Monday, December 29, 2014

I want to remind the reader that you have to scroll down to read earlier posts. The article posted below is the most recent in the series on prophetic ministry in the New Testament Church. Scroll down to read earlier posts that lay foundations and help the reader to better understand the topic.  
At the very bottom of the page you can click "older posts" to go back even further and read the articles on Spiritual Gifts that preceded and serve as an introduction to this series.  ---Billy Long

A Healthy Context for Prophecy in the New Testament Church

Prophecy is supernatural, but it does not have to feel that way. The supernatural-ness is determined by context and timing as well as by content.
I remember on one occasion I was about to teach a Bible study to a group of about twenty or thirty young people, and was silently asking the Lord to confirm my direction for the teaching that night.
As the group was worshiping the Lord, one of the boys stood up. I knew he was about to share what he thought would be a prophetic word from the Lord. He said, “The Lord wants us to watch and pray.” He then paused and stood there silent for a minute hoping to add something more significant. But that was it. He had nothing else to say, and so he sat down feeling a little embarrassed and thinking he had failed.
I then stood up. “Our friend has just given a short, simple word telling us to watch and pray. He does not realize how the Lord has used him. He has not only shared a word to which we should all take heed, but also, without knowing it, he has given a word of confirmation to me. I was just now asking the Lord to confirm the teaching I am about to give. My text for tonight is Matthew 26: 41, ‘Watch and pray…’ My Bible was opened to that verse and my eyes were on those very words as our friend was saying ‘The Lord wants us to watch and pray.’”

You don’t have to act strange or take on a different personality.
In some cases a prophecy may be given directly from God syllable for syllable, word for word. In other cases God may inspire the concept, the idea, or the thought, but allow them, in their expression, to take on the flavor of the speaker.
The Spirit-filled Harvard professor very calmly walks up to someone and in a very dignified and stolid voice and says, “This is what the Lord is saying to you, Your canines will develop acariasis and become acaudal.”
A backwoods farmer then walks up to the same person and in a very emotional and energetic manner says, “Thus saith the Lord. Thy dogs-uh will become infested with ticks and lose their tails-uh.”
The fact is, these men said the same thing, but each one spoke out of his own personality and style. The Lord’s word was in the content while the style represented the individual vessel.

You can speak in a conversational tone.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  1 Corinthians 14: 32.
How do we expect people to act when they are being used by the Holy Spirit? A fellow once said to me, “My preacher is so anointed he pure foams at the mouth.” That is a strange one, and I am thankful that the Lord does not expect us to do that. So what style do we use in our presentation?
While there may be unusual and strange occurrences during great visitations of God’s presence, it is important for us to know that generally speaking we can move in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit in the normal conversational tone of everyday life. How else can we approach the average person in the world with the reality of Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit’s work is not confined to a religious context. He can move in church or in any context of daily life as we interact with people.
We can be ourselves, we don’t have to act strange or change our voice. This is one of the keys to moving in the Holy Spirit on the job, in school, on the street, and out in the market-place. You don’t have to walk up to people and shout. You don’t have to say ‘’God-uh” or “yea, yea, thus saith the Lord.” You can be emotional or non-emotional. You can be enthusiastically zealous or you can be quiet and reserved. The key is to be genuine and real. The supernatural is not what you do, but rather what God Himself does. Sometimes God’s work is seen as obviously and patently supernatural. Other times it can be hidden and unnoticed because it is defined by the context and timing and may be significant only to those to whom it is directed.

