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!

“But what if I make a mistake?”

The world of prophecy is a wonderful yet challenging one – so many mountaintop experiences, so many pitfalls to avoid. I love prophetic ministry because I get to see what’s in the very heart of God for people and see his amazing passion for them. I love the way a simple but accurate word of prophecy can be spoken into someone’s life and then seeing it transform their situation and bring freedom, hope and encouragement.

But for an awful lot of us we have a tendency to fall at the first hurdle and never even open our mouths, because of that basic fear: “What if I make a mistake?

It seems incredible really that we could ever speak to someone on God’s behalf – that we could be God’s mouthpiece and spokesperson. Who are we to try and communicate the mind of God? Who are we to be channels of divine revelation?

And yet the New Testament makes it pretty clear that the gift of prophecy is available to all. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost ushers in a church that is inherently prophetic. Paul exhorts us to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We’re not all called to be prophets but we can all prophesy.

So how do we embrace this vital gift that God has given the church and deal with the fear of getting it wrong?

We first of all need to acknowledge that prophecy is a risky business. It’s a powerful supernatural gift that has potential for both tremendous good but also great harm if badly handled. I know people who have been hurt and damaged by unaccountable and immature prophetic ministry. It’s vital to keep people safe.

But let’s remind ourselves of the very nature of prophecy. The essence of the prophetic is about the revelation of Jesus and about connecting people with the heart of God. The simplest word of prophecy can have a profound impact on the listener if it draws them deeper into the Father’s presence. Spirit-breathed revelation strengthens our relationship with God and empowers us to do the works of the Kingdom. The gift of prophecy is a brilliant gift that God has given us. It’s not surprising that Satan has done all he can to twist and distort it.

Prophecy is not an optional extra for God’s people if we’re serious about living Jesus-centred lives. So we have to provide excellent training environments that enable people to develop their prophetic gifts in a safe, accessible context. We need to give people ‘freedom to fail’ as they step out and practice. We need to create healthy prophetic cultures of accountability and discipleship based on a foundation of godly values.

Let’s go back to that question.

“What if I do make a mistake and get it wrong?”

Here are a couple of things that encourage me to overcome the fear:

Remember Who is with you.    Every single follower of Jesus is a vessel of the Holy Spirit, and he is the Spirit of Truth and Revelation. I really believe that if our hearts are in the right place, if we’re motivated by love, if we’ve laid aside our own agendas, and if we ask for revelation – then God will speak! Sometimes we simply have to trust the abundant generosity of the Spirit at work in us.

Consider what is the greater risk.    It may seem risky stepping out with a word of prophecy for someone. But surely the greater risk is that you don’t – that you don’t open your mouth and share what you think God has given you. Because then the person misses out on hearing that word. And it could be that your prophecy is the very word they really need to hear that day.

The world around us is desperate for words of life and hope, and God gives us the immense privilege of being able to reach into his heart and freely share what we find there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to give someone a word of prophecy. It’s worth the risk!

*******

If you’re reading this and feel you’re ready to go deeper with prophecy why not join one of our coaching huddles? They provide the opportunity to learn, grow and be stretched in prophetic ministry in a supportive and prayerful environment, where the focus is very much about deepening our relationship with God. Email connect@accessibleprophecy for more details.

 

Inquire of the Lord

Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him… (1 Samuel 23:4)

When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritualists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? (Isaiah 8:19)

 

The Lord makes it pretty clear throughout scripture that we are to inquire of him – for him to be our first port of call with a query, our first line of inquiry. If you are anything like me, I’m sure you make time to inquire of the Lord with the big decisions in life – those times when we have no choice but to stop at a major crossroads and try and work out which way to go. And yet for many of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, our day-to-day reality shows little practical application of this biblical principle. Is it because we are just too busy and preoccupied? Or somewhat nervous about what answer we might get back?

In recent months God has been challenging me to regularly inquire of him in the midst of the many daily decisions I am making – to take the time to pause and seek him for the next step and right call, rather than just trusting in a general sense of, “Well, this feels ok so I’ll go with.”

