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  Understanding the Prophetic Ministry

  by Robert Weston  
Inspired by the Spirit -
Understanding the Prophetic Ministry

Introducing the Prophetic Ministry
Prophetic Imagination
Prophetic Wisdom
Hidden Training
Thus saith the Lord
And all the people replied . . .
It makes sense to test
Ever felt misunderstood?
Ushering in the prophetic
1 ~ Introducing the Prophetic Ministry

  Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says . . .
Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you;
do not turn aside to the right or to the left.
Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you,
so that you may live and prosper
and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
(Deuteronomy 5:27,32,33)

Have you ever had the privilege of meeting a prophet? I am not speaking of someone who brings an occasional word of prophecy but someone who lives in the presence of God, and brings His insights to bear. We have received various words that have brought vital steering touches, reassuring us that the Lord not only knows our path but is actually directing it. Like the time we spent with Alex Buchanan shortly after we were married. He foresaw the times of intense testing and trials that we would be called to go through for the Lord. Thanks Alex! But there has always been the underlying assurance, that this really is the word of the Lord. May we be as much and do as much for others!

What did the Lord intend Israel to be? A demonstration to the nations of the world of what a righteous society living under the rule of God could be like. In His plan the prophets had a vital role to play. ‘The Lord used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt: by a prophet He cared for him.’  Let’s not be afraid to use the word: God appoints them, we need them and every church and organisation needs them. And even though we may not be full-blown ‘prophets’ ourselves, we should undoubtedly be seeking to become more ‘prophetic’ in all we do.

Prophets are the ‘eyes’ of the church. The trouble is, the way we see things tends to be so different from God that He has to take us through a whole series of upheavals to help us see things His way, and to apply the word of the Lord accurately.

The good news: the Lord promised that He will do nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets . Whenever He needed to warn or to restore Israel, He raised up prophets to do the job. In times of crisis, it was the Word of the Lord through the prophet that, again and again, saved the nation from its enemies . The prophets had a vital role to play in God’s plan for Israel after He brought them out of Egypt .

More good news: the testimony of Jesus is (still) the spirit of prophecy , and He invites, instructs even, His people to be eager to prophesy. But just as that Moses’ ministry reached maturity in the wilderness, rather than when he was a pampered prince in Pharaoh’s palace, so the Lord will need to take us through some form of rigorous training programme. That’s good news too. But it may not feel like it at the time. We’ll look at the process in more detail later. For the time being, let’s take a step backward to consider the prophetic ministry.
1.1 The prophetic ministry today
  It was the end of the meeting. A group of people gathered round a man from the church who was paralysed and suffering from MS. Everyone except the visiting preacher, Heidi Baker, knew that he had had a dream six years before that he would one day walk again. But how many believed it would be in this life? After all, he had been prayed for more than six hundred times with no apparent effect. The group continued to pray for a full half hour. Something was happening. Feeling was coming back, now to the left foot, now the other. Suddenly it happened. With the aid of others, he stood to his feet, and soon was walking. Within days he was pushing other MS sufferers around in their wheelchairs. Within two weeks he was playing football! An incredible miracle had happened. And the speaker declared: ‘This is a sign of God’s desire to bless the paralysed church in the United Kingdom. The power of God is at hand!’  

In this section we are going to look at various aspects of the prophetic ministry. Our purpose is both to be more open to be used by the Lord ourselves, but also so that we can welcome the input of those to whom God has given a special ability to listen.

God loves to prophesy! He does not speak lightly or aimlessly but sends His Word in order that His plans should come to pass. He always has a deliberate objective in mind.
The spirit of prophecy is much in evidence from the very beginning of the Bible records. ‘Let there be light . . . Let there be a firmament’ . God could have just thought the world into being; He chose to speak it. In C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew there is a magnificent account of the creation of the imaginary world, Narnia, in which Aslan (who stands for the Lord) sings creation into being. It is a beautiful concept!   God not only loves to speak, He loves to have His people both listen and prophesy.

Jesus is prophet, priest and king. He will share His glory with no other  – yet when He speaks through fallible human beings, something of His own power and authority are released. When the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus declared that the words He spoke were spirit and life . The whole of His ministry demonstrated this: by a word the blind were healed, the paralytic walked, the dead restored to life and evil spirits cast out. By the word of Paul’s mouth a spirit of divination was cast out of a slave girl, and the eyes of a sorcerer were temporarily blinded . By the words of the apostles lame men walked, the sick were healed and the dead were restored to life .

1.2 All ministries are to be ‘prophetic’
  When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.
He will not speak on His own;
He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come.
He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you.
All that belongs to the Father is Mine.
That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you.
(John 16:13-15)

Wouldn’t it be tragic if God gave up speaking? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel . . . what giants these Old Covenant prophets were: giants with well-tuned spirits! In Jesus’ day, however, the prophetic voice had long been silent until John the Baptist ‘emerged.’ There was a widespread expectation, however, that there would be a revival of the prophetic flow before the day of the Lord. On the Day of Pentecost, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church, and His blessing became a gift that all believers could exercise.

Although God sets aside certain people for the office of the prophet, the Lord wants all of us to wait on Him concerning the things that we undertake. The sensitive pastor will be concerned to bring an inspired word to his congregation, just as the teacher will wait on the Lord to discover exactly which passage of Scripture the Lord wishes him to expound.
To teach doctrine ‘x’ when God is emphasising aspect ‘y’ of His kingdom is still to be technically true to the Word of God, but in reality to miss the heart of what God was wanting to communicate or direct His people to. To be prophetic is to walk in step with what God is doing now. To bring a teaching with a prophetic edge is to be breath-takingly up to the minute and full of power because it means we are in in line with what God is doing in the hearts of His hearers.

It is so much more satisfying, as well as relevant, when we are in tune with the things that are on God’s heart.
  Although God sets aside certain people for the ‘office’ of the prophet, the Lord wants all of us to wait on Him concerning the things that we undertake.

Living prophetically involves far more than just speaking words from God. From first reading of the biblical prophets, it is easy to assume that they were receiving words from God day in and day out, but in reality their oracles were probably more like scoring a goal in the edited highlights of ‘Match of the Day’ rather than a minute by minute experience. When Mother Teresa recognised God’s heart for the people of India and gave her life for them, surely she was being every bit as prophetic (and in all probability far more fruitful) than people who bring ‘words’ from God at every meeting.

In His great task of restoring His Bride, and bringing in His Kingdom, God is raising up a people to make Him known in our land; a New Testament equivalent of a prophetic nation .Wise is the church that recognises and nurtures those who have particular gifts and burdens, whether they be creative gifts for the body of Christ, for their professions, or for the wider community. I believe that God appoints watchmen who have a special burden for their professions as well as for their churches or their geographical regions. For more than twenty years I worked with outstanding musicians who allow the Lord to express and reflect His heart through their music and in the process bring the presence of the Lord close to His people.
  For Reflection

If you are in leadership, what provision are you making to train and nurture those who have prophetic callings?

1.3 Nurturing the prophetic Calling
  The real prophets of our day, are those who can perceive what is happening in modern society, see where it will lead us, and give a value judgement upon it . . . We should not just absorb facts, but think about their significance. (Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity, SPCK)  

So significant is the ministry of a prophet, that the actual moment of commissioning of many of the biblical prophets is recorded for us . Such men were love-gifts from God. Even when the message they brought was a hard one, it was out of God's mercy and kindness that He showed people how things really stood.

The Church in Antioch included prophets as well as teachers in the ministry team, so why shouldn't we? Our nation has long nurtured a relative abundance of Bible teachers. Now is the time to welcome those the Lord is raising up with a prophetic insights for the Church, for specific issues or professions, to help us grow in the beauty as well as the knowledge of God.

1.4 Prophets are the ‘eyes’ of the Church . . .
  Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.’ But Moses said, ‘Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.’
(Numbers 10:29-32)

Once, when we had been going through an exceptionally turbulent time, with shocks and difficulties coming at us from every angle, I arranged to meet with a couple of prophets who have often been used in the past to speak the word of the Lord to me. These men work best by knowing least. We turned to prayer and immediately sensed the Spirit of the Lord moving through the garden we were meeting in. The Lord recognised the pummelling we had been through and spoke profoundly of His love and of imparting a new level of authority. It was the intimacy that these men have in God that makes it easy for them to pass on such profound encouragement.

The prophet’s relationship with the Lord is itself an asset for the body of Christ. Their insights and experience will likewise be invaluable in leading the people of God into seeking the mind of the Lord over specific issues, as well as for leading congregational prayer and intercession.
  For Reflection

Is there an example from the past that God would use to encourage you in the challenges that you are currently facing?

Or is there someone He would have you go and encourage with a hope-filled perspective?

Prophets see with the eyes of faith and hope – and therefore can believe for things which humanly speaking appear completely impossible. One way to communicate this prophetic perspective is to stoke people’s memories with the recollection of what God has done in the past. God specifically tells people to remember great deliverances that He has done (Psalm 105:5, Josh 4:4-7, cf Neh 9:17, Psalm 78:42). By drawing attention to God’s character through these (without in any way becoming nostalgic) people can use them as a springboard for faith in the future.

1.5 Prophecy is not divination
  Prophecy does not consist exclusively, or even chiefly, of predictions concerning future events.
The future is the Lord’s concern, and He will show us the way when He feels that it is right to do so.

It is obvious that Satan has some insight into the future (as well as a detailed record of our past), all of which he is quite prepared to share with anyone who will compromise their soul through involvement with things that are contrary to God’s word. Psychics and those hosting familiar spirits are able to reveal details of family history and suchlike with great accuracy. But horoscopes, palmistry, tarot cards, ouija boards and so on are nothing but devilish counterfeits: nothing compared to the peace and security that we as believers can find in our relationship with God. An important part of our prophetic task is to turn people away from such things and to the water that truly satisfies. We are to exercise the gift of discernment, and steer ourselves and others well clear of all such practices and to pray deliverance for those who have had past involvement with them.

Fortune tellers, new age prophets and a host of others involved in cults and the occult declare insights that, strictly speaking, may be true but they are not helpful. The evil spirits recognised who Jesus was before the disciples did, but the Lord silenced their testimony.

1:6 The matter of timing
  Few things cause more confusion or need more careful handling than the matter of timing.  

The many biblical prophecies have multi-layered fulfilments, referring to specific events in the near future and then to far more distant ones - we were never meant to chart how all the details will work out. They are usually pointers, whose meaning becomes clear afterwards. Who, for instance, could have predicted the events of the Nativity from the references to Bethlehem in Micah 5? There is a warning here for those who try to predict the exact details of the end-time prophecies in the Bible. A fresh set of circumstances may have to develop before a prophecy can be fulfilled.

1.7 Levels of inspiration
  True prophecy is usually inspired proclamation concerning the character and majesty of God and the principles by which He works. Only occasionally does it take the form of specific commands or directives. Prophecy that is essentially God-sanctioned personal encouragement is entirely different from warnings, which if ignored can cause us to seriously miss the mark or even totally shipwreck. This calls for care and accountability. Whereas a word of encouragement can never do any harm, a wrongly given word of correction or so-called direction most certainly can. Much wisdom is required here.

Ponder words that you have received (either directly from the Lord or through others).

What ‘level of inspiration’ would you say they belonged to?


Pastors are enormously aware that a word, once spoken, has enormous power for good or ill. If something is said which does not prove to be correct, people may have considerable difficulty shrugging off the effects of this false word and may, as a result, be less willing to heed genuine prophecies in the future.
If we are sharing a prophetic word with someone, the manner in which we deliver it and the language we use can make all the difference to people accepting or rejecting it. David du Plessis' advice is to submit (rather than impose) a word of prophecy to someone for testing – and preferably in the presence of someone who knows them well. That way, if anything is shared which does not ring true, it is easier for them to shrug it off. They will also be more confident to accept an authentic word from God. This simple advice has helped to avoid much hole-in-the-corner foolishness.   The way in which we deliver words from the Lord can have enormous consequence.

Graham Cooke and others speak of the need to test ‘heavier’ words with the pastorate before speaking them out over a wider fellowship. This has the advantage of avoiding certain things being exposed in public at the wrong time or in the wrong way. It is the equivalent of an early warning system that saves people the heartache of having to cope with an invalid prophecy. On the down side, this approach removes the Body from the loop, and leaves all testing in the hands of those who are, hopefully, experienced in this field.

1.8 So where does the Bible say that then?
It is obviously important to stress that prophecies should be scriptural, but since many are of a personal, local or specific nature, they may not always have clear-cut precedents or parallels for them in the Bible.
  What we can say is that no true prophecy will ever contradict Scripture.  

It is significant that some of the world’s most powerful religions - Islam and Mormonism for example - had their origin in prophecies which purported to be from heaven, but which fail to pass the test of biblical standards. Above all, these religions deny the uniqueness and the divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

For Reflection

It is always wise to beware the grandiose! Suppose someone had come to Billy Graham when he was a few weeks old in the Lord and told him he would one day be leading countless thousands to Christ. The word would certainly have been correct, but would it have helped the young convert to focus on developing his walk with the Lord? Beware endless words that have lots of noughts on the end. All to often there is a high admixture of presumption and wishful thinking!

Here is a simple guiding principle. Be especially wary of anything that makes you out to be too special, especially if it also slags off other Christians. The scene is then set for seeds of division and disunity!

1.9 Praying prophetic visions into being
  The message they heard was of no value to them because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Hebrews 4:2)  

All too many Christians and churches through the centuries have shared the fate of the ancient Israelites. They had too much head knowledge of Christ but too little desire or ability to apply that knowledge by faith. As ‘partners’ with Him in the vision, it is important to sort out what only He can do, and what we should be doing. Prophecies of blessing need to be prayed through to fulfilment, just as warnings should be heeded in order to avoid judgement.
  For Reflection

The clearer we are in recognising what the Lord is asking us to do, the more passionately we should respond.

The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek ‘en theos’ – literally ‘in God’.

Most prophecies are best considered as being conditional rather than deterministic (automatically bound to happen). What are they conditional on? Our faithfulness, our obedience and sometimes our repentance. Jonah's doomsday words against Nineveh appeared to present the city with an inescapable ultimatum. But when the people repented, disaster was averted. 

Realistically, many visions are never fulfilled because people sit on words that need to be prayed into being. If we accept that a word is from God, we must be prepared to pay the price to pray what God desired into being. We are not called to sit and wait to see what happens, like Jonah sitting under his broom tree hoping against hope that God would zap Nineveh.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about trying to fulfil prophetic visions by our own efforts. Too many of us have tried that and come unstuck as a result. Ever seen a cat spring to catch a bird and miss? They put on a ‘I wasn’t really trying’ sort of expression and do their best to restore their composure! God’s promises can never be realised by our own efforts alone. But if we refuse to move in the direction that God is pointing us to, we can most certainly prevent His promises from being fulfilled. There is nothing worse than being an armchair critic who misses genuine opportunities that the Lord was quite prepared to grant had we only had the faith to step out as He was urging us to do.

2 ~ The Prophetic Imagination

2.1 The Imagination: God’s gift to us
Are you one of those people who pop back to the house as you set off on holiday to check if you really did turn the cooker off? If that’s you, then you may take a bit of convincing that the imagination really can be considered a blessing! Let me convince you by quoting what Hannah Hurnard has to say about the imagination – it may change your whole approach to it.
  Personally, I believe that far and away the best and most glorious and most blessed function of the imagination is to make it possible for the invisible and eternal things to become real to us . . . If we would but picture Him as vividly and as clearly as possible as He is revealed to us in the Gospels, and if we spoke to Him as we would if we actually saw Him, we would find all the unreality vanish away. Some people are honestly terrified of using their imaginations in connections with their faith in the Saviour ‘But it is a very dangerous thing to imagine things [they say]. Imaginary things are not real, we make them up ourselves.’

But of course when we pray we do nothing of the kind. For nothing is more sure and more attested to in the Scriptures than the fact that our Lord is actually present with us in some lovely and mysterious way, and therefore, we are meant to behave and to speak exactly as we would if we could see Him. We do not try to make Him present and real when we use our imagination, because He really is there, and when we happily and thankfully use this God-given faculty it simply makes the wonderful truth more real. Half the time those people who complain that spiritual things are so unreal to them, and that they cannot realize the Lord’s Presence, do not understand that is simply because they are afraid to accept and believe the glorious truth, that the Lord really is present with His people.

Nobody can pray drearily or despairingly to their Saviour, or think of Him as unreal, if they saw Him close beside Him. Through the eyes of our imagination, we may see Him, vividly and gloriously present. An imagination used as God means it to be used, in order to visualize true things described to us in the Scriptures, does indeed make us a soul ‘full of eyes, within and without.’ (Winged Life, pp 53-54)

For Reflection
  Harnessing the imagination is all about practising the presence of God. By living and acting ‘as if’ He were close to us, we can be assured of His real presence with us, however we may be feeling (cf. Heb 13:5).  

