Throughout the years there has been ongoing discussion about the role, value, and relevance of the prophetic ministry. These discussions have been heated at times but they have proven valuable, and when accompanied with grace, kindness and humility, they have resulted in long-term friendships.
There are still issues to be addressed but in general, prophetic ministry has proved to be invaluable and a tremendous asset to the Church, which of course is no surprise to any of the biblical authors. My view is somewhat blinkered and biased to what I perceive happening in the UK, Europe and beyond, but what I do see and hear from my international prophetic friends is for the most part positive and encouraging.
Prophets come in various shapes and sizes
In the contemporary prophetic approach there is not a standard one-size-fits-all model for the prophetic ministry, but there are ways of doing things that we can all agree on, much of which comes as we grow in wisdom, favour and intimacy with God, whilst encountering the Word of God on a daily basis.
Prophets and prophecy
Prophets come in various shapes and sizes, but it is useful to stress that not everyone who prophesies is a prophet. While that may not be assumed too often, there have been instances where conferences have given the impression that individuals were having a call ‘activated’.
It could be said that much of what we hear today as prophecy is encouragement rather than prophecy; but doesn’t that sort have a flavour of prophecy in it?
I think as we approach the ‘stuff’ of the prophetic, that we need to do so cautiously, redemptively and kindly. While it is good and helpful to highlight blind spots, we don’t want to do so in a harsh manner that isolates one another, we have enough problems in life as it is!
Elijah and Agabus both had different approaches to the way they ministered.
As genuine prophetic ministries emerge in the church this may be an ideal time for a focus-group approach to understanding what the role and function of a prophet is. Looking to the Old Testament for our idea of the prophetic ministry has its problems; Elijah and Agabus both had different approaches to the way they ministered. Agabus knew about grace and understood what it was that Elijah, and the other prophets were looking to.
Who are we?
We do things differently today, gone are the days of Clark Kent/Superman. The role for the prophet is something they are rather than do or become. I remember someone saying of a friend of mine that he thought he was God’s gift to the Church, but actually, he was! (Eph 4:11)
A good example to me of what a prophet looks like as we put them under the microscope is found in James 5:17 where James exhorts us that “Elijah was a man, just like us.” And so with all the prophets – no matter who your favourite; and they were also all sinners too! (Rom 3:23)
The Bible is the plumb-line reference point for the church, and understandably, it is also a place where people sometimes disagree about various theological approaches. While it is vital we are able to worship together in unity and peace, it is also important that people in the church are free and comfortable to be honest about their views or their understanding. After all (here comes the elephant in the room) haven’t we had some very strange teachings about prophecy including the use of weird terms and expressions, most if not all of which were unnecessary?
Such conversations (rather than debates) are the seedbed to understanding and where innovative approaches are cultivated that allow us to work together across our various denominations. We need to be able to talk to one another about each other, discovering who we are, what we do and how we do it when it comes to any part of our walk in Christ.
The greatest commandment is not so much to “love the Lord our God with all our heart”, but more accurately, “You SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart.” And, in so doing, seeing it not just as a command, but as a promise we’ll find the expression of that love reflected in our ability to look at each other without an edge, and work together for the King and His Kingdom in the way we were meant to do.
How we feel about each other and perceive one another is important. No doubt about it, people hide how they feel. It’s easy to understand why we do this, there may be people around that disagree with what we say so we feel it is better to suppress those feelings.
Open hearted prophets
Sometimes, it is altogether more painless to avoid conflict and keep things to yourself – but it’s not how progress is made. Prophets need to be free to ask some good questions to each other, without feeling threatened or having it look like they are challenging authority. If a prophet says that God showed them something it is okay to ask them how God showed them. We have no need for secrecy; we all want to know how God speaks to each other so that we can learn to be more receptive to the Spirit’s leading and guidance.
The Bible tells us to heal the sick and raise the dead but doesn’t really give us clear direction as to how to do that; the same goes with the ministry of the prophet. There is much to learn, much to discover. When we look at the lives of the prophets in the bible, we don’t necessarily have all the answers; Elijah may have been a man just like us but none of us know how to part the waters or see angels. Obviously, the initiative lies with God and the leading or prompting of the Spirit. Elisha is similar; how does he tell the very words spoken in secret by the king?
Samuel has staggering words of knowledge and the ability to hear the audible voice of God, but again we’re not told how to do it ourselves – but it does happen. Are you curious? I wonder if Elijah or Elisha looked back with curiosity at Samuel’s ministry. I think we are all astonished at what God can do with someone he calls. Think about some of the people who we consider to be prophets today, and whilst they are never going to be writing or adding to scripture, I believe God can use them to stir the church in the most unprecedented way in its preparation for the most audacious move of God and a harvest of souls.
How it begins?
It may be that we don’t need to know how to become a prophet. I think the role does start with ‘being prophetic’, but there are relational, internal issues. The prophets, called, chosen and commissioned, are prepared in the life-time forge of God’s providence and timing, meaning you don’t have anything to worry about, and you can’t train yourself up as an ‘on the shelf, waiting for a call’ prophet.
Some mysteries about the prophets’ lives interest us; one being the prophet that lies and deters a younger prophet from obeying the voice of God and causes the young prophet to neglect his duty, resulting in him being killed by a lion to say the least. The tribal narratives of the prophets are full of stories that are beyond the norm and there are too many to mention here, just read the prophets and you will see a vast and bewildering array of encounters with and before God. You can understand the raison d’etre of the school of the prophets. No matter what you encounter with an infinitely creative God, there is always more.
Biblical prophets are a great example for us, and sometimes we have to pause the great stories and let ourselves be encouraged, challenged or revived. The prophet Samuel lived in a world before social media, and the words of knowledge God gave him were remarkable, but they also are a prudent example to us that God looks at the heart, and so is able to reveal it too. We don’t choose to be prophets. God does.
The prophetic ministry, thankfully, is not just about words of knowledge, or predicting politically and sometimes, obvious forthcomings that even the press have been forecasting, but it is about building the church collectively, being accountable to leadership and working with and under that church leadership with a serving, humble spirit.
There is a nurturing process which the bible calls discipleship – don’t be afraid to ask. Not just about prophets and prophecy, but also every aspect of christian life. If you know someone who experiences the working of miracles ask them about that too!