THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 5

Bible Reading: Acts 11:19-30

Over the next few days we will look at some simple Biblical facts about prophecy.

Firstly, there are different levels of prophecy. It might be a simple word of encouragement or communicating Scripture. It could be a picture that God has given you for someone. It may foretell the future as in the case of a man named Agabus, who by the Spirit said that there was going to be a great famine throughout the whole world [Acts 11:27-28]. The effect of that prophecy was to motivate the disciples to give and send relief to the Christians in Judea.

Many years ago Robert Fergusson and I were at a Bible College in Central Java. We had been asked to help activate prophetic ministry among the students. After an hour of teaching on the subject, Robert got the students into pairs, and told them to ask God for words for each other. At the end of the exercise he asked how many had heard something from God that was really meaningful and had strengthened or encouraged them. Most of the students acknowledged that God had spoken to them. This is prophecy in its simplest form.

Secondly, to prophesy requires faith. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith” [Romans 12:6]. It is one thing to hear from God, but another to speak it out to either an individual or group. In my own experience I have often hesitated when I have felt that I had prophetic word, because of my concern not to make a mistake. That may have protected me. If the word that I have felt God spoke to me does not diminish, but rather grows stronger within me, then I become more confident to share it, but it does require launching out in faith to speak. I have sometimes prefixed a word that I have shared with a statement such as, “I believe God is saying….” recognising that all prophetic words have to be tested [see 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21]. It was right for the Old Testament prophets to say, “Thus says the Lord,” but that may not be helpful for us as we share from God’s heart today. Prophecy does not have to sound religious!

Finally, the ministry of prophecy is for both men and woman. Sometimes the church has made it difficult for a woman to minister, but it is clear from God’s Word that women may prophesy. Anna was a prophetess [Luke 2:36], and the four daughters of Philip all prophesied [see Acts 21:8-9].

Questions:

What is it that would hinder you from waiting on God for a word of prophecy and then speaking it out?

Do you find it encouraging that there are different levels of prophecy, and that as with all gifts we can grow in the use of prophecy?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 4

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 5:17-25

It is important to recognise that prophecy by itself is not intended for guidance. It might be the beginning of guidance but it needs to be supported by other confirmations. It might also be the final part of a whole series of events that are a part of guidance, but prophecy on its own must not be taken for guidance. Many people, including my wife and I, have made this mistake.

Our first five and a half years in Indonesia were traumatic, hot and painful, and when we returned home for a furlough we did not want to go back to Indonesia. A very trustworthy person spoke a prophecy over us in a meeting a few weeks after our return to England. It spoke of returning to a different place. It would be in the mountains and a cool climate. Everything within us shouted out Hallelujah!

A few weeks later we were approached by our missionary agency to move to Northern Pakistan in order to re-open our missions work in that nation. They asked us to consider moving to the mountain region between Pakistan and China. What excitement! Mountains… a cool climate… a new ministry – everything fitted in with the prophetic word that we had been given.

Then came a problem. The Indonesian Java Field did not want to release us and demanded that we return to Indonesia and not move to Pakistan. We recognised the importance of submitting to our leaders and chose to honour them by returning to Indonesia. On our return to Indonesia we were asked not to return to the place of our first assignment. We had put in place a pastor at the church and he was doing really well. We were asked to move instead to minister in a town called Lawang. Lawang is situated at 1400 metres above sea level in the foothills of Mount Arjuno and has a cool climate.

We learned so much from this experience. The original prophecy was genuine, but we almost made a serious mistake and could so easily have moved out of the will of God. We had to learn that when a word of prophecy is given we should not assume that the first opportunity that seems to be fitting with the prophecy is necessarily right. It is best to wait on prophecy – more haste less speed! Allow God to work it out and do not try to work it out with your own mind. The prophecy might be genuine but there is a due spiritual process that must be followed.

Questions:

In our Bible reading today we read that David was successful in his battle against the Philistines. What was the main key found in verses 19 and 23 to David’s success?

What lessons have you learned about prophecy from today’s word?

Why is it important that we do not try and work out with our minds how a prophecy might be fulfilled but instead wait on God and give Him time and the right to work it out?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 3

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Yesterday we saw that the purpose of prophecy is to edify and to exhort[1 Corinthians 14:3]. From that same verse we find a third purpose.