2.2 The prophetic draws out and releases new giftings
  ‘Greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world’  – and greater are God’s purposes than most of us we have yet perceived. Years ago, at university, I used to look at fellow students who had received certain spiritual gifts and wonder how it was possible for anyone to do all the things they were doing. The next stage of spiritual growth always seems impossible – but once God equips us it becomes a normal part of our walk with Him. Right from the start I made it my aim that I would do my best to listen to Him, even if I made a lot of mistakes in the process.  

I have seen people receive words promising them some new gift, and then watched as it began to operate immediately. The Lord told a friend of ours, who works in the media, that she was going to meet people who would develop an international dimension to her work. A few hours later she felt the Lord prompting her to tell someone she met on a train about her television work. The person turned out to work for Sky News and to have the precise skills she needed.

2.3 First steps in allowing ourselves to imagine

If you are one of those people, like so many sincere evangelicals, for whom the mere mention of the word ‘imagination’ is enough to make you wince you probably have excellent reasons for being wary. After all, so many of the imaginations of our hearts are a mixture of the self-deluded and the hopelessly impractical. Were God to grant our wilder requests, we would be the first to be dismayed a short time later.
Were God to grant our wilder requests, we would be the first to be dismayed!   God spoke in Noah’s day of all the imaginations of people’s hearts being evil , and He reminds us through Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful above everything else . Flick a switch, give an inch and there most of us are – only too willing to indulge fancies and fantasies that place us firmly centre-stage. We may dress up our ambitions in spiritual clothing, of course, but that only makes them all the more insidious.

But to suppose that all the thoughts of our imagination are so bad that God cannot speak to us is far too gloomy a picture. We must never allow the awareness of our sinfulness to loom larger in our thinking than the grace of God, and the delight it is to Him to lead His children.

If we are instinctively afraid of rocking the boat, or have had unfortunate experiences in the past, we may find ourselves inadvertently resisting the call of the Lord. When a person suggests a new or different way of doing something, all too many churches, organisations and institutions react with a backward defensive stonewalling. People look askance; fearing ‘what people would think,’ they change the subject and put the person who first brought the challenge firmly in their place. They are dismissed as being presumptuous or cocky.

Alternatively, people may use the excuse that the idea is a good one but the timing is wrong – or that it worked elsewhere but would not be suitable here. Even genuinely worthwhile ideas are dismissed out of hand, instead of being weighed, ‘customised’ and enthusiastically embraced.

The chances are that we will at some time face something like this. If Moses had heeded the ‘wisdom’ of his time, he would never have set out on his mission. After all, he was way beyond the conventional retirement age!  And how about Abraham’s call to father a son? Family Planning for the over Ninety’s?

How do you fare in this respect? When God gives you a new commission, are you inclined to take an initial step backwards into the supposed safety of the tried and tested? Or are you open to act on what God is showing you? In the Shetland Isles, where we live, people are researching alternative forms of energy by harnessing wind, wave and tidal power. Let’s make it our aim that the Lord will harness our imagination powerfully and effectively to discern gifts in people that are not yet outwardly visible, opportunities where doors are not yet open and wisdom where situations are currently deadlocked.

2.4 Enlarge the Place of your Tent (Isaiah 54:2)
  And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying,
‘Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory,
that Your hand would be with me,
and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’
So God granted him what he requested.
(1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJ)

Almost overnight, millions of Christians have begun praying what has become known as the ‘Prayer of Jabez’ after Bruce Wilkinson published his hugely successful book on the hitherto somewhat overlooked passage tucked away in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. It has almost reached the point where we could say, if you are not praying the prayer, then why not?! To pray to make a real impact and to have an increasing influence for the kingdom is an entirely worthy aim – and so very much richer than seeking our own self-aggrandisement! Praying Jabez’s prayer can help us to live prophetically by opening our hearts to God’s perspective – even if following His leading takes us into entirely uncharted territory.

I might make a Jabez prayer for this book along the lines of: Lord, I pray that these writings will stir peoples’ spirits – not just to grasp the salient points, but to experience real intimacy with You as You lead and direct their paths. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Try ‘crafting’ your own ‘Prayer of Jabez’ to match your particular situation. It will make an excellent platform from which to face each day.
  How utterly imaginative You are Lord!
Who but You would have chosen to act in the ways You have done
and through the people you have chosen?
Thank You that You are always at work –
always guarding, guiding, opening and closing doors.
Forgive our mistrust,
baptise our imaginations,
and grant us grace to follow Your leading.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

3 ~ Prophetic Wisdom

Some Bibles highlight the words the Lord Jesus spoke in red. No wonder. His words are the most important God has ever said to mankind. But don’t forget all the other Scriptures in which God speaks in the first person.

An in-depth study of the writings of the prophets will go a long way towards helping us see how we too can develop a truly prophetic outlook on life. Resist the temptation to skip over these prophetic oracles in search of more familiar pastures. They can bring us an immense awareness concerning God’s sovereign working and the response He is looking for from us. Even a lightning overview of some of the prophetic books will show us something of the Lord’s heart and ways and that is what this chapter is about. We are in for a treat!

3.1 Seeing and perceiving: The Sovereignty of God

The finest truths of Scripture are not placed together in convenient charts and graphs. They are more like pieces of buried treasure waiting to be discovered and put together. The prophets urge us to look beyond purely economic or military considerations and open our eyes to the God of first causes.
  An in-depth study of the writings of the prophets will go a long way towards helping us see how we can develop a truly prophetic outlook on life.  

It is supremely Isaiah who shows us the God of first causes, and who declares, ‘I am (this or that) and I will (do this or that)’. It is He, not economic or military might, who raises men up or who casts them down . Though Isaiah, in a sense, leads the charge in this respect, all prophets have a living understanding of the sovereignty of God. It was the Lord who brought Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Crete and the Syrians from Kir – just as it is He who delivered Israel from the tyranny of the Baals – and us from our own many scrapes! 

The more we immerse ourselves in the real world the prophets operated in, the easier we will find it to trust the God of the prophets in our own lives – whether concerning apparently irresolvable problems that we are facing, or in search of biblical parallels to contemporary situations that we are going through as a church or nation.

Before you read on, why not ask the Lord to deepen your understanding of the prophetic writings? It will help you to be on the same wavelength as ‘giants’ such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos. Don’t worry if your knowledge feels a bit patchy or threadbare – it is about to be extended!

3.2 The prophetic brings to life
All over the world, the Lord is drawing people into His presence and giving them visions of eternal realities and of the kingdom of God impacting the world today. And God uses those with special prophetic gifting to get us looking in the direction He would have us focus on.

The task that every prophet faces today, as Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the prophets faced, is how to set about convincing people to address issues that God is concerned about, but to which they are blind and deaf. Because these people have stood in the counsel of the Lord, they are well placed to understand the link between cause and effect and to explain His heart.

We have already looked at how prominently Isaiah viewed the sovereignty of God. Everywhere in his utterances we see that the Lord Himself is the underlying bulwark of all history (which, of course, is His story). It is here that we see God’s lordship over life and creation spelt out most clearly, in language that reaches sublime spiritual and poetic heights. If you read chapters 40 onward in the light of this thought, it can hardly fail to expand your perception of the sovereignty of God.

Or take the prophet Amos. How could he get the people of this day to see the danger their ways had brought them to? First things first, he had to get his hearers ‘on side’. The skilful (and no doubt popular) stratagem he used was to denounce the sins of the neighbouring nations. It would be rather like an Englishman pointing out the shortcomings of the French! But then the prophet pays out some rope and begins to address the sins of Judah. We are dealing now with the equivalent of Scotland or Wales – and his hearers are no longer certain whether to jeer or to start getting afraid!

3.3 The Blessings of Bad News
  Even God’s judgement is a mercy.  

Finally, Amos does what he was wise enough not to have done at the outset. He tightens the noose and springs the trap. Israel (or ‘England’ in our analogy) you are no better! You stand under judgement too!  The people had no leg left to stand on. Amos’ skilful tactics had sowed necessary doubts into the hearts of his complacent hearers, and now he could proceed with his message. God has no ‘favourites’. His judgement affects us in proportion to the light we have received. Have we have responded to the opportunities – and the warnings – that have come our way? Then we have little to fear. But if we have dodged issues and cut corners, we will find God saying to us what He said to ancient Israel.

Those who minister healing to the soul must do so with a pure heart; so too must those who bring challenges from the Most High. Amos, like his great successor Jeremiah, is living proof that we have no right to denounce the sins of others unless they are also prepared to weep and pray for them. In chapter 7 we find Amos pleading for his people. His prayer mitigates the severity of the judgement, but it cannot prevent it altogether. The sins of the people have reached too high a pitch. Judgement, in the form of a terrible earthquake, would still visit the nation. But in His mercy, God gave a glimpse of blessing beyond the shaking. Even when individuals, churches and nations are ‘levelled’ by God’s chastisement, they can rise again and serve Him with greater holiness and humility.

What can we learn from Amos’ seemingly roundabout approach to tackling really thorny issues? Prophets often prefer to hint at issues and to leave it to people’s conscience and intelligence to decide what to do next rather than spelling everything out in detail. At other times, hints are not enough and matters need to be spelt out plainly. Ask God to give you wisdom to know what God is saying in a particular situation and how to speak words of life into the challenge you face.

3.4 ‘Why aren’t You doing something, Lord?’ (Habakkuk)

Just as Amos’ intercession was unable to prevent the earthquake, from time to the Lord may warn us that certain outcomes are going to be immensely distressing. Let’s drop in on the prophet Habakkuk, who was working late at the office one night, pouring out his heart in complaint to the Lord about the violence that was so marring society (sound familiar?). The answer he received to his complaint was so surprising, and so disturbing that God had to go into overdrive to convince His prophet that the message he had received was genuine. The conversation went something like this:
  ‘Lord, things are in a terrible state. You’ve got to do something about it.’
‘I am, Habakkuk. But if I were to show you what I am about to do next, you wouldn’t believe it.’
‘Want to bet on it, Lord? Try me for size.’
‘All right then. I’m raising up the Babylonians to be the scourge of My people.’
‘What??? You wouldn’t do that, Lord. You’re far too holy to use evil people like that to fulfil Your purposes.’
‘I did warn you that you wouldn’t believe Me. But you need to take the message on board because that is what’s going to happen!’

What adjustments Habakkuk had to make! To his credit, he did get over his initial shock, and eventually worked his way through to a profound place of trust and acceptance, despite the horrors that were going to assail his nation.

Have you known times when the word of the Lord is as unwelcome to you as it was to Habakkuk? It happens from time to time. The quicker we accept what He says, and refuse to tinker and compromise, the wiser we will be – and the safer too! May we respond as well as Habakkuk did and continue to seek and praise the Lord even when there are no proverbial figs on our trees or cattle in our barns.

3.5 ‘The Weeping Prophet’ (Jeremiah)
  Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before He brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord's flock will be taken captive.
(Jeremiah 7:28; 13:15-17)

The book of Jeremiah portrays a sad epoch in the history of Judah. It also draws us intimately closer to the life and struggles of this heroic man than we get to any other of the other prophets. There was nothing easy about his calling. The Lord warned him from the outset that he would face opposition and even informed him that the people would not listen to him. He said much the same thing to Isaiah and Ezekiel.

Measured by our ideas of what constitutes success, which would presumably be the turning of the nation to the point where God could bless it rather than judge it, none of these prophets had any greater measure of success than their predecessors had done. But God does not judge by such standards. He calls us to wholeheartedly embrace the tasks He gives us to do, and to leave their outcome to Him. Is a saint who dies young on the mission field less of a success than the one who completes his three score years and ten in active service?

In the meantime, we must find ways to cope when people prove reluctant to hear the word that God has given. Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah all had to set their faces like flint to fulfil their calling, they guarded their hearts, for the most part, against bitterness and remained grief-stricken but compassionate towards the people’s stubbornness. They could see all too clearly that the people’s attitudes would lead the nation to suffering and captivity. It is not so different today.

3.6 ‘I am with you’ (Haggai)
Prophets stand in the courts of the Lord, and are given insight into why things are happening as they are.   By the time we reach the book of Haggai, we are into an entirely different scenario. This is a generation that has experienced judgement and exile - a nation who knows just how terrible it is when God calls time on sin. Any prophet speaking in these circumstances at least had the advantage that people believed that God could judge them. The trouble was, the pendulum had swung so far the other way: they had come to believe so much in God’s discipline that they no longer had much expectation left that they would ever know what it was to live again in the light of God’s pleasure. God may have miraculously moved to bring the first of the exiles back to Israel but their mindset was dominated by all the difficulties they set their eyes on: a ruined land, a crumbling infrastructure and a Temple that was just a pile of ruins.

But God, who had specifically taken His people into exile on account of their sins, wanted them to rebuild the nation. He didn’t want them to absorb the compromised spirit that prevailed amongst the people who still dwelt in the land. But the people were so discouraged and self-centred… How would God start to reach their hearts? Study the two short chapters of Haggai and you will be much the wiser.

Prophets stand in the courts of the Lord, and understand why certain things happen. They then have to find a way to communicate what they have learnt. They have to help people address the real reasons why things are as they are. Haggai’s questions are pithy and pertinent; they push through people’s weary self-centredness and force them to consider why their resources are drying up and why even their best intentions to rebuild the house of the Lord are proving so spectacularly unsuccessful.

The answer is simple. In their discouragement, the people had ended up looking after ‘number one’ rather than attempting the seemingly impossible and trying to redeem the nation for the Lord. It was time to reverse the pattern. If they would only put the Lord’s work first then their own needs would be met!

No sooner had the sorry truth begun to dawn on the people than the Lord hastened to reassure them that He would be with them in the days to come. To be sure, the task looked impossible, but if they were prepared to put their hand to the plough, His presence would be with them. That was it: the simplest of reassurances – but it was all it took to get the people trusting, hoping and working again. Almost overnight things turned round. Within an astonishingly short space of time the house of the Lord was rebuilt – and all because a prophet asked people the right questions and motivated them to start working again.

For Reflection

We will often come face to face with people who feel disheartened and discouraged. To kick-start faith’s engines back into action is a fine achievement! Ask the Lord to help you ask the right questions in the right way at the right time. Above all, it is His presence that rekindles hopes and releases His power. There is little more important than drawing these discouraged ones back into the Lord’s direct presence.

3.7 ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord’ (Zechariah)
  History is 'His Story'.  

God is into teams! When He raises up one, He often calls another to provide friendship and support. Two are better than one, and prophets work best when they are not obliged to ‘go it’ on their own. The succinctness of Haggai is matched by his better-known contemporary, Zechariah. His prophecies are a delight, revealing not just God’s hatred of sin so much as His heart for His people.

Zechariah encouraged the returning exiles that God was a ‘wall of fire’ about His people, and that He would do for them what they could not do for themselves. Countless times, as we face situations that are beyond our immediate resources, we will lift up our hearts and repeat the Lord’s promise to Zechariah: ‘not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.

Zechariah’s experience is more overtly ‘charismatic’ than Haggai. He talks with angels, receives numerous visions and ends with the finest overview of the end times in the Old Testament. Chapters such as Zechariah twelve to fourteen are key pointers to what God is doing in unfolding His purposes in history.

3.8 ‘I’ll ask the questions and you can answer them!’ (Malachi)

For our final example from the Minor Prophets, we will move on to consider Malachi. Here is another example of the message being more important than the man, about whom we know precisely nothing. But he, like his predecessors, had to find a way to communicate a fundamentally unpopular message to a people who would not want to hear it. The strategy this messenger of God hit upon was brilliantly imaginative. He envisaged an imaginary dialogue between the people, who thought they were all right as they were, and God, who thought otherwise.

With high drama, wisdom and insight, Malachi’s rhetorical questions stressed not only how much God loved His people, but revealed the extent to which the people had become smug and lukewarm. How easily this happens when we no longer face any immediate threat to drive us back to God!

In much the same way, the Lord Jesus asked questions of His hearers. With consummate skill He turned back on His interlocutors the issues with which they were using to try to trick Him. He pierced their delusions and drew them on beyond their prejudices to reveal eternal truths.

It is not only children who ask questions. It can only be right to ask the Lord for prophetic wisdom to know how to proceed when you are faced with challenging issues.

3. 9 Understanding God’s heart for Israel

Zechariah presents us with a stark overview of what will happen to Israel at the end of this age. To understand this, however, we need to understand how Scripture ‘works’. There are many today who claim that the Church has inherited all the promises God made for Israel. When they do this, however, they are highly selective in which promises they adopt. It is as though they claim that all the ‘good’ promises belong to the Church – but the ones that spell out warnings and judgements are left in Israel’s court! This is poor exegesis, to say the least. It makes me want to say: ‘Don’t play dodge ball with the Scriptures!’
Being ‘chosen’ involves special responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is also expected.   The fact is that there are more than seventy references to Israel in the New Testament. In all but one of these, it is unequivocally clear that Israel stands for the actual nation of Israel. To start substituting the one for the other has causes much needless error and confusion. People schooled in today’s even-handed approach may not like it very much, but God selected the Jews for much the same reason that He chose us: to be a demonstration to the world of what He can do through a small, stubborn and insignificant people. Israel is His first-born son; we, by grace, are ‘grafted in’ and have full citizens’ right in the kingdom of heaven because of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. But that does not necessarily mean that God has forgotten His first-born son. 