A person moving in prophecy should not be passive.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  1 Corinthians 14: 32.
This verse deals with two problems: emotionalism and passivity. Emotions (such as joy and enthusiasm) are good, but emotionalism tends to be emotions posing as or substituting for the Holy Spirit, and generally tends to quench the Holy Spirit. Emotions represent our response to God’s presence. 
The verse also deals with the problem of passivity.  “The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet” means a person should not put his mind and thoughts in neutral waiting for “something” to take over.  Demonic counterfeits, the occult, and false religions work on the principle of passivity. We see it in meditation as practiced by eastern religions and in the demonic ceremonies of animistic cultures. Allowing your thoughts to go into neutral and your mind to be “blank” opens the door to demonic spirits, who take control. By contrast the Spirit of God works together with us while our faculties are at work and engaged. The Holy Spirit works through our spirits, and our spirits are subject to us. There are times when the Holy Spirit will move forcibly upon us (as in unusual revivals), but generally speaking He will be gentle and lead us rather than drive us. He requires our cooperation and our active involvement rather than a limp vessel with passive mind.

We Prophesy in part.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”1 Corinthians 13: 9
“For now we see in a mirror dimly.” 1 Corinthians 13: 12
Paul reminds us that we are not infallible and our knowledge is limited. A person moving in prophecy will generally be given only a glimpse of the issues to which he speaks. We may not fully comprehend or understand the implications of the words we give.   

Prophecy should be judged
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21
“Let … prophets speak, and let the others judge.” 1 Corinthians 14: 29
Because we are human, we have to deal with the principle of mixture. We make mistakes. Within proven Christian fellowship our ministry and words should be pure and clearly from God. However, we sometimes let the imaginations of our own heart blend in with the word and create mixture. This produces the need to test and evaluate whether a word is from God or from man, or a mixture of both. 
The devil can also be the motivating source of a word or activity. This is why a prophetic word or any ministry must be evaluated by the written word of God and discerned by those who are spiritually mature.  
Prophecy usually confirms issues which a person has already been dealing with or considering. It should not give direction “out of the blue.” A person should not accept a word with which he does not indentify. He might reject it if he thinks it is wrong, or place it in his “pending file” to be evaluated again later. A person should not make a decision base on a prophetic word alone. He should have an inner witness or a confirmation from fellow Christians or spiritual leaders. Prophecy must be harmonious with and not contradict the Bible.
Prophecy, like preaching, does not replace the Bible nor does it stand on the same level as scripture. It must be judged or evaluated the same as a sermon or any other word of instruction or exhortation. The Bible is the written word of God and is the standard by which prophecy and all ministry, church doctrine, and practice should be judged (Galatians 1: 6-9; 2 Peter1:16-21; Act 17:11).   In testing prophecy or any other word of ministry, we consider the following: Is it harmonious with scripture? Does the recipient of the word identify with it and does he have an inner witness to the truth of the word? Are fellow Christians or spiritual leaders able to confirm the word? Does the word reflect the love and peace of Christ.

We should not force people to accept our words.
A person giving a prophetic word must allow the recipient freedom to test the word and to accept or reject it. We do not coerce a person to act beyond what he has grace to do. We do not force a person to receive our words. We allow him the freedom to reject the word and go his own way, even if it is to his judgment and God’s discipline.

We should prevent excesses and abuses that harm the reputation of the prophetic ministry.
You should not prophesy every time you get a thought or feeling.
You should not “prophesy” things you ought to communicate from yourself.  Don’t “prophesy” what should be given as an exhortation, or counsel, or personal input and your opinion.
Prophecy should not be used as a substitute for personal confrontation. Some people attribute to God what they themselves would like to say. They put the other person in the psychologically uncomfortable position of having to disagree with God. 
It is best not to prophesy in situations where there is conflict. People will not accept it. If it’s wrong, it is soulish or carnal and not spiritual. If it’s right and a true word, it ends up “pearls before swine” and trampled on.

At this point I refer the reader to a previous post entitled “The Biblical Context for the Supernatural,” which shows the distinction between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the demonic counterfeits that are in our culture today. Just click this link: Biblical Context

(My next posting will deal with cautions to leadership regarding prophetic ministry in the New Testament church.---Billy Long)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy: Part 3

A prophetic word can impart faith and strength to stand during spiritual warfare and when encountering assaults against us, our faith, and our work.