There is a practical outworking to this call to regularly inquire of God, and we’ve looked at the subject of asking God questions in a previous blog. But the oft-repeated phrase inquire of the Lord also raises deeper issues, and in this blog I want to dig a bit further and look at some fundamental issues of the heart.

The key question the phrase inquire of the Lord generates in my own discipleship journey is:

Am I surrended to God to the extent that I’m prepared to ask him any question about my life, and listen for the answer?

Am I prepared to ask God what his opinion is of my relationships, marriage, ministry and call? Am I ready to inquire of him regarding any sin he sees in my life? Am I willing to ask him what I can do for him every day rather than simply asking him to bless my plans? Am I ready to ask him what he really thinks about my world-view and political opinions?

At its heart, the biblical principle of inquiring of the Lord is less about decision-making and more about submission. It challenges us to examine our heart posture towards God: our motivations, our focus, and our priorities. It requires us to ask ourselves who really is on the throne of our lives.

If there is something in us that resists the call to inquire of the Lord, is this because we have not fully submitted our lives to him? That we’ve given him a certain level of access to our lives without the Access All Areas that he really demands?

The Old Testament prophets frequently hold up a mirror to us with which to examine our hearts. They present a unfavourable description of those to be judged for their sins, but in these black and white pronouncements we often find windows into our own souls. I read this verse in Isaiah the other day and just couldn’t get past it:

Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. (Isaiah 3:8)

To defy God’s glorious presence – to turn our backs on the Lord of Glory – is the very essence of the sin of pride. To defy God’s presence means to openly resist him, to refuse to obey, instead of yielding and surrendering to his light, truth and fiery love. And to maintain a posture of inquiring of the Lord requires us to yield and surrender to him on a daily basis.

I know that I’m not actively and consciously defying God, but reading this verse caused me to examine my heart and consider all the ways I may slightly and subtlety defy him without even really noticing it. What am I hiding from him? Where am I quietly but stubbornly sticking to my plans and my agendas?

We know that in God’s glorious presence there is complete truth and purest light. There is infinite wisdom and relentless love. As his beloved children we are welcome here every day of our lives; but when we stand in this place we must lay aside every one of our own agendas and opinions and surrender every part of our lives to him.

It’s as we engage in the process of surrender that we are best placed to hear God’s voice and receive his revelation. God looks for those who are seeking him, and he can be found by those who seek him with all their heart. Humility is vital for accessing the truth he reveals to us. A humble and submitted heart will easily connect with God’s voice.

As you go about your day today, I’d encourage you to have moments when you pause, reconnect with the Father, and humbly ask his opinion about whatever it is you are doing. Choose to lean a little less on your own understanding….

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding;

In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

 

 

When Prophets are the Enemy of the Prophetic

In last month’s blog Chris Wanstall shared some of the things she’s has learnt about pursuing maturity in prophecy and finding healthy ways to communicate what God puts on our hearts. This month’s blog follows a similar theme as we consider the dangers that an immature prophetic ministry can bring.

The New Testament is pretty clear: prophecy is a gift for all God’s children. A gift to be eagerly desired, that brings enormous blessing as it connects people to the Father’s heart. Over the years I’ve seen the potential of prophetic ministry to bring encouragement, hope and freedom to countless people. And I’ve seen the joy that comes when we realise that we can all join in: it’s not an exclusive gift for a mysterious elite, but a dispensation of grace that the Holy Spirit pours out abundantly. We can all use this gift and be channels of God’s love as we seek His heart for everyone we meet. A healthy prophetic culture is one where there is an active understanding that prophetic revelation is available to all.

So it’s a sobering thought that often the biggest barriers to releasing a healthy prophetic culture are the prophets themselves. All too often the thing that stops people engaging with the gift of prophecy is the immaturity and unhelpful behaviour of prophetic people. By ‘prophet’ I mean the New Testament ‘five-fold-ministry’ prophet that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4: that section of the church who have a particular calling to help the church hear God’s voice. Jesus has given certain ministries or callings to the church, distributing them among all the people as He sees fit. God has made each one of us to fit a certain place where we can serve Him best. These five ministries are given so that the whole body of Christ might grow and mature, that we might live out the unity Paul describes at the beginning of the chapter. That we would become the people Jesus intended us to be.

