There truly is nothing like hearing the voice of the Father. He still speaks, you know. His actual voice.
From the beginning in Genesis 1, God set the precedent for His desire to communicate:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And it continues right through the whole of Scripture, capped off with our Lord Jesus saying in the final verses of Revelation – Yes, I am coming soon. (Hmmm. Soon. Ok, this article is not about eschatology….)
Really and truly, the pattern is set that our God is a communicative God via speaking, via His great acts, through providential guiding, through His people, through the written word of Scripture, and so on.
And we know the great voice of God ultimately came through The Word, Jesus.
The Word sets the example – only doing that which the Father is doing (John 5:19) and only speaking that which the Father is speaking (John 8:28).
He is not so bothered with setting up excellent programmes and super-duper campaigns and blow-your-mind slogans. He hears the voice of the Father, he sees the acts of the Father, and that is what compels him into action.
And it is this voice, the voice of the Father that I desire, for we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. I suppose starvation from the words of the Father would make us worse off than starvation from bread. The psalmist said, ‘Your love is better than life’ (Ps 63:3), and I gather the same is true of the Father’s voice.
It is powerful, gentle, strengthening, true, tender, gracious, kind, loving, caring, faithful, and so much more. It cuts through confusion and fear and bitterness and exhaustion and a whole host of other things that hold us down.
I love this poetic expression of the voice of the Lord found in Psalm 29:
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. 4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is majestic. 5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox. 7 The voice of the LORD strikes
with flashes of lightning. 8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert;
the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
Pretty powerful stuff – breaking strong cedars, making a nation leap like a calf, shaking deserts, twisting oaks (or some versions translate that last one as ‘makes the deer give birth’).
The voice of the Father is no patty-cake, patty-cake game. It is powerful, even in its whisper.
And so I’ve recently been re-drawn in to that reality that we cannot simply live on bread – as individuals, as churches. We must live on the words, every word, that proceeds from the mouth of God.
He meant it that way long ago. He means it that way today. He will mean also mean it for the age to come.
On Sunday at Cornerstone, we had Gary Benjamin with us to bring the message. Gary and his team head up a house of prayer and worship in the Waterloo area of Belgium. In his message, Gary communicated his deep and passionate heart for prayer. Interestingly, he shared many stirring stories-testimonies of God’s powerful work through prayer and obedience to the voice of God.
As one who believes God still speaks today, in the specific prophetic-revelatory sense (though we don’t need to add it into the Scripture), and that God is still doing miraculous works throughout the whole of the world, I commend this message to you to stir you in prayer and faith for God’s heart to see great things take place in the earth.
You can listen to it by clicking on the icon below, or you can download it from our podcast or from iTunes. For those who would like to know, the message is 39:51 in length.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I shared some introductory thoughts on the gift of prophecy, a kind of Prophecy 101, as well as giving the link to our podcast with my teaching on the same topic with our local church. I shared a lot of things mainly from the New Testament, as I believe there was a shift in the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy when Jesus, the Prophet and Living Word, arrived on the scene (you can read more about this shift here).
And so here is my follow-up post on the gift of prophecy, which we could call ‘Prophecy 102’.
If you would like, you can listen to my teaching by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from Cornerstone’s podcast site or iTunes. Or feel free to read on.
Different Measures of the Gift
When reading the New Testament, it is very easy to see there are varying measures of the varying gifts that God gives. I believe this is seen in passages like Rom 12:3:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
To each has been given a measure of faith. This passage does not speak of saving faith, but I believe it speaks of the faith we are given according to the gifts God has given to us. Hence why Paul would go on to say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. (Rom 12:6)
Also, real life shows that each of us are given different measures of ministry-serving gifts. My teaching gift is miniscule compared with some other teachers. Not because they are so much more studied than I, though that can play a role, but because they have insights in God that I have not come to yet and might never. So not only are there differing parts of the body, but even those parts that are very similar in gift will vary in their measure of ministry and gift.