Understanding God’s heart for Israel opens up a whole new vista for our understanding of the world. What it must not let us do is become bigoted in any way. The Lord loves Palestinians as well as Jews – and Israel is every bit as susceptible to judgement as any other nation. Special ‘chosen-ness’ always implies special responsibilities in the Scripture: to whom much is given, much is expected.

The history of Israel in both Biblical and more recent times is a microcosm of God’s dealings with mankind. No wonder Paul tells us to consider both the mercy and severity of God . Zechariah shows us that the spirit of supplication that will be poured out on Israel comes at a time of intense national distress. At long last the nation will come to believe and open their hearts to the one who came to save them, not to be an elite nation but from their sins.

3.10 Understanding the Second Coming

A major part of the prophetic thrust in Scripture is to prepare people for the return of our Lord Jesus in glory. For every prophecy in the Old Testament that points to the coming of the Lord Jesus there are far more that speak of His return. If every a would-be prophet needs to be a student of the prophets, then every Christian needs to devote time and energy to the subject of the second coming. After all, this is what the whole of history is leading up to!

Don’t worry - I’m not going to go into huge detail chasing the weird and wonderful doctrines and ‘time lines’ that so many have put forward concerning the sequence of events in the end times! Studying the doctrines of a-millennialism, pre-millennialism raptures and post-millennial tribulation is useful up to a point but can distract us from daily discipleship.

It led David Pawson to declare himself a pan-millennialist – it will all pan out in the end! What will help our understanding of the prophetic ministry, however, is to look at Mark 13:4, where Jesus speaks about the end of the world. At first glance, the time-scale appears as confusing here as it does everywhere else. No wonder Peter warns that there sometimes millennia rather than minutes between a word and its fulfilment! 
  In prophetic utterances, time is often ‘telescoped’.  

The key is to realise that Jesus was actually looking at two events. When we understand that, everything else begins to make sense. Within this one chapter, Jesus foresaw the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and the end of the world and His return in glory to Planet Earth. Verses 18 and 29, for example, refer to AD 70, whereas verses 24 and 26 refer to the time of the end.

Not surprisingly, Jesus’ disciples found it hard to differentiate and sort out the two events. Why did Jesus speak in this way? Is it simply because, as so often with prophetic utterances, time is ‘telescoped?’ It is as though you look through a telescope and see the mountain peaks that stand up highest, but pass over the valleys in between. Thus AD70 was a critical event, the regathering of Israel as a nation was another such moment as, of course, will be Jesus’ final return to Earth. Jim Graham draws a helpful distinction when he speaks of the general future and the specific future. The general future refers to the fact that many people will be led astray in the last days – not just because they are taken up with pleasure-seeking but because they fall prey to perverse cults and deceptions. Minds will fall prey to delusions of all shapes and sizes even as hearts are thrown into turmoil and confusion by the world-shaking events that characterise the last days (vs. 5-8).

The gospel must be preached to all nations but this will happen against a backdrop of intense opposition. And let us bear in mind here that three languages out of four in the world today currently have no Scriptures available.

Verses 9-13 speak of a great persecution that will stem from both religious and political sources. It is heart-breaking when evil rulers hold sway over a nation. It is even worse when religious leaders oppose the work of the Spirit. The Pharisees, of all people, should have welcomed the Lord Jesus. Instead they resisted Him implacably. We find the same thing throughout church history. Those who are on the cutting edge of God’s Spirit come up amongst those who are unwilling to alter the established order of things. Even those who have been greatly used of God can prove hostile when God moves in new ways. How we need to keep our hearts humble and sour spirits attentive to what He is doing, so that we can stay on track with what the Lord is doing.

Hard though all this is to bear, verse 12 highlights the betrayal that comes from family members and those we thought were our friends and colleagues. This is the worst pressure of all. No wonder Jesus tells us emphatically to: ‘Stand firm to the end’ – a refrain that is taken up again throughout the book of Revelation.

Verses 14-23 take us back to a specific historical event: the dreadful destruction of Herod’s Temple, which occurred in AD 70. Jesus mentioned a specific sign that His followers were to watch for, so that they would leave the city before it was put to the sword. And this is precisely what happened nearly forty years after His prediction. When Jerusalem was besieged, the Roman troops retreated at one point to go in search of more supplies. Instead of being caught up in the general euphoria, the Christians used the interlude to leave the city. It is thought that there were no Christians left in Jerusalem when the Roman general Titus returned to the city and put it to the sword in a blaze of violence.

Jesus then went on to give simple pointers describing the general state of affairs in the world before His return. He also made it clear that His return will be highly visible. Nobody will be left in any doubt as to whether or not it has happened – a safeguard against the lunatic claims of so many cults that Jesus had already mentioned. In the phrase ‘If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would have survived’ we see the kindness of the Lord in saving us from truly intolerable suffering.

This is a splendid example of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘prophetic past tense’ – something we find from time to time in Scripture when an event is so certain to happen that it is described as if it had already happened. Although the date remains known only to the Father, this is not a conditional prophecy. It will undoubtedly happen, and it is right for us to live in such a way as to be always ready for His coming – and to echo in our hearts the longing of Christians through the ages by crying ‘Maranatha, Come, Lord, come!’

4 ~ Hidden Training

4.1 The training of a prophet is rigorous
  I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful . . . If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father's glory, that you bear much fruit. (John 15:1-2, 6-8)  

I am always interested in how God prepared His servants for their prophetic ministry. How many years, for example, from the moment Samuel informed David that he was going to be king for it to come to pass? More or less two decades! There is nothing in the least bit unusual in that. Receiving the call is only the starting point; it is the equivalent of kneeling down on the starter’s blocks in readiness for the race to begin.

God saw the potential in David, just as he does in us, affirmed it clearly by giving precious promises – and then began a spiritual training programme, the rigour of which matches that of the SAS. The strange thing about this training is that much of it appears to take us right away from the direction the Lord had called us to. The more we humble ourselves and yield to God, the sooner we will come through this process.

Look at Jacob, who was called and blessed but exiled and made to suffer for fourteen years at the hands of Laban, the harshest of masters. Or Joseph. How could this youngest son be elevated above his brothers? There simply was no way in a hierarchical society for Joseph to usurp the hereditary succession. God had a plan for doing so, but so convoluted and painful that one would scarcely have dared to script it for a film. It involved being betrayed by his brothers and being imprisoned for a prolonged period of time for a sin he had resisted rather than committed.

If the young Joseph strikes us as being on the brash side who exalted perhaps a little too much in the ‘great things’ that God had promised him, we find maturity in him later - when it really mattered. And we can trace the reasons for this maturity precisely to the things that he had suffered. Suffering either causes us to give up – or to grow bitter – or it develops the necessary steel in our character that will enable us to prosper in the ways of God.

If the reversal of Joseph’s future is a dramatic foreshadowing of the greatest miracle of all – the resurrection of Jesus from the Cross – then we should note that Jesus taught so much on the need for perseverance, precisely because what God asks of us is always bound to seem impossible at first sight. Giving birth to a vision requires great stamina!

If listening to the Lord were a natural part of our lives, the Church would do all it could to welcome the watchmen and gatekeepers the Lord raises up. Unfortunately, ‘because our sins are so many, and our hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac. The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Israel, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God.’

If Paul was made to suffer for his discernment, when he expelled the familiar spirit from the slave girl in Acts 16, we can take it for granted that we will suffer too when we challenge vested interests or error, whether in the Church or society. The opposition can be intense. Satan’s hordes are strong and tenacious – but they are as nothing compared with the host of heaven.

What visions are you in the midst of birthing? The Lord give you grace to persevere through the ‘pain gap’ until what He has promised comes to birth – and wisdom and discernment to know which battles are ours to fight.

4.2 God is careful in what He allows to come our way
  Bob Gass once made the profound and thought-provoking comment that ‘Jesus needed Judas as well as the beloved disciple John in order to fulfil His destiny!’  

If you have had a problem with a particular person or situation, have you noticed how God seems to send a similar person or situation into your life at a later date? It doesn’t mean that God has given up on us, merely that He is testing us to see if we are able to handle them in a godly way – and so He sends us a rerun. He would not have allowed these things to come our way if they had been too difficult. In God’s heart, there is grace for our failures but a realistic expectation of our success.

But hearing can be a delicate matter, and specific words that people say to us can cramp and block our spirits. A respected leader challenged a friend of mine: ‘How do you know the Lord speaks to you?’ The challenge may or may not have been well-intentioned, but the effects were devastating. Although the Lord continued to speak to her in the course of the day she found doubts creeping in, to the point where she lost the desire to sit with the Lord and ask Him what He was doing.

The Lord spoke to me about this. He showed me that it was a specific ‘mid-spectrum’ blockage in her ability to hear the Lord. It turned out to be part of a recurrent pattern. When she had been a teenager she had begun to minister in healing, but had stopped doing so after her best friend urged her to lay off ‘because it was so embarrassing.’ The Lord prompted me to ask about her birth. It turned out to have been traumatic and life-threatening. The ‘squeeze’ mirrored the spiritual clamping that had occurred and gave us a key to pray for renewed freedom in the Spirit.

God is careful in what He allows to come our way – but it will often take the eye of faith to see our circumstances in the light of God’s sovereignty when we are going though the mill. The Body of Christ is full of wounded healers, exhausted burden bearers and those whose confidence to listen has been severely dented by all manner of discouragements. Make no mistake about it: this is a central battle area.

4.3 Testing for idolatry
  Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1John 5:1)  

It is as well to be aware that the enemy is adept not only at using our weaknesses against us, but also turning our strengths against us. This is such an important issue that I feel the need to return to it. The enemy does not necessarily have to concoct new sins for us to fall into; he simply pushes buttons that expose and attack existing weaknesses in us. The devil’s aim is to get us to think, say or preferably do things that will get us into trouble – even to the point where God has to exercise a measure of judgement against us Himself.

The moment we begin to put anything, even the needs of others or our ministry, ahead of our relationship with the Lord we begin to lose our cutting edge. The trouble is, we have taught ourselves so effectively to say ‘the Lord comes first’ that we rarely recognise this process happening.
Judgement begins when discipline is ignored.   Try this simple test for where your heart loyalty lies. Given that the thing that most dominates our mind effectively runs the risk of taking God’s place, how would you feel if God were to ask for it (or that special person) back again? If you find that the thought provokes fear or anger, could it be that there is a potential idol in your life?

Because the Lord is a jealous God, He may need to take painful action, drastic even, in order to get us to refocus on what matters most to Him – the undivided devotion of our hearts. The more we yield willingly, the less painful we will find it. After all, it proceeds from His heart of love and is designed to refine and sharpen us, not so much to knock us out. Painful as it may be, it is born of the same passionate love for us that inspired Jesus to the cross and, as with the cross, it is for us, not against us.

4.4 Time Out: Sin Bins and Desert Zones
  If we do not respond to the discipline God sends our way, He has to send a larger dose of it. Isn’t this the way any parent disciplines a child?  

God sometimes has to pull us up short and sharp, because He sees that we are going to go badly off course if He does not. We cannot afford to be naïve or sentimental about this. If we are ever tempted to think that we are in some way so special to God that He would never have to discipline us then we are as foolishly deluded as the people in Micah’s day who thought that God would never deal with them that way. 

For Reflection

Judgement only begins when discipline is ignored. God is extra stringent with those who speak in His name and move in His authority. How can we minister if we are inwardly hungry for forbidden things? Or minister to brokenness, sorrow or of the pain of being rejected if we have known nothing of these things in our own lives?

If it takes serious humblings and major setbacks to bring us to a place of greater anointing, God is not squeamish. He will do all that it takes to make us men and women after His heart. The process is our qualification – not our note of dismissal.

Think how close Nineveh came to being judged. All because a certain prophet took exception to God’s clear command and ran away from his mission. God had more difficulty getting his reluctant prophet Jonah to go there in the first place than He did in convincing the citizens of that most hard-hearted of cities to repent before Him. But many of us argue and fight against His calling in just such ways.

Nebuchadnezzar spoke from first hand experience when he declared: ‘Those who walk in pride He is able to humble.’  How is God shaping and humbling you? Has He ever had to do to you something as drastic in its own way as what He did to Nebuchadnezzar? Only once? May we be flexible tools in His hands!

4.5 Prophets without Honour

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody appreciated the efforts we make on their behalf and the words and ideas that we bring? Trouble is, it doesn’t always work quite like that! Because we will often be called to challenge the status quo – to uproot and tear down as well as to build and to plant  we are sure to face misunderstanding and opposition. When this is through our insufficiently thought out plan or presentation, we deserve what comes our way. But the cost of bringing the ways of the Lord remains high.

Prophets see new ways of doing things, and make suggestions that threaten the way people have always done things. Which is easier, to embrace the new or to make life uncomfortable for the would-be prophet? When we have done all we can to minimise misunderstanding, and to explain most carefully what we believe God is saying, certain people may still prove unwilling to respond along the lines that God is ordaining. That is not our responsibility! We are answerable to God and must go on saying what God is saying, without fear or favour.
  When a prophet is deified, his message is lost. The prophet is only useful so long as he is stoned as a public nuisance, calling us to repentance, disturbing our comfortable routines, breaking our respectable idols and shattering our sacred conventions.
– A.G Gardener

4.6 The Matter of our Vindication

We have made it abundantly clear by now that prophets in training are in for a white-knuckle ride. A substantial percentage of us will experience nervous breakdowns at some point in the carrying out of our tasks and even end up being rejected by our church or organisation. What will enable us to continue when the going gets tough?
   A strong confidence in God’s call.
 A dogged refusal to allow a foothold to bitterness or cynicism in our hearts.
 A spirit of praise.
 A sense of humour.
 A least one sound friend who believes in us!

We must face a simple fact: people’s expectations of prophets and the prophetic ministry are often impossibly high. One departure from the high standard expected of us and people can be down on us like a ton of bricks. One reason for this is that people – not least pastors – are often subconsciously jealous of anyone who appears to have a closer walk with the Lord than they do and are quick to chastise any apparent inconsistency.

Nothing can stop people from saying the strangest things about us behind our backs. But if our attitude is gracious and forgiving, there is every possibility that many of them will eventually relent. Some may even become friends! In the meantime, we must pray for the Lord to make our hearts sharper rather than harder through the things that we suffer.

Many times I have known in my spirit that I am being spoken against. Sometimes the Lord has shown me who is doing this and has given me the grace to go and talk to the person or people concerned, which has sometimes served to clear the air. At other times there seems to be no alternative but to trust the Lord to be our ultimate vindication. Who said it would be easy?

For Reflection

Since the Lord often seems to lead us in ways that appear strange to the outsider (as well as to us!) we are wise if we leave the matter of our reputation firmly in the Lord's hands – especially if we are leaders!  The Lord alone vindicates our words and our calling. In the meantime, how do you guard your heart against feelings of self-pity when misunderstood or misrepresented? 
  Be careful not to build such strong walls around you to protect yourself that you inadvertently end up keeping both the Lord and His people at a distance.  

4.7 The way up is often the way down

I used to think it a tragedy that Watchman Nee, after years of fruitful sacrificial ministry, was thrown into a communist jail for nearly a quarter of a century and made to study Maoist doctrine. He was finally released only in order to go home and die. What a waste of twenty-five precious years. Or was it? All the time he was imprisoned, his writings were influencing countless Christians and sowing seeds from which there has been glorious ongoing revival.

God has designed it that we can only reach the place where we bring abundant life to others by going through some sort of a death experience ourselves first. ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies,’ Paul wrote, graphically illustrating Jesus’ teaching that it is only when the original seed dies that the real harvest comes.

If Joseph found that the way up often appears the way down, then so will we! It will feel at times as though God has forgotten all about His promises to us. But He has forgotten nothing. His eye is still on us. He will find ways to demonstrate His love and commitment, and to bring about the utterly impossible. Meantime, as we pass through our own ‘dungeon’ experiences, God trains us in spiritual warfare and teaches us new skills. We are not only not our own: we are bought at a price and we are being led by the Lord.

For Reflection

I believe that many of us have not progressed as far as we could with the Lord because we hold back at some point from yielding to His purposes. We are inclined to make bargains with Him. ‘If You will do this, then I will do that . . .’ We cannot afford any ‘no go’ areas in our life. It is poor discipleship that says, ‘I am willing to do anything and to go anywhere except ...’ Wisdom lies in letting the Lord have His way - unreservedly. He knows exactly what He is planning to do.
  Lord, the process of making such a complete surrender appears daunting, but what could be more foolish than to hold back on You when you have our very best interests at heart? You never take anything from our lives without putting something richer back in its place. May we be stripped of our inclination to doubt and to grumble whenever You call time on something that has meant a lot to us in the past. Thank you that you are always thinking of us, and always leading us on. Please complete the training programme that you have in mind and bring real breakthroughs as a result. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

5 ~ Thus saith the Lord
  Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
(1 Corinthians 14:3)

Here, in one short sentence, Paul summarises how the heart of God can be communicated to the people of God. Paul said, ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming’  Prophecy is all about putting courage into people.