The third purpose of prophecy is to comfort. The Greek word translated as comfort is ‘paramuthia’. The verb of this word is ‘paramutheomai’ = to speak tenderly [John 11:19], to console.

In 1969 I was preparing to go as a missionary to Indonesia, and longed that my Mum would be saved. I often attended a small meeting of Christians in Ayrshire who regularly met to pray. One evening a member of that group came across to me and said, “When you go to the place that God is sending you to, your mother will give you her blessing.” I had never spoken of my mother to this man or to anyone else in that prayer group. What he had spoken was a prophetic word of comfort, but it seemed impossible. Four years later my mother stayed with us for ten days following the death of my stepfather. Two days before we left for Indonesia she said to me, “I don’t know why you must go to Indonesia. I don’t want you to go, but go with my blessing! Eight years later she gave her life to Christ!

Yesterday I mentioned George Stormont who had spoken prophetically to me when I had been rejected by the missionary society that we felt God had called us to serve under. Many years later I was preaching at the Gospel Tabernacle in Duluth, Minnesota, and discovered that the previous minister of the church was an Englishman named George Stormont. They told me that he was desperately ill in a local hospital. We immediately felt that we should go to the hospital and pray for him. When I saw him I felt a tremendous sense of compassion and of gratitude for the way that this man had prophesied over me so many years early. I laid my hands on him and commanded him to be healed in Jesus’ Name. Remarkably, he sat up and thanked me and then prophesied about our adopted children. He said, “Great shall the peace be of your adopted children and your adopted children will never make you ashamed.” There was no way that he could have known that we had adopted children. This was prophetic and comforting, and for years that word remained firm in our hearts. Incidentally, George Stormont went on to live for twelve more years, and in that time wrote a biography of his dear friend Smith-Wigglesworth.

Questions:

Can you see from these two stories how prophecy can bring comfort to the heart of a believer? Why is the comfort that prophecy gives so vital in the life of a local church?

Why is a prophecy more powerful when given by someone who has no knowledge of your circumstances?

What four gifts of the Holy Spirit can you see functioning in the story of George Stormont speaking about our adopted children?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 2

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40

“But [on the other hand] the one who prophesies, speaks to people for edification [to promote their spiritual growth] and [speaks words of] encouragement [to uphold and advise them concerning the matters of God] and [speaks words of] consolation [to compassionately comfort them]” [1 Corinthians 14:3 Amplified Bible]

The purpose of prophecy is to edify, exhort and comfort [1 Corinthians 14:3].

It is specifically directed to believers [1 Corinthians 14:22], although sometimes it will convict an unbeliever of sin and lead them to fall on their face and worship God [1 Corinthians 14:24-25]

The first purpose of prophecy is to edify. The word ‘edify’ comes from the Greek word ‘oikodomi’ = “building”. Prophecy is “to build up,” “to strengthen,” and to make people more effective as members of the body of Christ.

The first prophecy that I remember being given to me was on the night I was first filled with the Holy Spirit. I only remember one sentence of the prophetic word spoken to me that night. It was this: “You will walk in the midst of terrible darkness but you will be light in the Lord.” That word lived with me for those early years as we ministered in a fanatical Muslim area and as I look back over many years it continues to bless me. It was a word in season from the heart of God that strengthened me.

The second purpose of prophecy is to exhort. The word ‘exhort’ comes from the Greek word ‘parakaleo’, ‘para’ = alongside, and ‘kaleo’ = to call, to beckon. These two words combined depict someone who is right alongside a person, “to stimulate,” “to encourage,” “to admonish,” and “to stir up.” It can include a severe warning or rebuke, but is never condemnatory! It does not discourage or condemn! If it does then it is not prophecy and its source must be questioned.

Esther and I knew that God had called us to Indonesia. He had spoken to both of us individually and separately, and yet I had been rejected by the missionary agency that we believed God had called us to serve under. We were late going into a meeting one night at a church in the East End of London. The only places left to sit were on the front row of the church. The preacher was speaking but suddenly stopped and looked at me. His name was George Stormont. We had never met before. He pointed at me and said, “Young man, you shall go to all the people that I will send you to. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”  This was a powerful prophetic exhortation that stirred my faith and encouraged me to press forward.

