…you can’t always see what is happening beneath the surface.
The call for many of us who are planting and participating in house churches is a call to the underground. In China, this is by necessity. They have to hide their fellowships, their worship, and to some degree their walk with Christ in order to survive. Here in the West, we participate in the underground by choice. House churches are one way we participate, foregoing some of the flash to focus on the essentials which happen under the surface. Regardless of whether it is by choice or by necessity, we are part of an underground movement.
The price you pay to go underground is to be misunderstood. It can seem like you’re not growing. It seems many times like things are at a stand-still. Often it seems like you are being lazy and not producing very much. In reality, deep below the surface of the Earth, where no one is watching and no one sees, there is a life being formed that will sustain and produce fruit.
It’s just that no one sees it. No one notices. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of the deep work that is going on inside of you. You just know you aren’t seeing the results you thought you would see. Jesus compared this process to death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the Earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” (John 12:24). Every individual must go through this process, but each house church must go through this process as well.
It’s in this season that the foundation for life and fruitfulness is being laid. Everything depends on this season happening the way God designed it. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see fruit as fast as you’d like. Don’t think that God isn’t working just because you don’t see results as quickly as others. If God has called you to His underground, He’s called you to grow deep so you can be fruitful in season and out of season.
I started to write this out yesterday and in the midst of writing it, a dear friend sent me a prophetic note that he had sent me about a year ago. In it, he describes the Lord showing him how apostolic works need to have shoots and roots. In the vision, the shoots could only go as far as the roots. The level of fruitfulness was determined by our level of rootedness.
Friends, don’t be discouraged by a rooting season. Give yourself to it. Grow your roots as deep as you can. God has a fruitful season for you, but your ability to sustain it will be determined by the depth of your roots.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state. He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.
Recently I wrote about disappointment with prophetic words about revival and how God has surer promises that we can depend on. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was that for many people, this brought up a larger issue about disappointment with prophetic words in general, not just about revival. I think what I found was that, for many, prophetic disappointment is real and can lead to dangerous places.
First, for those not initiated, the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit gifting people who are part of the body of Christ to hear what God is saying and speak it forth. God loves to speak to His people, so much so that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit told the Corinthians (who, by the way were known for the over-use of spiritual gifts) that he wanted everyone to pursue spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is still a reality that happens today but everything that the Holy Spirit says should be grounded in and not contradict what God has clearly said in the Bible.
I’ve been part of groups that have believed these truths for the past 20 years and I’ve seen some incredible good come from people sharing things that are clearly from God. I have also seen some people hurt by people abusing the gifts of the Spirit or just through people being wrong about what God is saying. Neither the good or the bad has swayed me, however. Instead, Scripture’s admonition that the gift of prophecy builds the church continues to encourage me forward in hearing God’s voice and sharing it with others. So how do we navigate prophetic disappointment?
Paul actually gives us the following encouragement in regards to those who are struggling with discouragement around prophetic words:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
There are two areas here where we miss the Lord’s will here: We can despise all prophecy or not test any of it. Each of these is a pitfall that can lead to prophetic discouragment.
Despising prophecy is the first pitfall. It’s actually a form of bitterness of the soul that comes from being hurt. Not only will despising prophecy not profit you as a believer, but the accompanying bitterness can spring up and defile you and others. The fix here is that you acknowledge that just because people have used the gift of prophecy poorly in your life, doesn’t mean the gift of prophecy is evil or wrong. We have to be willing to allow God to use prophetic gifts to speak into our lives–it’s part of learning to be the church.
Failure to test prophecy is the second pitfall. Not testing prophetic words sets people up for prophetic disappointment. Because New Testament prophecy is given en masse to the body of Christ, there is the potential for error. This is why Paul calls us to test the prophetic and hold to those declarations that actually pass the test. For many of us, we’ve been so hungry to hear from God in this way that we’ve blindly accepted every word that someone has spoken. This actually sets up ourselves and others for disappointment later. Test everything. Hold to what is true.
The best example I can give you in this arena is Shawn Bolz. Shawn is a legitimate prophetic voice in the body of Christ today and he’s known for giving incredibly accurate words of knowledge.He walks in a powerful prophetic anointing and teaches others to do the same. But Shawn is well aware of the hurt that has come from failed prophecy. He has repeatedly taught in his classes that a sign of maturity in this gifting is being able to go back and apologize for the places where we’ve inaccurately shared a prophetic word. This is the side of the prophetic most charismatics don’t want to talk about, but keeps us from growing as those who hear from the Holy Spirit.
