Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Surprised by the Voice of God - are you a prophet?

Welcome to A Good Bible Study. Have you ever wondered if you are a prophet?

Prophecy is a very real gift of the Holy Spirit, and is the topic of the book Surprised by the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions, written by Jack Deere. Deere is a former associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, now a pastor, writer, and lecturer and author of the best-selling book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.

Deere gives a clear explanation of the ways God communicated to first-century Christians, and why God continues to speak to us using the same methods. He also explains to those of us brought up with a more "conservative" church background, how to accurately hear God speak through prophecies, dreams, visions, and other forms of divine communication.

I found the book very easy to read, as well as full of clear references back to the appropriate Scripture.

In addition to explaining the Gifts of the Spirit, Deere reminds us that just because someone is using gifts, and even using them for ministry, does not mean we should follow all of their teachings blindly. Gifts are subject to the human beings to whom given, and so can be misinterpreted or actively misused. For example, there are "psychics" who are very adept at "cold reading" subjects to get clues about who and what the person most wants to hear about.

I can think of one highly popular medium (someone who claims they are in communication with the dead) who asks multiple questions to get all the information he needs to appear "all-knowing. "I am sensing someone who's names starts with a B, anyone here have a loved one who's name starts with B . . . Is it a male figure, a father, uncle, or brother? No, then it must be a female with male energy, is she a strong personality? Was it a sudden death, no? Then did she die sooner than you expected, yes, I'm getting that . . .etc.) This isn't prophecy, this is knowing human nature and manipulating the hopes and fears of people desperate for answers.

So how do we know if someone is worth believing? A true prophet points us to God, not to ourselves, and not to the spirits of deceased loved ones, or to created things (like nature).

Who better to ask than God to reveal to you personally what you need to know to have comfort and peace? Of course He sometimes gives messages (prophecy) through others, but be careful not be taken in by someone who's true interest is in your money. Remember, much of what a psychic says can't be proved, and does not come true, anyway. But, the message of a prophet is often a confirmation of what God has already put in your own heart.

Another way prophecy and psychism differ is that a prophetic message refers to God's plan and reflects His values. Psychic readings tend to give us permission to do what we want to anyway, regardless of the effect on others.

Jesus told us to evaluate prophets, ministers, and teachers by their fruit:

A Tree and Its Fruit
15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.


21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:15-23
Also look up 1 Kings 13:18; Jeremiah 23:16; Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:22; Acts 13:6.

So, even people with good gifts are able to claim they are serving God, but in reality serve themselves. We don't have to look far to see examples in the media!

Just what is good fruit? What should we look for in the lives, character, teachings, and churches of our leaders?

"22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."
Galatians 5:22-26

One good way to examine fruit is to look at our spiritual leaders' lives and relationships, their business practices, the attitude of their staff, and how they treat those who differ in opinions. Deere suggests we ask these questions about prophetic ministers and teachers:

"1. Are they honoring Christ and bringing glory to Him, or are they bringing attention to themselves?
 2. Are they walking in humility, and does their ministry produce humility?
 3. Does their ministry produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Are they setting the example for others to encourage the Holy Spirit to grow in them, and produce fruit?
 4. Are their words accurate and do their predictions come true? Those gifted with prophecy gain authority and stature by exhibiting the character of the Lord Jesus and consistently giving accurate predictions. (As we trust and obey God, we will deliver more accuracy as we mature.)
 5. Does their teaching fall in line with Scripture? Very important! Reading and interpreting Scripture as written, and for ourselves, is vital. At times our religious traditions contradict Scripture, and some religious leaders prefer to honor man-made tradition over the very Scripture on which are traditions should be built.

Speaking of which, it is never a prophet's role to control the lives of his or her followers, i.e., as in a cult!

 A prophet never replaces the Holy Spirit in our walk with God, and certainly does not remove our accountability before God for our choices and decisions. Read  Kings 13:1-18.

In fact, quite frequently a prophetic word serves to support, confirm, or clarify a leading God has given us individually, through the Holy Spirit. 

What if you have been given the gift of prophecy?

If you feel led to share a prophecy to someone, or your church body, pray and ask permission from God to share the prophecy at this time. Some prophecies are are more of a FYI, a preparation for a coming event. Others are to gently correct, or to encourage others. Speak to your church leadership first if the message is for the body. Ask for prophetic confirmation and permission to speak. If the answer is no, go back and pray for more guidance from God.

