I came of age in the wake of the Toronto Blessing.
It was quite common, at youth meetings I attended, for people to exercise all manner of ‘supernatural’ spiritual gifts, including prophecy. My ears pricked up when someone came to the front to share a prophetic revelation, but the person with a broken left ankle or having trouble sleeping was never me.
Fast-forward a few years, and it seemed like the church had become more cautious in its practice of the gift of prophecy. “I’ve had a picture of a desert,” someone would begin. “I think this is someone’s life. And there’s an oasis. I think that’s God wanting to refresh this person.”
Knock me out. God as an oasis? A kind of living water? I’ve never heard that one. Except in, hmmm, let me think – Psalm 42 (“as the deer pants for streams of water…”) or John 4 (the woman at the well) perhaps?
Don’t get me wrong, it was all encouraging stuff – but for this stuff to have been ‘prophetically revealed’ to someone? I was sceptical. Surely if we wanted to hear God, we just needed to read our Bibles more?
And then came January 2018. My life had just changed direction, with my youngest children doing more hours at preschool, and the hint of a calling on my life which I was attempting to pursue in my hours away from the kids.
But I was busy. So busy. Up past midnight most nights, keeping up with the tidying, planning and administrative tasks of a large family, as well as being deeply involved in the kiddoes’ school as well as our church.
I attended a women’s teaching day, and – like a child in a sweet shop just before closing – managed to grab the final ‘prophetic appointment’ slot – more by virtue of it being the last one, and therefore infinitely more desirable, than because I actually wanted it. Although something told me it could be useful.
When my slot came, I sat down in front of two women. They didn’t ask what I wanted or why I was there, they simply spent a few minutes praying for me, and listening, in silence.
And then came the prophetic pictures. One was of ballet shoes, the long ribbons being untied and the shoes coming off. The shoes were not indicating harmful things, I was told, but just things that had to be stripped away, in order for the dance to be more creative and beautiful, although perhaps not as technically brilliant.
I think that if prophetic words are to be trusted, they will first have an air of familiarity about them. I was able to easily recognise myself and my commitments in the ballerina and her shoes. And, not long after the appointment, it became so blindingly obvious that the ‘shoe’ I needed to remove was my role as a school governor. God was asking me to hand in my notice. Much as I loved this role, the revelation actually came as a relief!
The second picture was of a garden party. I was the hostess – and yet all the chairs were empty. God was telling me that, although I was usually the host, for this season I needed to sit and eat. ‘The feast is for you’, my prophetic woman insisted.
Again, this picture was very familiar to me. We have a decent-sized vicarage and garden, and it’s rare that a day goes past without someone popping in for a cuppa, a meal or an overnight stay. But prophetic pictures and words also need to be weighed. If I had ascertained from this picture that God meant me not to host or cook for anyone else for the next few months, I think I would have missed the point.
I didn’t rule out that this might be the case, but as I’ve continued to ponder, pray and read the Bible, my interpretation has been that I need to spend this season seeking God, allowing Him to shape my character and inviting Him to ‘fill me up’, so that I might have something to give to others. It was no coincidence that my small group had already made the decision to study Kevin De Young’s ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ this term, a book which concentrates on personal character and righteousness.
Another aspect of prophetic words is that they will be specific and personal. Whilst the garden party picture was not a literal prophetic word, I was able to instantly relate to what God was saying because I love parties and I love to cook and host! If God created us and knows us inside and out, we should expect that anything he wants to reveal to us through others will be specifically geared towards our personality, character and situation. This word spoke deeply to me, as I know well the role of the host and the hosted.
Prophetic words don’t provide an alternative to God’s revelation in the Bible. On the contrary, if we are to make the most of any prophetic words given to us, we need to be actively committed to the Word of God – reading, thinking, applying, praying. And it goes without saying that genuine prophetic words will not contradict Biblical teaching.
So why bother with prophecy at all, if the Bible remains the authoritative voice of God? Because God longs to have a deeply personal, intimate relationship with each one of us. He already knows us deeply; if we long to know Him better, then it is right that we learn to hear His voice, primarily in the Bible, but also through the words and pictures which can speak the specifics into our lives.
We will never be able to discern, weigh, or appropriately act upon prophetic words if we don’t first know what God has revealed to us in the Bible – but without prophetic words, we may miss some of the personal applications of the Bible’s teaching.
Prophecy is not something to be feared, but a helpful tool in drawing closer to God and seeking more of His will for our lives. My year will be different now as a result of what God spoke through two ladies. Is God impacting your future too?