And, so, with the gift of prophecy, I easily see three distinctive measures:
a) Prophet – (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28-29)
Yes, these people will be used frequently in prophecy. But they are also called to be foundation layers and to equip God’s people. One of the best ways they equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13) is by helping prepare God’s people to fulfil their prophetic role as a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people.
b) Gift of prophecy – (1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:6)
Some people will be used in this gift rather frequently, but they are not functioning as foundation-laying and equipping prophets.
c) All may prophesy – (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:5, 31)
Because all of God’s people now have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, we are a prophetic body and can all be used in prophecy. I am very passionate about this and, so, share more about this reality here.
Different Ways God Speaks
Of course God reveals Himself in so many ways – through creation, through art, through a whole host of things. But with regards to God speaking and revealing Himself today in the more ‘prophetic’ and ‘revelatory’ sense, I find that there are typically 5 ways in which God does so:
a) Actual words
Here God actually speaks to the person. A case and example would be God’s call to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. We see this in other places like Acts 13:1-3 where the Holy Spirit, via the prophets in Antioch, speaks that Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart for their apostolic-mission work. And, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is not so much about hearing God speak something, but rather the times when God gives a kind of mental picture of something He wants to communicate. It’s almost like a rubber-stamp on our mind or spirit of God’s revelation. Again, God has not spoken to the person but rather gives a picture, an image of what He wants to communicate. And so, when we share the prophetic picture, we describe what we see imprinted upon our minds.
Typically, we might identify our receiving of visions when we are awake and receiving of dreams when we are asleep. Peter, when quoting Joel, said that this would be part of the fruit of the prophetic Spirit in the last days. And we’ve been in the last days for about 2000 years. And so these things would continue through this entire age. An example of a vision would be the one Peter had on the rooftop with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals (Acts 10). God repeated it 3 times to communicate that Peter needed to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. A dream might be like what we find in Gen 15:12-20 where God makes the all-important covenant with Abraham.
What I always encourage people with is that we don’t get caught up too legalistically with terms and definitions. Goodness, we love our terms and definitions. And while I hope these are helpful here, though others might approach things with different terms, there are things that fall outside these first 3 examples. And, so, I might identify as promptings and impressions. There is no spoken word from God, no mental picture, no vision or dream, but there is a stirring, a sensing, a prompting, an impression of the heart of God and what He wants to communicate to a person, within the local church body, etc. It might call for us to speak out a prophecy or act out of prophetic action. But this comes from an inner sense and prompting of God, not so much a direct word, picture, vision or dream. Here is a great example of a prompting of the Spirit over at Jesus Creed.
I shared this in the last article, but when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not ‘intended’ within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is extremely important in a life of following Jesus as Master. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’
God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal ‘more’ of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. I have plenty of other examples of this exact same experience, but that should be one sufficient example.
How To Communicate Prophecy
This is important to look at as well. When we communicate prophecy, or what we believe God has revealed to us, we must use wisdom. First off, when we do prophesy, there is nothing inherently more spiritual about speaking in King James Old English – Thus saith the Lord…
Now, I think we all pretty much know that, but there was a day when prophecy always had to come with that kind of language. But remember that God is incarnational and comes to real human beings in real life. So we can speak ‘normal’ and it still remain just as true, just as directive and just as much from God.
I spoke earlier in this article of the different measures of the gift of prophecy. And, so, for the prophet and those regularly used in this gift, I would expect statements to possibly start out with, ‘This is what the Lord says…‘ Of course, it does not have to begin that way. One can begin to speak the prophecy without such a prelude statement. But, to bring a focus, especially in a larger church gathering, it can be helpful at times to begin with such.
But, a word of wisdom to those who are not prophets and not regularly used in this gift of prophecy, or for those who are wanting to learn to hear and discern God’s voice. It is best to begin a prophecy with a less directed statement such as, ‘I believe this is what the Lord is saying…’ or ‘I sense the Lord is saying…’
While I do believe God speaks clearly and directly today, having heard such prophets and those gifted in prophecy speak such powerful things in my almost 14 years in Christ, for those still growing in hearing God and in prophecy, let’s be wise how we communicate such things.
Finally, I end with some thoughts on weighing prophecy. This is biblical and a very good practise. Of course, we don’t only want to weigh prophecy, but we want to be wise discerners and evaluaters of all things in our life in God. Now, at the same time, I highly discourage against what I might call agnostic Christianity where we always question every word, action and motive, laying aside any child-like faith of trust. But, when the body speaks forth prophecy, we are to be responsible to weigh it.