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

Timothy received prophetic words that confirmed his call and the specific work he was about to do. Those words were given through Paul, the elders, or other saints in the local church. According to Paul, these prophetic words would sustain and strengthen Timothy during the spiritual warfare he was certain to encounter. These prophecies would sustain him in the face of struggles, persecutions, and tribulations that come with advancing the kingdom of God.
This principle of “waging a good warfare” or “fighting the good fight” through the prophetic word is also illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul. A prophetic word can have the same effect as the instruction Jesus gave to Paul regarding his subsequent travel to Rome. The risen Lord appeared to Paul in the night and said, “As you have testified for me at Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11). This word gave Paul the assurance that whatever else might happened on the journey, it was inevitable that he would end up in Rome to preach the gospel there. This word sustained him as death threatened him many times on this particular journey.

Forty men banded together with an oath that they would not eat or drink until they killed him. I can imagine Paul thinking, “You men are going to be mighty hungry and thirsty because I am going to Rome.”

He was held in chains by the Roman authorities while the Jewish leaders wanted him taken to Jerusalem where he could be put to death. Paul’s response: “I am going to Rome.”

On a Roman ship in the Mediterranean Sea a severe and violent storm threatened to destroy the ship and everyone on it. Paul said, “I’ll not die here. I am going to Rome.”

When the ship ran aground and was breaking up, the soldiers were about to kill the prisoners, including Paul, but the centurion stopped them. Paul was “going to Rome.”

The passengers were marooned on the island of Malta. While gathering wood for a fire Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper. Everyone watched, expecting him to fall over dead, but he shook off the snake and suffered no harm. He was “going to Rome.”

The prophetic ministry in Christian fellowship often works on the same principle. When the Lord speaks to confirm his plan or purpose or to encourage us in an endeavor, we can stand on that word. Of course, the Bible is the written and final word of God on which we stand as the foundation for our faith and life in Christ. But the Holy Spirit does give us specific prophetic words, such as those given to Timothy, to encourage and help us “fight the good fight.” 

On one occasion I faced a difficult decision. I told the Lord that I did not have the courage or strength in myself to do what He was calling me to do. I did not want to refuse or say “no” to God. So I went to the Lord with these words: “My Lord, I do not want to make such a decision out of the imaginations of my own heart. The only way I can obey is to know that I have heard your voice, to know I have a clear commission from God. Only then will I be able to face the struggles and difficulties that might accompany this step.” This is why Peter, standing in the boat during the storm, said to Jesus, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter knew he would be able to take that step of faith only if He was certain Jesus was telling him to come. The same principle was at work when Peter responded to Jesus’ instructions to cast his net into the water. “Lord, we have toiled all night and have caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net.”

Of course the Lord can and does speak to us personally and directly by the Holy Spirit in our daily walk with Him as we pray and read our Bibles. But He will not allow us to be so independent that we get everything we need from Him without receiving from others.  He delights in Christians’ blessing and serving one another. We see this in the ministry of the body of Christ as it is described in 1 Corinthians 12. The prophetic anointing is one of the means by which the Lord uses us to minister to one another.

(Scroll down to read previous postings. Also, keep a look-out for more to come. --BL)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy: Part 2

This is Part 2 in the sub-heading of "The Purpose of Prophecy." To read Part 1 you must scroll down to the article below this one. Below that are earlier articles on the subject of Prophecy and spiritual gifts. -Billy  Long

A prophetic word may confront people with the truth about themselves or some issue, or help them face reality and realize that God sees and knows. It also gives evidence that God is present and active among His people.
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”  1Corinthians14: 24-25
I was speaking at a church one evening when the Lord began to give me words for individuals. When receiving prophetic ministry people will often weep when they realize the Lord really does know what they are going through and that He is reaching out to them in a special way to show his love and care. However, on this particular night, I saw a lady and some people get up and walk out. The pastor later told me they left the building because they were afraid I might minister to them. Maybe they had things to hide and were afraid I might expose them. Or maybe they were simply unfamiliar and were afraid of the unknown. Nevertheless, I am absolutely confident that nothing would have been said to embarrass or make them uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit comes to express the same love and power that worked through Jesus when he spoke to and touched people during His earthly ministry.

