Advent Reflections

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

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

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


Advent Reflection 1: Great is Your Faithfulness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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?

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.

What’s Discipleship Got To Do With It?

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

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

            What is God saying to you?

            What are you going to do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prophetic Process: 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.

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!