God longs to speak to us today. If we want to grow in His likeness and mature as believers, we need to begin to open ourselves to His voice. In order to do that, we must repent of despising the prophetic and begin to believe in it so much that we test the words others give us and hold onto the ones that survive that test. When we do, we begin a journey of powerfully hearing from the Holy Spirit. This marked the New Testament church and propelled them into amazing things. Don’t settle for less than this.
If you’re like me and you grew up in the charismatic movement, you heard prophecies all the time about revival. It wasn’t unusual for a traveling evangelist, prophetic voice, or a writer or teacher to talk about revival, prophesy great revival for America, or encourage the church that they were speaking at to prepare for revival because “it is coming.”
I came to Christ in the midst of this revival fervor, so I’m certainly no stranger to it. I’ve made significant life decisions believing that the revivals that people were predicting were going to happen. While I don’t regret a single of the decisions I’ve made, the lack of revival can be discouraging. I know friends who have been deeply wounded or at least left wondering where the revivals that were promised are.
Some of these promises made weren’t inspired by the Spirit. Some of them came and we didn’t recognize them because they came in a form we weren’t expecting. Some of the promises of revival were true and we are still waiting for them to happen because their time hasn’t come yet. Regardless, all of these things can discourage a person.
I’ve said it before: I still believe in the movement of the Spirit. I believe we need to keep praying for revival. But I also know there is a certain amount of revival fatigue that has hit the body of Christ. It can be the promise that is kept dangling in front of us and that can make us heartsick.
So, this morning, as I was praying and journaling, the Lord brought this verse to my mind:
For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
So in a way that only the Holy Spirit can do, He took the words of the Bible and made them alive in my spirit. It was as if in reading the words of Scripture, He was saying “I know you hunger for people to turn to Jesus and live holy lives. I know there have been promises of revival. Some of those prophecies have come and gone just like the prophets who gave them. But my word doesn’t come and go. I promised that the Earth would be filled with the knowledge of my glory like the waters cover the sea. There is no way that this cannot happen.”
Think about it. Where do you see the water not covering the sea? Nowhere. Everywhere there is sea, there is water covering it. According to the Bible there is a day coming where the knowledge of the Lord’s glory will cover the Earth in that way. While the prophecies of your favorite speaker may or may not come true, the Bible has proven true over and over again and you can trust in its promises.
So friends, you who have believed in the promise of revival, the prophecies of revival may have failed you, but you can trust the Lord. He will fill the Earth with the knowledge of His glory. Don’t let your heart grow weary. You can give your life for this reality and even if you don’t see it in your day, you can trust knowing that God will cause it to come to pass. It will happen.
You can count on it.
Welcome to a new feature here at the blog!
We live in a society that is over-taught and under-inspired. My hope is to help a bit with this by weekly looking for inspiration and sharing a few of those sources in a post with you. Let me know your thoughts.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
The Sent Life: This is a podcast I just discovered on Facebook yesterday. It’s by a brother named Jonathan Ammon. Jonathan is connected to the #NoPlaceLeft network and is passionate about reaching the unreached, making disciples, and building up the church. I’ve listened to a few of his podcasts so far and I’ve been really encouraged. The content is good, but more than anything, I hear in his voice a focus on “sentness” that I don’t hear other places. Jonathan is not a house church guy, necessarily, but for those of you who are, you will find much to be encouraged about. Also, for a church planter, he has a ton of perspective on healing and hearing the voice of the Lord that I don’t hear in most church planting circles.
Shawn Bolz: The other day I had some time with one of my sons and we were talking about the place of the prophetic in the church. He was asking good questions and listening as we read through 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, but when we got to a certain point, I decided to bring up Shawn’s facebook page and watch him minister prophetically to people. After the first video it was obvious that my son was seeing the purpose of the prophetic and was more hungry to see it operate in his life. I was too. Want to be encouraged that God knows you and loves you and wants to communicate that? Check out this video and this one.