While visiting in a home a few years ago I saw in the Spirit that one of the Christian men was struggling with a very serious temptation. I pulled him aside and ministered to him privately. I simply told him what the Lord had shown me, gave him a word of caution, and then prayed that the Lord would deliver him.
Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the well is a prime example of how prophetic insight (accompanied by a word of knowledge) can penetrate the heart and draw someone to the Lord. Jesus told her to call her husband to come to him. She responded, “I have no husband.” Jesus then said, “You have said well ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband.” The woman’s life was changed. She went and shared her experience with the men of the city. “Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” As a result of her words these men left the city and went to Jesus.

Prophecy may reveal knowledge and give spiritual instruction. Encouragement often comes with understanding.
“For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” 1 Corinthians 14: 31
Prophecy is not preaching or teaching, yet it may include words that enlighten and instruct. The seed of learning is always present when the Lord speaks to us.

Prophecy may show things to come or reveal what God is about to do.
“Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Amos 3: 7
 “And in those 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
“A certain prophet named Agabus 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
Prophecy in the New Testament church is defined as speaking by immediate revelation and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can relate to past, present, or future. While it may speak to the future, the time aspect is not primary, but rather it is the Lord’s speaking to encourage, comfort, strengthen, or to bring some revelation. 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. (Compare Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

Prophecy is useful in the impartation of spiritual gifts and in confirming and launching individuals into ministry.
“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: 2
“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of hands of the eldership.” 1 Timothy 4: 14
The Holy Spirit spoke supernaturally through prophetic words when the Apostles Paul and Barnabas began their apostolic and missionary journeys. Timothy’s ministry also began with the impartation of his ministry gift through the laying on of hands and prophetic words from Paul and church elders. We often hear people speak of being “called” to their work or ministry. Usually they “hear” this call in their own hearts in their relationship and walk with the Lord. But the Lord also confirms that call through others in the body of Christ. That confirmation may be a simple affirmation from others who agree, or it may be a strong prophetic word as noted in the verses quoted above. The Old Testament shows Samuel prophetically confirming Saul’s and David’s call as Kings. In the New Testament we see similar confirmation coming to Timothy through the elders, and to Paul and Barnabas through prophets and teachers who were fasting and seeking the Lord.

Parts 3 and 4 dealing with the purpose of prophecy will be posted soon. Keep watch for the next notification. - Billy Long

Monday, December 15, 2014

Purpose of Prophecy in the New Testament Church: Part 1

This post begins a series of 4 parts dealing with the purpose of the prophetic ministry in the New Testament church. Three more posts on the subject of “Purpose” will follow this one. If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you will find earlier postings. Subsequent posts will be located above this one. –Billy Long
The Setting
It is important at this point to help the reader to envision what the prophetic ministry looks like in the New Testament church.
A prophetic word can come through one who functions in the office of a Prophet who proclaims what God is saying to a church, a group of people, a nation, or the world (Ephesians 4: 11, Acts 21: 10-12). It can come through a church member who is not a Prophet but who has a special gift to move in prophetic ministry as he reaches out to others (Romans 12: 6, Acts 21: 9). It can also come as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit through any Spirit-filled believer as the Lord chooses to use him or her (“You can all prophesy”). 1 Corinthians 12: 7,10;  14:1-5, 24, 31).
Prophecy is the Holy Spirit’s inspiring a person to speak a word from God’s heart. It may be directed to a congregation or to an individual. The typical setting might be fellowship at church or Christians together in someone’s living room. It can occur during worship or during casual fellowship over a cup of coffee. It can be a simple statement made in normal conversation, as inconspicuous as the inspiration to tell someone the Lord loves them, or it can be as dramatic as the Prophet Agabus picking up the apostle Paul’s belt and saying, “Whoever owns this belt is going to Jerusalem, and when he gets there he will be bound and thrown into prison.”
Sometimes a person is moved upon by the Holy Spirit to give a word to the church. Sometimes he receives a special anointing to pray or share a thought in response to someone who has opened his heart or shared a need. Under a prophetic anointing those prayers and words will speak directly to the situation whether to the church or to an individual being prayed for and ministered to.

