Today we had a time of training in hearing God and prophecy. If I mentioned this to a few people, they might look at me kind of quizzically and ask – You had a time of training in hearing God and prophecy? Huh?
It doesn’t sound too spiritual, does it? Training in hearing God and prophecy? Don’t these things just happen by the Spirit?
Well, I would disagree that this sounds unspiritual. Hence why we held a training time for our church this morning in learning to hear God and in prophesying. While, for some, prophecy is for the super-spiritual, maybe those with their heads constantly ‘in the clouds’, most of us need these things brought down to planet earth where most of us live on a day to day basis. We need practical training and equipping. Hence, with all the recent stirrings of God’s Spirit in the midst of our people, and with little previous teaching on the topic for a transitionary church like Cornerstone, I knew it was absolutely vital to not simply ‘preach’ a few sermons on the topic, but to provide real, solid, biblical and practical training in prophecy.
Now, first off, I would note that there are differing measures of prophecy. 1) The prophet (i.e. Eph 4:11-13) who has a very strong measure of the prophetic and they help equip the whole body to be prophetic, 2) One with the gift of prophecy (i.e. 1 Cor 12:10) who is used regularly in this ministry gift but might not have the specific and greater measure of a prophet, and 3) All can be utilised in prophecy since they are indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy (i.e. Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:1-5).
Because I am convinced the whole body of Christ is called to be a prophetic body (read more here), we need to ‘equip the saints’ for such a ministry, as it says in Eph 4:11-13. And so we need to prepare and equip God’s people in how to hear God and speak forth what He is saying as He directs. Of course, every time we hear God, it might not call for us to speak it forth as prophecy. I share a great example here where God spoke to me about changing the way I was praying into a situation. But we need the body of Christ to be prepared to be a prophetic people, just as we need them to be prepared to be a shepherding or evangelistic people as a whole.
Now this starts by, one, learning to hear from God. Jesus did tell us that his sheep would hear his voice (John 10:3-4). And, though, the temptation is simply to relegate this only to initial salvation, and the context of John 10 can be used to support such, I suppose sheep don’t simply hear their master’s voice once and that’s it. There is a constant and continual listening to the shepherd. Hence, I think the same is true of the sheep of the Great Shepherd. Or we could use the imagery of a child with their father. They don’t hear the father once and that’s it. There is constant communication between the two.
Still, there are plenty of questions that arise out of learning to hear God: 1) Is it truly God or just me? 2) Is this God or is this the enemy? 3) What am I to do with what I believe God is speaking to me? And so on and so forth.
I think there are quite a lot of amazing factors God has given us to help wisely discern the voice of the Lord. While I list these, I wouldn’t say they are in any particular order. Some might say, ‘Well, you have to start with the Bible, the word of God.’ While I centre all my theology in Scripture and use it to weigh what I believe God is speaking even today, sometimes it is not that simple. Hence, why I list these and do not claim a particular order, as, at times, some will be more helpful than others.
1) The Scripture. As I said, and cannot say enough, this is central to weighing correct theology-doctrine as well as what we believe God is speaking today. But the thing is that Scripture does not address every little nook and cranny of every matter of life. Of course it addresses a wide gamut of issues and there are even things we can glean from its wisdom in one area that could relate into another. But Scripture is not a car instruction manual giving us 7 steps on how to do this or that and it will all be perfectly fine. Hence, the need in our lives for these other factors below.
2) Spouse. For those married to solid followers of Christ, this is normally the best place to start in weighing what we believe God is speaking today. But, having a godly spouse is not always the case, and, thus, we have the following to help as well.
3) Leadership. This is so central and important to our lives as Christ-followers. But, unfortunately, in the west, our individualism has set this aspect aside in so many ways. But God has given us elder-shepherds in our local church to consult for wisdom in matters of life. Of course, it isn’t fool-proof, nor will they have all the answers in every situation. But this is an absolutely vital part of the life of the body. They are God-given instruments to us! Yes, there has been and probably always will be abuse. But we cannot let misuse of this in some places detour us from the design of Jesus himself. Think of Jesus’ relationship of dependence on the Father. We need to be connected to leaders in our lives.