Question:

Why do you think that prophesy is such a powerful gift? Why do you think that Paul encourages everyone to prophesy? What does that mean to you personally?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

We now come to the third group of the gifts of the Spirit. There were the gifts to know [revelation], the gifts to do [power], and now the gifts to speak [utterance]. These gifts to speak are prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. God’s word says, “to another [is given] prophecy” [1 Cor.12:10].

Prophecy is the ability to speak in a language understood by others, using words that are given and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is communicating a revealed message from the heart of God into a given situation. It is more than just inspired preaching, although the preacher may speak prophetically.  Prophecy does not come from human reasoning, education or Bible school training but from the heart of God. Wayne Grudem defines the gift of prophecy as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”

Paul needed to correct some misunderstandings about both speaking in tongues and prophecy in the church at Corinth, and so 1 Corinthians chapter 14  is given entirely to these subjects. In this chapter Paul gives several important guidelines concerning prophecy:

Firstly, Prophecy is a gift that we should desire.

We should “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” [1 Corinthians 14:1]. The word desire is the Greek word ‘zeloo’ which means “to be zealous for,” “to pursue ardently,” and “to desire earnestly or intensely.”

Secondly, Prophecy edifies the church.

When a person speaks in a tongue they speak to God and he edifies himself, but when a person prophesies he edifies the church [1 Corinthians 14:2-4].

Thirdly, Prophecy is a gift for every believer.

Paul desired that everyone spoke in tongues, but even more that all should prophesy. There are two purposes for the gift of tongues. The personal/private use is for personal edification. The public use of tongues (with interpretation), together with prophecy, edifies the church.

What a challenge! Every believer desiring to prophesy, in order to edify the church! Sadly many of our church meetings do not make room for this much needed prophetic ministry, but it is a great necessity. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the purpose of prophecy.

Questions:

Try to form a mental picture of the church’s worship in  the church at Corinth. In what ways did it differ from the church’s worship today? Did it include any features, no longer familiar, which it would be good to see restored?

In our Bible reading today we saw how God worked for the Israelites as they faced a powerful enemy. What was the prophetic word given through Jahaziel and how did it impact God’s people?

THE WORKING OF MIRACLES – 5

Bible Reading: Acts 19:11-20

In concluding this series of devotional words on the working of miracles and before moving on to the gift of prophecy, it seems an appropriate time to speak about the power of the Name of Jesus. The lame man in Acts chapter three was healed through the name of Jesus [Acts 3:6,16; 4:10]. We have salvation in Jesus’ name [Matthew 1:21; John 1:12]. When we pray it is in the name of Jesus that we offer up our prayers [John 14:13]. The Name of Jesus is above every name [Philippians 2:9]. Isaiah saw something of the power in the Name of Jesus when he wrote, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. It is all in the Name of Jesus.

As I have meditated on the name of Jesus I am reminded of dozens of hymns and worship songs that focus on the name of Jesus. One of those old songs has the verse: “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear; it soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds and drives away his fears.”

My wife Esther has a habit of shouting out the name of Jesus whenever we face a difficulty or emergency situation and especially on the roads as we travel. On more than one occasion that has saved our lives. The use of another person’s name to declare legal rights is known as the “power of attorney.” Jesus has delegated to us His name to confront the attacks of Satan. Use the name of Jesus often. Speak it out!

Although the name of Jesus is powerful it is not a magic, cure all, formula and does not work for everyone. In our Bible reading today a strange incident is reported. It concerned some Jewish exorcists who tried unsuccessfully to use the name of Jesus to cast out evil spirits. Seven of these exorcists were overcome and fled both naked and wounded. They used the name of Jesus but were not successful!

The Name of Jesus is only powerful for those who enjoy the personal relationship with God that He intended for us. Simply being religious is not enough for a person to powerfully use the name of Jesus. Religion is an impersonal and involuntary obedience to a set of rules. What God wanted for us was that we should have a loving, heart relationship with Him. When we are living as God intended, then to use the name of Jesus is to declare the victory that He won on the cross over Satan, sickness and sin. That is the reason that Satan hates the name of Jesus and why we must use it.

Questions:

Why did the Jewish exorcists in our Bible reading today not succeed when they tried to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus?

What is it that makes the name of Jesus so powerful?

The name of Jesus is powerful for those who are living in a right relationship with Him. How would you describe the relationship that God desires to have with you?

THE WORKING OF MIRACLES – 4

Bible Reading: Acts 3:1-26

Although He was fully God, Jesus laid aside His rights as God, and chose to minister as a man anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:38].