Prophecy confirms.
A young man named Tom came to me for counsel and discussed various issues he was dealing with in his life. I shared with him four or five major principles that applied to his situation. The next day Leland Davis, a genuine New Testament Prophet who had no knowledge of Tom’s situation, was guest speaker at our church. I stood amazed as he spoke over Tom a word of encouragement that contained in detail each of the points I had given in my counsel the night before. Tom was comforted by these words of confirmation and was able to be at peace.

Prophecy “directs” but only in a limited sense.
A prophetic word will generally confirm rather than direct. A person receiving a prophetic word should not act on a “prophetic” word that gives direction “out of the blue.” He should identify with the word and should have an inner witness affirming its authenticity.  If this assurance and peace is missing, he should either reject the word or place it in the “pending” file to be revisited later.

The prophetic word to the church in Acts 13:1-3 was not a strange word “out of the blue,” but rather confirmed what had already been planned. The Spirit was telling them the time had arrived for them to commission Paul and Barnabas to the work for which they had already been called. The word confirmed the timing of the ministry.
In Acts 16:6-10, The Holy Spirit spoke strongly and emphatically to the apostolic team, forbidding them to go into Asia and not permitting them to go into Bithynia. This direction obviously came through a very strong inner sense of what God was saying and was almost certainly accompanied by prophetic words similar to those prophecies that warned Paul about his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). Following these words of caution and restriction, Paul received a positive direction through a vision in the night instructing him to go to Macedonia.

Prophecy is an instrument of God’s love in reaching out to people.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” 1 Corinthians 14:1
The purpose of the supernatural in the church is not for show or theatrics. It is simply the presence of God at work. It happens when the people of God are moved with compassion and allow the Holy Spirit to work through them to encourage, strengthen, heal, comfort, and touch the people around them. God speaks and acts to reveal Himself through our words and our prayers. 

Prophecy is meant to build up and encourage.
“He who prophesies speaks edification, and exhortation and comfort to men…. He who prophesies edifies the church.” 1Corinthians 14:3
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…to another prophecy…” 1 Corinthian 12:7,11 
The prophetic word edifies or builds up those to whom it is directed. It strengthens and assists growth.  It also exhorts, which refers to words that motivate, prod us, and urge us strongly to obedience and faithfulness.  It can be a word of comfort given to bring relief from suffering and grief, a special word from the Lord to lighten the countenance, give courage, renew hope, and free one from despair and dismay.

An example
I was having breakfast with a pastor friend of mine at a motel restaurant when I noticed a gentleman sitting alone at a table across the room. I turned to my friend and said, “Sam, you see that man over there. He is going through the pain of a divorce.”
When Sam and I finished our breakfast I noticed the gentleman was still at his table and I decided to speak to him. I walked over to his table and said to him, “Sir, my friend and I are pastors. When I saw you sitting here, the Lord showed me that you are going through the pain of a divorce, and I would like to pray for you.”
The fellow stopped eating and looked up at me with sadness in his eyes. “I am in the middle of a divorce right now,” he said.
I told him that the Lord loved him and wanted to deliver him from the things in his life that helped cause the divorce. He responded, “I am from New England, and I am on my way now to Florida to get help for these very things.”
I gave him my card and told him I would be praying for him.
About a week later I received a letter from him thanking me for reaching out to him. He shared how our meeting that morning had encouraged him. His faith was strengthened and his hope renewed because he was made aware that there really is a God who knows him and cares about him.

Three more posts on the subject of “Purpose of Prophetic Ministry” will follow this one. –Billy Long