A Heart that Hears Part 1

There is an interesting phrase in the Minor Prophets (so named because they are a collection of short prophetic writings, not because they are unimportant) that comes out of the verses below.

15  But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. 16  “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.” Malachi 2:15-16 (NKJV)

The context is Malachi rebuking the men of Israel, primarily Jews (from Judah) who had returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile. The people of Judah were complaining that things were not turning out as they anticipated and Malachi was pointing out how they should not expect Yahweh’s blessing when they kept violating His covenant. In this particular section he was rebuking them for divorcing their wives. The phrase I want to hone in on is “Take heed to your spirit” (the interlinear bible renders it as “so you must be careful with your spirit”).

Malachi’s point was that if they were paying attention to and heeding their spirits they would not be doing what they were doing. They would focus on preserving their families because that is His heart. I am sadly aware of how common divorce is in the Christian community and the question I have is, “If He is in us, how can Christ not live with Christ? In Christian divorce either one or both parties must be violating what He is speaking to them. That being said, it is an aside, not the focus of what I want to say.

How do we ‘take heed’ or pay attention to our spirits? I want to answer that question by first looking at examples in the life of Jesus and Paul and based on what Paul wrote in Romans 8, how this should extend to us. This may help us to see some scriptures in a new light. As a foundation I think it is important to be aware that even though Jesus was fully God and fully man, He laid aside His divine abilities (See Phil. 2:5-8) which is why He needed to be anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Furthermore Luke tells us He was both filled with the Spirit then subsequently moved in the power of the Holy Spirit. All Jesus did, even though He was God in the flesh, He did as a man empowered by and dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

1  Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Luke 4:1 (NKJV) 14  Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. Luke 4:14 (NKJV)

We see in Jesus ministry that He was led by the Spirit.

1  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1 (NKJV)

We see Him under the anointing of the Holy Spirit perceive the thoughts of others, what many would call a ‘word of knowledge” (see 1 Cor. 12:8).

4  But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Matthew 9:4 (NKJV)

22  But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Luke 5:22 (NKJV)

15  Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:15 (NKJV) 61  When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? John 6:61 (NKJV)

We see Jesus describe what Nathaniel was doing and then reveal Nathaniel’s heart even though He was just meeting him.

47  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” 48  Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” John 1:47-48 (NKJV)

Jesus did all of these things by paying attention to His spirit and part of what He told us was to use our spirits to worship Him and His Father.

24  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 (NKJV)

Paul described for us some of how experienced taking heed to his spirit. His expression of having no rest meant there was no peace in his spirit about a situation and it led to him taking action.

13  I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia. 2 Corinthians 2:13 (NKJV)

In describing his apostolic ministry Paul spoke of serving not with his intellect but with or by his spirit. Note, I am not ruling out Paul’s use of his intellect, his was a brilliant thinker and writer, I just believe based on the scriptures that he submitted his intellect to his spirit.

9  For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, Romans 1:9 (NKJV)

Paul exhorted us to live by our spirits, that is, to make decisions based on what was in our spirits

13  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14 (NKJV)

Paul twice described being spiritually present in a situation when he was not physically there. In the Corinthians incident perhaps we could put it off to a figure of speech, not that I think it was, but in what Paul described to the Colossians the context clearly does not allow that because Paul described what he experienced.

4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 5:4 (NKJV) 5  For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. Colossians 2:5 (NKJV)

While not all of these experiences are normative for all believers the basic idea of paying attention to or taking heed to our spirits should be. I have had many experiences of this and know many others who share the same testimony. For us it may be a sense we need to call or email someone. It may be a need to ask a certain question of someone. I have had an experience similar to what Paul described with the Colossians and know of many other similar modern testimonies. Yet my normal experience of paying attention to my spirit happens most often in a ministry context. I help lead a prayer and worship group every week. At the beginning of the group I focus on listening to and looking at people because in doing this I frequently have a sense of who needs prayer and often what for, without them sharing any specifics. I have had the accuracy of these ‘impressions’ confirmed over and over again. They are not things I reason out with my intellect and I fact I consciously try to avoid over thinking things and pay attention to what I experience deep within. I believe all believers can learn to function in this way and when they do it builds up His body. I have also had many experiences like this with people who were not Christians and have had them in both work and social situations.