We get a little glimpse of the mature New Testament prophet from this verse in Acts 15:32:

    “Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to strengthen and         encourage the believers.”

This is a great snapshot of what the prophets were up to in the early church: they were channels of God’s strength and encouragement. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:3, when we prophesy we speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. I would have loved the opportunity to hang out with Judas and Silas and be a recipient of their wonderful ministry.

Alongside bringing prophecies and speaking encouragement, the primary role of the New Testament prophet is to help other people hear God for themselves. Mature prophets do this by laying down their own agendas, and the desire to go it alone, and instead focus on investing in others. They find ways to effectively multiply their ministry and allow others to imitate them. They give people a framework to climb on and an invitation to come and join in.

A mature prophet has a key role to play in establishing a healthy prophetic culture in their church. Their heart will be set on edifying the body by encouraging others to step out and listen to God, and they will model a humble, accountable and community-focused approach to the gift. In fact they will model it in such a way that it’s infectious – people will eagerly desire prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) because they see the fruit of the gift in the mature prophet’s life.

But all too often we see the opposite dynamic happening – immature prophets that actually put people off prophecy. And this is how it happens:  

  • By their attitude and language they imply that this gift is exclusively theirs. Their inability to convey their prophetic experiences in normal, accessible language means it appears unattainable for the rest of the church.
  • Their stubborn independence leads to a lack of accountability and submission. They won’t engage with discipleship and they won’t embrace the common vision of their church family. They end up being a critical voice on the edge of church, quick to point out every problem they see.
  • Their lack of rootedness in community and their avoidance of accountability means they quickly rush into acting on whatever they think God is telling them to do, without the discipline of properly weighing and testing their word with others.
  • Their tendency to speak judgement rather than mercy creates a culture of fear.
  • Because their identity is so caught up in their prophetic ministry, if their prophecies are rejected they feel personally rejected. Anyone who questions their actions or words gets accused of quenching the Spirit.
  • Their lack of humility and grace means they demand to be listened and responded to, becoming frustrated when leaders don’t immediately act on the revelation they bring.

No wonder the response of so many church leaders is to shut down or tightly control any expression of prophetic ministry. No wonder so many church members avoid an active engagement with prophecy.

There is a spiritual battle going on. Prophecy is a wonderful and powerful gift that God has given His church but the enemy hates it and does all he can to twist and distort it . I’m aware of a number of situations at the moment where the desire of churches to develop a healthy and mature prophetic culture is being jeopardised by the attitude and actions of immature and unaccountable prophets. Of course this is exactly what the devil wants.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and long to see prophecy welcomed in our churches, here are some hints on how to be a help rather than a hindrance:

  • Remember: it’s not about you and your ‘gifting’ or ‘anointing’ – rather the focus needs to be on how you can help others hear God for themselves.
  • Actively seek out accountability. Find a safe place of accountability where you can be transparent about your life and ministry.
  • Cultivate a servant heart; read Philippians 2.
  • Get some training on how to communicate your ideas with humility and grace.
  • Look for creative ways to bless your leaders with your prophetic gift.
  • Don’t be weird or super spiritual – aim to be as normal as possible.
  • Hang out with apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors. Choose to learn from them and their perspectives.
  • Follow in Judas and Silas’ footsteps and seek to say much to encourage and strengthen believers – all the time!

Let us heed these words from 1 Peter 4:10:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…”

Help! No one is listening!

For those of us who are ‘prophet’-shaped, one of the challenges of working out a mature expression of our calling and ministry is dealing with the frustration of not being listened to. How do we keep our hearts right? This month’s blog addresses this question and is written by Christine Wanstall who leads Accessible Prophecy in Australasia.