The working of miracles is clearly seen in the ministry of Jesus. He turned water into wine, fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes, opened the eyes of a man born blind, raised the dead, and set people free from demonic powers. The disciples of Jesus had seen this and were impacted by what they saw Jesus do. When Jesus sent them out on a mission He told them to do the things that they had seen Him do. “Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now’” [Luke 10:9 NLT].

Following Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they continued to do the things that they saw Jesus do, ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus! A wonderful example is the miraculous healing of the man lame from his mother’s womb in Acts chapter 3. Notice, it was in the name of Jesus that he was made whole.

This story of the man who was lame from birth is both a healing and a miracle as Professor Elizabeth Hillstrom explains:

“The healing of the man who was crippled from birth, recorded in Acts 3:1-10, is even more astounding. In his case, muscles in his feet and legs that were weak from disease had to be restored and strengthened, and any bone or neural abnormalities had to be repaired. All of this instantaneous replacing and repairing is incredible enough, but if, as the passage suggests, this man had never walked; the miracle is amazing for another reason.

Walking upright is a very complicated process, and it takes young children a long time and a good many bumps to lean how to do it. While children are learning to walk, neuronal circuits are apparently formed in motor areas of their brains, which can later automatically command the complicated, highly orchestrated muscle movements that are necessary for walking. To enable this man to walk, the Holy Spirit not only had to repair his feet and legs but also had to activate (or create) neurons in the motor areas of the brain and then lay down all the complicated neuronal circuits that are normally established gradually through long practice. Yet when this man rose to his feet, not only did he know how to walk, but he could run and jump as well.”

      [Hillstrom, Elizabeth L. Testing the Spirits. Downer’s Grove, IVP, 1995]

Imagine the creative power of the Holy Spirit who could by-pass those years of learning to walk and run in a moment. This is our God!

Questions:

Following the miracle of the lame man being healed how did the crowd respond and what did Peter say to correct their thinking? What did this miracle give the opportunity for Peter to do?

Read Acts 4:9-10. What was the key to this man’s miracle? Why is the name of Jesus so powerful?

THE WORKING OF MIRACLES – 3

Bible Reading: Acts 2:14-24

Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”                                                                                            [Galatians 3:5]

Miracles were not unusual in the early church. Paul mentions the working of miracles three times in his epistles, in 1 Corinthians 12:8,28, and Galatians 3:5. In Galatians 3:5 Paul makes it clear that the Holy Spirit was working miracles in the Galatian church. God intends that miracles should be the experience of the local church and through the local church.

The word that Paul used in each of these verses is the plural form of the Greek word ‘dunamis’. ‘Dunamis’ in its singular form means ‘power’ and is the root word of the English words dynamite, dynamo and dynamic. The plural form of dunamis in referring to the ministry of Jesus is translated as ‘mighty works’ or ‘miraculous powers’ [Matthew 13:54]. Peter also uses the same word when speaking about Jesus on the Day of Pentecost, “People of Israel, listen! “God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him”” [Acts 2:22 NLT]. If the ministry of Jesus was endorsed by powerful miracles, then how much more should the ministry of His church be endorsed in the same way.

The evidence of a true apostle is a character quality, perseverance, and the accompanying of signs, wonders and mighty deeds [dunamis] or miracles [2 Corinthians 12:12].

The writer to the Hebrews says, “So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose” [Hebrews 2:3-4].

People gave heed to the words of Philip, the evangelist, when they “saw the signs and great miracles that were done” [Acts 8:6-7,13]. In Ephesus God worked unusual [“special” KJV] miracles [‘dunamis’] [Acts 19:11-12]. The words “unusual” and “special” tell us that miracles were the norm in the early church, but in Ephesus there was something outside of the norm.

Signs, wonders, gifts of the Spirit, and various miracles [‘dunamis’] should confirm the message of the Gospel. It is recorded in the ministry of Jesus, on the Day of Pentecost, in the Churches in Galatia, Ephesus and Corinth, in the ministry of Philip and confirmed by the writer of Hebrews. Are we missing this in our presentation of the Gospel in and through our churches today?

Questions:

What is your personal response to the evidence of the miraculous in the early church? Can you see the supernatural hand of God at work in your life?

Would you begin to pray for a revival in the church where God’s presence is evidenced by signs and wonders and salvation?

