This past summer I had a dream. I found myself in a church service standing in the midst of a large circle of people. As I looked around the circle, I was startled to see that they were more like zombies than anything; their faces were thin and gaunt, their skin pale and wan, their eyelids half closed. I was frightened by the sight and I said,
“What’s wrong with these people?”
The Lord spoke to me in the dream and said, “They are passing away because they are not hearing my prophetic words for them. Their spirits are drying up within them.”
I was both saddened and disturbed. I knew I could not go around the circle and prophesy over every single person there. As I looked about, my eyes came to rest on a man and the Lord said “Go, prophesy over him.” So I went.
There were three or four people with me in the dream and we gathered around the man and began to prophesy over him. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness will be added to you. You can't attain it...you can't obtain it...he will add it to you.” The man was overcome with emotion and he fell to the ground weeping. He was a youth pastor from somewhere in the United States, and as we prophesied over him concerning his ministry he physically changed before my eyes. His body filled out, the colour returned to his skin, even his hair began to grow.
Then I woke up. I looked to the bedroom ceiling and silently prayed so as not to wake my wife, “What was that Lord!?”
I have been pondering the dream since summer, wondering what it means. Aside from the initial admonition from the Lord towards me personally (don’t hold back: “when I say ‘Go’, then go and prophesy”), I began to see a deeper meaning. God is speaking. The gift of prophecy is intended to encourage, strengthen, and build up the Church. His words are life giving and can transform us when we hear them. When we don’t, we begin to shrivel up inside, slowly dying from hunger and thirst, for we are made to hear his voice with the eyes and ears of our hearts. The words of the Spirit are powerful; when God speaks incredible results can and do follow.
Recently, this began to coalesce in my mind as I prepared to preach at my church. I was reading through the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in John 4. As I was reading, an aspect of the story bubbled forth and it was something I hadn’t noticed before. Jesus does a masterful job of drawing the woman into a dialogue about living water, a water that will do away with thirst and become a spring ‘welling up to eternal life.’ The woman finally asks him for this water and Jesus makes a left turn, so to speak.
He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."
The woman is, understandably, impressed. She recognizes that to have such supernatural insight into her life this man must be a prophet. Jesus then goes on to explain more to her about the living water and ultimately, remarkably, reveals to her that he is the Messiah. The disciples return from going off to get some food and the woman slips away. She goes into town and tells the people there, not that she has just met a man claiming to be Living Water and the Messiah, but rather, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” The people, impressed, come out of the town to see Jesus. He spends time with them, teaching them and many put their faith in him. In verse 42 we see a very interesting confession on the part of the townsfolk: “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the World.”
I sat back from reading this and asked myself, “What just happened?”
Jesus is speaking to the woman about Living Water, and when she asks for it, he prophetically speaks to her about something he could not know naturally. The result of his action at this point is that the town comes out to see him. Initially, it is because of the woman’s testimony regarding his supernatural insight—who can resist seeing that? But in the end it gave Jesus the opportunity to teach and share the good news of the Kingdom with them, and many believed. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he gave the Samaritan woman prophetic insight into her life. He knew it would cause a commotion that would bring the people out to see him, and it would make them thirsty to hear what he had to say … and ultimately thirsty for him, the Living Water.
The voice of God is powerful. Paul encouraged the practice of the gift of prophecy in church over speaking in tongues, because he believed it edified the church and was thus extremely valuable. Yet, where do we stand today? Returning to my dream, I had to ask that question. The message in my dream seemed to be pointing to a dearth in the practice of the gift of prophecy, and people were suffering in very real ways because of it. There are two sides to the story that we should consider.
First, there are the prophetic people scattered throughout our church communities who are hiding. Often, prophetic people are ‘sensitive’, by which I do not mean quick to weep when looked at, but rather they sense things in their spirit. A lot of negative spiritual atmosphere filled with anger, bitterness, disillusionment, lack of forgiveness, lack of love, etc ... will shut down the sensitive prophetic types in our midst. Over the last few years (or more) I have noticed folks speak suspiciously, angrily, and in even deeply bitter tones, about prophecy. As a prophetic person I can tell you when you encounter these feelings in people it is like putting thick cotton balls in one’s spiritual ears … nothing is going to be heard clearly and almost certainly not much will be said. However, Holy Spirit is speaking, and he knows his people need to hear what he is saying. We have a problem where the prophetic gifts are not flowing, not accomplishing what they are meant to. Prophetic people have a responsibility to not only exercise their gift, but to exercise it properly and with respect, and in these two areas many have failed, the fall out leading to the second side of the story. If you are a prophetic person then I urge you hear this: we are not Old Testament prophets; we prophecy through the lens of the Cross of Jesus, a lens that is filled with his love, his redemption, his forgiveness, his hope and his power to transform. The community of Jesus is in danger of a slow spiritual death for lack of hearing their Master’s words of both instruction and encouragement.
