When I was about 15 a friend of mine at school shared a message with me that he thought God has given him. I’d never experienced that before and it was very helpful and got me thinking about God speaking more personally and directly to people. I then read 1 Corinthians 14:1 and discovered that believers should ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.’ I began to realise that God wants us to all to desire – no, eagerly desire – to prophesy, that is, to hear his voice and when appropriate to share his message with others.
I spoke to the Staff Team at The Belfrey yesterday about this and I asked them: are you eagerly desiring to prophesy? Do you want to hear more from God? Do you want to grow in prophetic ministry? I then shared 10 Ways to Hear Better from God. Here they are:
Apple’s word-processing app which is their equivalent of Microsoft’s Word is called Pages. As followers of Jesus we need to be people of the Word – people constantly searching the Pages of bible. St Paul, who speaks positively to his young apprentice Timothy about prophecies in 1 Timothy 1:18 also tells him to stay rooted in the Bible, writing (in 2 Timothy 3:16) that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed & useful’. This reminds us that authentic prophecy should not contradict Scripture. So there’s a duty on prophetic people to know the Bible. They need to be sure there’s no inconsistency between their spoken word and the written Word. But prophetic people, like all believers, also need to know the Bible for the sake of their own discipleship – so that they live its teaching. I get slightly concerned when I see people sharing prophetic messages who don’t have bibles at hand. It models something very good for us to have bibles near by, open and used!
Prayer undergirds all prophecy. As we communicate with God, he communicates with us. So call upon the Lord. Ask him to speak. Expect him to speak. What I’ve noticed is that when I ask, he often speaks! As we pray, so we ‘stand in the council of the Lord’ as Jeremiah puts it (in Jer 23:18) and often we are given a message. But for this to happen we need to give time to personal prayer. This is more than sending up a quick prayer as we go through the day – important as that is. This is about giving time to listen to God. If you want to grow in hearing from God, you need to give time to this kind of listening prayer.
Praise and worship of God keep us close, intimate, and in communion with God. As we praise him together so the Spirit flows, moves and dances amongst us. I love the story of the church in Antioch where ‘while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said…’ (Acts 13:2). It was in the context of praise and worship that God spoke. The Antioch church discovered what James tell us: ‘Draw near to God and he will draw near to you’ (James 4:8).
I recall being at Holy Trinity Brompton in the early 90’s at a conference being led by John Wimber. He opened the session and then we began to praise God. No-one asked God to speak or prompted any of us to listen to his voice. We were simply encouraged to give God praise and to offer ourselves afresh to him. After about half an hour Wimber asked, out of curiosity, how many people the Lord had spoken to during the worship about their life and calling. About 50% of the crowd – including me – raised a hand. Fascinating! As we praised him and worshipped him, God spoke. Of course there is a danger that we worship for the purpose of receiving some kind of message or blessing. That is not what we should aim for. Praise is for him! If we get anything out of it, or he speaks, then that’s a lovely bi-product. But what most of us discover is that as we worship, so God often speaks. If you’re not convinced of this, read 1 Chronicles 25:1-2. There we find King David appointing musicians for the temple worship ‘for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.’ Clearly David saw a link between prophecy and musical worship.
Whilst we can meet with God anywhere, prophecy seems to flow in some places with more ease. Why is that? It’s hard to say, but many think it’s to do with the history and the heritage. The years and years of prayer.
In 2 Kings 2:3 we read that during the time of Elijah and Elisha there were a ‘company of prophets’ based at Bethel. We know from Genesis 28:19 that the city of Bethel was given its name by Jacob. It was the place where he met with God and dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth. This profound experience cause Jacob to call the place ‘Bethel’- because Beth means ‘house’ & El means ‘God’. So Bethel means ‘House of God’. Dwelling place of God. So it’s not surprising that Bethel should be a place where prophets end up gathering. It was a particularly good place to meet with God. To hear from him.
I know there are places I go where I particularly hear from God. When I went last year to Holy Island with my prayer partners Ric and Greg we found it to be a place where prophecy flowed freely. I suppose that’s not surprising as it’s well known as a much prayed-in ‘holy place’ from which the initial evangelisation of the North took place. Of course, we mustn’t use this idea of ‘place’ as an excuse for not hearing from God elsewhere. We must be open to hearing from him anywhere. But let’s recognise that some places are special and not be afraid to go to sacred places and listen for his prophetic voice. Do you do that?
If we are to ‘be eager to prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:39) then we should prepare. Be ready. Be expectant. So I’m especially open to his voice when I’m meeting with people pastorally and increasingly when chatting with people who wouldn’t call themselves believers. I’m praying for God to guide the conversation so something is communicated that speaks to them. Also as I go to sleep at night I say to Lord, ‘I’m open to you speaking in a dream’ and often he does. I have a note-book and pen by my bed and I’m always ready to record things in the day – perhaps on my phone, or in a note-book. I normally carry a bible with me too. I still have much to learn in this area. But the very least I can do is show God that I’m prepared. What about you?