As I have noted before, the issue is not that the Holy Spirit is not speaking, we are often not listening. If you have never viewed some of the scriptures I referenced in the light in which I presented them then ask Him to show you more. There are a lot of things we can each discover in the scriptures if we look. In fact as we can learn from Proverbs, Yahweh hides things not from us but for us and He delights in our journey of discovery. Why not join Him on this journey and see how lives are changed around you?

2  It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NKJV)

In my next post I will talk more about how to perceive or experience our spirits.

A Prophetic Perspective Part 5

In this post I want to comment on understanding how the Lord speaks. I once heard a story of Paul Cain being interviewed on the radio in the mid twentieth century. He had an established healing ministry, which was what led to the radio interview. The interviewer, in an attempt to be clever said to Paul something like, “If you know so much, tell me where God comes from” Paul’s answer was very wise. He said, “He comes from anywhere He wants, any way He wants, any time He wants.” There is a lot of truth in what Paul said. We have a tendency; those of us that like to analyze things, to be like the radio announcer and try to ‘figure everything out.’ However, if we as the creations could figure out the Creator, where would that leave us?

This principle applies to spiritual gifts. We try to sort them into categories and analyze them. There appear to be 9 gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, there is another list of gifts in Romans 12 and a reference to different gifts in 1 Peter 4:10. I don’t think what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate is that He has a list He wants us to fit things into. I think He is trying to communicate that He is trying to communicate and He can do it in a variety of ways! In fact, anywhere He wants, any way He wants and any time He wants!

Jesus speaking is not limited by our hearing. Does that make sense? He is always speaking because as John tells us, He is the word.

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  John 1:1-2 (NKJV)

Given that Jesus is the word (logos in Greek) it is His nature to communicate. He is not limited in His speaking; He is limited by our hearing. A good example of this is in Psalm 78. Psalm 78 recounts Israel’s history as a nation from Egypt to King David. There is a very interesting verse that describes their interaction with Yahweh.

41  Yes, again and again they tempted God, And limited the Holy One of Israel. Psalm 78:41 (NKJV)

Yahweh wanted to do more but the way they responded to Him prevented that, the nation of Israel limited God. My point is that as the One who is communication, Jesus wants to speak to us, we simply need to put ourselves in a positon to hear and then discern. Because the church is corporate not individual we often need one another to hear. I have a friend who frequently feels pain in his body somewhere when he is near someone who has pain in that area and needs healing. He then shares what he feels in the form of a question and asks if he can pray and people are regularly healed.

Is this a legitimate way of hearing from Jesus? What chapter and verse tells us about hearing Jesus in that way? Honestly, there isn’t one, so do we assume the gift and fruit are not from the Holy Spirit since the fruit is good? No, we apply the counsel of God to the matter. So how does the counsel of God apply? Let us look at Romans 8.

11  But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 (NKJV) 16  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:16 (NKJV)

Are these two verses above specifically about feeling the pain of someone else in your body as a way of knowing the pain they have that needs to be healed? No, yet the principles in them apply. It says the Holy Spirit in us will give life to our bodies. He can do that by ministering through another individual. His Spirit bears witness with our spirit and so we can encounter His spirit in a fellow Christian and He can speak to us about them, in this case through sharing their pain.

What about what Paul wrote in Colossians?

24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, Colossians 1:24 (NKJV)

Is feeling the pain of others so they can be healed an application of the above verse? I believe in applying the counsel of scripture there is scriptural validity for my friend’s experiences and this would be the case even if no one was healed when he prayed for them, yet in fact many are.

I have another close friend who rather than feeling physical pain often feels the emotional pain of others and will bear it before the throne of grace in intercession. It may be individual issues or broader social or political issues he feels. He didn’t ask the Holy Spirit to move through him in this way yet chooses to listen and there are multiplied testimonies of changed lives and the effectiveness of his responding to what he hears from the Holy Spirit in this way.

We each need to make up our own mind. My point is that the Holy Spirit can and does speak how He chooses and loves to speak to us in a variety of ways. He wants to develop a unique relationship with each of us that also touches the lives of others. Do we want that as well?

Lastly, here is a link to a blog someone sent me. I encourage you to read and reflect on it. I know I did and will.