Just a Little Faith: Finally, this picture by Earl inspired me. I know, I know, we all know that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to cause things to move in the Earth. But often we forget how small our faith needs to be if God is really in something. This was just an in-your-face reminder that something so small (like my faith) can really change things on the planet.
Recently David Fitch wrote a post called “Self Talk: How to Not Pray to Yourself” and it struck a chord with me because I’ve contemplated the state of the prophetic as of late and peoples’ tendencies to prophesy out of their own soul, not out of God’s Spirit. In the article, Fitch talks about discerning the voice of the Lord and how we get off track when we begin praying only for the things we want without regard for what Jesus wants. This article was helpful, but I still found myself lamenting the lack of an article about prophesy and listening to ourselves instead of the Lord.
The problem, as I see it, is that charismatic prophecy used to be a kind of holy man’s gifting, where the gift was reserved for the truly spiritual and people were only released to prophesy after gaining a significant track record in both their character and their gifting. As the years went on, more and more were ushered into the prophetic and, while we want as many participating in the gifting as we can get, the preparation and forming of prophetic individuals has taken a back seat.
Now, because we want everyone to prophesy, so much of the “track record” that was necessary before is seen as hindering. Many times I see those who are young in the prophetic sharing things they’ve seen in their imaginations, mistaking those things as visions from Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about people stepping out and attempting to hear from the Lord, but I know the danger of people building on what they see in their imaginations, thinking these ‘visions’ are truly from the Lord.
Elementary training in the prophetic teaches that we “hear” from three sources: God, Satan, and ourselves. The trick to dealing with prophecy is knowing where a message comes from. God’s words bring peace, clarity, and freedom to our hearts. They are often accompanied by true confirmation from others who hear from the Lord. Satan speaking to us can be difficult to discern, especially when we’re new. However, usually the voice of the enemy comes with condemnation, shame, and draws our attention away from Jesus and the Bible.
It’s much harder to discern whether what we hear is from ourselves. Many times the things we hear touch areas that are so near and dear to our heart that it’s had to remain objective. I find that the church has a difficult time prophesying politically, for example, because often people are very biased about the topics they are praying and speaking into. Christians know the right answer, the answer that is ultimately right, and I’ve watched as they have prophesied out of “the right answer” instead of what God is truly doing.
The danger in all of this is that we become trumpets for our own hearts and desires and not a vessel for the Lord to speak through. Instead of hearing and declaring what the Lord is saying, regardless of how much it challenges conventional wisdom, we become mouthpieces for what our minds can dream up. God over and over again in Jeremiah and Ezekiel challenged the prophets who prophesied good out of their made up prophecies. This kind of prophecy doesn’t require any obedience. It promises us what we want without submission to the Lord or His process. Like Peter, we end up telling Jesus He’ll never have to suffer and find out later it was the Father’s will for that to happen.
The fix for this is to learn true listening and obedience to what we hear. We have to begin to spend time in prayer listening first and leaving our agendas either till the very end or out entirely. Periods of time spent in silence or asking God questions instead of intercession and request are the beginnings of relationship with God outside of what we want. When we learn to wait on God, to dialogue with Him rather than supply our own answers, quickly we will learn there is a God who answers that is beyond our definition of right and wrong. He is real and wants to interact with us. He will speak, we don’t need to supply the right answers.
In order to grow out of listening to our own soul and truly hear God, we also need to learn how to deny ourselves. Most inaccurate prophetic activity I see both in the New Testament and in the current day stems from a failure to see God’s activity through the lens of the cross. Anyone trying to regularly practice hearing the Lord’s voice ought to focus a specific part of their prayer life asking the Lord to help them lay down their agendas. So much of imaginations that get passed on as prophecy stem from the fact that people are emotionally tied to what they want to see happen. Learning to separate ourselves from what we want and submit to what God wants helps us to see beyond our own personal desires.
Lastly community is key to this process. When I share what I believe I’m hearing with other believers, it gives my community the chance to reflect what they see back to me. Remember, even the most prophetic among us only see in part. When I trust my brothers and sisters with what I’m hearing and allow them to help me discern what is from God, I’m actually getting help seeing beyond myself, which is so hard for all of us, not just those of us with prophetic gifts. Jeremiah was told by God that a key part of his prophetic ministry was to separate the precious from the vile (Jeremiah 15:19) and sharing what we hear with others and letting them weigh our words is a critical part of this process (1 Corinthians 14:29). I don’t know a mature prophetic individual that hasn’t learned this process.
