Learning the Voice of God Anew

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New Life Centre’s two foremost distinctions which we are known for are the Manifest Presence of God and the prophetic voice of God. 

New Life is 34 years old this year. We started life within the Baptist movement of Canada. Our founders embraced the Baptist Movement because of their love for the word of God and also their passion for mission.

Soon after the Church was formed, God sovereignly poured out His Holy Spirit in a way that none of our leaders had previously encountered. One of the manifestations of this outpouring was the Gift of prophecy spontaneously broke out amongst peopole, with people expressing the heartbeat of God in a powerful way. It wasn’t that these leaders had never expressed truth about God before but this inspired speach had the fingerprints of God all over it.

What people at this time discovered was that just like was true in Acts when the Holy Spirit came and people prophesied when the Spirit comes, His coming is often accompanied by the Gift of Prophecy. 

 I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your old men will dream dreams,

    and your young men will see visions.

Joel 2:28

Since those early pioneering days, we as a Church have learnt much about the gift of prophesy and its purpose and function in the Church. One of the key realisations has been that the Gift of Prophecy in the Old and New Testaments functions differntly.

Perhaps our greatest discovery of all though was ]that prophecy is not just about learning how to hear God’s voice, but more importantly learning how to represent His heart through prophecy.

Prophecy in the Old Testament

God’s creative voice

The first expression of prophecy in the pages of the Bible happened with God Himself. In Genesis 1:3 God prophesies “Let there be light.” The outcome of this prophetic decree was that light flooded the earth and the chaos that enveloped the earth was extinguished. God’s prophetic decree forth-calls light and caused that which was not, to be that which was. This forth-calling creative aspect of the prophetic is still one of the main features of the prophetic gift. A prophet speaks to dry bones and they become a living being.

God’s relational voice

Throughtout the creation account we see God continuing to birth creation through this same forth-calling. His creative work culminates with the creation of His image bearers, who represaent the pinnacle of His creative work. 

Humanity, as His image bearers, were created with the hardwiring to realte and connect with Him, apart from the rest of creation. In the Paradise Garden we see this being played out as God meets with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). It seemed to the custom that God would come to them in the cool of the day and converse with them.

However, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the Voice that had previously drawn them to Him becomes a thing of fear.

Then the man and his wife heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 

Genesis 3:8

The terror of them standing naked and exposed before God was too much to bear and we learn that they hid amongst the “trees.”  

The word for “tree” in Hebrew, “etz”, is composed of two letters: ayin and tzadik. Ayin means “eye” and tzadik means the “righteous one.” 

In Jewish thought trees are symbolic of both people and the Torah. I want to suggest that when Adam and Eve hid amongst the trees to escape from God’s Presence and voice, they placed religion as an insulator barrier between them and God. Earlier the guilty pair had hid their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves (Gen. 3:7). Fig leaves are another symbol of self righteousness in the Bible.

What we can take from this account is that the Fall affected the prophetic by causing humankind to insulate themselves from the direct connection to God and His voice. 

God, immediately after the Fall, begins to make provision to turn this around. He prophesies into this terrible situation that He would Himself provide the reversal of the curse. 

And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

God then goes on to provide Adam and Eve with an animal skin coverings for their nakedness, which was a prophetic act that one day the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world for once and for all time (John 1). 

The prophetic as a mediating voice

Sadly, the consequence of the Fall meant that the voice of God, that up to that time had been their point of connection with God, became a terrifying experience.

Even when God began His redemption roll out plan by inviting Israel to be His special designated people through whom He would reverse the effects of the Fall, Israel rejected the offer and requested a mediator stand between them and God.

Then [Israel] said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Exodus 20:19

God honoured their request and He established prophets to speak to them on His behalf. Through Moses, God established the Law for them, and give them a pattern of living which protected their connection to His Manifest Presence that abided in their midst in the Tabernacle. So long as they kept the Law God would continue to abide with them.

Prophets as Covenant enforcers

Prophets as such became the rulers who established the moral standards of heaven on earth. Their principal function was to ensure that Israel maintained their covenant, by reminding Israel to “drive between the lines.” 