A Prophetic Perspective Part 4

In this series on Prophetic Perspectives I have talked at some level about how we hear and give prophetic words and the need for Revelation, Interpretation and Application. Yet how do we receive? There are three primary ways of receiving, the scriptures, the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit, heart and mind, and through other people speaking to us.

Receiving from the scriptures requires first spending some time in them then having some understanding of how to apply context and weigh what is said in light of the broader counsel of scripture. Receiving from the Holy Spirit requires learning to dial down and listen and being aware that we have a spirit He speaks to and through and an ability to go back and apply the scriptures to what we believe we are hearing. Receiving from others requires a receptive heart and an ability to go back and apply the scriptures to what we are hearing. Yes, no matter how we hear or receive we must always come back to the scriptures.

Let me share a story of my own receiving. I share this story because in September of this year it will have been 24 years since this experience marked my life and because a very recent experience (Wednesday July 9) tied back to what happened in 1990. In September of 1990 I was at a Vineyard Holiness conference in Edmonton Alberta. On the last night of the conference I had been at sessions during the day (1 of about 4,000 people) and was standing in the foyer area talking to someone I knew while waiting for my wife to join me for the evening session. While the other fellow and I were talking a woman came up and interrupted us, apologized and said, “I don’t know if you have noticed but I have been staring at you all day. Every time I look at you I see you with a long white beard, wearing a Jewish skull cap and holding a large open book. The Lord said to tell you He is going to fill the book and to give you Leviticus chapter 8.” That was basically the extent of the exchange. I could not tell you what she looked like, don’t know her name and don’t know if I ever saw her anywhere again. I knew some of the spiritual gifting of the fellow I was talking with and asked him what he thought of what had just been shared with me. He responded, “That’s a true word. I see you carrying a large jug of living water on your shoulder and you want more water to give to people.” At the time I received this, being deeply spiritual and discerning, I did not in fact even look at Leviticus chapter 8 until I arrived home hours later! Yet I have never forgotten this seemingly mysterious exchange of an unsolicited prophetic experience.

So how do I receive and process that and how does it relate to the 9th of July 24 years later? Other than the fact that my beard is not long I am working hard at the white part! An important note here is that just as in many prophetic experiences described in the scriptures, the image is often not literal but meant to convey something. If this were a true word from the Holy Spirit it didn’t require me growing a long white beard to fulfill it. The white beard represents age and wisdom. The empty book to be filled was what the Lord wanted to do in my life and the message was that it would be filled when I was old and Leviticus chapter 8 was part of the message as was the kippah/yarmulke worn on my head. I won’t go into all the details of what these things meant and mean to me but will note they are still significant in my life.

Very consistently to respond to prophetic words like this we are required to do something. We do well to remember that in walking with Jesus He won’t do our part and we can’t do His part. My part in this was to be faithful. In fact one of the verses I received from the Holy Spirit a few years later related back to this experience and has long guided my life.

2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NKJV)

So in this experience I have shared what the book and beard meant. The jug with living water referred to teaching, giving people something to quench the thirst in their spirits and souls. Fast forward to the present day – on July 9 I was at the prayer and worship group I help lead. A discerning child thought we should get into two rows facing one another and each go through and have the others pray for us, which we did. The significance for me was the ongoing impact of what I received in September of 1990. As I walked through the two rows and had people pray for me some important and personal things were said. The key for me however was that I was slowly walking through the line with my palms open in front of me as if holding open a large book. Not what I would normally do. I could see in my mind many pages with writing all over them and in places blank sections. The Holy Spirit took me back to many things that have filled in the intervening years and connected to September 1990. My sense while walking and receiving prayer was that Jesus was going to continue to fill the book and would also fill in the gaps I saw.

My point in all of this is that if the Holy Spirit shares something with us through another we need to weigh and discern it before Him and if it bears witness with our spirit seek to cooperate with His grace to see if realized in our lives. I have received many things from many people over the years and many have been very significant and I think all important. Yet this word from a stranger who took a risk and shared something has been very important over the last 24 years and I believe will continue to be significant as I move forward. So, if He prompts you to speak to someone take the risk and share and pray they are in a place to receive.

A Prophetic Perspective Part 3

In looking at prophetic words, the words that we speak into the lives of individuals or groups, we need to align with the truth of scripture.

6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5:6 (NKJV)

Paul told that Galatians that faith works through love, that is, faith is made effective or functional through love. This is consistent with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. He concluded the love chapter with the verse below.

