When I was a child, prophecy scared me. I would stand by my bedroom window gazing at a blood red moon (like the one referred to by Peter in today’s reading) and wonder if the end of the world was about to happen. Biblical prophecy was talked about a lot, but primarily in terms of the ‘end times’ and judgement on those who did not believe. I had no idea that prophecy was for the people of God today, and designed to communicate God’s words of hope and comfort.
Words for the Week
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ ”
1 Corinithians 14:1 5, 24, 25
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit,especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesiesedifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified…
If an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The day of Pentecost marked a huge change for Jesus’ followers. The Holy Spirit came on 120 people at once. 3,000 people saw and heard these uneducated Jews speaking in their language, believed, and also received the Holy Spiritthemselves. Suddenly a gift that had been for a few individuals for specific periods of time was available to everyone who believed – whether they were old, young, rich poor, male, female, Jewish or Gentile. In a culture where much time and energy was spent defining who was acceptable to God and who wasn’t, you can imagine how revolutionary that was!
The ‘prophet’ with a specific gift is still there in the New Testament – people like Agabas in Acts 11:28 for example who prophesied a severe famine. They bring a clear and detailed revelation from God which is to be acted on.
But there is a much more ‘everyday’ experience of prophecy for all the church. In Ephesians 4:11 it is listed as one of the five-fold ministries which alongside apostolic, evangelistic, teaching and pastoral gifts, are given for the benefit of the body of Christ. Church leadership teams should includepeople with prophetic gifts, but prophecy is also part of the congregational life of the church. Paul encourages everyone to pursue love and spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1-3).
So what does prophecy look like in this context? Its purpose is to encourage and build up each other, to help us become mature and ‘reach the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’. So we use prophecy to encourage each other with the focus on the person receiving the prophecy, not the one giving it.
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
Prophecy also points to Christ and his Kingdom, and gives us clues as to how the Kingdom can come today. When we identify and call out something of God within someone – whether they are believers or not, we prophetically encouragethem to live into a different future. It could be as simple as telling them they are a loved child of God and sensing a littleof what it looks like for that person in particular.
It’s not just words. When we do something that is counter to the culture around us, but shows the nature of God and his heart for people, that is a prophetic act. In this way, spending our early May bank holiday weekend helping with the Noise is prophetic – we are demonstrating a different Kingdom-shaped future for these communities.
We cannot be satisfied with illustrative sermons, great music, and friendly services. We have been called to see the powers of darkness destroyed and our ruined cities restored. Kris Vallotton
Prophecy is also about wisdom and revelation. We can pray and ask God for insights into situations which we would not otherwise have. There may be a problem at work which seems to be irresolvable. The insights God brings could be the key to unlock the situation. God cares, and wants us to come to him with these kinds of issues.
If my frightened ten-year-old self had the understanding I have now, how would things have been different? I would have seen God as a Father who gives good gifts – including prophecy – to his children. I would have realised that he wants to use the prophecy of others in my life to love and encourage me to be the person he has created me to be. And that he wants to teach me to serve others in the same way too.
Own it personally…
What is your experience of the prophetic? How do these readings, and the teaching on Sunday, challenge your preconceptions of what prophecy is?
What prophecies given to you have particularly encouraged you? Why not start a journal where you write down any prophecies you receive, to help you remember what God has said.
Do you want to grow in prophetic ministry? The prophetic training day on June 18th may be a good place to start.
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
Thank you Father for giving us the gift of prophecy to build up and encourage each other.
We pray for more of what Peter pointed to: that sons and daughters will prophecy, that the young will see visions and the old dream dreams of your Kingdom. Give me the courage to pursue the prophetic and to experience more of you in my life.