5.1 A Burning Fire in our Hearts
  Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has My word speak it faithfully . . .
Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
(Jeremiah 23:29)

The word of God was burning so strongly in Jeremiah that he could not hold in, even though it would bring him repeated pain and rejection. At a less intense level, have you never felt your heart beating faster when the Lord is alerting you that He wants you to speak out? Fearful though you probably were, it was usually easier, and certainly far more satisfying, to give the word than to keep it in.
Father, help me not to be so impatient or over-excited that I miss the details of what you are saying about a situation. Give me grace to remain in Your presence, and not to go beyond what You are sharing.   Sometimes the leader of a meeting declares, ‘I sense God wants to speak’. How can they be so sure? Why are they spelling it out instead of just letting it happen? To impress people by how sensitive they are? Hopefully not. Rather they are declaring what God wants to do as a stimulus to encourage people who are ‘sitting’ on a word to speak it out.

We may be given just a short sentence, or a very simple picture, but that may be exactly what somebody needs to hear. It often happens that the Lord reveals to us just the gist of a message. It is sometimes best to ‘hold on’ to it for a few minutes to see if the details become clearer and stronger. At other times we have to speak out in faith, not knowing exactly what we are going to say. We need to be especially careful then that we are indeed being led by the Spirit of God, rather than carried along by the excitement of the moment.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to pull away from the Lord’s presence to share what He’s been saying with others. He may have something more to say to you! Here’s a way to picture it. It’s a bit like getting an e-mail from God, complete with title. ‘Great!’ you say, and promptly rush to tell people you’ve had an e-mail from God. But if you had waited a bit longer you could have read the main part of the e-mail that the Lord was wanting to share with you! Sharing too hastily might be rather like receiving the title of an e-mail and forwarding it on instead of waiting for the body of the text to arrive.

Pluck up courage and act on God’s promptings. As your words are accepted, so you will gradually come to have more confidence that God can and does indeed speak through you.

5.2 Drawing others in: Prophetic Etiquette and Courtesy

Being prophetic means getting away from the structured safety of having one man, or one team, in charge, with all slots, activities and spaces neatly accounted for and pre-programmed. For leaders to hand over to the Holy Spirit means trusting the people in their charge. The reality is that it may well not always work out well. The prophetic craft can be as messy as any other apprenticeship. Resist the temptation to retrench when things go wrong.
The prophetic craft can be as messy as any other apprenticeship. Resist the temptation to retrench when things go wrong.   Wise are the leaders who learn to sense when God is asking them to involve others and to stand aside. For example, you sense the Lord’s anointing on someone to contribute. Make a platform for them to share. If you are not entirely confident in their abilities, invite them to share a contribution rather than handing over the rest of the meeting to them!

Pray for opportunities to share words of blessing into people’s life, but in such a way that it will help them to grasp the positive and to deal with the negative without straying into flattery, condemnation or delusion. Encourage people to carefully test what you share. Likewise, take hold of words that have been given to you: weigh them first then weave them into the way you approach life. What’s the use of the Lord speaking if we do not take them on board and commit ourselves to what He has said? May all the Lord has spoken over you come to pass!

5.3 When people don’t want to hear
  These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!
(Isaiah 30:9-11; cf Jeremiah 7:28)

Isaiah’s listeners were prepared to listen to him – but only if the content of his message was trimmed to suit their own desires. Jeremiah’s hearers were more inclined to scoff. But prophets have to keep speaking God’s message faithfully. True, we may sometimes be able to shape what God has shown us (to find the best way to present it), but we can never afford to dilute it. Let’s face it: God wouldn’t be God if He didn’t show us home truths we are reluctant (or incapable) of seeing. What matters is how we respond.
Wisdom is knowing how best to package the message. It only becomes devious when people try to manipulate facts or emotions.   Wisdom is knowing what to do with the message God has given us. Deviousness is to try to manipulate crucial facts. Paul became all things to all men in order to win them for Christ  but he didn’t present another Christ in the process. His approach to the Athenians (who had no knowledge of the God of Israel) was very different to when he met the Bereans who were made up of orthodox Jews.  Paul deployed all his God-given wisdom to reach his hearers. Isn’t that precisely how the prophets sought to reach their audience?

We can lose our audience entirely by presenting matters one way, when another approach would have won their hearts. For example, much that we receive from the Lord can be introduced into prayer or conversation without necessarily being prefaced by a ‘Thus says the Lord’. But there are limits. To find God’s angle for sharing a message is sheer wisdom; to ‘doctor’ or dilute it in order to make the message – or the messenger - more acceptable ends up compromising the non-negotiable and misrepresenting the Lord altogether.

Neither are we wise to adopt a style that is simply ‘not us’ unless God clearly tells us to do so. When Billy Graham first went to Cambridge he switched from his normal style and tried to adopt an academic approach to present the Good News. When he met with little success, he reverted to his normal style of preaching - and far more students were won for the Kingdom!

There is nothing wrong with giving considerable thought to the matter of presentation and to study literary styles and other forms of communication. Many of these will become familiar and intuitive for us once we have grasped the principles that lie behind them. You may find my publication, ‘The Art of Creative Writing’ helpful in this respect.

5.4 Listening for Others: Crafted Prayer and Prophecy

Graham Cooke has recently published a series of short books including an excellent one on Crafted Prayer (Sovereign World). The concept of crafting a prayer about situations that we face, or for people who we care for, is an excellent one. I have adopted the model he used in a workshop in which he divides people into pairs (often with people who have never met before) to wait on the Lord for that person. As the Lord begins to speak, carefully record these insights and thought associations, but without saying anything to the other person. After a few minutes, work these ideas into a ‘crafted’ prayer for the person as if writing a letter back to God, asking Him to do the things that He has already told you He wants to do. Before you share this with them, however, go one stage further and turn it into a word as if it was coming directly from the Lord. That is, take time to share with the person both the prayer and the ‘prophecy’.

It may sound a somewhat mechanical and calculating approach – presumptuous even – but I have found this a most valuable way to help develop the word of the Lord. Certainly the first time I did this exercise, the Lord spoke to me clearly through the person praying for me. It has proved a consistently worthwhile tool to work with.

We can apply the concept of crafted prayer to complex subjects and topics as well as to individuals. Why not chose such a subject or a person and have a go?

5.5 The prophetic draws out and releases new giftings
  ‘Imagination is the greatest of all the gifts which God has given us. It makes us full of eyes, without and within.’ (Alexander Whyte)

‘One in the eye is worth two in the ear!’ (Boxing Manual)

People often assume that the prophetic ministry is primarily concerned with addressing people’s faults and failings. It would be nearer the mark to claim that it is even more about seeing the best in each other and finding ways to draw out these qualities in them. It is a wonderful gift to be able to see beyond a person’s sins and shortcomings to see their deep heart longing to be different and better. True prophecy strengthens and treasures what people can become in Christ rather than just what they are.
  God sees over the horizon. He wants us to be able to discern giftings and callings that are not yet visible to the naked eye.  

When the Lord called Gideon a ‘mighty warrior’, it hardly sounded like an objective comment, least of all to Gideon himself. But God saw what Gideon could become and spoke it into being. The Lord sees potential where we see only weaknesses – the oak tree that the little acorn will become. The prophetic addresses the treasure that God has placed within people, things that they themselves may be entirely unaware of. His words release us into an entirely new level of confidence and sphere of anointing to do things that would previously have been completely beyond us.

What a privilege to be, as it were, embarked on a glorious treasure hunt to identify and help release God’s gifts and blessings into people’s lives.

The Lord is always looking for people to raise up and promote. Just before our first wider prayer conference, our pianist fell ill. Everybody we invited to replace him was unavailable. I was really upset! Walking in town the day before the conference was due to begin, I bumped into someone who had been part of a group I had led. When I asked him why he had come a day early, he replied that he had felt prompted to come and offer his services as a pianist. I had no idea he even played the piano! As we watched him leading worship the following evening, someone had clear discernment that this marked the beginning of a wider ministry for him. The whole conference was greatly enriched because the pianist had waited on the Lord and received instructions to come early. Sure enough, his ministry has long since gone from strength to strength.

Elijah's final commission was a truly prophetic action: to appoint a young farmer called Elisha as his own successor. Whereas Saul had hounded David, his potential successor, at the point of his spear, Elijah would do everything he could to develop the ministry of his young apprentice. The contrast between Elijah's nurturing spirit and King Saul's insane jealousy could hardly be greater. Any church or organisation that is failing to plan ahead to raise up its successors is lacking in its vision. The Lord is always thinking of the next generation. Who are you reaching out to mentor or be mentored by?

5:6 The prophetic enables us to discern strongholds

Just as we are to see potential in people, so the Lord also wants us to uncover the roots of historical and spiritual blockages. In the wings of the political and social stage today lurk many dangers and wrong practices the Lord would want to alert some of us to

When there was prolonged famine in Israel, David sought the Lord. It was revealed to him that it was due to the Israelites’ violation of their promise to spare the Gibeonites. Not until this had been atoned for did God again answer prayer on behalf of the land. Coverdale delightfully translates this last verse ‘God was again at one with the land’ – the true meaning of at-one-ment.

It is important to realise that ‘ordinary’ prayer would not have been sufficient in this instance to end the famine. Why? Because there was an underlying cause which needed to be brought to light and attended to. Prophetic insight should therefore be a natural part of our prayer. So many of our prayer meetings concentrate on what has already happened. We rush to prayer action-stations in response to some trouble or need, rather like a fire-brigade racing off to put out a fire. Prevention is better than cure!

When God judged Judah through Nebuchadnezzar after nearly forty years of warning from the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord declared that it was primarily for the sins Manasseh had let loose in the nation that the nation was being judged. But Manasseh had lived nearly a hundred years before! What’s more, the sins of Manasseh’s day, had, to some extent, been reformed under King Josiah. In the Lord’s eyes, the repentance had clearly been insufficient. Jerusalem fell, and the people went into exile.

Before we translate this scenario into a contemporary setting, and complain that it wouldn’t be fair for us to be judged today for something that was done at the turn of the last century, it is important to grasp that it is not for isolated misdemeanours but for accumulated sins that nations are judged – ‘for three sins, even for four’, as Amos puts it. Our own society may have long since left behind the worst excesses of the appalling working conditions that prevailed in the mines and factories of the Victorian era, but has it really repented of the grasping, exploiting attitudes that lay behind these outward social ills? The evidence is clearly against it. And the Bible tells us that we reap what we sow.

The good news is that nothing here is fatalistic. As a nation Britain sowed the wind through the unspeakable atrocities of the slave trade. Many years ago the Lord led intercessors to pray for the cities which had been at the heart of the slave trade and which, at the time, were showing signs of acute racial unrest: Bristol, London and Liverpool. We believe the Lord has answered prayer and is bringing new life to these cities despite the guilty past. God is in the business of redeeming. Prophets like Martin Scott and many others are working hard on praying for bad roots to be removed and the power of God to visit our physically affluent but spiritually needy communities.
  Lord, grant us Your discernment concerning the events of our times, to recognise real dangers and to respond as You call us to pray. May we play our part in the spiritual war to save our nations. Continue Your work of training those with prophetic giftings in secret places in preparation for the day when the Church will again be ready to receive Your clear directives. May Your voice be heard, Your insights be received, Your people be willing to turn from their own interests and comforts to pray for Your will to be done – and Your ways be followed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

6 ~ And all the people replied . . .
  Do not quench [put out] the Spirit's fire;
do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything.
Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.
(1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

So you’re pretty sure you’ve heard God say something to you? That’s great! The next stage of the process is to know what to do with what you’ve heard.

6.1 What next?
  Knowing what to do with what we hear is a separate art from receiving it in the first place  

Some churches are so unfamiliar with the whole dimension of prophecy that they do not know how to respond. In all too many other cases God’s words are not taken seriously enough for a rather different reason: they come so thick and fast that there is no mechanism for pondering them. We hear and accept His words and yet would be hard pushed to remember them only a few hours or a few days later. We are not unlike the people of Ezekiel’s day who heard the prophet’s words, approved of them wholeheartedly, but did nothing to change their way of life. 

The flesh may scream that we should share some word that we have just received now (after all, it gives us a certain kudos to be able to present such a powerful word!) but the wiser course of action is often to wait. Many of the words the Lord gives us can be written down, tested and presented later when we have had time to see what else the Lord wanted to say about the matter in hand.

All this points to a huge need to record prophecy carefully and to weigh it properly. God wants us to take the key promises and messages that He sends us seriously. These will come in different forms – Bible passages, specific prophecies, or illustrations that we hear which we recognise as having a specific relevance for us. We need to meditate on what God gives us, and let its message reach right down into the depths of our hearts. And then, having pondered its relevance for us as individuals or as a wider grouping, we must look to see it outworked – without falling into the trap of trying to bring the vision to pass by our own efforts. God will bring it about in His way and in His time, but it is right that we pray and work towards it.
Sometimes God says things just because He wants to! Not everything needs to be spoken out or even prayed about. Some things, it seems, are just God sharing His heart because He wants to.

6.2 The Fitting Forum
  Lord, help us to remember to ask You to show us the right forum in which to share the words You give us. Amen.  

Sometimes the Lord uses a particular meeting as a window of opportunity in which to release a word in our hearts but that does not automatically make it the right forum in which to share the word. If it is always right for our first question to be what are You saying, Lord, our second should be when and how do You want us to pass this word on to others? Should I speak it now? Does something else need to happen first?

Christine Larkin shared how the Lord gave her a word one January about something bad that was going to happen in the autumn. She did not say anything at the time because it might have induced fear. After the bad thing had happened, however, she was able to share it – not as a prophetic word about what would happen in the future but, as God had intended all along that it should be a message of comfort in a difficult time.

Have you known times when God has shown you something that is best kept in prayer between yourself and God? That is something we should increasingly expect as the ‘overflow’ of our intimacy with the Lord. At other times our best course of action is to take what we have been shown to our leaders rather than to share the matter immediately with all and sundry. To share certain warnings in public might excite fear or gossip. If the prophetic and pastoral are working together in tandem, we can leave it to the discretion of the leaders how they respond to what God has said.

It is always worth remembering that what we are given are only ever partial words or understandings about people and situations. They may not even make any sense to us, but if we pass them on with as much accuracy, love and wisdom as possible (resisting the temptation to elaborate or exaggerate what God has said) we will often delight to discover that these insights give a great deal of strength and confirmation.

6.3 Let no word fall to the ground
Prophecy comes to the whole church. The responsibility for recognising that the Spirit of the Lord is speaking, and for acting on the word given, lies with the leaders of the meeting, who are acting on behalf of the whole Church. Some churches delegate this initial testing to those who have shown themselves to be particularly gifted in this realm: a prophetic team in other words. This is an excellent idea – so long as this prophetic team does not ‘stifle’ contributions from other people by approving each other’s words and frowning on anything that comes from a different quarter.

If we fail to test prophecies, we are actually failing to do what the Lord has charged us to do. I have seen churches warned through prophecy of dangers which they have refused to face up to, just as Saul did not heed Samuel’s rebuke and was ultimately rejected by God as king over Israel.  ‘If you will not listen I will weep in secret because of your pride,’ the prophet says.  There are always serious consequences when societies, professions, cultures and individuals do not heed God’s wisdom.

For Reflection

Taking the word of God seriously means finding ways to ponder it, distribute it and then to pray it into being. Would the Lord show you some way of improving this vital aspect of the prophetic ministry? How do you and your fellowship test words, personally and corporately?
  Father, may we run with the specific promises and directives You have given us, and not be swayed by that which is best left to one side. Help us to tell the difference!
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

6:4 Hold fast to that which is good

Leaders must be free to do as they think right with a prophecy. If they are happy with it, they can release it to the wider body. If they do not feel comfortable with it, the kindest, as well as the wisest, thing to do is to spend time with the person who gave the word, explaining why they do not feel able to release it wider. After all, the person concerned probably required considerable courage to share it in the first place. Loving feedback will help them grow and develop in their gift. It is nonsense to think we can learn to prophesy accurately overnight. But prophetic skills can be refined and, to a considerable extent, taught.

We saw earlier that prophets are the eyes of the Church. Blessed are the pastors and leaders who make room for that gift – and who stand by people who sometimes ‘run out of words’, or who ‘continue beyond their anointing,’ and make inevitable mistakes as they develop their ministry. At the same time, leaders must be on hand to reassure the fellowship by preventing false words from being acted on.