If you want to hear from God, then stay pure. Don’t sin. I’m not saying you must be perfect, otherwise none of us would ever serve God or do anything in his name. But we do need to do our very best in avoiding sin. In my experience I find that when I deliberately sin, I become numb to the voice of God. This was what was happening in Isaiah’s day and is why he writes (in Isaiah 42:20) to those sinning by trusting in idols that ‘your ears are open but you hear nothing’.
Also when we choose to sin, the accusation of the enemy often comes that condemns us. He whispers to us how rubbish we are and what a terrible Christian we are. He might even tell us that God doesn’t love us and that we’ll never do anything good in his name. Of course those things are all untrue but if we’re not careful we can begin to believe them. That’s why those thoughts need rejecting and discarding. They are lies. You see, when we sin not only do we need to receive God’s forgiveness afresh, so often we also have to rebuke the voice of the enemy. Now because of the cross and resurrection of Christ we can do that. But it’s much better not to need to! It’s much better not to sin in the first place. It’s much better to just say ‘no’. So guard your heart and mind. Make wise choices. And when you get it wrong, be quick to come back and say sorry, keeping a short account with The Lord.
If we are to grow in hearing from God it helps to partner with other prophetic people. Hang out with them. Share. Learn, especially from those with more experience. That’s what Elisha did with Elijah. You can read about it in 1 Kings 19:19-21. This is how we grow in many areas of life – by simply watching and picking things up from others. It’s all part of learning. We are running a Prophecy Course at present at The Belfrey, and whilst the content is great, much of the learning actually takes place as people watch and learn from others. So why not partner up with someone a little wiser and more experienced than you?
To be effective in prophecy, we often have to live with pain. In fact pain is often the breeding-ground for much good ministry. It’s not that we go seeking pain. That would be a bit weird! But we recognise that there is much good that can emerge out of pain and struggle.
In the bible some of the so-called ‘prophets’ were wary of the role and reluctant to take up the call. Not everyone wants the pain of the calling (see eg. Amos 7:14). As we pray and listen to God he sometimes shares with us feelings not just of his joy, but of his sadness (as Hosea did by having an unfaithful wife to remind him of the unfaithfulness of God’s people). There is also the pain of rejection and even persecution for being prophetic (see eg. Matthew 5:12). And sometimes the message God gives us feels like a heavy burden (see Isaiah 13 – where Isaiah ‘lifts up’ a weighty burden of a message). All this reminds us that prophetic people need to be tough-skinned but soft-hearted. Prophecy is a pioneering ministry and pioneers, even inside the church, can often be given a hard time by settlers. If you want to grow in hearing from The Lord, you must be prepared for some pain.
From time to time we need to be reminded why God has prophets and prophetic ministry in his church and in the wider world. The answer is found in Ephesians 4:12: ‘to equip God’s people for ministry’. We hear from God and speak his message not just so we can feel good about ourselves or be encouraged that we’ve heard God’s voice. No, we hear from God and speak his message to equip others. It’s to help people to serve effectively. It’s to see God’s kingdom come. It’s for transformation – to see changed lives, families, streets, communities, regions, nations – living under the lordship of Christ.
Interestingly, when God’s kingdom comes in all its fulness – in heaven – there’ll be no more prophecy. 1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that: ‘when perfection comes’ – that is, in heaven – ‘prophecies …will cease’. There’ll be no more need for prophetic ministry, as everyone will live in the closest relationship with God and we will know all things, being able to communicate without any barrier. That’s a day to look forward to.
Do you practice hearing from God? A good place to begin is on your own. You can listen to God’s voice by yourself and write it down. Test it. Put it past a few others whom you trust. Learn. And discern. No doubt that’s what people were doing in the School of Prophets during the time of Elijah and Elisha. And don’t forget it takes time to learn and grow, but it’s worth it.
You can also practice in a group. Perhaps of three, or maybe larger. Listen. Try. Test.
In my experience I’ve found there are 3 stages in hearing from God that we need to go through in order to discern wisely the message and what we should do with it. They are: revelation, interpretation and application. All are important.
Here you ask: ‘what is the message?’ It’s about understanding the content which may come in the form of a bible verse, a picture, or word, or dream, or strong impression.
Here you ask: ‘what does it mean?’ There are lots of potential meanings of, say, a picture or a dream. We need to ask God what it means.
Here you ask: ‘what do I do with this?’ You ask questions like: who it this for? What do I do with it? If it’s for others, when should it be shared? How should this be done?
In all this, it’s good to ask God to confirm the message in some way. So yesterday I shared a prophetic message with someone who then told me that God has said something very similar to him last week and that what I shared was very helpful, encouraging him that he’d heard correctly last week! Excellent!!
I believe this is a season where the Lord wants us to be stepping up in our listening to him. So let’s press in to this. Let’s not be afraid to practice. And as we do so, be encouraged and motivated by the wise words of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:
‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.’