Also, pray and ask for the correct interpretation of the prophecy. It's easy for us to get a revelation, but then interpret based on our own opinions of what someone should be doing. Too often people have been publicly humiliated over a revelation when prayer and a private discussion would have resulted in glory to God, instead of resentment over a misunderstood reason behind the prophecy. 

Prophecy is best given in a spirit of humility, without dramatic exclamations or "Thus says the Lord,"  or in loud voices. This self-aggrandizing results in fear, or self-appointed authority, when in truth, prophets are messengers acting under God's guidance and insight, not their own.

Leave the outcome of the message to God. People will either listen, or they won't. They will be blessed, or they won't. We don't know the purpose behind the prophecy sometimes, just that we need to share it. Say something like, "I feel like God wants me to share this with you, I hope it's meaningful to you."

If you are looking for praise, applause, or personal obedience you've forgotten your place. This is God's message, not ours, and we don't always know why someone needs to hear the message we've been given it.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

Let's pray:

Lord, thank you for your good gifts. If there is anyone reading who wants what You have, who wants to bless others with Your gifts, lead them to know You and Your ways. Help us to be open to what You would have us say to encourage and lead others. Help us to be humble and remember it's Your wisdom, not our own. And help us to be willing to listen, and not just to speak. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Love, Karen

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Holy Spirit and you

What is the Holy Spirit and what is His role in every day believers' lives? The Holy Spirit comes as a comforter, helper and communicator from God. He was sent specifically by Jesus to everyone and anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will help us in specific ways:

"Jesus answered and said to him,'If anyone loves Me, he (or she) will keep My word; and my Father will love him (or her), and We will come to him (or her) and make Our home with him (or her). He (or she) who does not love Me does not keep My words. . .the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring you remembrance of all things that I said to you.'" John 14:23-26

"But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me." John 15:26

"However when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come." John 16:13-14

What Jesus Christ is saying, is that if we love and worship God, accept His gift of eternal life with Him in heaven by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, then we are given personal access to God through the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful gift!

The Holy Spirit's role for believers is to
1. teach us all things
2. remind us of everything Jesus said and taught
3. testify about Jesus to us
4. guide us into all truth
5. tell us what is to happen in the future

The Holy Spirit did all of these things for the apostles, however, He is still working in all believers today. We might call it intuition, a feeling or hunch, a remembrance of scripture or bible teaching, or at times, an audible or visual message telling us to act (or avoid something). We often say, "What a coincidence" or "I just knew I was supposed to do that."

The Holy Spirit is also our conscience, our moral compass; He brings a sense of conviction to our hearts. At the moment you felt you needed God, wanted God, and couldn't wait to spit out all of the ways you'd sinned and rejected love in the past, you met the Holy Spirit.

The more time we spend in God's word, the better we will recognize His voice, His teaching, and leading. The more time we spend not only asking in prayer, but listening and expecting His response, the more we will experience His voice. I find it's those times when I am physically active and mentally silent that I get the most clear communication, those "a-ha!" moments that can only be from the Holy Spirit because just two seconds before I was completely stumped!

The Holy Spirit comes to lead us to joy, contentment, peace, love, and harmony, not to increase our self-centeredness or self-importance. We do not need to "channel" Him, be "possessed" by Him, or lose control to Him. We do not need to burn incense, chant, or meditate to access Him.

He comes as a gift from God, a Helper, a Comforter, a Truth-Giver. The only requirement is to love God, and to choose to believe God loves you. In fact, God says He loved us first (Romans 5:8.) We don't have to do anything to earn, or get, His love. He already gave it and He doesn't take it back! We only need to admit that there's no way we can ever do enough good to deserve heaven, and just accept what Jesus did so that we can have heaven anyway.

We've only got to believe what God says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on me, and got to pray to Me and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord . . ."

Pray with me now: Lord, I am so sorry for all the ways I've tried to get what I want while ignoring You. I can't be good enough to get to You on my own. I'm tired of trying. I've been selfish and self-centered, and wanted it all my own way. Most of the time my plans have backfired on me. Please forgive me for everything I've ever done, and ever will do to hurt You and hurt other people. I accept Jesus died for me, so I can live. I accept His gift of life. I want Your Holy Spirit to be my teacher from now on. I'll follow You now. I want what You offer: peace, love, joy, contentment, laughter, and harmony. Send your Holy Spirit to me Lord and let me be sensitive to His voice from now on. Let me never be the same again! In the name of Your Son, Jesus, amen.