Now, secondly, there are reasons people are feeling and harbouring negative responses and opinions towards the prophetic, and some of them are very good reasons, but the most common reaction I encounter is disappointment. Either people have been given prophetic ‘words’ that were not accurate and based on something other than Jesus’ voice or people have taken a prophetic message, put their own spin on it (misinterpreted for a big word) then sat back and judged the word as wounding and untrue because it didn’t fulfill their spin. Problematic? Yes, but a problem that will always be present where people are trying to hear the Lord and share what they think he is saying. Scripture gives us some key tools to avoid these pitfalls though, and it is these simple tools we need a reminder of. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19ff “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
In his book Can You Hear Me? my dear friend, Brad Jersak, has written a clear description of what these tools are, and I will shamelessly borrow from him (side note: if you are someone who is unsure about God speaking then get Brad’s book and read it. A more scriptural foundation I have not seen.) First, John instructs us in 1 John 4 to test the spirit who is speaking. Is the source of the message the Holy Spirit or isn’t it? We are to feel free to ask. This is a valuable tool when faced with a word that really throws us for a loop. “Does the spirit speaking this message confess that Jesus came in the flesh?” If the response is ‘no’ in any way, then don’t heed the message. God is not offended when we test the prophetic words that come our way; indeed he instructs us to in Scripture. I think if you asked him directly about how to receive prophetic words he would say something like, “Do it wisely.”
Secondly, Brad gives a great model for testing the prophetic: a three legged stool made up of the Bible, the Body, and the Spirit. Does the content of the prophetic word line up with Scripture, with what it teaches and professes? When you share the message with fellow, trustworthy believers what do they say? What is their sense of it? This is important. We do not hear a word, receive it, and never tell anyone else about it. Whenever I hear something, either from the Lord directly or through someone, I have key people I run it by, even if it seems obvious that it is the Lord. We need each other to help in discernment … this is wise. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, what does the Holy Spirit say about the message? Here is some good news in case you’ve never heard it or forgotten: the Spirit of Jesus lives in you as a believer. If you ask him what he thinks about a prophetic word he will tell you. His promise is that he will lead us into all truth, he is faithful to help us from being led astray and also to help us understand more fully the prophetic words we are given. I often use the phrase ‘revelation is an invitation to dialogue.’ This reminds me that prophetic words/messages are usually only the beginning of a journey with Jesus. He uses them to draw me into a conversation and an unfolding process with him. Prophetic words are usually the start of something and when we take the time to engage with Jesus about them, we experience the richness of what he is speaking to us on a far deeper level than if we ‘shelf’ what we are given. Don’t ‘shelf’ prophetic words, talk to Jesus about them (for more on that you can read my, now old article, The Prophetic Word: Shelf Ornament or Treasure? on the Clarion Site).
Returning to my dream, the message was/is clear. There are many of us who drying up inside and half alive spiritually because we have not been hearing the genuine prophetic messages Jesus is speaking to us. Past mistakes and wounds are not a good enough reason to shut our ears to the voice of God. The immaturity of prophetic people is not a good enough reason to quench the gift of prophecy; rather it is an indication that we need more training and humble hearts so we can learn how to be better at functioning in the gift, in both using it and receiving it (that training is available by the way. If you live in the Lower Mainland check out Samuel’s Mantle which I am a part of, or Streams Canada, the Canadian wing of Jon Paul Jackson’s ministry.)
The voice of God is powerful. In my dream it caused a man half dead to come to life in minutes. In Samaria long ago, it brought a town out to see Jesus and caused them to believe in him. In my own life, the voice of God took me from deep pits of darkness and despair to spiritual life and joy. I have seen the voice of God reduce the thickest skinned people to weeping and made the saddest of them laugh in joy. The voice of God is one of the most profound expressions of his love and his presence. When he speaks we know that he is not the clockwork God who set things in motion then abandoned us; when he speaks we realize that not only does he know us to our most intimate core, but he loves us completely and without reservation. He is Living Water and his words to us are Living Water, they bring life, hope, redemption, faith, love, kindness, healing, wisdom … the list goes on. So, today if you hear his voice don’t harden your heart; listen, test and weigh, hold on to what is good, and you may find you have tasted the kind of water that becomes a spring welling up to eternal life within you.