THE WORKING OF MIRACLES – 2

Bible Reading: Joshua 10:1-15

This remarkable gift of the working of miracles is the God-given ability to demonstrate the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit at work. Heavy rain fell on the first night of meetings with Reinhard Bonnke in Singapore’s National Stadium in 1986. Suzette Hattingh, a prayer warrior, stood up publically and commanded the rain to stop. It stopped immediately inside the stadium but outside the heavy rain continued to fall. People coming into the stadium out of the rain and into the sunshine were astounded at this miracle. The working of miracles always works together with faith and the result is that God is glorified. When His disciples were afraid, Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm. The disciples marvelled, saying, “What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” [Matthew 8:23-27]

It is worth noting that both these miracles, in Singapore and at the Sea of Galilee, contained two key elements, faith and a spoken word! The Bible says that death and life are in the power of the tongue [Proverbs 18:21]. We see both faith and the spoken word in our Bible reading today, and the result was an amazing miracle. God had promised victory to Joshua as he fought against the five Amorite kings [verse 8]. The Lord was with Joshua and the enemies were routed and put to flight [verses 10-11]. The battle was long and fierce and Joshua was concerned that the sun would set before the enemy was annihilated. In the presence of the Israelites Joshua spoke a word of faith that touched God’s heart. He commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and they stood still for a whole day [verses 12-13]. The sun and the moon standing still not only allowed Israel’s success in battle, but also demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the false gods of the Amorites – they were worshippers of the sun and moon.

There is some secular evidence for this remarkable miracle. It is reported by historians that records of the Chinese during the reign of Emperor Yeo, who lived at the same time as Joshua, report “a long day.” Heroditus, a Greek historian, wrote an account of “a long day” that appears in records of Egyptian priests. Additionally, the historical lore of the Aztecs, Peruvians, and Babylonians speak of a “day of twice natural length.”

Making this word personal:

God promised Joshua victory and Joshua spoke to the sun and moon and they stood still! Can you imagine what this must have been like? Now let’s transfer that imagination to your situation and the people around you. What is the victory that God has promised to you and for which you or they need a miracle? Would you speak to that situation today and keep speaking to it until what God has promised is fully fulfilled? Speak to the mountain today and expect a miracle!

A Question:

Read Psalm 106:8-13. What should be the response of your heart when God performs a miracle for you or those for whom you are praying?

THE WORKING OF MIRACLES – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 4:1-7

Next to gifts of healings in the Bible text, and closely aligned to it, but very different is the working of miracles. Someone has defined the word ‘miracle’ as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”

Healing is restorative but a miracle is creative. Healing often happens over a period of time but a miracle is instantaneous. A young woman from Auckland, New Zealand was born blind and without any optic nerves. When she was prayed for God created new optic nerves and she was able to see. That is a miracle!

Together with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is a Creator. He was there at the very beginning of Genesis “hovering over the waters” [Genesis 1:2]. The word “hovering” implies “sweeping” or “moving” rather than staying stationary. The Holy Spirit is the executive arm of the Trinity, so he was active as God spoke each word.

Job writes about the creative power of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” [Job 33:4]. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ translated as “breath” is often used of the Holy Spirit. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” [Psalm 139:14], and we are a creative work of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, before Elijah was taken to heaven, Elisha asked him for a double portion of his spirit [2 Kings 2:9]. It has been pointed out that the Bible records seven miracles performed by Elijah and fourteen miracles that were performed by Elisha. What an amazing evidence of the double portion that Elisha asked of Elijah, that he should perform twice as many miracles as his mentor. The first miracle that God performed through Elisha was to turn the bad water of Jericho, which had caused the land to be unproductive, into wholesome water [2 Kings 2:19-23]. That is a creative miracle of the Holy Spirit working through God’s servant.

There is no miracle in the life of Elisha that excites me more than the story, in our reading today, of the widow with a jar of oil. The woman’s husband had served the Lord, but had died leaving serious debts. The creditor was coming to take her and her sons to be his slaves as payment for the debt. In her desperation this widow came to Elisha for help. Imagine the amazement that this woman must have experienced as the oil from that small jar filled vessel after vessel and all her needs were met.

Questions:

What spiritual principles can you draw from the story of the widow with the jar of oil that we read in our Bible reading today?

Can you think of some other examples of the creative work of the Holy Spirit in God’s Word?