 

Occasionally I will have a blog or a prophecy cross my desk and it is clear that the prophet who wrote it is frustrated by the lack of response to their prophetic gift. Often these prophecies are strong in judgment and condemnation and it is clear the prophet is frustrated. I feel for these prophets. I can feel how frustrated they are and I recognise times when I have been frustrated and angry when I have not felt heard. “Don’t they realise this is from God?” or, “If they had only listened to me they would not have found themselves in this situation.” Often when we find ourselves in these spaces we end up on the edge of community, not being heard and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of frustration, condemnation and judgment.

It causes me to pause and think, as a prophet, how do I make sure I don’t end up in these places? We know communication is a two-way process so if I am not being heard, maybe there is an issue with how I am communicating, rather than the person receiving it not hearing it correctly? Here are a few thoughts I have found helpful in managing my frustration and placing myself in a posture where the prophetic words I communicate can be well received.

Recognise that a prophet is only one of the five-fold gifts that God gives the church

Being a prophet is no more special than being an apostle or a shepherd, teacher or evangelist. Although my gift means that I have a strong connection to the Father’s heart, this is no more important than the evangelist who sees opportunities to speak the gospel or the teacher who helps people understand the word of God. The New Testament talks strongly about being in community and living as the body of Christ.

If I am a prophet who is constantly speaking words of judgment and condemnation, then I quickly become someone that people don’t want to hang around with or listen to. I am learning to value community and trusting that God is able to speak through other gifts, and that I am not the most important super special. It is a humbling experience…

Make sure I am speaking words of encouragement, comfort and words that build up the body

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,” the Lord declares in Jeremiah. It is challenging to take a posture of kindness when I am frustrated and annoyed. If I have a word that is more condemning than kind, I am learning to process these with trusted people who help me work out how to communicate them or to discern if maybe they are just words for me to pray through and not communicate!!

Recognise that I don’t always get it right

Although I would like to think I am perfect – I know that this is not the case! There are times when my own agenda, hurt, frustration, ideas and thoughts come to the fore rather than a genuine prophetic word. Taking a posture of humility means that I recognise that I may not always get things right and that’s ok. My identity sits in relationship with the Father outside of my ability to hear God perfectly. So if the prophetic words are not being heard, then maybe I have got it wrong.

Learning to grow in my prophetic gift

It is important to recognise that my prophetic gift is like any other gift that God gives. It requires me to learn and grow in my understanding and ability to hear God and communicate this well to others. This requires patience and tenacity to find the right place and people to help me learn and grow. I deeply value the Accessible Prophecy huddle process where I find myself in a safe environment to be challenged and encouraged to grow in my prophetic gift. I want to steward well the gift God has given me.

Find opportunities to serve the church and the people in the community that God has placed me in

I need to make sure this is not an attitude of, “Let me serve you a cup of broken glass,” but an attitude of genuine love and care for the well-being and future of the people I am placed with in community. Again this requires humility to genuinely serve people with whom I might feel angry or annoyed. In doing this, it has taught me to see that I need to trust the leaders God has placed me under. This includes trusting them in applying the prophetic words rather than me telling them how these words should be applied. Serving the church means releasing the words I hear and caring for, supporting and loving the people that I am placed in community with.

 

It is deeply challenging to find ourselves, as prophets, in a frustrated and angry place and feel like we are not being heard. I invite you today to consider how we can allow God to speak to us about our frustration and grow in our prophetic gift to serve the body of Christ. Listening to God about what sits beneath our frustration allows us to grow and mature in our gift and we then see prophecy taking its place within the community of Christ as a valued gift to the body.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Going Slow

Going Slow

“Slow down, you move too fast…” sang Simon and Garfunkel rather a long time ago. The Spirit has been whispering a similar refrain to me recently.

I know it’s become a cliché but the pace of modern life is extraordinary. Instant communication around the world, homes full of the latest technology, 24-7 everything. Perhaps that’s why I like gardening so much because you have to slow down and go at nature’s pace for once, with lots of patient waiting for things to happen.

