life. His Body here on earth, reflecting his light and glory. Loving like He loves, serving like He serves, speaking like He speaks.

But, honestly, how much do we actually look like Jesus?

This is a question that I’m thinking about a lot at the moment as I observe how we, the church, are responding to a broken world and a toxic political climate. A question that I’ve heard coming from a number of wise prophetic people. A question that opens the door to sanctified discernment – and boy, do we need plenty of that right now.

Surely our number one goal as the Body of Christ should be to imitate Jesus as closely as we possibly can. We’re His hands and feet; we’re His voice and touch. When the world has gone crazy we should be the ones radiating His compassion and healing presence.

One of the most urgent questions for God’s people to be asking in these turbulent and polarised times is to what extent our churches and ministries truly look like Jesus. Do our words, attitudes and actions mirror those of Christ? Are we speaking as He would speak and acting as He would act? When the world looks at us, do they see an accurate representation of the Good Shepherd and friend of sinners? Do they see Jesus in our midst? Christ will always be the only true measure of our authenticity, and if we are not faithfully representing Him, can we genuinely call ourselves His church?

We are Christ’s Body here on earth. He has designed His church to be the tangible expression of His glory and beauty, and as His church we carry His spiritual DNA. Our only role is to be exactly like Jesus: He wants a Jesus-shaped church!

For a brilliant perspective on what a Christ-like church should look like we can turn to the concept of the fivefold ministries that we find in Ephesians 4*. The gifts in verse 11 describe five different facets of Christ’s ministry. These gifts are for everyone and Jesus has given these five roles to the church so that we can be all that He has called us to be, fully representing Him in the world. As we engage with the five roles we are given the means by which to participate in His work. The beautiful thing about the fivefold ministries is that together they represent the ministry of Christ. Each one reflects a key element of the ministry of Jesus; in fact Jesus is the fullest representation and demonstration of all five roles.

It’s not just about individual calling though: it’s important to move beyond seeing the fivefold as just describing individual believers and get the bigger picture. We can understand the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching as functions of the church itself, implicit purposes embedded in the church’s identity and culture. The church itself is called to be a mature expression of the fivefold callings.

We can use fivefold thinking to give us a benchmark of all Christian ministry and church culture: the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. We can ask this question of any church: do we observe a healthy and mature expression of each of the fivefold functions?

Do we see the mature apostolic church, engaged in the mission of God and looking like Jesus the ultimate ‘Sent One’?

Do we see the mature prophetic church, listening and responding to God and looking like Jesus the perfect Prophet?

Do we see the mature evangelistic church, proclaiming hope and the good news of God and looking like Jesus the greatest Evangelist?

Do we see the mature shepherding church, cultivating God’s loving and healing community and looking like Jesus the Good Shepherd?

Do we see the mature teaching church, illuminating God’s truth and looking like Jesus the master Teacher?

To get to this place – to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) – we need to hear afresh the invitation of Jesus to come and learn from Him; to walk alongside Him and see the world through His eyes.

We need to lean a little closer to our Servant King and be defined less by what we believe and more by what we do.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love… Ephesians 5:1

 

*I’m giving a very brief overview here – for a much more in-depth approach to APEST and fivefold thinking I highly recommend the books ‘5Q’ by Alan Hirsch and ‘Primal Fire’ by Neil Cole

Is Prophecy Your Normal?

So, when did you last talk openly about the things God is saying to you? If you started to share about that really profound dream you had last week, or that godly sense of urgency to challenge injustice, or that longing to express God’s word of encouragement for someone – would you just feel plain awkward?

Let’s face it: in much of our culture (both church and world) it’s just not normal to talk about prophetic things. We feel awkward and embarrassed talking about prophetic gifts. We’re worried that people are going to think we’re weird and odd. We get uncomfortable at the thought of divulging our inner conversation with God.

In many ways this is completely understandable. It’s true that there’s an otherworldly aspect to the prophetic, and sometimes it can be really difficult to express in human words what it is we are sensing the Spirit whisper to us. In the world’s eyes hearing from God is strange, and getting a ‘vision’ from God is bizarre. At the end of the day prophecy is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that challenges rationality and can take some getting used to.

But the problem is, if we never talk about our prophetic experiences, if we never share the things that God is sharing with us, then it’s very hard to grow a culture where the prophetic is normalised and mature. To grow a healthy prophetic culture there has to be a level of normalisation, where people are confident and free to talk about whatever it is that God might be saying to them. After all, true discipleship can’t happen in our churches if people feel awkward answering the two fundamental questions for disciples of Jesus:

What is God saying to you?  What are you going to do about it?

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, that the Spirit of Revelation might just show up with some incredible truth to share with us.

If we don’t talk about revelation we are putting up huge barriers to the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. And by avoiding the subject we are not exactly in line with scripture:

Eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

Paul was convinced that prophecy was essential for any Christian community; indeed he goes on to give this instruction:

For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.                  1 Corinthians 14:31

So how can we start to make the gift of prophecy more normal in our church contexts?

Here are three suggestions:

Be intentional with language   Find language that de-mystifies the prophetic, that makes it accessible and inclusive for everyone. In some church cultures using the phrase ‘listening prayer’ rather than prophecy is much better at drawing people in. Talk about prophecy in such a way that it becomes a part of everyday conversation. Talk about it in a way that conveys the message: “We can all learn to hear God!”

Model it well   If you are in any position of influence or leadership in your church make sure that you are open with people about your own journey towards hearing God better. Give people access to your inner world of communication with God. Tell your stories, both successes and failures, as you learn to step out with the gift of prophecy.

Look at the scriptures together   Spend time studying John 10 and Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would know his voice. Read Paul’s writings on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament church. And then work out what a faithful response should be. What would it look like for your church to start “eagerly desiring” prophecy?

I love being in a church community where prophecy has become normalised. In my church in Sheffield the prophetic is expected, it’s accepted; no-one bats an eyelid if someone gives someone else a prophecy. It’s become well embedded in our culture, from Sunday services to missional communities to friends meeting up to pray for each other. This supernatural gift of God has become natural. It’s our normal.