13  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV)

So my question is what is the role of love and faith in releasing prophetic words? Also, we are often told of the need to ‘stand in the gap.’ What does it mean to ‘stand in the gap?’ It is an oft quoted phrase but is it a well understood phrase? The context is below.

27  Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. 28  Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD had not spoken. 29  The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30  So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31  Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 22:27-31 (NKJV)

The context is impending judgement due to the behaviour of the governmental leaders, the prophets and the people and no one standing in the gap between the way things were and the way they should be. While this particular gap was one created by ungodly leadership, false prophets and immoral behaviour, all gaps are places of possibility, opportunities for a change of direction or purpose, the space between what is and what will be if nothing changes. There is an old expression, ‘If you don’t change direction you will end up where you are headed.’

While the ‘gap’ referenced in Ezekiel was a national one, these gaps can be individual and very importantly can be positive or negative. I have seen many lives take a change of direction when someone has stepped into the gap to release hope and purpose, which is the primary function of New Testament prophetic ministry. If we see the gaps between where people are and where Jesus wants them to be we can speak to the possibility we see in them and encourage a change of direction or a reaffirmation of lost hope or purpose.

So, how do we stand in the gap for others? As noted above, faith works through love? First we need to have love for others. Second we need to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to speak into their lives as He generally speaks through people, people just like us! We also need to sort out our own desires and tendencies as they act as filters for what the Holy Spirit is speaking to and through us. Remember the process, Revelation, Interpretation, Application. Most importantly, when we share with someone else a wise approach is to present what we receive as a question or option. This is very practical. Say something like, ‘I think the Holy Spirit wants you to know…” or “Does this make sense to you?’

A good example for me was a friend sharing a dream with me in recent years. They had the revelation but were looking to me for the interpretation and they could then make the application. When they shared the dream with me my response needed to be weighed in the context of our relationship. This is someone I respect and admire so I had a desire and motivation to be helpful and encouraging, which is a natural tendency I have and need to pay attention to. However, in this instance I had to set that aside. Why was that? Quite simply, while I wanted to help and bless her I had no one idea what the dream meant! Based on my knowledge of scripture and knowing her as an individual I could have come up with an interpretation. However I responded by saying something like, “I could make something up but I have no idea what the dream means.”

How encouraging is a response like that and doesn’t it make me look wise! Yet that was the truth. I didn’t know and needed to supress my natural desire to be helpful. My friend had the wisdom to accept this and leave things there. The next morning when I got up to pray I reflected on the dream and suddenly the meaning was very clear to me. It was as if I were trying to look through a window with the curtains closed and someone suddenly opened the curtains. I emailed my friend with my interpretation and understanding and she affirmed it made great sense to her and she was able to apply it.

So, in the spirit of application, how does this apply to gaps? There was a gap, place of possibility for my friend, and the Holy Spirit gave her an encouraging revelation to take advantage of this place of possibility. Yet because we as Christians are corporately a body she needed another part of the body to take advantage of the revelation. The Holy Spirit used something He shared with both of us to bridge the gap and release encouragement into her life.

All of us are called to look for ways to encourage others and help them move in the direction the Holy Spirit is pointing but we also need to practice filtering our own desires out of the interpretation and application.  A main point of the Ezekiel passage above is that there was no lack of encouraging prophetic words. In this case, and many others in the Old Testament, leaders and the nation were receiving encouraging prophetic words that were not from Yahweh and were making them comfortable in their sin. That was what brought destruction to the land. We need to learn to do as Paul said, ‘speak the truth in love.’ Generally New Testament prophetic words are encouraging and supportive but sometimes they encourage us use to bridge the gap between our direction and His purpose by addressing the sin in our lives, a wise decision as we pursue His presence and purpose.

A Prophetic Perspective Part 2

One way we can receive prophetically is through dreams and their interpretation. In saying that I am not going to do an apologetic on whether or not God still speaks through dreams. A basic reading of the Gospels and book of Acts will clearly answer that question. I will however briefly touch on a passage that is often used to deny the ongoing exercise of spiritual gifts beyond the completion of the New Testament.