If Paul tells us specifically to hold fast to that which is good , the implication is that there will be other parts that are not worth holding on to. There have been times when people have ‘dumped’ on us words that owe more to their particular outlook on life (or to wishful thinking) than to the authentic word of the Lord. If we can identify these ‘words’ for being what they are – something much less than a full-blown word of the Lord - they will not do much harm. But that is a big ‘if’. It requires considerable courage to affirm that they are not right. We are right to be cautious of rejecting a genuine word of God, even whilst needing to guard against the spurious.

Sometimes it is even more complicated. For example, the spirit behind the word may be sound, even if certain aspects of the prophecy stray beyond the anointing. If so, we are wise to separate out the over optimistic without dismissing the whole thing.

6.5 Grace to step out

In change management theory, certain types of people are seen as facilitators whilst others are resistors. So much will never come to pass as long as people resist the Spirit’s leading and refuse to step out.

Jackie Pullinger highlights our fear and our reluctance in the whole realm of listening to God by pointing out that when a tongue is given in a meeting, almost everybody immediately begins to pray for somebody else to be given the interpretation! Many of us have held back in such ways and as a result have not developed the gift that the Lord has given us.

At the end of the day, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Not everyone will embrace the leading of the Lord. May the Lord show us how to create a nurturing environment that will enable as many people as possible to respond to what He is saying. May the Lord grant us courage first to listen, and then to act on what He is showing us.

6.6 The spirit of the prophet is subject to the control of the prophet

In the final analysis, the way a word is given is less important than its anointing and content. After all, we have less than no idea of the immediate context in which many of the Biblical prophecies were given. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for being unnecessarily wacky. Years ago I heard a tongue being spoken (shouted would be a more accurate description) in a Pentecostal church in London. On and on it went, becoming increasingly intense and urgent. I waited with baited breath for the interpretation, feeling sure that at the very least the Lord was warning us that the building was on fire, or that Doomsday had come. The interpretation, no less enthusiastically declaimed, assured us that the Lord loved us, and that it was a good thing to read our Bibles! Why did she need to shout?
It is God who has given us our unique character and personality,. He delights to express something of His own heart through them.   A cursory glance at prophecy in the Old Testament might make us think that it is normal for the Lord to speak in a didactic, authoritative manner. If so, the temptation will be for us to assume that we are likewise merely to become ‘voice channels’ for the word of the Lord when we prophesy. I prefer to think that most prophecy is an overflowing of the wisdom and compassion of our Heavenly Father than a command to do this or to do that. Neither are we ‘taken over’ by the voice of God, as mediums are in seances. It is God who gives us our unique character and personality, and He delights to express something of His own heart through them.

One important principle to bear in mind is that God does not force Himself on people. True prophecy never takes away a person’s free will. But there is an enormous risk of manipulation and control when prophecy takes a directive nature.

I always feel uneasy when I hear directive prayer or prophecy – that is people telling for x to do y. As leaders, we should not permit such prayers or prophecies to go unchecked. There are enough insecure and unscrupulous power and position-seeking believers who are willing to use and abuse the prophetic ministry in order to manipulate and control people for their own ends. All this borders on witchcraft. Why? Because it imposes someone else’s agenda onto others and brings them effectively into the orbit of the person who had the word.

Father, may our words and our service draw people closer to the Lord Jesus, rather than into our own orbit. Soften our hearts so that You can reveal more and more of Your heart to people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

6.7 Shadow Boxing

The Lord loves to give specific gifts and ministries to His people. Unfortunately, as we hinted above, the prophetic ministry by its very nature attracts a certain percentage of insecure people who are looking for a niche and a platform to make them feel wanted and special. Fluent in prayer and prophecy, such people often appear to have a ready answer for everything – but their words and attitudes are less convincing. Discerning people suspect that there is a ‘gap’ between the words and the person’s own lifestyle – and that, in turn, makes them question the words.

‘Superspiritual’ men and women, by contrast, are caricatured by their words and promises. They endlessly concoct theories and shape verses from the Bible to support their fascinating if misguided prophecies – but where is the fruit in their ministries? Such people’s fervent exhortations to ‘trust the Lord!’ are undergirded by much exhortation but little identification with where other people are really at. They do not easily weep with those who are weeping, because they feel that faith does away with the need to weep!
  The name of Jesus is no open sesame into the supernatural world!  

Insincere or immature prophets were clearly a problem in the early Church. Jesus warned His disciples frequently about false prophets. He said that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Wolves have a ferocious and a potentially dangerous appetite - and so do Christians who are out to make a name for themselves. We have spoken already about words that ‘tie’ people to themselves. Characteristically, immature or ‘soulish’ prophets display a profound self-centredness in all they say and do. If such people are unwilling for their words to be tested, it may be better for them not to prophesy at all.

There have always been those prepared to use the name of Jesus as a cover for pursuing their magical arts. Even in the hey-day of the Celtic church many inadequately converted druids became priests because they saw in the priesthood their best way to retain their hold over people who were shrugging off the old pagan ways. No wonder the Lord hates all such ‘religious’ ways – but loves those who seek Him with all their hearts.

When the sons of Sceva attempted to ‘use’ the name of Jesus in their exorcisms, they found themselves in real danger. The demon they were trying to exorcise turned and attacked them violently, forcing them to make a highly undignified exit from the house – stark naked and severely wounded. The name of Jesus is no open sesame into the supernatural world!

The sons of Sceva would not be blessed to know that they have become an object lesson in how not to do it! Their ‘playing around’ with spiritual forces they did not understand did not prevent the Lord from working in power. Many made a clean break with their pagan past, and publicly burned their magical scrolls and regalia in order to demonstrate that they were severing all ties with their occult past and were now following the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Lord, we ask that You will show us where we are being held back by any of these tendencies. Set us free in Jesus’ name to minister in the power of Your name, Amen.

6.8 Renounce all occult links
  The Lord warned the Israelites: ‘I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.’  

Some people appear to assume that ‘discernment of spirits’ refers primarily (even exclusively) to spotting what the enemy is up to. This is far too narrow and negative an approach. Leanne Payne reminds us that we are not called to be demon spotters (like grown up train spotters!) – we are called to be God seekers.

Nevertheless, the spirit world needs careful handling. I have known times when a person has brought words, which, on the face of it, seem to be uncannily accurate. On reflection, we have realised that their ‘discernment’ was mixed actually with divination – the ability to know or to predict things by means other than the Spirit of God.

If you have dabbled in any such activity as reading tarot cards, playing with ouija boards, consulting palms, tea leaves, attending séances, taking horoscopes seriously, ancestor worship and many such things, you will find spiritual confusion dogging your steps until you are cut off through repentance and prayer. (This is something that is best done in the company of people who know what they are doing). It is the same for people who have been involved in such things as Freemasonry, yoga, transcendental meditation, the Bahai faith and many other cults and -isms.

For Reflection
  There are many ways we can test the direction of a person’s heart and hence the words that they bring. Before we turn to examine a few of these, let’s do some ‘spring-cleaning’ in our own hearts. Can we discern any tendency towards controlling others? Any ‘superspiritual’ attitudes? How about any involvement with the occult, either in your own life or in your family line?  

6.9 The Shepherd leads but the butcher drives

When we sense an urgent prompting in our spirit, we must discern between God’s leading and the enemy’s compulsive urges and distracting tactics. A helpful principle to bear in mind is that ‘The shepherd leads but the butcher drives’. It is only practice that enables us to distinguish the still small voice of the Spirit from the flurry of signals that assail our mind. As always, it is important to check what you think you have heard with other Christians.

6:10 In Tandem or in Tension? Pastors and Prophets

Prophets are invaluable in helping the Church to find the best way forward. Their words stir people into action, break up the unploughed ground and shatter complacent attitudes. Blessed is the church which knows how to harness and encourage the talents that already exist in its midst. But prophets work best in teams! Haggai and Zechariah, for example, were doubly effective because they brought the same message to their generation in different ways, almost, as it were, in stereo. The apostle Paul, likewise, was no lone ranger. Have you noticed that he starts his letters with vigorous endorsements of his co-workers: Silas, Barnabas, Titus and others?

How does this work out with the rest of the Church? Kenny Borthwick once gave a talk entitled 'Can prophets and pastors be friends?' They most certainly should be, yet times without number, the prophetic ministry finds itself in tension rather than in tandem with the pastoral team. This is so common an experience that it needs unpacking.
Prophets and pastors are clearly designated in Scripture as being separate roles, but when they work in tandem it is so much more creative. Human nature being what it is, such diversity is not infrequently perceived more as a threat than as an asset. The pastor, by his very nature, is concerned to protect his flock. Prophets, on the other hand, are eager to bring to the Church whatever challenge, correction or encouragement they have heard in the Father's presence.

Almost by definition, pastoral leadership can incline towards playing safe. The blockage comes when efforts to keep everybody in step together inadvertently keep the lid on the things that God is longing to release! Where the Spirit is directing our attention towards some particular need, or towards some new emphasis, "the planned agenda," can make it extremely difficult for His voice to be heard and acted on. It is as though the Holy Spirit advances, knocks and waits, but then is obliged to tip-toe away - grieving.
  How wonderful it is when leadership is open and sensitive enough to discern where the Lord is leading, and to make room for the people and strategies that God has in mind. If that means occasionally foregoing the preaching or some other part of the service because the Lord is leading so clearly in another direction, then so be it.  

Prophets see over the horizon and in that sense are 'ahead' of other peoples' understanding. Pastors have then to implement what has been seen in the heavenly places 'at ground level'. Churches led only by pastors tend to be on the slow side, whereas churches led by prophets tend to race away without necessarily paying enough attention to foundational issues. The Scriptures do not say 'God appointed in the church first pastors, then pastors, with a handful of elders and deacons thrown in for good measure!' No, it says that God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets and third teachers. It is this mixture of the prophetic and the pastoral that achieves something far more interesting, and which makes room for evangelists, those with healing gifts, workers of miracles and other callings to find their feet and spread their wings.
There is often an overlap between the roles of course. By virtue of their intimacy with the Lord, prophets often play a useful role in the pastoral life of the Church, often being looked on as mother and father figures to whom people can turn in times of trouble. The fact remains, however, that there is a necessary tension between the two callings. Pastors have to be aware that their desire to safeguard the flock may tempt them to brush aside the prophet's call for change.

When prophets end up isolated and mistrusted, it causes enormous grief and frustration to the prophet as well as loss to the Body of Christ. When the 'eyes' of the Church show us the best way forward and we refuse to alter course we can get into considerable trouble (as individuals or as churches. When we are finally convinced that we need to do something about it, there is almost always tension between those who want to adopt the new approach (which will often involve going back to the fork in the road where we failed to take the new turning) and those who insist on ploughing on in the same direction, hoping that things will turn out all right in the end.

Great wisdom is needed at this point. If we give in to the objections of those who want to go at the pace of the slowest (and so maintain the status quo), we will never reach the place God had in mind for us.

Most prophets are, and need to be, first and foremost intercessors. They need solitude to wait on the Lord and to pray through the implications of their calling. But recognising this need to be apart with God is in no way a licence for individualism. John and Paula Sandford illustrate this helpfully in their perceptive book The Elijah Task (Logos). They show that often when the Church has reached a point of celebration, the prophets are already crying out for it to move on in new and deeper ways. Conversely, when it is bemoaning its powerlessness (and being led into times of deep repentance) they will be rejoicing at such an obvious sign of grace. But even though the nature of their calling may sometimes cause them to remain somewhat detached from it, prophets must be submitted within the Church or organisation because they are only fully effective when they are working in close co-operation with the other ministries of the Church.

For Reflection
  Prophets see visions and stir up the troops. Pastors (and other leaders) are ultimately the ones who have to implement the prophetic vision. Which category do you instinctively lean toward? If it is a mixture of the two, in what ways does this express itself?  

6.11 Handling directive words

We are on safe ground if we say that prophecy serves to confirm us in some course of action rather than to direct us to something entirely new. But would it have occurred to Noah to build an ark, or for Elijah to go and confront Ahab in Naboth's garden? David, likewise, would never have left his stronghold and gone into the land of Judah, had not the word of the Lord summoned him to do so through the prophet Gad. Neither would the believers in Antioch have sent special gifts to their brothers in Judea had they not been warned through prophecy of a forthcoming time of scarcity.  To say that prophecy must always be of a confirmatory nature, however, is to be less than faithful to the biblical picture.

There have been documented occasions when God has spoken through prophecy to individuals and even to nations. Armenian Christians, for instance, were warned at the turn of this century through a prophecy to flee to America. Those who did were singularly blessed; those who did not were brutally murdered during the Turkish massacre of 1913. Demos Shakarian, who founded the Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship, was one of those survivors – and how much fruit his vision has borne!

We ourselves have benefited from such directive words of God. While we were living as newly-weds in a flat, a friend told us that the Lord had impressed on him that we should go and buy ourselves a house. Largely because we were living by faith, I had supposed that we would never be able to obtain a mortgage. Spurred on by this word, we not only found a suitable house, but were led to one specific building society. The manager turned out to be an 'on-fire' Christian, who had read one of my books, and who was only too willing to help us secure a house. A few weeks after we left, the landlord of the flat we had been renting died, which might have led to all manner of complications. We can never thank God enough for getting us into the housing market in the way that he did.

It cannot be overstated how careful we must be, however, in handling ‘directive’ words. Suppose that someone comes to us, claiming that the Lord has told them that we are to follow some specific course of action that had not previously crossed our mind. We should be very wary of accepting their advice and basing our decisions solely on this one piece of 'guidance', unless the Lord was already pointing us in this direction – in which case He will undoubtedly confirm it in a variety of ways.
  May we share with you how, seventeen years after buying our first house, the Lord brought us another ‘directive’ word? A couple we had never met before, but whose spirit was manifestly in tune with the Lord’s, brought us this course-directing word a few years ago: ‘Your life has been proceeding in one direction, but it is now about to take a complete 90 degree turn.’

How were we to handle such a challenging (but imprecise) word? To be told that we were about to embark on a completely new direction but with no indication whatsoever of what that change might involve sounds, on the face of it just the sort of vagueness the enemy thrives on. But this was a word from God! We shared it with our fellow trustees as a matter of accountability but then left it with the Lord to see if other indications emerged that would point in some new direction.

They did! A few months later, the opportunities opened up totally unexpectedly to explore the possibility of moving to Shetland. The word had served to ‘break up the unploughed ground,’ so that our hearts were prepared. But there was an additional word: the instruction that we would have to ‘set our faces like flint’ was a warning that it wasn’t going to be easy to uproot ourselves from the heart of family, church and community.

I am so glad the Lord warned us ahead of time. The emotional upheaval involved in departing was very high, and words such as this made all the difference as we catapulted into a complete lifestyle change. To stress the point again, the word was valuable precisely because it proved to be one of several strands of confirmation. In other words, we did not base everything we did on it.

In both cases, the Lord spoke so clearly to us because He was leading us to attempt something of such magnitude that we would, in all probability, not have felt able even to contemplate it without such clear guidance. We needed the help of such directive words for our faith to reach take-off point.

7~ It makes sense to test!
  Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4)  

How are we to evaluate prophetic utterances? Our lives, as well as our words, must testify that God is with us. If we are putting anything else in the place of God (our pleasures, desires, relationships or money) we should beware: the fire of God will ultimately consume these things. The more deeply we have surrendered them to Christ and are living in the spirit of repentance, the less likely our words are to be tinged with personal bias or tainted by our fears and desires.

7.1 Words have power when there is a holy person behind them

Why is it that some ‘godly’ folks inspire us while others turn us off? Suppose you are having a specific difficulty and go to someone for help. You start by saying, ‘I’m really having difficulty trusting the Lord over this issue.’ They look at you pityingly and reply, ‘Just trust the Lord, brother!’ It makes you feel as though you have been rapped on the knuckles and kicked in the shins!

Then you go to a kinder and wiser person and tell them the same thing, that you are really having difficulty trusting the Lord over some issue. To your surprise they give you precisely the same answer. ‘Hmm. Just trust the Lord, brother.’ The effect, however, is completely different. Whereas the first person made you feel half a metre small, the second brings a deep reassurance and makes you feel secure that God is in control.

In the moment between you sharing and their replying you sensed that they were hearing from God as well as from you. They had taken the matter to the Lord, and He had reassured them so that they could reassure us. Your spirit began to kindle and your faith to rise. It was the character of the person that made the difference: their love, their brokenness, their integrity and their closeness to God.

For Reflection
  To illustrate how important this dimension of our character is, close your eyes and think back to your earliest teachers at school. Bless their memory as they come to mind.

Of all the thousands of words these people must have spoken in your hearing every day, how many can you remember now? In all probability, very few. But the impression of how the person was is quite possibly engraved in the deepest memory vaults of your mind. For better or for worse these people helped to shape your life.

Now do the same with certain Christians who have helped or hindered you at key moments of your pilgrimage. Again, you will be able to see how these people’s words had the power that they did because of the character that lay behind them.