When we’re going too fast our spiritual well-being is jeopardised by a shallow engagement with the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29 The Message). We lose the ability to still our hearts and minds and fully encounter God’s presence (Psalm 46:10). We fail to heed the gentle whisper of the Lover of our souls (1 Kings 19:12).

A few years ago I came across a quote that has stuck with me and still challenges me:

                “You know what sin is? It’s not paying attention.”

Now, at this point I don’t want to get into a theological discussion about the nature of sin. But I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. Our failure to pay attention to God, and our failure to pay attention to our neighbour, will stifle our ability to follow the two greatest commandments. And the more we rush through life, filling our days with activity, the harder it is to really pay attention.

To grow in our ability to hear God’s voice, and to develop a God-conscious existence, we have to take on the discipline of slowing down a bit. I know in my own life that I have many days when I’m rushing too much from activity to activity, and it’s only when I get to bedtime that I realise that I haven’t heard God that day. And it’s not because God isn’t speaking. I’ve just been too busy and unfocused to pay attention to what he’s saying to me.

I recognise that for most of us this is a real challenge. But how tragic if the reality of our lives is that we don’t have time to listen to God. What are we missing because we’re not paying attention?

Most of the time God speaks in whispers. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tend to shout revelation; rather he chooses to speak in the still, small voice and in fleeting impressions. He speaks in the kind of voice where we have to lean in, get close, and pay attention. It’s the voice of the tender Father rather than a sergeant major. A voice that is easy to miss if we’re going too fast. But if we slow down enough we find a voice of clarity, kindness and breathtaking beauty.

In John 10 we are presented with a simple yet profound picture of how our relationship with Jesus is supposed to work. It’s not complicated: he is our Good Shepherd and we are his precious sheep. We know – and listen to – his voice, and we follow him. This imagery of a shepherd with his sheep reminds us that following Jesus should fundamentally be about a simplicity of lifestyle and a gentle pace: sheep don’t tend to be manically busy.

And to properly tune in to God’s voice we need to choose a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity – that it’s really worth slowing down to listen – because there is so much God wants to show us. We should remind ourselves every day that the Kingdom is indeed at hand, that the Holy Spirit has very much been poured out upon us, that the spiritual realm is in fact the superior reality.

To really grow in the prophetic – to grow in our ability to hear and see things of the Spirit – we have to slow down. We have to embrace a lifestyle of going slow enough to hear, of re-ordering our priorities, of staying attuned and in synch.

I’ll finish with a few simple suggestions of how we can begin to break the habit of going too fast. Why don’t you choose one of these and have a go over the next few days?

  • Put some reminders on your phone throughout the day to stop for a couple of minutes and engage with God’s loving presence. Welcome the Holy Spirit and ask him to show you what he’s doing in the world around you.
  • Find 10 minutes every day to connect with God through nature and to marvel at the wonder of his creation. For example, time in your garden or a local park; looking at the stars; getting out into the countryside.
  • Do something that intentionally slows you down, like walking to work one day a week, and use that time to pray through the Lord’s Prayer or pray in tongues.
  • When you arrive somewhere by car, spend 2 minutes sitting in stillness and listening before you get out and get on with your day.
  • Go to your favourite coffee shop and enjoy Jesus’ presence as you read your Bible.

Hearing God for our Churches

What does a listening church look like? How can we hear God together for our churches? God loves every local expression of the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us the heart and intentions of the Father so that together we can step into his Kingdom purposes. The gift of prophecy is not just for individuals, and a mature expression of the ministry will involve corporate hearing and responding. A healthy prophetic culture is one in which people have a shared vision of what God is calling them to as a church.

The second and third chapters of the book of Revelation are made up of Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Asia Minor and give an interesting perspective on what God’s word looks like when directed to a church rather than an individual. Each of these letters starts with an expression of the nature and character of Christ, then a specific commendation, followed by a complaint, correction and conclusion. Each letter is precise and to the point. Can we hear God as clearly as that for our churches? Do we know the particular revelation of his nature that Jesus wants us to take hold of in this season? Can we hear his words of affirmation and correction? Can we state with confidence, “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand….”?