4) Body of Christ. Not only do we have leaders in our lives, but there are other wise and mature people in the body of Christ. Please don’t head towards people that you know will always agree with you. Rather head to people that love you, have your best interests in mind, but are also willing to speak into your life even if it means not agreeing with what you sense from God. If only we would value this aspect more and more, for God has never, ever thought the idea of the ‘lone ranger’ was good. Never! Also, if someone ever prophesies to you and asks you to keep it a secret and not tell anyone, that is not of God. He is one who brings things to light instead of hiding them. Prophecy has to do with God revealing or unveiling His heart, not hiding His intentions. Thus, we are not called to hide these things, but we should be willing to weigh it with leaders and others in the body of Christ. So don’t get caught up in ‘secretive’ prophecies. It is not healthy.
5) Peace of God. The peace of God is ultimately so very helpful in this area of our walk with God. In the end, if we think we have heard something from God or someone has spoken something as a word of prophecy to us, it needs to ultimately produce the peace of God in us. It’s not that we have to fell 100% comfortable with something. At times, God calls us to very uncomfortable things. But we can still know the peace of God in the midst of uncomfortability. But let our hearts be assured in God’s peace, which does surpass our cognitive understanding at times (Phil 4:7).
But these five things, and there are probably others, become very helpful in discerning the voice of God. And even then, it might call for steps of faith when we are still uncertain. We would love it if it were all so easy with no sense of need for wisdom, discernment, vulnerability, relying on the body, etc. But there is a process of learning here, just as with all aspects of our spiritual lives. Did we hear that? Again, while some want to super-spiritualise this whole thing and say, ‘It just happens. You just hear,’ most of us are still learning to hear from God. We are learning the Father’s voice. So let’s not be afraid if we are not always 100% certain.
As for prophecy, while the prophet or the one gifted in prophecy who has been functioning in such a ministry gift for quite some time might walk in much more confidence in the gift, those not specifically gifted in this way also need growth in this area. That is why the best place to start with prophecy is amongst the body of Christ whom we are closely connected with and joined to. Such is to be a safe place. Or, if the main gathering of the whole body is too intimidating at first, we can start in smaller groups or in one-on-one prayer time with close friends.
And when God speaks, it can be into differing areas: 1) into our own lives (which connects with some of the things discussed above about hearing God), 2) into the life of another or multiple others, 3) into the wider situations like a local church, or 4) into far-reaching situations like cities or nations, etc. Yes, I could have considered different ‘categories’. But I believe these provide a general understanding of how God can speak across varying lives and situations.
So, what we need to ask God is whether or not this revelation we have received from God is for ourselves, for others, or for a wider situation. Sometimes we immediately know. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes the revelation comes and we are to share it immediately. But sometimes it comes and we are to hold on it; such is for a later time. How do we know if it is for now or later? Well, I can encourage us to not feel rushed. If it is the word of the Lord, He will make sure it comes forth and accomplish its purpose. I am pretty sure there were plenty of prophets of old that received something from God but await the proper time to disclose the revelation.
If we are not sure if the prophecy is for now or another time, let’s remember the importance of consulting our leaders. They can be very effective in helping us know if it is for now or not for now. And they can also be helpful in bringing guidance on whether this is for ourselves alone, other particular people, or a wider situation. Strong and healthy leadership truly protects and provides wisdom. That is why they are shepherds.
Finally, I simply note that prophecy can come in varying forms. And this is where the particular personality of a person will have an effect on the way in which the prophecy is delivered. I’m not trying to lessen the impact of prophecy, but rather trying to emphasise just how incarnational our God is in revealing Himself. Thus, what I mean is that prophecy through a physicist will come forth in a little different way than, say, a creative artist. One might receive very stirring imagery, what some might call a ‘prophetic picture’ (the creative artist) while the other might communicate the prophecy in quite minute and ordered detail (the physicist). This happens very regularly. It’s quite like a David and an Isaiah prophesying in differing ways at differing times. But both communicated the word of the Lord. Again, this happens frequently.
In the end, there are still questions. We will always carry them as finite human beings. I suppose the prophets of Scripture also had questions (sorry if this sounds denigrating, but I don’t believe it is). But they also took steps of faith as the word of the Lord burned within their heart.
So I have no problem with providing practical training and equipping for God’s people to learn to hear the voice of our Father and how to prophesy. I think such is very helpful to see the body of Christ grow in their calling as a Spirit-indwelt people to be a prophetic voice in all the world.