Sunday, November 23, 2014

Prophetic Ministry: Learning As We Grow

“Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.”   1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.
A fellow stood up and gave what he felt was a prophetic word to the congregation. The pastor gently corrected him and told him that the word was not from the Lord. A little later in the service the same fellow stood up and said, “Yea, thus says the Lord, ‘It was Me, too.”

We learn to walk in the Spirit the same way the twelve disciples did. We step out in faith to minister timely words from the Lord that comfort, encourage, and strengthen. Yet we must also maintain humble hearts ready to receive instruction and correction. We learn from our mistakes knowing we have this treasure in earthen vessels.

“He has settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel… therefore his taste remains in him.”  Jeremiah 48: 11 
Have you ever tasted water from a hose left out in the sun on a hot summer day? The water flowing from the hose initially smells and tastes like the hose. It has to flow for a while in order to get to the taste of cold, clear, and pure water. We are like that hose. Our goal is to have purity and allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us as life-giving water, but factors such as immaturity, personality issues, and mixture produced by human weakness can often cause our ministry to “taste like us.” The consistent purity of our message and ministry depends upon the degree we allow the Lord to refine and mature us in character and spiritual growth. Therefore, we must be prepared to learn through our mistakes and allow others to test our ministry. We must be prepared for the awkwardness of an occasional stumble as we learn to walk in a more mature and pure expression of spiritual gifts.
I have given words that were clearly from the Lord, and other times I have allowed myself to get in the way. But I do not reject the clear biblical operations of the Holy Spirit because of my mistakes. Instead, I learn from them and move forward by the grace of God.. 

Peter’s Example
"Get thee behind me, Satan" - Matthew 16: 16-17, 22-23
We learn through our mistakes if we remain humble and teachable. At one moment Peter received a great revelation from the Father; the next moment he was influenced by the enemy. In one moment he was praised for his insight; the next moment he was rebuked for speaking without knowledge. Experiences such as these helped Peter to grow in discernment. If Peter and the other disciples had to learn through their mistakes, how much more should we expect to do the same? Instruction and discipline are the way of life. We should not be surprised and ashamed when we need them.

"Lord, let us build three tabernacles..."   -Luke 9: 33 
Peter stood in the glory of God and, even there, spoke foolishly. The Father had to silence him and move Peter's focus back to Jesus. It is a mistake to think a person is infallible just because he has been in the glory of God's presence. Experiencing the miraculous and the supernatural does not guarantee that a person's every thought, idea, and response is accurate. God uses imperfect vessels. Likewise, if God uses a person in one area, that does not make him perfect or an expert in other areas. Once again Peter learned from his mistakes.

.Examples of some good words
I walked out of the auto repair shop and started across the parking lot, feeling the distress of certain trials that were pressing upon me at that time. I had cried out to God the night before, and had prayed with Laurel before leaving the house that morning. As I walked across the parking lot still silently reaching out to the Lord, I saw a man in a bright red shirt at the far end of the parking lot. I did not know him, and I don’t think he knew me. I was too far away for him to “read” the expression on my face, and so there was no way for him to know my disposition at that moment. But yet, he yelled at me from the other end of the parking lot saying in a loud voice, “God will make a way. No matter what the trouble, God will make a way. Just praise him.” This was a prophetic gift at work. That man came as an angel of the Lord with a word directly to me from God.

I was speaking to a church in Florence, SC a few years ago, when the Lord gave me a word for one of the men in the congregation. I told him that he was about to experience a job change, and for him not to fear. It will be from the Lord. He went into work the next week and discovered his job had been eliminated. He was “let go.” However, a better job opened up very quickly in another city.

A friend of mine had asked a girl to marry him, but then got “cold feet” and was wondering if he had made the right decision. Another Christian friend who knew nothing about the proposal felt led of the Holy Spirit to go to him and give the following word, not realizing the full implications of his message. “You made a commitment to D____. You need to keep it.” They have been happily married now for over 30 years.

Not complicated as you might think
Sometimes a prophetic word is simply a compassionate word to encourage someone who is alone, discouraged, or hurting, a reminder that God loves them and is aware of their situation, a word that lets them know they are not forgotten. A prophetic word can be dramatic and obviously prophetic or it can seem so natural that the supernatural-ness of it is disguised and hidden to all but the one to whom it is directed. A prophetic anointing can be expressed by an amazing and keen insight into a person’s situation and needs as we pray for him or her. It can be a dramatic word that speaks powerfully to confirm decisions about to be made. 

Moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit does not require maturity or even stability. But maturity will bring depth and penetration to our ministry. Stability and holiness will bring longevity and endurance. Instability and impurity can eventually destroy ministry. The grace and mercy of God are shown by the fact that God will work through imperfect people. But He does expect us to grow and work on our weaknesses.
The Lord does not wait for our perfection before using us. But if we, in our imperfections, desire to grow and move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we need a healthy context where leadership gives us freedom to step out and take risks. We need brothers and sisters who are willing to learn along with us and who understand the process. In this way we can rejoice in our successes and learn from our stumbles without feeling condemned or embarrassed.
“Those…who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”    Hebrews 6: 14
“Let…prophets speak, and let the others judge.”  1 Corinthians 14: 29
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.”   1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Prophetic Ministry in the New Testament Church

INTRODUCTION
Prophetic ministry in the New Testament church
The prophetic ministry as it operated in the New Testament church is either unknown or greatly misunderstood by too many Christians today. When the term “prophesying” is mentioned, most people think of the Old Testament prophets, Biblical end-time prophecies, or psychic phenomena (the demonic counterfeit of the true spiritual gift taught in scripture). In this series, I want to show how the prophetic ministry operated among the first Christians as recorded in the New Testament. Their practice should be the model that we emulate in our Christian walk today. We should do what they did.
Presenting this subject to those who are unfamiliar with it is like describing a landscape painting one brushstroke at a time. The partial picture sometimes produces as many questions as answers. The subject cannot be covered in one post, and there will be many points that need further explanation and clarification. Hopefully the reader will follow the process until I have covered the subject sufficiently in subsequent postings. Meanwhile, I welcome any questions or comments that the reader may wish to present.  -Billy Long

My first experiences with prophetic ministry
The gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit came alive to me when I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1967 during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that became known as the Charismatic renewal. It was not uncommon to hear people giving general prophetic words to congregations or to the people gathered for worship. Usually at some point in the meeting a person might stand up and give a brief word, often beginning with the phrase “thus says the Lord.”  I learned later that a prophetic word does not have to begin with that phrase and is often given to individuals as well as to groups, and can be spoken in a more conversational rather than religious style.

The first time I witnessed the prophetic ministry in which supernatural words were given to individuals was when my wife Laurel and I visited in the home of Leland Davis. Our testimony had been published in Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association’s Abundant Life Magazine, and not surprisingly I had in my possession a rather large stack of these magazines that I kept on hand to pass out to people. When Laurel and I arrived at Leland Davis’ house, one of the first things I did was to hand him a copy. I guess I thought he would be impressed.
After the evening meal we went with him to church where he was the guest minister that night. After his sermon he began to move in his prophetic gifting, going from one individual to another, giving very encouraging supernatural words. This was the first time I had seen the prophetic ministry at this depth.
 My jaw dropped, and with mouth open I realized what a novice I was. I was ready to ask Leland to give back my magazine. I had given it to him with such an air of youthful arrogance. Now I was humbled into realizing there is more, more to learn, more to experience, and more to grow into. It is such arrogance for us to think we “have arrived,” to think we are so “deep,” and thus lose our hunger to grow and reach forward. If we look back in awe at how far we have come, we should look forward and be humbled by how far there is yet to go.
     
Prophecy- A General Introduction
Prophecy in the New Testament church is not “preaching.” Prophecy is speaking by immediate revelation and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can relate to past, present, or future. The time aspect is not primary, but rather it is the Lord’s speaking to encourage, comfort, strengthen, or to bring some revelation. Prophecy is the Holy Spirit’s moving upon one to speak a word from God to a specific person or people. It can appear amazingly supernatural or it can sound very simple and uneventful to those standing by. It can be an intense and dramatic word or a quiet and gentle word to remind someone that God loves them. It is not to be confused with or equated with psychic phenomena which are demonic counterfeits of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12.

A careful reading of the New Testament reveals three levels of prophecy operating in the early Christian church.
1)    The office of a prophet (Ephesians 4: 11, Acts 21: 10-12).
2)     The ministry of prophecy in which a person is specially gifted in ministering to others prophetically (Romans 12: 6. Acts 21: 9).
3)    The manifestation of the Holy Spirit (“You can all prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14: 24, 31).

Scriptural Examples of Prophecy in the New Testament church
 For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…to another prophecy…. 1Corinthians 12: 7, 10

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Cor.14:1

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied… Luke 2: 67

And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar…  Acts 11: 27-28 

Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”    Acts 13: 1-3

And now I go bound in spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.  Acts 20: 23

Now this man had four daughters who prophesied.  Acts 21: 9

And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”   Acts 21: 10-11

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may war the good warfare. 1 Timothy 1: 18

Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.     1Timothy 4: 14

The verses listed above should convince the open-minded reader that New Testament Christians experienced something more than we customarily see in our typical worship service and fellowship. For those of you who are being introduced to this subject for the first time and those who have known it only at a superficial level, I hope you will follow the entire series in subsequent postings. My objective is to clear-up misconceptions (of which there are many) and to help the reader to see how wonderful and precious this gift of the Holy Spirit is when it operates in the atmosphere of God’s love. It and the other gifts of the Spirit are meant to be instruments of compassion in which the Lord works through us to encourage and strengthen one another.                                                                                                                   

If you have a comment or question to address to me personally, please email me at blong8@sccoast.net     
Thanks for reading,
Billy Long