As covenant enforcers they would let Israel know whenever they stepped outside the lines and warn them of the consequences of their transgressions. 

Prophecy in the New Testament

Prophecy the domain of all of God’s people

In the New Testament the Spirit of God got poured into, and onto, all of God’s people, not just a few. This infusion of the Spirit meant that suddenly the prophetic was no longer the exclusive domain of a few superstars but God’s entire army became prophetically wired to hear His voice. 

The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the re-engagement of the prophetic was foreseen by the Prophet Joel:

 I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your old men will dream dreams,

    and your young men will see visions.

Joel 2:28

Because of the indwelling of Holy Spirit, the barriers that inhibited believers from allowing themselves to hear Him were once and for all time removed. Once again people would have access to hear God’s thoughts and heart, which is why Jesus said:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 

John 10:27 

But more than this God’s people would use the Gift of Prophecy in partnership with Him to reform and recreate His fallen creation. 

The Apostle Paul beautifully expressed this thought in Romans 8:19-22:

19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Prophets as Covenant enforcers

The modus operandi of the prophetic in both the Old and New Covenants are the same. Prophets are covenants enforcers. 

In the Old Testament prophets decreed, “If you mess up you will die… Let me tell you what will happen to you if you mess up and also how you will die.” 

In the New, Prophets decree, “He died so you can live. Let me tell you how He made you and how you can live.” 

The Old was focussed on policing the Law; The New about policing reconciliation; The Old about keeping people within the lines, the New about pointing people to His heart.

18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The New Testament is a covenant of reconciliation. God inviting people into His family and His mission of redemption because Jesus’s life, death and resurrection had established a New Covenant. Prophecy now is meant to direct the traffic of people’s hearts, pointing out for them that the way to God is once more open and that the Father is waiting for us to connect with Him.

A number of years ago I was doing some temp work for a charity in the UK. One day I accidentally prophesied over my colleague. By accidentally, I mean God showed me that she played the clarinet and without filtering the thought I asked her how long she had played this instrument for. She asked me “How I knew she played the clarinet?” 

I told her that I was a Christian and that God often spoke to me about the people around me. A few weeks after this incident I prophesied over another colleague about how God had made Him and what he was on the planet for, except I didn’t tell him I was prophesying. He lit up really animated about what I had told him, and was excited about finally discovering why he was alive. 

The lady I had previously prophesied about playing the clarinet saw what I had done for this young man and she knew that I had got this information from “God”. She turned to me and asked me to do the same for her. 

I asked God how He had made her. A thought that I hadn’t thought immediately popped into my head, “She would be a great life coach.” I relayed what I had heard. She responded in shock telling me that the day before she had signed up for a life coaching training course. 

A few days later this lady came up to me and asked me a profound question, “Does God ever show you any bad stuff about people?” 

I knew what she was asking. You see she was covered from head to toe in demon and ghost tattoos. It didn’t take a prophet to know that she had had a hard life and had issues.

But what she really wanted to know was, if God truly saw her, in all her pain and brokenness, would He love her and did He accept her? 

I replied to her, “Most people already have no trouble knowing how broken they are without God needing to point that out to them. What they need His help with is discovering who He made them to be and what He thinks about them.”

It does not take a prophet to see the sin in a person but it takes a prophet to see the gold. Gold mines are built on mountains of dirt. Most of the mountain is worthless rubble. The miners dig out tons and tons of this dirt, but it is not the dirt they are wanting. They are hunting for the tiny specs of priceless, precious metal. This is the function of the New Testament gift of prophecy, helping people to look past the dirt in their lives and see the gold within.

For many of us that are familiar with the prophetic much of our modelling of the fuction of the prophetic has focused on helping people see the dirt. I want to suggest that this model is an Old Testament, not a New Testament model of the prophetic. Seeing people’s sin and letting them know about it was not the style of Jesus. 

If we are truly to express the ministry of reconcilation of Jesus Christ to the world then we need to learn a heart of the prophetic, “God does not condemn you, go and sin no more.” 

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