One passage to focus in on is found here:
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:29-33)
Who are the ‘others’ in vs29 that are encouraged to weight the prophecy? Some would argue it is the other prophets in the congregation. But, noting the whole thrust of chapter 14 – Paul’s instruction to the whole church, not simply prophets – I believe it is asking the whole congregation to be responsible in weighing things.
Also, to go along with some things I said earlier, it is worth noting that, in vs31, the word all is used 3 times. This, I believe is another pointer that all of God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy, can prophesy. We can all prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.
Now, a quick word about what it means to weigh prophecy, though I am sure more could be said. When it comes to weighing, here are 4 questions that I find helpful:
Is it in line with the principles and teaching of Scripture?
What do our wise and experienced leaders have to say about the prophecy?
Does it resonate well in our hearts as men and women of the Spirit?
Does it bring clarity rather than confusion?
If, for some reason we believe the prophecy or revelation shared is not of the Lord, it does not necessarily mean we kick the person out of the church. That is not the norm, at least in my experience. But, suffice it to say, each case will call for its own wisdom. It could be that the leaders speak a personal word to the person who shared the off-base prophecy. Or it could be a public correction right then and there following the so-called prophecy. Or it could be a correction in the next church gathering. Again, it will call for the leaders to have God’s wisdom.
Now, if the person continues to share wrong things, then we would probably need to put a stop to their sharing, if not forever, at least for a time. Again, that might call for a personal word with the person or a public sharing with the congregation. With these things we always need the Lord’s wisdom.
Of course, when it comes to false prophets (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1), false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), and even false super apostles like what Paul dealt with (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11), these people are immediately seen outside of the fold. The fruit of their lives, what they speak and how they act, will mean that we guard the people from such deceivers and not give any room to them, warning the congregation to stay away from such people. So, though we do not stone people today, we do exclude them from the fold.
But, for the most part, those who are truly in the body of Christ and are looking to hear the voice of God and be faithful to speak what He prompts and reveals, we must allow for the church to be a safe place where we can learn to practice the gifts of the Spirit. I believe this calls for us to allow the people to take steps of faith, even if they might miss something. Some will disagree, but I believe this is part of helping the people of God learn to hear God and speak correctly what He reveals.
Now, 95% of the time, it is my experience that no bomb will be dropped that will devastate people. But it does happen, and when it does, we must deal with it with wisdom. And so, this is why I believe it can be helpful to utilise the leadership of the church as a kind of ‘screening process’ first, asking the people to share with the leadership before stepping forward and utilisng a microphone to share any prophecy. I have found this to be extremely helpful in guarding against unhelpful things spoken to the congregation. We want to steer clear of a controlling spirit as well. But we must consider how to maintain a good balance.
Well, this should suffice for now – a Prophecy 101 and 102 – for getting an introduction into the gift of prophecy, especially noting the changes that Christ and the new covenant have brought about to this all-important gift. We cannot centre out theology in the Old Testament. We can obviously build on it and learn from it, but we must now see Christ and the New Testament as the great teacher on all things of our faith, including prophecy. Of course, this does not mean we have a 7-step instruction manual process to help us through in every instance. Such would take away from the reality that this is part of walking out a life of faith. But I do believe these are some helpful insights into this gift as understood from the fuller, new covenant perspective.
Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, after a few week’s with, guest blogger, T, continues his series on gifts of the Spirit. The first article can be found here.
In the second article, T asks about ‘promptings of the Spirit’ and shares a specific example in his own life.
Our church back in Gainesville, Florida, would occasionally have “worship nights.” They were some of my very favorite gatherings. About once a quarter on a Friday night, we’d gather for a couple of hours and the only things on the agenda were worship and prayer. On this Friday, I was sitting near the front, and Kim and I were among the first to arrive. It was one of those nights that I was truly grateful, even excited, for the opportunity to worship God with the church, even before the first song began.
I don’t remember the song, but at some point the theme I was affirming as we sang was willingness to obey God, even though it can sometimes be costly. As I affirmed this to God, and was even considering my own limits for obedience, I felt the urge to turn around. Sitting directly behind me was Jon. Jon was one of the people in the church that I most admired, but kind of from afar. The things I heard Jon say in church or elsewhere were routinely marked by depth, truth and heartfelt compassion, but we were in one small group and he led another, so he lingered on the top of the “people-I-want-to-know-better” list at church for a while.