8  Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (NKJV)

What is often taught by overly conservative believers is that there is no need to hear His voice as we have the scriptures and the idea promoted is that when the canon of scripture was complete (that which is perfect in verse 10) then spiritual gifts ceased. Some key problems with this position are that one; it ignores the ongoing use of spiritual gifts through 2,000 years of church history and the millions of Christians around the world who function in spiritual gifts today. Secondly, if one is going to consistently interpret the passage it also says that when the ‘perfect’ has come knowledge will vanish away. My simple question is this, if the ‘perfect’ is the completion of the scriptures then when the canon of scripture was complete did all believers suddenly become stupid or have nothing further to learn? It may sound a bit crude but is a very legitimate question with a very obvious answer that shows both the foolishness and arrogance of a cessationist position no matter how well intentioned it may be. Holding to this position requires a denial of scripture, experience, and reality.

Having said this, I think it is critically important to note that while we need to hear His voice today, whatever we hear can never contradict the written word. We need to hear His voice to walk closely with Him but because we never hear or apply what we hear with 100% accuracy we must always weigh what we hear in light of scripture. The scriptures establish doctrine and are the one infallible guide for faith and practice. What we hear now helps to guide moment to moment decisions, release gifts and faith, but must always align with what has already been established in the written word.

So, operating on what I believe is a proper use and application of scripture I want to talk a bit further about how prophetic gifts function. There is a need for revelation (this may be a dream, vision, phrase, impression etc.) then the interpretation of the revelation (what does it mean?), and finally the application of the revelation (what does it mean in the moment?). These three components may come through different people and often the person who receives the revelation does not have the interpretation or application. For example, the Holy Spirit has used me numerous times to interpret other people’s dreams. It is a gift that requires exercise and sometimes I have had a dream shared with me and in the moment I have no sense of the prophetic application of the dream and later it comes very clearly and readily. Sometimes the interpretation comes over time in different pieces. Below I am going to share a dream I had where I had all three components and the dream was about me. I am sharing the dream to illustrate the process of revelation, interpretation and application.

In my dream (from about a decade ago) I needed to make a decision about something and when I was talking to someone I knew and trusted they referred me to a psychologist. In the dream I went to a large building that was a tall office tower. When I arrived at the psychologist’s office there was some crisis and the building had to be emptied. In the process I left but forgot my coat in the waiting area in the psychologist’s office along with the keys to my van (they were in my coat pocket). Then the dream shifted and I was in a small pickup truck with one of my staff from work (she was driving) and we were delivering bread to needy people. The dream then shifted and I was able to get back to the waiting area in the psychologist’s office and retrieve my coat and the keys to the van. I never saw the psychologist and this was the end of my dream.

So let’s look at revelation, interpretation and application in relation to my dream.

Revelation – the dream itself is the revelation, there is a message revealed in the dream. In my own experience I have received a few prophetic dreams over the years and they have a different quality than other dreams.

Interpretation – what does and does not mean something in the dream? Some key pieces are that a vehicle often represents ministry. There are two vehicles in this dream my van and the small pickup. Bread represents food, spiritual food or teaching, a ministry. Coats often represent a covering or anointing and keys the ability to use or exercise authority. So now that we have some awareness of the different elements what do they mean in this dream? In the dream I was sent to see a psychologist for advice. The psychologist represents counsel from the non-Christian world. I have a spiritual calling on my life, much of it associated with ministering through teaching (the provision of bread). In the dream I never knew what specifically I was going to talk to the psychologist about as it was not relevant to the message in the dream. That I for a period of time lost my coat and keys represented the danger of losing my covering/anointing and my ministry. I would not be able to use my vehicle (ministry). That I then ended up delivering bread with someone from work and they were in charge meant that instead of providing spiritual food I was in danger of providing natural food. That in the end I recovered my coat and keys meant I was still able to walk in my calling.

Application – dreams can be of various types, encouraging, warning, revealing, etc. This was a warning dream with the warning being that if I sought advice for the direction of my life from the world I would end up losing my spiritual calling and ministry and simply functioning in the natural realm walking out a poor imitation of my calling.

In this particular case I received the dream and knew how to interpret and apply it but as I noted earlier, it is often the case that someone has a revelation and others have the interpretation and application. That process in and of itself is a message, we need one another and are called to be part of a body.

So, sweet dreams in the pursuit of His presence! In my next post I will talk about the role of revelation and prophetic ministry in standing in the gap.