Perception, Participation

Have you ever stood in a church service and heard “Thus saith the Lord” — then realized the person speaking isn’t quoting Scripture, but instead is claiming to speak for God?

One controversial concept in the church today is the subject of prophecy, especially among charismatic churches or those that use the term “Spirit-filled.”

Different denominations have their own take, of course. That’s kind of the whole point of denominations, isn’t it? To have their own particular take on everything.

Most mainline denominations claim that prophecy is not for today – as in, “Thus says the Lord: in two years’ time I will do X, Y, and Z.” They look to the Bible as perfect, the complete revelation of God for His people. And they quote 1st Corinthians 13 as their source:

if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away… For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (NASB)

Other denominations, especially any that emphasize being Spirit-filled or using spiritual gifts, will declare that prophecy is alive and well as a gift of God to the church.

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB)

Why, they ask, would we do away with one of the gifts God has given to equip us, to build us up, to help us attain unity and maturity?

But the key question is, “What is prophecy?” And by answering that, perhaps we can avoid some of the denominational debates.

Prophecy comes from a combination of Greek words “pro” – before or forward, and “phemi” – to speak one’s mind. So it can be “fore-telling” what will happen in the future known to God but revealed to man. But it can also be “forth-telling” or speaking forward the mind of God on a given matter. This latter version of “prophecy” is what I want to focus on.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 2:7 NASB)

God is a communicator. We are promised that His people hear His voice and follow Him. (John 10:27-30). Certainly there’s an individual application to that, where we each seek God and He speaks to us in our relationship with Him. But there can also be a corporate aspect to it, where God provides His insights to our church leaders and members in order to guide His people in the world today.

Paul lays out lots of specific guidance for how prophecy works in the Body in 1st Corinthians 12 and 14, and we see the concept of hearing God all throughout Scripture.

For me, prophecy comes down to two things: perception, and participation.

First we need to see what God is doing, to hear what He is saying, to figure out where He is moving. We can’t speak forth the mind of God on any given matter without getting in line with Him. That’s where perception comes in. “Perception is reality” is a stretch, but the fact is we respond to what we perceive. So we have to catch a glimpse of God in order to start the process of responding to Him. For example, consider this comment about the tribe of Issachar:

the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do (1st Chronicles 12:32 NASB).

Second, once we see where God is moving and hear what God is saying, we act. We join Him, and do His will. We participate. Maybe that means a particular brand of outreach, or a timely response to a crisis. Maybe it’s a unique solution to an ongoing problem in our community. Whatever it is, the goal of the people of God is not just to hear the voice of their Shepherd, but to act on that voice and follow Him.

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27 NASB)

Certainly, denominations will have their debates and their differences. But as individuals and as corporate churches, we can incorporate this understanding of “prophecy” into our worship and our devotion to God. We want to perceive what He is saying, and then we want to participate in what He is doing in the world around us.

Regardless of denomination, regardless of preferred expression of worship, we believe in a living God who speaks to His people – through the Scriptures, through personal devotion and prayer, through the songs we sing, through individual Christians and through the corporate church.

God is speaking. As those who wish to pursue Him, we must have our eyes and ears attentive, and our feet ready to follow.

So, I’m curious: Knowing that each of His children has a unique individual relationship to Him, how do you find it easiest to hear God? In what ways does He most often communicate to you?

Advertisements

Me Time

There’s a great blog post going around about the iPhone mom, the one at the park looking at her mobile phone and missing her girl dancing around or climbing the monkey bars, her son doing cartwheels or swinging high in the sky. The point is that those moments may be that stay-at-home mom’s only opportunity to converse with an adult during the course of a busy day. I know my wife and I have talked about the difficulties she faces when she gets almost no interaction with adults until I get home after work, let alone any quiet moments to herself.

There’s a Baby Blues joke about a Valentine’s Day gift the husband presents to the wife, purchased from the hardware store. She looks unimpressed, until he reveals that it is a titanium bathroom deadbolt so that the children cannot interrupt her privacy. Suddenly, it’s the most romantic gift ever.

Sometimes we need a quiet place where we can shut out all the distractions and just be alone.

This is where worship ties in. There’s a parallel here that worshipers would be wise to follow.

The worshiping church body hopefully has a team of worshipers that do all they can to remind the congregation of God’s presence and goodness. That worship team is hopefully made up of passionate individuals – the ‘I’ for the day’s A to Z blog challenge entry.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.'” Or so goes the prevailing logic. But the truth is, there are several ‘I’s on any team, and those individuals need to be at their best in order for the team to succeed at its best. That involves time spent in the presence of God, not just corporately with the congregation, or even as a worship team. It means that I need to have an active worship life of my own.

Multiple times in the Gospels we see Jesus go off to be alone, early in the morning, late in the evening, spending time in prayer. There’s a reason. We read that Jesus discerned what was in men’s hearts, and did not entrust himself to any man, but solely relied on and followed what He saw from the Father.

Where do we think Jesus got this revelation of what the Father was doing? How did He develop the skill and intimacy with the Father to see where He was meant to go, what He was meant to do, what He was meant to say and to whom?

“Well, Jesus was God in the flesh, so of course He knew what the Father wanted Him to do.”

But Jesus was also fully man, and our example to follow. He was limited in His knowledge while He walked on the earth – how would anyone’s faith surprise Him, and how would anyone’s lack of faith spontaneously frustrate Him? He temporarily gave up that equality with God in order to come as a Man (see Philippians 2).

There are other examples throughout Scripture. Consider Daniel’s habit of private prayer, something he would not give up for any reason even on threat of death. Peter is in prayer, alone, when he has his vision in Acts 10. David had many opportunities to worship in solitude, and we read his songs throughout the book of Psalms. Job had a daily worship routine. Hannah goes to the Tabernacle alone to pray for God’s mercy.

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad. Everything vies for our time and attention.

But worshipers cannot point the way to a place they have not been, an intimacy they have not known or seen.

We often say we need to find time, but the fact is time comes to everyone in exactly the same quantity every day. We must make time, by locking out all other voices and distractions, throwing that titanium deadbolt on the door, and spending a few moments alone with God.

What ways do you find most helpful for blocking out the busy world to focus on the Lord?

What’s for Dinner?

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I wrote on my fitness blog about dieting and healthy eating.

There’s a clear spiritual parallel for anyone who’s seeking God.

A writer at our writing group spoke about her experience hearing God more clearly when she turned off all the other constant inputs around her. No TV, no radio, no cable, no Internet (ok, maybe a short fast from the Internet)…

And suddenly she was able to find God in the midst of her circumstances.

Consider how often you see people with heads down, phone in hand, checking a text or tweet or status update, liking a friend’s comment or post or blog.

I’m standing in Wal-Mart on crutches, writing this on my phone. I’m one of them, one of (i)Pod People.

We have the world at our fingertips. This wealth of information is great, but it has risks. Autocorrect saw me accidentally type “unformation” and tried to fix it, but there’s a ring of truth to that mistake.

The media we’re consuming does little to help form us into our best. Like eating junk food because it’s there, we often mentally take in whatever is around us, even though we know it’s devoid of nutritious spiritual content.

No one goes without food without either serious challenging circumstances or without a determined decision. Food is essential, and we make sure we get what we need. If we’re pursuing a weight loss or fitness goal, we pay much closer attention to what we’re consuming.

Those of us intent on chasing God, why would we pay our spiritual diet any less heed?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8, 9 MSG)