God has an incredible journey ahead for us in hearing His voice. He is not silent and wants you to go on a journey of hearing Him and believing what He is speaking. Critical to that is us learning to separate our own internal voice from the voice of the Spirit that comes and speaks to our hearts. When we separate the precious (God’s voice) from the worthless (our wants and desires) in what we’re hearing, that’s when we become God’s spokesman.
And isn’t that what all of our hearts are truly hungering for?
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Jesus, Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22
For a long time I thought these verses meant that we should pay attention to what the Holy Spirit was saying. That seemed pretty straightforward.
I also used to think the reason that God asked us to share what we’re hearing from the Holy Spirit with others was to keep us from being deceived. And I’m still sure that’s part of the reason.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the Holy Spirit speak to people from different backgrounds and locations about the exact same thing, weaving a tapestry of a message that could never be accomplished if only one person or even one church was the only one hearing what the Spirit was saying. It’s got me thinking that maybe God has something more for us in sharing what we’re hearing than just accountability.
I think there is a place where we can listen to the Holy Spirit ourselves, but when we bring together what we hear from Him, there is a richer, more in-depth, more accurate picture of what God is doing in the Earth. It only takes us being willing to listen with other believers, being willing to wait together to discern His voice, listening to what the Spirit is saying to all of us.
Who knows? Maybe God wants to weave what you are hearing from Him together with what He is speaking to others to accomplish more than you could ever imagine. Maybe, just maybe, if we begin to listen together, we can confirm and establish the reality of what God is doing in our day.
But it starts with us sharing what we’re hearing, together.
Are you listening?
Are you sharing?
A month ago, I had a dream.
In that dream I was walking through the downtown, urban section of a city. I came across a storefront church. It was bustling with young, urban attenders that were very much of the hipster variety. Everything about this church had the buzz of “cool.”
After hanging around for a while with people I didn’t know, I found out that the person I was hanging with invited me to preach but I was totally unaware. The leader of this church had asked me to preach on servanthood, but he was wanting a message on servanthood so that he would have an easier time recruiting people to serve the ministries of this church. He had no interest in servanthood as a value in the Kingdom.
From the front of the building, we walked into the sanctuary with the pastor and his assistant. The sanctuary was actually a stadium-style ice rink. The pastor asked me to sit in the highest row, which is where he spoke from, but the worship of the meeting actually took place at the bottom of the stadium out on the ice. As the worship progressed, I began to realize that this church’s worship was a very detailed production/show and that everyone was dressed very formally. There was an orchestra, dancers and because an ice rink was central to this church, they even had ice skaters. Somehow I had ended up in dressed in a suit but had no shoes and was feeling very awkward about it.
Then suddenly towards the end of the “worship time” it became clear that the ice rink was melting. But it wasn’t just the ice in the rink at the center of the stadium that was melting, but the whole building. Unbeknownst to me the entire building was made of ice and was beginning to melt. The stadium seats, the floors, and even the walls were melting and cracking. It disrupted the whole service and we could not continue. I woke up with this phrase on my spirit: “The frozen church is melting.”
Interpretation: I believe that this is a warning to the church, particularly in the West. The church built on entertainment, cultural relativity, and business values will begin to come undone. This will be in large part due to “atmospheric change” that the church in the West will find itself in. I’m unclear about whether this will come from greater hostility toward the church from society in general or a greater intensity brought to bear on the church by the Lord Himself, resulting in more fervency in the body and a rejection of these values. But one thing is clear: a Christian organization built on man’s organizational values that feeds a consumer mentality in the body of Christ in order to further the success of one or two leaders will be a recipe for a “melting church.”
Hebrews 12:26-27: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”
Application: The call then, based on all of this, is to repent. We need to repent of those areas where we’ve been working for our fulfillment and notoriety instead of the Lord’s glory and the advancement of the Gospel. We need to reject human leadership values and church structures based on marketing principles and not God’s word, even if you can vaguely construe Scripture to justify your approach. Go back and do the things you did at first when Jesus was your first love. Begin again to follow Jesus, listen to His voice, and look to Him and His word for how you and your church can begin to follow Him based on what He values.
Now: Do you see anything in the interpretation or application of the dream that I missed? If you do, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.