Father, please work in us in such a way that we bring Your presence close to other people. May it be that when people rub up against us that they hear an authentic rather than a hollow sound. May our heart be at one with the Lord’s rather than at war with ourselves or with anyone else. Do whatever it takes to make us truly infectious for You. In Jesus’ name.

7:2 Consider carefully how you listen (Luke 8:18)
  How affirming it is when we meet people who really ‘listen’ to us! It makes us feel special – that we are needed and heeded.  

The old version of the verse quoted above tells us to: ‘Take care how you heed.’ This emphasis on ‘heeding’ perfectly balances the idea of consulting the Lord and watching carefully what we do. It reminds me of to ‘hearken’ - which is an old world for listening. ‘Hearkening’ contains the concept of obedience as well as listening. To heed and to hearken – is that not the culmination of the principle we stated earlier: ‘Consult before acting?’

God does not specifically promise in Scripture to speak to us about every issue that we face. He does promise to warn us when we are in danger of going off course, however. You can probably think of times when the Lord most emphatically did speak to you – shout even. That is when His promise cuts in: ‘Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way: walk in it.”’

Over the years, I must have met a dozen women who have told me that in the moment of walking down the aisle they knew that they were about to marry the wrong person. I do not for one moment believe that the Lord waited until that most vulnerable of moments to give them that unwelcome revelation! When pushed a little harder, the women concerned acknowledge that they had driven through various sets of red lights much further back before reaching that point of no return.

For Reflection
  If we are doing our best to ‘heed and to hearken’, the Lord will always find a way to communicate His warnings to us. He is completely committed to leading the sheep of His pasture. But we, for our part, must heed His warnings. He would not have given them unless He had meant them.  

7:3 Guarding Thoughts and Desires
  ‘Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.’  

It is easy to indulge strong longings which, were God to grant them, would prove entirely harmful for us. These longings are by no means as well concealed as we might like to imagine them to be. Sooner or later, those who are prone to delusions and spiteful sentiments betray themselves to others. From only too much experience, we know what happens when we allow our minds to dwell on our fears and fantasies. By constantly rehearsing them, they become strongholds in the mind. Before long they become more real than reality itself, and end up influencing all our thinking and planning. This is where people become lopsided.

We are wise if we understand the danger of this. Strong emotions can wreak havoc! If we are desperately keen for something to happen, or not to happen for that matter, our longing can prejudice our hearing. Listen to this sobering warning in Ezekiel 14:4:
  Every Israelite who has given his heart to idols and lets them lead him into sin and who then comes to consult a prophet, will get an answer from Me – the answer that his many idols deserve!  

In other words, idolatry causes the Lord to answer people according to their delusion! There could be no more urgent incentive to yield our wants and desires to the Lord, lest we end up getting what we thought would be a blessing, but which in reality would be a catastrophe.

7.4 Words that damage and confuse

We have been badly hurt over the years by things that have been said about or over us. In extreme cases, these have had a ‘curse’ effect that has taken the wind out of our sails. This has dulled our spirits and made us less receptive to the living words of God. Sadly, this has not always been a one-way process. Although I have always made it my goal to go a long way out of my way to bring words of encouragement to the people of God, there have been times, to my intense chagrin, when it is my words that have brought pain and confusion.

Many Christians have been seriously wounded because of words that have been spoken over them. ‘Those who love to talk will experience the consequences, for the tongue can kill or nourish life.’ (Pvbs.18:21, NLT) It is absolutely vital that we forgive the people who caused us such heartache, whether they spoke these words out of jealousy, anger, or simply misdirected zeal. If we fail to extend that forgiveness, we will remain spiritually stymied. And when we have been the perpetrators, we must repent, and go the extra mile to put matters right. But then we must also forgive ourselves. The Lord does not want us to wallow in a permanent trough of remorse.

Bound up in this process is the need to separate ourselves spiritually from any false concepts and to be set free from the wrong expectations that they have engendered. Otherwise we may find the roots that caused the problem in the first place resurfacing later on in another shape or form.

For Reflection

Have you hurt – or been hurt by – other people? Perhaps by family, friends, ministers, colleagues or neighbours? Ask the Lord to show you – and then to give you a genuine spirit of forgiveness towards them. If at all possible, try to do something for these people. Identify something simple that they would be blessed by and that you could supply. Why not turn this vital subject into prayer before moving on to the next section.

7:5 Psychological influences that sway our Hearing

In Transactional Analysis, two voices are said to dominate our mind process. First there is what is known as the ‘child’ voice, which clamours for what it wants now. The 'parent' voice meanwhile imposes its own demands and expectations. Both of these have a way of weaving themselves into the fabric of our beings so that in time they become a subtle counterfeit for true hearing. Worlds apart though their source is, it can be difficult to separate out these voices for what they really are. To differentiate between the voice of the flesh, shaped and filtered as it is through our specific upbringing and experiences, and the authentic still small voice that counsels, leads and reassures, is a vital prerequisite for accurate listening.

The situation becomes more complicated when we have been the victims of subtle controlling tendencies. People with scant regard for weaker consciences soon find ways (subtly or overtly) to project their needs, distress and expectations onto others in ways that can confuse their hearts’ inner course. This in turn adversely affects listening. For example, if the Lord shows us that we need to take a certain course of action we tend to ‘check’ and ‘reference’ it back to the person who is ‘controlling’ us. Yet these are the least likely people on earth to agree with the Lord’s course of action if it in any way reduces their hold on us!

This is a serious matter that affects more people than one might expect. It therefore merits closer attention.

When the situation calls for it, in their estimation, ‘covert aggressives’ (to give such people a title), will not hesitate to tell direct lies or to misrepresent situations, seemingly without the slightest embarrassment. Their whole stance is based on subterfuge. Those of us with more scrupulous consciences find it almost impossible to imagine that anyone could do this, and therefore tend to give them the benefit of the doubt – almost endlessly.

Covert aggressives and manipulators are adept at using ‘strategic withdrawal’ to make their victims behave in certain ways. Normally, this means jumping to do what they want us to do in order to avoid experiencing the full force of the person’s disapproval. What is this except abuse by any other name? The fact that these people can also be charming only makes matters the more complicated. Meeting Dr Jekkyl on a good day makes one forget that Dr Hyde is lurking behind – until enough evidence emerges to make us face the issue.

Covert aggressives use furious bursts of temper (‘overt’ aggression) not just because they have short fuses, but because anger is a carefully chosen tool of their trade. Do remember that their compelling need is to maintain their hold over a person (church or institution). When something happens to challenge their control, they will use anything (including flattery, remorse and false tears) in order to regain their position of control. The important thing to understand is that, from their point of view, they feel that this is their rightful position..

The reason I have shared the barest of outlines of what is actually a very serious subject in its own right is because these tendencies can infringe our spiritual freedom to the point where it greatly affects certain areas of our spirit. Most commonly, we tend to want to appease people who, in reality, will take and take but never be satisfied.  The manipulative tendencies of people who are hungry for power cause untold bondage and misery in many churches, as well as in families and individuals
  If we have been the victims of these, or similar, ‘mind-manipulating tendencies’, it is quite possible that we may have ended up mistaking the will of God for the exceedingly strong pressures that are brought to bear on us by these people, who may be our spouse, boss, teacher, parent, children or whoever.  

John Paul Jackson takes the matter a stage further by showing how the demonic feeds off the landing strips of character weaknesses in his runaway bestseller ‘Unmasking the Jezebel Spirit’ (Kingsway).

The more we consider the matter of manipulation, the more we will see either that we ourselves need to be set free from the influences that have been brought to bear on us, or that we ourselves have been guilty of hurting people by distorting truth and imposing unfair expectations on them. In either instance, the chances are that it will have seriously affected both our ability and theirs to be open to the still small voice of God. We must seek the Lord’s cleansing and forgiveness. The Body of Christ cannot afford to be gullible. Pray that we recognise genuine ‘covert aggressives’ and ‘Jezebel spirits’ for what they are – without tarring anybody falsely with that brush.

7.6 Error, Heresy and radical Repentance

All of us realise how the enemy delights to play on our weaknesses – but have we also realised how he tries to twist our strengths as well? Plain old-fashioned error is what it sounds like. When we have got something wrong we need to admit it, take appropriate action and then dismiss it out of hand. But heresy can be more subtle. It often stems from taking a truth (rather than an error) and then pushing it too far. A truth pushed too far becomes a heresy – which in turn becomes outright error, unless it is nipped in the bud.

What about those heart-rending times when we realise that we ourselves have been spiritually deceived over some matter? Depending on the scale and consequences of the deception, we can experience a severe reaction as the shock sinks in. Our repentance may need to reach very deep – and we must not allow fear, pride or self-pity to cause us to foreshorten this process.

Pride feels bad because we have been shown to be fallible. Fear fills our hearts at the thought that people may reject us as a result of the mistakes that we have made and that God Himself might not entrust us with any further responsibilities. But unless we do face these issues fairly and squarely, we will end up going further and further astray, and become of less and less use to the Body of Christ. Setting off from London Airport just one degree off course will cause us to miss our destination by hundreds of miles by the time we have crossed the Atlantic.

Much repentance may be called for, but at the same time we need to be gentle with ourselves. Fresh air and healthy involvement in normal activities, in fellowship with God’s people, are a safer antidote than trying too hard to ‘hear’ another word from the Lord to compensate for the ones that first led us astray!
  We can take some comfort from the thought that the Lord has already taken these detours into account – even if they do mean that we drift away for a time into a wilderness of our own making. What a blessing that He knows us well enough to start in plenty of time!  

We are much less likely to be ‘spiritually disqualified’ (as opposed to seriously pruned) as a result of these mistakes if we are prepared to humble ourselves and to learn necessary lessons from them.

The most reassuring thought is that the Lord can always pick us up one more time than we can fall or fail! Provided we are not so full of inverted pride that we continue to act as though our badness is greater than His capacity to extend mercy to us, He can reweave the strands of our life, refine and then relaunch us, even if in a rather different context.

What we cannot always avoid, unfortunately, is hurting other people in the process of learning how to get things right! That is why repentance is so necessary.

7.7 Spiritual Auditing: Study your track record

It would be in order to repeat an earlier warning here. Just because we have faced up to mistakes we have made in the past does not automatically make us proof against committing them again in the future. They may be less the one-off aberration we may be inclined to dismiss them as, so much as a serious 'structural' weakness. Bearing in mind that it often takes many years for these tendencies to manifest themselves, and still more time to deal with them, it is as well to be aware that we are actually very likely to make the same mistake again, unless we remain watchful and vigilant. If character defects continue unchecked, people who are in many other ways ‘good’ can inadvertently become wolves in sheep’s clothing.

In more and more spheres of life it is normal to complete follow-up audits to assess how well some person or project is faring. We are wise if we put some equivalent into place in the whole realm of listening to the Lord. At the very least we can follow up on specific words that we have had to see how helpful and accurate they are proving to be – especially if they contained any predictive element. Such an ‘audit’ may cause us to discover that we are regularly hearing well in some areas of but are decidedly less reliable in others.

Bearing in mind the disturbing episode in Acts 16:16f, where the slave girl with the spirit of divination spoke accurately but not helpfully, there are times when even accuracy is not the only test of whether a word is of God. The effect our words have must also be considered. Do they take us, or others, away from God’s central purpose for our lives, or from biblical morality? Do they induce in us a sense of being ‘special’ and therefore ‘different’ from other Christians? Real prophecy will always increase our love and reverence for God, and leave us concerned only to do such things as will actively promote His glory.
  Since discernment is the key, how can we recognise the false prophet we so rightly fear? Sometimes the Lord makes this easy. At one meeting, where the visiting speaker was clearly way out of order, I prayed the Lord would make it easy for people to see through him. He promptly proceeded to share that he had got beyond the need to pray because ‘the Lord always worked in such power through his ministry.’ He then proceeded to give the date of Christ’s return! Even with such manifest signs to indicate how far astray he had drifted, many were still impressed by his ministry because he wielded such considerable power. This was power divorced from love – a frightening spectacle.  

Discernment is by no means always so straightforward. Even the disciples failed to realise what was going on in Judas Iscariot's heart until the very end. Look for the direction of the person’s heart. Stubborn attitudes and proud hearts are major stumbling blocks to a genuine prophetic flow; by contrast a profound longing for God makes one more than willing to forgive the fact that the person sometimes strays on beyond his anointing when giving a prophecy, or is inclined to go somewhat overboard on a particular issue.

A false sense of loyalty to somebody (or our instinctive dislike of them for that matter) can also make it harder for us to perceive when a person is in genuine error. It is wise to heed ‘checks’ in our spirit, especially if other mature Christians feel the same way.

The best of us make mistakes – many of them if we are honest - but this does not automatically put us into the category of false prophets. We learn from our mistakes. False prophets, by contrast, refuse to heed warnings, and continually dream up new excuses for prolonging their delusion. Typically, these people are lone-rangers who brook no correction, unwisely supposing themselves to be superior to those who could help to set them straight. This is the work of superheated flesh and subtle demons – and it leads many godly souls astray.

Typically, the problem revolves around the person’s sense of infallibility. False prophets are nearly always presumptuous. Presumption is wishful thinking pushed too far. There is only a fine line between faith and presumption – but all the difference in the world in the outworking. Presumption is to attribute to God words that bring bondage and confusion rather than release. It often suggests that the person who gave the word is out to gain control and power. For the sake of the Body, we need to recognise such pride and pray for it to be broken so that any gift that is genuinely there may emerge, for they are out to make a name for themselves.

How close soul, flesh and spirit run! God loves to encourage us through prophecy, but it only takes a small injection of the flesh to turn encouragement into flattery – in which case the result will be false expectations and soul-tie bondage rather than Holy Spirit freedom. Such ‘prophecy’ risks becoming a poison-tipped bait that draws the person to the prophet rather than releasing the person into a greater measure of freedom with God. (It is worth pointing out that the more spiritual a person is, the more ingeniously the devil will work in order to try to deceive them).

There are other ways in which, intentionally or more usually unintentionally, prophecy can be misused. An inordinate desire to get some truth across, to create a good or a profound impression – these are among the character flaws that can lie behind an otherwise genuine inspiration and give it a potentially dangerous kink.

Another temptation is to assume that words that have been addressed to you are automatically applicable for others. If the Lord reminds us of such a word as a starting point, that is fine, but we should be cautious of pushing the comparison too far

For Reflection
  What are the biggest mistakes you have made in the realm of listening to God? Can you discern any underlying pattern? If so, how are you doing in learning the lessons these things are pointing to? Don’t despair! If you decide to hold back on trying to listen because you have made a pig’s dinner of things in the past, you are no wiser than the person who vows never to get into a car again after being involved in a car accident!  

7.8 Wild and woolly

Ask any pastor and they will doubtless tell you that they have had to fend off numerous suggestions that people had heard the Lord telling them to do the dottiest things. Some of these are just plain daft, but others will turn out to be wonderfully inspired.

When someone comes to one with a ‘strange’ leading, my first inclination is sometimes to try to prick the bubble. If a word or vision is genuinely of God, it can withstand serious testing and close inspection. If it can be popped, then the sooner the pin is applied and the air let out the better for all concerned! At the same time, we must be gentle with the person concerned. The fact that they have been prepared to share their story with others is a sign of their willingness to seek out accountability – even if this only happens when it dawns on them that they have progressed a long way down a false route and are now beginning to get worried.

Certain times of depression and psychosis fold people in on themselves so effectively that it blocks out any interest in anything outside their own condition completely that they are unlikely to bring any words or vision to others. Other types, however, reproduce many of the symptoms of drug or chemical imbalance. Things stand out to such people with great clarity and insistence – sometimes with great perception even. We should be especially careful when there is a ‘manic’ dimension in a person’s life. It is quite possible that they are compensating against some sense of loneliness or inferiority, and ‘using’ a prophetic gift as a subconscious means of seeking attention and approval. More than ever we need to heed the wisdom of checking everything against other yardsticks.
  Lord, we are such a complex mixture of the emotional, the chemical and the spiritual.
Purify our hearts so that more and more of our words are Yours.
And when we do get something wrong,
help us to be willing to back track in order to get it sorted and straightened out.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

7.9 Accountability helps us develop our prophetic gift
  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called – the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)  

From all this it is clear that we need to be accountable in the way we develop our prophetic gifting. Like every other aspect of our walk with the Lord, listening is a corporate task as well as a personal gift. It belittles the whole prophetic ministry if we do not weigh contributions carefully, and work seriously to develop the character and ministry of those who have a specific anointing in this sphere.

Accountability helps us to fulfil our potential. In CS Lewis’s The Horse and his Boy, Bree, the talking horse, thinks he is riding hard. He had forgotten what it was like to have a rider digging his spurs into him! We too can easily convince ourselves that we are giving our all when in fact we are still well short of our potential.

If we are not willing to check what we hear with others, we need to be honest about why this is so. If it is because we are so sure that we have heard is right, and that we do not need anyone else to check it (or that nobody else is mature enough to judge our words) then we can almost take it for granted that we are on the way to being deluded!