On this night as I turned around, Jon had a familiar intensity on his face as he worshipped, and with his eyes closed. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I turned back around. As I did, I felt an unexpected conviction to turn back around, push my chair out of the way and strongly embrace Jon. Just for clarification, what I felt wasn’t empathy, at least not then. I wish I had reason to be empathetic; Jon was just worshipping God (just like I wanted to get back to doing). If I could describe what I was feeling at this stage it was fear and inner turmoil. My first line of inward defense was to dismiss that this was any kind of leading from God. I will summarize the outcome there by saying that however I reasoned about it, I could not persuade myself this wasn’t God’s unction, despite my best efforts. A simple unction to “do this” had come (as I was pledging obedience to God, no less), and it pretty much only had fear stopping me.
I was stuck. I soon discovered that going back to singing praises and offers of obedience to God were just impossible, unless the goal was hypocrisy and misery. I wanted to get to know Jon better, but not like this! What would he think of me? What if he recoiled? For the next several minutes, I would look back every so often just to see if he had at least opened his eyes so that he would at least see it coming. No luck. My last line of defense was compromise. If Jon wouldn’t open his eyes, I figured I would say something (anything!) and give him some warning or explanation or at least a “hello” first. But as I started to say something my guts burned with conviction that I was compromising out of fear, and not being obedient. After another bit of inward wrestling, I just did it. I pushed the chairs aside (Jon still didn’t open his eyes; the music drowned out the sound) and put my arms around him firmly but gently. I felt like as I did it, that I shouldn’t be in any hurry to let go.
Not only did Jon not recoil, he practically collapsed. His arms—weakly at first, then with great energy—embraced me in return. And he just wept. I must have held him as the singing continued for thirty seconds or a minute at least. By the time we released to look at each other, both of our eyes were wet, but we were both beaming smiles. I knew God was in this, but I still had no idea what exactly had been going on. Jon explained.
Jon had grown up on the mission field with an authoritarian and judgmental father/minister. Jon was in his thirties now and had walked through years of healing from it, but that week he had talked with his dad who had now finally been fully explicit that Jon was a thorough disappointment. All the healing Jon thought he had from his dad opinion of him just melted that week. Jon explained that he was in such misery over it that week, he almost didn’t come that night. He had little “worship” in him. He said he had decided to come with only one prayer that he had been praying repeatedly, prior to and throughout the meeting, but with little hope for any suitable answer, “I just need to know what You feel about me.” When told me that, I wept, but out of repentance for how close I was to blowing the whole thing off or changing it for my fears. Incidentally, Jon and I became close that day, and every time we see each other, even many years later now, a smile comes to both of our faces.
This is a beautiful story of what it really means for God’s people to learn to hear, discern and obey the voice of the Lord. For those of us who believe God still speaks, reveals and prompts His people today with specific words and actions, we all will have experienced some time of questioning or doubt of whether we have truly heard the voice of the Lord. And, I would venture to say that we have all missed or bypassed these promptings. But stories like this remind us that even ‘prophetic actions’ accomplish the same purpose of spoken prophetic messages:
the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation (1 Cor 14:3)
Over at my personal blog, The Prodigal Thought, I have regularly been posting stirring words from Richard Foster’s classic, Freedom of Simplicity, as I have slowly moved my way through the book. Here are some thoughts of his on practicing silence and how this can help us hear the voice of the Lord:
One way to nurture simplicity is through the discipline of silence. Society is dominated by the inane notion that action is the only reality. Please, for God’s sake and your own, don’t just do something, stand there! Come in and enjoy his presence. Sink down into the light of Christ and become comfortable in that posture. Open the subterranean sanctuary of your soul and listen for the Kol Yahweh, the voice of the Lord. To do so gives us focus, unity, purpose. We discover serenity, unshakableness, firmness of life orientation. (p113)
These are extremely challenging words in the busied and hurried life of today. For some, they might sound New Age, but this is simply about drawing in close to the presence of God’s Spirit who resides within the believer, all to know the Father’s leading voice in our lives.
I, for one, want to quiet my heart before the Lord on a regular, even ongoing, basis.