It’s important for every church to know the call of God. Proverbs 29:18 warns that without prophetic vision the people of God perish. Every church needs eyes to see and ears to hear: to discern the bigger picture of God’s intention for us as a body and where he is calling us.

Hearing

Whenever we come together in worship and fellowship there are opportunities to hear the corporate ‘now’ word from the Lord. We simply need to create the space and expectation, and get in the habit of saying, “Let’s just pause for a few minutes and listen to what God is saying to us.” An obvious place to do this is in our Sunday services, but we can do this whenever we are gathered together.

A number of years ago, at my church in Sheffield, we set up a Prophetic Council that has been a very helpful way of discerning what God is saying to us as a church. The Council is made up of a number of mature Christians who have a good track record of bringing accurate prophecies to the church and have a heart to serve the leadership. We meet 6 times a year: each time we meet we share what we think God is saying to the church and city, and then seek to discern, weigh and sharpen God’s rhema word. We then submit these words to the church leadership team.

Other churches I know have set up Listening Groups as a way of encouraging people to hear God together. These are open to everyone who wants to come, and usually follow a simple pattern of worship, basic teaching on hearing God’s voice, and then space to listen. They provide a positive context to pursue God’s heart and intention for his church, and everyone is encouraged that they can listen and contribute.

Recording

If we are serious about hearing God for our churches then we have to be intentional about recording prophecies. God’s voice is incredibly precious, but how do we ensure we keep a proper record of what he is saying to us?

At my church we’ve got files that go back years: we’ve done our best to keep a copy of every prophecy that has been given to our church. We also have a book that is available at Sunday services to record prophecies that are shared. Having everything written down enables us to keep in step with the Holy Spirit and track the themes that emerge over time. We find confirmation for prophecies when we realise that the same word has come from different people over a period of time.

Weighing

The New Testament makes it very clear that prophecy has to be weighed and tested:

     Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.                    1 Corinthians 14:29

Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.                                           1 Thessalonians 5:20-21

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

Most prophecies we hear and speak will not be 100% accurate and infallible. Some may come very close, but at the end of the day it’s still a human vessel trying to communicate the very mind of God using contemporary language, and we will always need a healthy dose of realism and humility to properly discern what God is actually saying.

Weighing is a very important part of the whole process of hearing what God is saying to our churches. At my church we have encouraged our missional communities to weigh corporate prophecies by discussion, prayer and asking the Holy Spirit for his discernment. Our leadership team also take the process of weighing prophecies seriously. The key question when we weigh significant prophecies is, “Does this word find confirmation in scripture, in our community of faith, and in the witness of the Holy Spirit?”

 Communication

This is probably stating the obvious, but if we’re going to hear God’s voice together then we need to be good at communication. It’s vital that both the church leaders and the intercessors know what the prophets are discerning at any time, but we also need effective channels of communication so that the whole church knows what God is saying in a particular season. Sometimes the greatest gift to a prophetic team is someone who is really good at administration and can take on the role of ensuring good communication. Notice boards and newsletters are great places to share key prophecies.

Responding

The final part of the process, and in many ways the most important, is responding together to God’s spoken word: “If this is what God is saying to us, then what are we going to do about it?”

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 have to beware a casual attitude to them. We need to be active responders rather than passive receivers.

An incredible helpful framework for processing the prophetic is understanding that there are three parts to any prophecy: Revelation (the picture, word, or dream given to the person by God); Interpretation (“What does it mean?”); and Application (“What are we going to do about it?”) All three parts are equally important, and a mature prophetic culture is one where emphasis and training is applied to all three. Revelation may come from just one person, but the application of prophecy has to be discerned within a context of community and usually requires input from people who are gifted in strategy.

Once we all know what God is saying to us as a church, then wise and strategic leaders can release the Body to step out in faith and obey God’s voice. There is so much God wants to say to his church: let’s be hearers – and do-ers – of his word. Together!

 

From Listening to Doing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Åbenbaring

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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