Most of us who are venturing out into prophetic waters are aware of our need to be covered, and actively seek such covering out – though if we have had bad experiences in the past we may need particular encouragement to do so again. It is for lack of such covering that many leaders get, effectively, stranded at the top of a tree. This is not an optional extra: we all need peer-group support that keeps us on track.

In the forensic spirit realm the devil operates in, when he simply cannot find anything with which to accuse Christians of to bring their ministries down, he is reduced to lading the person with false accusations and to stirring up people against them. But when he has a foothold in someone’s life, for example through lust, covetousness, or some controlling obsession, he can greatly reduce their effectiveness in the Body of Christ. The enemy finds it much harder to penetrate the spiritual defences of people who are properly covered. Battle ships and aircraft carriers are not positioned on the edge of a fleet; they are placed in the centre, surrounded by their escort vessels. The more accountable a person is, the more lines of defensive protection there are between them and the devil’s attacks.

Accountability is not a matter of ruling over one another, but of helping each other to become the very best we can be for Jesus. Iron sharpens iron, and we will be the richer for it. It is only the sinful, the stubborn and the selfish who rail against such things – and then wonder why they have stumbled into prolonged wildernesses they need never have experienced.

In the army, there are clear chains of command. In one sense, it should be the same with us. With whom do you check out your hearing? Don’t just go to people who will be wowed by your hearing: make sure that they are mature enough to check it objectively and to input wisely into our lives.

No one is pretending that this is an easy calling or that we will always get it right. On the last night of the first national conference I ever led, a man made his way to the front, claiming he had words of knowledge for people to be healed. Because the Spirit was leading the meeting in a different way, I did not release these words. Predictably, he accused me afterwards of quenching the Spirit. I went to the Lord the next day in considerable agony. Had I got it all wrong? I found His answer both illuminating and reassuring. He did not specifically say whether I had been right or wrong, He simply said, 'I appointed you to be the leader of this conference and I supported your decision.' What a responsibility!

If we consult only our heart, the chances are that we will probably come up with endless rationalisings and self justifications to avoid making any serious changes. That is why it is so important to ask the Holy Spirit to be the search lamp who makes these things clear to us. Have you got the courage to ask someone who loves you if they can spot any such elements in your life?

One additional warning would be in order here. (It is as well to be forewarned!) Not everyone will light up even if we have heard correctly. Their upbringing or experience may make it all but impossible for them to track with us in that particular direction.

7.10 When our hearing gets stuck, try asking loaded questions
  In Latin, the speaker used to preface his question with the words ‘Nonne’ or ‘Num’. The one anticipated the answer ‘yes’ and the other ‘no’. Sometimes, when we are unable to get a straight answer to a specific question, ‘Should I do such and such?’ the best way forward is to try ‘loading’ the question. Choose the sensible solution and say ‘Okay, Lord, is there any reason why I shouldn’t do this?’  

If we are as honest as we can be, He will show us if we are in serious danger of straying off course. Remember, the Lord has promised that He will warn us if we are in danger of straying off course? Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ 

7.11 Restoring people from Deception
  My brothers, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.
(Gal. 6:1 TEV)

What are we to do when we realise that there is something seriously amiss with either a word that a person is bringing, or with the person who is bringing the word? We are not called to stone the prophet, but from time to time God may want to use us to challenge or correct someone. How should we go about this? With great gentleness, and just as we would want them to proceed with us - but with sufficient insistence to spell the matter out. The Word of God often needs to cut to the quick to protect people from error, and to bring about change, but we don't need to use a hammer to crack an acorn. To put that another way: to help someone see where their contributions could have been sharper may be to do them a great service - but to pile on condemnation is sure to do a great disservice!

Most of us dislike having to initiate such encounters (I am trying to avoid using the word 'confrontation!) – especially if we have been rejected in the past for having said things a person did not want to hear. Once we challenge the 'apple of someone's eye,' it is perilously easy for them to reach for the nearest pile of stones! Participatory and prophetic and ministry is all restoring God's original purposes. The Greek verb 'to restore' can be used for the setting of a bone that has been broken, and for mending a hole in a net. There are many bones that need resetting, and nets that require mending in the Body of Christ today. Many have left the Church altogether because they have seen something that they considered wrong, but felt powerless to address. All that might have been needed to resolve the situation was a loving visit or an honest talk - but where none was forthcoming much ground is often lost as a result. Many who were once moving in the power of the Spirit are now going nowhere. This is truly tragic. How have people corrected you in the past? With condemnation and dismissal, or with tender persistence?

For Reflection
  Lord, I pray for sufficient humility to accept correction when I am in the wrong - and to be able to restore people from deception to a place of usefulness in You. Give me the courage to go in and rescue the prey that Satan has taken captive!  

7:12 How do you respond when challenged?
  If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.  

When the Lord has a corrective word to bring to His people, He is specific in what He says. Its effect will be to convict us of some particular area in which we have failed, rather than leaving us in a state of uncertainty. Likewise, God told Elijah specifically where to go and what to say to Ahab in order to convict him of his sin.  Prophecies which merely cause people to feel uneasy or condemned are most unlikely to be from God. He will convict us of some specific area of our lives in which we are failing, rather than leading us into introspective confusion. If God has to pull something down, He will also inspire the faith that He is going to build something better in its place!

Elijah needed courage to confront men such as Ahab and Ahaziah – and the Lord would have seen to it that he would have felt still more uncomfortable had he not spoken out! Many of us can identify with Jeremiah, who compared the word in his heart to a burning fire that he could not hold in . Many times when the Spirit of the Lord stirs within, we will need to win the battle with our fear and embarrassment.

Paul had originally intended to visit the Corinthians on his way to and from Macedonia. It turned out he had to adjust his travel plans several times through circumstances beyond his control. His detractors used this against him, implying that he was being wilfully capricious. Knowing full well that this wasn’t true, Paul was deeply hurt and incensed by this and responded vigorously . Unlike so many of us, who have also had our motivation misrepresented, however, he did not allow these unexpected setbacks and accusations to diminish his trust or his willingness to press forward.

The well-known story of Peter challenging Simon the sorcerer  has something to teach us in this respect. In this story we meet a man who saw the Spirit’s power at first hand and who wanted it himself - for all the wrong reasons. Peter ended up rebuking him fiercely. Simon was very much taken aback by this onslaught and cried out that none of the terrible things that Peter had spoken of should come his way. Sure he may have been prompted by fear, but at least he did the right thing; crying out with considerable alacrity and even humility.

This extreme episode raises an important issue. How do we respond when we challenged? After all, there is a ‘gap’ between our perceived walk with the Lord and how we really are on the inside. We often put as much effort into hiding this gap as seeking God’s grace to narrow it. Do we respond in hurt and anger when our insecurities and instabilities are exposed? Or are we like David who prayed, ‘Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness, my head will not refuse it!’.

Here is a simple way to be sure. If this is indeed the case, then we will undoubtedly find ourselves becoming increasingly aggressive and defensive. We are very much wiser if we do what Simon did: admit our mistakes, repent quickly and ask for prayer.

In all this we are walking a tight rope. Jesus came full of Grace and Truth . Too much ‘grace’ and we risk letting anything go, passing over in silence things that really did need challenging. But if we put the emphasis to heavily on truth, we risk becoming narrow-minded and legalistic. God’s words are full of grace as well as truth: it is the enemy who is compulsive, strident and nit-picking. There is a balance between the two that is very pleasing to the Holy Spirit. That is why it is right to take note of both the heart of the person and the tenor of their message. Anything that sets a particular person or movement apart as being ‘special’ is most unlikely to be purely of God.

  Father, we long to welcome the free flow of Your Spirit in the depth of our spirits. Where our perspective is warped or out of kilter, straighten it out and realign the orientation of our hearts. We repent of allowing anything or anyone to take the place that You alone deserve. Do whatever it takes for You to be the first and last in our thinking. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

8 ~ Ever felt misunderstood?

Some of you may be wondering whether I was ever going to mention something that may be your biggest problem. I’m referring, of course, to your church being too stifling an atmosphere to encourage either the ministry of mature prophets or the emergence of new ones. And you are going spare!

The first thing to bear in mind is that the Church is not something entirely separate from ourselves. The Church is people, not an entity or organisation. The Church is us not ‘them’, it is ‘us’. We are the Church. The fact that the Church has by and large proved too full of fears and prejudices to allow budding prophets the security and the freedom they need in order to develop their ministry, is an indictment on us all.

Why do so many pastors, even though claiming to be open to the Lord, end up freezing out the truly prophetic? Look deeper and you will find their concern to ‘stay in control’ comes down to two main things: their insecurity (or power complex) and their lack of confidence in being able to handle the unexpected and the spontaneous.

Pastors need to take the time and trouble to learn about the prophetic ministry. If they are only aware of all the dangers involved in listening to the Lord rather than the blessings and possibilities it opens up, there is something seriously wrong. A mature and precious leadership encourages people to speak out and prophesy, even whilst being on hand to help them develop beyond the inevitable mistakes that they will make. It welcomes and draws in people to operate in new ways. It brings a sense of adventure to our services.

8.1 When the Church is divided

Those who have a special ability to hear the word of the Lord are especially useful when there are conflicts amongst believers. The most crucial thing to bear in mind is that we are not called to be on anyone’s side but purely to seek the mind of Christ. We are not called to air our opinions, but to pass on what God has said to us. One potential danger is that the better known we become in ministry, the more people may be inclined to confuse our opinions for what the Lord is saying about a situation. Paul was careful in his letters to make the distinction between what the Lord was saying and what he merely felt about a situation – and we must be careful too.

8.2 Keep your contact time with God high

  God calls those He is leading to the prophetic ministry to spend much time alone with Himself. Much of their most effective work is in the unseen realms of prayer and meditation, where they give themselves to God. Any prophet who is not eager to spend time with his Maker is unlikely to be of God.  

So many of our church activities are about God rather than directly addressing Him. How much actual contact time do we spend with Him? Real intimacy does not happen by good intentions alone: it needs thinking out and working through. Think how precious it is to Him when He sees a person, a family, a whole fellowship even, whose chief desire is to be with Him. What a refreshment that is to Him in the midst of so much selfishness and blasphemy.

For Reflection

  Let me ask you: what are you – and your fellowship – doing to promote this intimacy with God? Remembering that it is our intimacy with the Lord that makes us of most use to Him (and of most danger to the enemy). No wonder then that he tries to interrupt that intimacy and to detour our love and energies into lesser ends!  

9 ~ Ushering in the prophetic

When Christine Larkin came to Shetland, she recognised that there is something about the place that is attracting people at this time to come in God and ‘make camp’ here. She had a particular word for us ‘home-farers’ (a much better word than ‘incomers’!). She felt that we who have paid the price to come and be part of what God is doing here have been brought to share in the vision that godly people have had in the past for Shetland, and that we are to serve in such a way as to help bring these things to pass. Effectively, we are giving our lives to inherit the promises that God has put within this place.

This is particularly true of the ‘Fire from the North’ Conference that we are organising for the Nordic and Celtic nations of Europe in the first week of August 2005 (see www.ruachministries.org). This conference owes its origin to a word the Lord spoke in 1996 at a conference of Scandinavian intercessors, that it was the Lord’s desire for a strategic gathering for prayer to be held on Shetland. We believe it to be profoundly on the Lord’s heart that believers from the northern nations come together to seek His face. We are, accordingly, dedicating much time and resources towards this end.

There may be many ways in which He causes us to adjust our thinking and the use of our resources. Being prophetic means continuing to obey God when He leads us outside the ‘box’ of our previous experience. Christine gave a powerful illustration from her own church, which has a congregation of one thousand. Just up the road was a tiny church with just five old women plus a young leader with a vision but no army to accomplish it. Someone had received a clear vision that they should send members from the community church to go and support its smaller neighbour.

It took several months for this message to be accepted and acted on. After all, it is no light matter to leave a buzz church to go and sit with five old ladies! One group of young people took it on themselves to go and be part of that church, however, while another went down the road to another church, which also had a genuine vision but lacked the means to fulfil it. The results have been splendid. The young people are doing so well now that they don’t want to come back to the church that sent them out!

What Christine was advocating was that we should be willing to ‘tithe’ our congregations as well as our income in order to bless God’s people. This fits perfectly in line with the idea of ‘resource’ churches serving wider regions, and of there being leadership teams for regions rather than just for denominations. Surely this is an excellent use of resources. After all, there are simply not enough leadership positions to go round in the mega churches; how much more effective to launch more people into their own ministries. As we give our best resources to the Lord, He will give His best back to us.

9.1 Listening that directs our giving

  He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. (Proverbs 25:27)  

Given the sheer number of needs we encounter, we will want to treat the subject of our giving prayerfully and imaginatively.

We so often live as though comfort on earth was a more important goal than treasure in heaven. It is not that we are never to permit ourselves treats; it is simply to realise that we are called to wait on the Lord concerning the way we handle our worldly wealth. How true Jesus' words are, that where our treasure is, there too our heart will be. Like the Macedonian churches, we must give to the point where we are giving of the substance as well as the overflow of our lives. If our giving is costing us something, we are far less likely to do so with a superior or condescending attitude.

As the days get darker, I believe that it will be increasingly important for Christians to be on the alert to look after one another’s physical as well as spiritual welfare. Some people may be too proud, and some too shy, to ask for help, but we must stay alert to people's needs and take appropriate action.

For example, we may be able to find ways to live below the level of our income, so that the Lord can use the surplus to support others. Life being what it is, this may prove an impossible aim. But is it fair to pray for people to support Christian initiatives if we ourselves are not prepared to do anything about them?

  Remembering Jesus’’ warning that we cannot serve both God and Mammon  it is good to bear in mind two key principles::
1. We are called to love people and to use things, rather than to love things and to use people.
2. If we sow generously we will also reap generously.
  1. David Wilkerson used to pray with his wife at the start of each month as to where the Lord would have them send money from a special ‘burden’ fund they set up in addition to their regular giving.  

Ask the Lord to show you if there is any fellowship, person, cause or organisation that He would have you support more, or give more to. At the same time, ask Him to check you if you are spending too much money on yourself or on anything else that is not in line with His purposes. How can it be right that so little of our resources are devoted to spreading the gospel and the fulfilment of the Great Commission?

9:2 Listening to Network

  The pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.
(Proverbs 27:9)

Few things are more important than the friends we keep. Do we choose them because they need us, or because they flatter us? Or because we are able to take ground together and achieve things for the Kingdom?

I believe God wants to continue a process that is currently underway of linking ministries that have hitherto been operating effectively but almost in isolation from each other. This requires trust.

We are called to invest in one another’s ministries rather than to selfishly hoard what we have. We are love and loyalty bound to use whatever we have received. If we do not use these things, we risk losing them. Just as Christ is the hope of glory, so we are to be a source of hope and encouragement for each other too.

It is easy to feel somewhat disappointed that so few of the first Christians in Jerusalem showed any desire to embrace the convert Saul. Given the amount of damage that he had done, perhaps this is hardly surprising! Mercifully there was one who had a different spirit. Just as Ananias had brought about the vital breakthrough when he obeyed the Lord’s call to go and meet the man, so Barnabas made himself vulnerable to build a bridge of trust between Saul and the Jerusalem Church. What would have been lost to the Church if these men had not obeyed improbable and potentially dangerous words? Almost everything!

  For Reflection

Do you have a heart to ‘link’ God’s people together?
Who would He have you put your friends in touch with?
Is the Lord calling you to reach out to particular people?

9.3 The Schools of the Prophets

In the decade that followed the mighty contest on Mount Carmel, Elijah was rarely in the news. He might have been happy to spend the rest of his days in quiet devotion, but it was important to the Lord that he share the lessons he had learnt with others. He used the time wisely, reviving the schools of the prophets.

These missionary centres, in Bethel, Gilgal and Jericho, exercised a considerable influence in the land. It had been Samuel who had first gathered about him the pious and studious young men who became known as ‘the sons of the prophets’. We are permitted on several occasions to glimpse the spirit and faith that were at work in these communities, which clearly sought the spirit, rather than just the letter, of the law.

These communities were in great contrast to so many seminaries today, where prospective pastors and leaders are pushed through academic courses that have no concept of spiritual warfare (and which therefore leave graduates inadequately prepared for the opposition they will encounter in their ministry). The emphasis in these schools would have been devotional rather than academic, being given over to the study of Scripture, prophecy and sacred song.

These schools were a sanctuary where the spiritually hungry could find instruction, comfort and peace. As such, they provide an early forerunner of the medieval monastic tradition. It was the goal of these communities to understand God's heart. It was from their number the Lord would select certain ones to be His chosen seers and prophets. (The original word for prophecy meant a 'boiling or bubbling over,' a 'spilling out' of the things of God that were on their heart. cf 2 Peter 1:20-21.2)

For us, too, there is a call to train believers in the spirit and power of Elijah; to teach people how to listen to the Lord, what to do with the words we receive from Him, and to understand the dynamics of corporate prayer. In other words, to transform our meetings into encounters with the Risen Lord.

9.4 Music and the Prophetic Ministry

Central to these schools was the dimension of sacred song. In 1 Samuel 10:5 we find a whole company of such disciples playing instruments and prophesying. This aspect of providing instruction through psalmody is of more importance biblically than most of us realise. Some years later, when the kings of Israel and Judah embarked on a joint campaign against Moab, the army ran out of water. When the king summoned Elisha, his immediate reaction was to send for a harpist. In the stress of the situation, and hindered as he was by the presence of an ungodly king, Elisha urgently needed to quiet his own spirit.

  The gift of music paved the way for a wonderful deliverance of the Lord.  We have much to learn about the ways in which music can aid intimacy, reinforce intercession, facilitate healing and pave the way for us to hear a word from the Lord.  

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described music as the universal language of mankind, while Luther held it to be the art of the prophets, and the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul . . . it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

There is enormous power when music combines with the Word of God. If we agree with the man who said, ‘After theology I give to music the highest place,’ then we should honour this in our meetings by affording plenty of time for prayer and worship. Instead of rigidly compartmentalising our services, let’s make the effort to find ways to help worship, prayer and preaching to interact and flow from one to the other.

The Lord and His people alike are longing for music that takes us beyond the happy-clappy into a true reflection of His longings and desires. Heaven is full of music, and our worship should express what God is doing, as well as who He is. As we have seen throughout this book, this will include an emphasis on mourning and judgement, as well as of celebration.

9.5 Ushering in the Prophetic Ministry

There are many today who are being called to devote themselves to the arts, in order to bring a prophetic edge back to what was once, but no longer is, very largely the Church's own domain.

When we are young we find it hard to believe that anything outside the immediate confines of the school curriculum can serve any real purpose. (Unless we feel passionately about something or someone of course – in which case we can justify any expense and allocate any amount of time to it). But the leadings of the Lord may be quieter, and it will take a listening heart to discern the promptings that would lead us to pursue a certain career, or learn a particular language, for example: an activity that will require us to lay aside some other course of action in order to accommodate it.

Philosophically, and psychologically, the western world is ready to receive the gospel through the creative arts. The arts, and music in particular, are poised to play a decisive role in our attempt to re-evangelise Europe in the twenty first century. Take as our starting point that the Church must come across as being ‘less churchy’ if a new generation is to be introduced to the knowledge of the Lord. From there it is surely but a small step to praying that the performing arts should be right at the fore in this move of God. Pray for a posse of prophetic performers, poets and playwrights to make Christ known.

There is nothing new about this idea. The Church has sensed the importance of this creative dimension in almost every generation. What were the miracle plays of the Middle Ages except the chance to present Bible truths in down-to-earth ways to the man in the marketplace? As for the world of the arts, it was several hundred years before artists ceased looking to religious themes for their inspiration.

What, for that matter, was the inspiration behind so much of Renaissance art except the desire to portray some aspect of the gospel in as meaningful a way as possible. This process of disseminating truth through the creative media was greatly hindered by the Puritan refusal to permit music in their services. Music is perhaps the most immediate and powerful means of all for communicating the power of the Spirit. Add to this ‘religious reluctance’ the misleading power of scientific enlightenment and you have in place the ingredients for a society stunted in its ability to perceive, let alone to appreciate, true creativity.

For each of us the call will be different. Many of us will be called to edify the Church, but some will be called to work primarily in the field of politics, or the arts, while still others will be called to attend natural disasters, either in terms of practical relief or through intercession. God loves to create new openings for the gospel, and to develop strategies way beyond anything we could have thought of by our own efforts.

9:6 The wider picture i) God does not force Himself on people

  To the oppressed Jesus brings help and comfort; to the mighty organs of power and government He often has little to say. Jesus mistrusted Herod, He spoke with urgency and passion against the Pharisees, had less than no inclination to parley with Pilate, and rejected ‘expedient’ shortcuts altogether. From this we can deduce that He does not entrust the keys of the Kingdom to those who are obsessed with their own position and authority!  

Historically, the Kingdom of God seems to function best when it is in tension with the kingdom of the world. It has not fared so well on those occasions when the Church achieves a ‘majority’ position in society. Look at Rome following Constantine’s conversion; or Spain during the long years when the Inquisition trammelled the nation’s belief system – or Geneva, when harsh interpretations of Calvin’s edicts were rigorously enacted.

In every instance we find examples of coercion rather than love. The result is that the purity of the gospel was adversely affected at the very moment when it appeared to have triumphed. The powerful religious ‘Right’ in America likewise needs to be careful that it does not become a political pressure group rather than a truly spiritual force.

The Kingdom grows primarily through the Church: the ecclesia, or ‘called-out’ ones. It is not stated in Scripture that these called-out ones will triumph on earth; dominion theology is profoundly flawed when it assumes that we will. It is better to rid ourselves of all the traditional concepts we associate with a visible, triumphant kingdom; it causes believers too many false hopes and causes too much confusion.

The essence of the invisible kingdom of God on earth is that it never forces its subjects to do the will of its king. Until the time of Jesus’ return, the Kingdom of God will remain resistible because it is offered to us with gentleness and humility.

The only time we see the Lord Jesus using force in the gospels was when He drove out the moneychangers from the Temple. Indeed, the kingdom advances in such seemingly small and insignificant ways that people might suppose its chances of spreading successfully to be almost nil. Yet the Lord loves to give visions and to entrust initiatives to the most unlikely people and churches, which He then prospers against all the odds. What is this except an example of Jesus’ teaching about the mustard seed becoming a great spreading tree and that faith can move mountains?

Pray that God raises up prophets who will have the ears of our leaders: people with specific grace and skills as well as a clear message. God is doing this, in our own country as well as in many other nations. Pray for the prophetic word of the Lord to be heard in corridors of power, and for the Lord to be guide and protect those He would use in such ways.

9:7 The wider calling: ii) The Call to Intercession

Thousands around the world are praying for a new move of the Spirit in our midst. The vision by Jean Darnell that is quoted in a few pages time gives us real confidence that God is reaching out even to backslidden Europe. The task of prophetic intercession is to cut through spiritual numbness – along with the veil of deliberate or unintentional self-deception. Only then can matters be seen in their true light, and spiritual truth be presented in a way that people can embrace.

The Lord is also raising up those who are creatively gifted to be His front line troops. No wonder totalitarian regimes fear imaginative people and creative artists. In mediaeval days, minstrels were often the only people who could get away with holding up the foibles of rulers to public ridicule. The prophets, preachers and evangelists who are their modern day counterparts are likewise challenging the dominant spirits of our day.

We must not allow ourselves to be limited by the consumer-induced apathy and spiritual short-sightedness that surround us. For far too long our country has been like the myopic Jews of Jeremiah’s day. They parroted ‘The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord’ in the misplaced conviction that because God had given them the Temple, God would always step in to protect His own no matter what they believed or how they behaved.

If we as a country have, at least until recently, been guilty of such complacency, so most emphatically has the Church.

  ‘It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of the imagination, to keep on proposing alternative futures to the single one the king (or ‘the state’ in our terminology) wants to urge as the only thinkable one.’
Walter Brueggemann

Given the number of key aspects of society that are breaking down (the family unit is the most obvious example) it is no wonder that the authorities are desperate to establish surrogate standards to prevent us straying still further ‘off-track’. Since no government can allow anarchy to prosper, it was inevitable that some form of ‘citizenship lessons’ should enter the curriculum sooner or later. But because relativity has long since replaced absolutism, these are not based on godly foundations, and the way remains open for every kind of unbiblical practice to be embraced.

The opposite danger, of course, is when a wrong kind of absolutism takes hold of a people’s mindset. The example of Germany during the 1930’s is a constant reminder to remain vigilant today. Despite countless examples of brutal behaviour, particularly towards Jews, the spell that Hitler cast over the nation continued to hold people in its thrall. In a major address in 1934, Hitler proclaimed Germany’s ‘peaceful’ intentions towards other nations:

Our racial theory regards every war for the subjection and domination of an alien people as a proceeding which sooner or later changes and weakens the victor internally, and eventually brings about his defeat . . . No! National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. And it wants peace also owing to the realising of the simple primitive fact that any war would be likely to alter the distress in Europe. The principal effect of every war is to destroy the flower of the nation. Germany needs peace and desires peace.

The vast majority of the German people swallowed this message whole. Overseas, foreign nations expressed themselves relieved and delighted. How naive they were! Hitler deliberately set out to confound the nations by preaching peace and disarmament, whilst secretly rearming and keeping a sharp eye out to exploit any weakness in their attitude towards Germany. But his true nature was immediately apparent to any who were prepared to see through the facade. In the course of ruthlessly crushing an imagined rising against him, Hitler conveniently rid himself of leaders he preferred not to have around, declaring brazenly, ‘Everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.’

The whole point about deception, of course, is that it is not intended to be seen through. William Shirer, an American journalist who spent many years in Germany during the 1930's, wrote this about his years of living at close proximity to the Nazi propaganda machine:

I myself experienced how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers . . . and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts. It was surprising to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts, and despite one’s inherent mistrust of what one learnt from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsification and distortions made a certain impression in one’s mind, and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda.

… one realised how useless it was to even try to make contact with a mind which had become warped, and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.

Pray today for the Christians of North Korea, Vietnam and China, as well as for those in Muslim countries where there is intense hostility to the gospel. Pray for the citizens of all lands who are subject to daily ‘thought control.’ And pray for the people of our own country to be set free from the stronghold of humanistic laws and assumptions and to embrace the ways of God.

Whatever our calling, we cannot accomplish it on our own. Jesus taught the Kingdom of God, rather than just personal salvation. We have found that special power is released when members of a profession or organisation come together to seek God's blessing. Who can say how much good has been done by groups of people gathering to pray for their schools, workplaces and communities? When we look at how the Lord is networking His people together, and inspiring them to attempt specific initiatives at His leading, it seems to me that there are indeed many modern day schools of the prophets around. Elijah himself would have been proud of many of them!

For Reflection

  In what ways have you experienced the prophetic ministry in your life and calling? Is there anything specific the Lord would have you do – or be involved with – to make Him known in your profession or special area of concern? Ask God to show you how to pray.  
  Lord we pray that You will be glorified by raising up a Church which moves in prophetic dimensions;
men and women who reveal You as You really are.
May more and more of serve You in such ways within their chosen fields and professions.
We pray that they will be a modern-day school of prophets.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

9.8 ‘Follow Me’

Let us end where Jesus began His mission, with the words ‘Follow me.’ He is giving us the freedom to do the things He has called us to do. He will remove all obstacles to make it possible for the work to be done – and He will open up all manner of unexpected doors for us as we do this.

We need never be hesitant for the truth. There is only one truth, and if we hold back, it is for the devil. The Lord knows that we find the evil around us frightening, but the faith of a Christian remains on top of everything. The Lord Jesus has shared everything with us, even the riches of His life with His Father, and we must sacrifice ourselves for Him. Even if we feel as though we are getting little reward, we must keep going, and not give up. He will take the little that we offer Him and make it go an astonishingly long way.

  The whole history of the Bible is of God taking hold of the spiritually hungry and filling them with His power. May He continue to take hold of us, and to lead us in the paths of an intimacy with God that is lived in the constant awareness of eternity.  

These words, ‘Follow Me,’ are, for us too, the beginning and the end of His message to us. He calls us to be in His company, and to consult Him before we act. Satan is the real enemy, not those who have been fooled by him. They can be saved. At God's leading we must be prepared to go out of our way to help needy ones; to take His word to those who are deaf and blind to His messages, so that they too can have sight.

The Lord is longing for revival to come to the world, and for Planet Earth to be a holy place. By every means we must do all we can to remove the blockages that stop men from seeing Him. His angels are full of energy. Countless thousands of people are receiving new life all around the world every day, even as Satan tears at the world in his final, but futile attempt to wrest it from the Lord before His glorious return.

Out of the fires of this battle will emerge the bravest, purest church the world has ever seen. The whole history of the Bible is of God taking hold of the spiritually hungry and filling them with His power. May He continue to take hold of us, and to lead us in the paths of an intimacy with God that is lived in the constant awareness of eternity.

Remember Him. The One who was there in the beginning will be there at the end; He is with and in us always and He will continue to do many precious things through us as we wait on Him. As Paul wrote:

  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)  

Now that you are coming come to the end of this book, take time to sit in God’s presence and enjoy a time of communion ‘on the mountain top’ with Him. Remember, the command that came from heaven is not just to speak to Him but to listen to Him. For every difficulty we face He has a solution; for every challenge a way forward. What does He have to say to you now?

9.9 In Quest of Revival: Days of Revival or of Judgement?

There are many in the body of Christ who are prophesying days of revival ahead. There are equally as many who are declaring that God's judgements are coming on us. Which of them is right? Who has stood in the counsel of the Lord to receive His word?

  I believe both messages are true. God is warning us most solemnly that a process of increasingly severe judgement is well advanced in our midst. In His mercy, however, He will still pour out His Spirit on us in abundance. Perhaps we could say that God is looking for reasons by which He may send the grace of revival, rather than the fires of judgement. This is where the concentrated prayers of God's people are vital, to pray into being something that is still to a considerable extent over the horizon.  

9.10 ‘Heaven here I come’

In her book Heaven here I come (Lakeland) Jean Darnell records a vision she was given on three separate occasions for our nation. We can trace in it three stages. Firstly, a time of preparation, such as we have been experiencing for many years, then a release of God’s power in revival (which is already occurring in many parts of the world) and finally a period of growth when the influence of the gospel becomes widespread first in this country and then on the European continent.

  I saw the British Isles glistening like a clump of jade in the grey seas surrounding them. It was a bird’s eye view. Looking down I saw Scotland, England, Wales and to the Northwest, Ireland. The treetops on the hills and the clustered clouds hid the people. Suddenly small, flickering lights appeared. They were scattered all over the Isles. I came closer to the land. The light was firelight. These were fires burning from the top of Scotland to Land’s End on the tip of Cornwall. Lightning streaked downward from the sky above me. I saw it touch down with flashing swiftness, exploding each of the fires into streams of light. Like lava, they burned their fiery path downward from the top of Scotland to Land’s End. The waters did not stop them, but the fire spread across the seas to Ireland and to Europe.

‘Lord, this is the third time you’ve shown me this vision during prayer. Could you give me the meaning of it?’ I asked, deeply moved by the Holy Spirit. He revealed to me that the small fires all over the land were groups of earnest, hungry people who were being drawn together by the Holy Spirit to study their Bibles and to pray for a visitation of the Holy Spirit.

The words ‘pockets of power’ were impressed upon my mind. ‘I’m empowering them by my Spirit and I’m teaching them by my Spirit about my gifts. They are being led by my spirit to repentance, reconciliation and a deeper relationship with the Body of Christ. These people are meeting in homes and churches. I’m not leading them out of their relationships in the home and the church, but into a deeper involvement in both. They are to bring renewal, new life, in preparation for what is to come.’

‘What is to come, Lord?’ I asked, wondering why He should show this to me.

‘I will penetrate the darkness with a visitation of my power. With lightning swiftness, I will release the power of my Spirit through a renewed people who have learned how to be led of the Spirit. They will explode with a witness that will touch every part of the society of Britain. I am strategically placing them to touch the farms, villages, towns and cities. No one will be without a witness whether they be children in schools, farmers in the fields, workers in the factories and docks, students in the universities and colleges, the media, the press, the arts or government. All will be profoundly moved and those who are changed by My power will alter the destiny of the nation.’

‘And the streams of fiery light into Europe, Lord?’ My mind seemed to see an army of all types of people moving into the continent with a compassionate ministry. This ministry was not mass meetings, led by powerful personalities, preaching to spectators, but participating, caring communities involved with each other at grass roots level, sharing the love of God everywhere. I saw the empty cradles of Europe, her churches, holding a new generation of Christian leaders.

Here, indeed, is hope for the nation; assurance from heaven’s viewpoint that the best is indeed still to come. God is preparing His people for a visitation of His revival power, which, Jean Darnell records elsewhere, will be preceded by groups of men coming together in the early morning to pray. Already we can see many churches taking this call to pray seriously. May we be found ready and worthy!

  We cry to you to bring revival to our land. Let Your power blow away the cobwebs in the Church, and the veil that hides Your truth from peoples’ hearts. We ask You to speak to more and more people, to see You as You really are - and we ask that we ourselves may hear You more and more clearly as we await the day of our homecoming and Your return.

Thank You that the power of heaven is at hand to help in every situation that we face. Thank You that even though we get so many things wrong, You have called us to shine in this world, and to share eternity with you. I ask that we may spend the rest of our days in Your presence and in Your service, and end them in Your company. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

All material in this book may be freely used, if attributed. ©December 2004,
Robert Weston, Ruach (Breath of Life) Ministries,
23 Upper Chase Road
WR14 2BT

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