When most people think of prophetic ministry, they might think of predicting the future or moving in the power gifts of the Spirit – and rightly so, for this is part of a prophet’s calling. But we often overlook another aspect: new insights in the scripture. God uses the prophets to bring new revelation to the church.
This may or may not be an easy fit. Few prophets are theologians. The prophets in the Bible often were rustics, with no higher education. Some of the writers of the Old and New Testaments were illiterate, and had to dictate their messages to scribes.
Our culture has a strong bias to listen to the educated and to ignore the uneducated, but we do so at our peril. For one thing, our educational systems fill us with head-knowledge but seldom supply heart-knowledge. Prophets by contrast spend years being broken in the school of the Spirit. It is a school system that confers not degrees and transcripts, but the anointing.
For another thing, God says, “I will confound the wisdom of the wise.” Among other things, this verse suggests that if God is ready to do or say something new, the theo-logical experts may be the last to know.
Another verse says God uses the foolish things to confound the wise. This principle encourages the uneducated and is a call to humility for those of us who have reason to feel that we are experts. And it should keep all of us on our toes in this season, for as the world around us is going through major changes, God is sure to speak new things that will empower us for our challenging times – but as He speaks, will we be able to hear Him?
“Behold, I Do A New Thing!”
I’ve often heard the prophets quote these words from Isaiah 43:19. Sometimes I’ve waited for several months and then given up, disappointed. “Where is the new thing?” I’ve wondered. Or even, “What is the new thing?” It has seemed to me that life has gone on just as before.
The problem is, as soon as God actually did anything new I immediately snorted, “Where is that in scripture?
I took it in stride when God filled teeth supernaturally, but what was the point of His turning silver fillings to gold? And what was the point of the gold dust that began falling, or the jewels from heaven?
I might just as well have shaken my head with disgust when Jesus walked on water – and worse yet, He got Peter to walk on water! “What is the purpose of that? And where is that in scripture?” For the gospels hadn’t been written yet, and nothing in the Old Testament said people would ever walk on water.
I took it in stride when I heard missionaries tell stories of open heaven experiences – seeing the glory cloud, experiencing angelic protection, seeing visions of Jesus. But when I began hearing people with a minimal background in scripture telling of these experiences I wondered, “How can I believe this? They’re quoting all the wrong scriptures to validate their experience.”
I could have said the same about Peter, James, and John, who clearly misunderstood their experience on the Mount Of Transfiguration. And I’m sure few of the religious leaders believed the shepherds who experienced an angelic visitation heralding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Some of us have gotten a few years of learning and think we know it all; some of us believe God can still surprise us.
We’ve Overlooked Something
Here’s what we overlooked: in nearly every generation, God did something new. The new thing didn’t violate the scriptures that had been written before, but it cut across the traditions of those who thought they knew how God would work.
When Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, he didn’t do it the way Moses had done. At the Red Sea, Moses lifted his rod and parted the waters, and then the Israelites crossed to the other side. At the Jordan, Joshua called the priests to step into the river when it was still flowing. Only then did the waters part.
When Elisha was about to be arrested by the Syrian army, he didn’t follow any of the Biblical precedents. He didn’t march around the city as Joshua did at Jericho; he didn’t grab the gates as Samson did and run to the top of a hill; he didn’t call down fire and burn them as Elijah did. He prayed for God to strike them with blindness, then misled them until they realized they were now captives in Samaria – then he told the king to give them bread and water and send them home.
Again and again in scripture, God did a new thing. And so great was the new thing He did in Christ that His ministry launched a whole new covenant.
God is too creative to confine His works to what He has already done before – and we all claim to believe this, but we’re slow to catch on when God actually does something new.
You and I aren’t big enough that God has to ask our permission, even though some of us have read the Bible twenty or thirty times or spent a few years in seminary. Nevertheless, Amos 3:7 says God will check in with at least somebody if He wants to do something new: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”
The prophetic voice in the church will awaken us to new things, but we will also need prophetic teachers who can put the new things in a context the rest of the church can use. And we need prophetic theologians who can tell us who in church history has reached for these things before, and what we can learn from their experience.
Getting It Right: Does 1 + 2 = 12?
Sometimes prophetic people get a revelation about 1 and a revelation about 2, but somehow when we put it together we get 12. We’ve added it up wrong, and it makes our critics think God isn’t in 1 or 2 – but He is.
When I first became a Christian I would sometimes open the Bible at random when I needed a word from God and would point at a verse – and when I would read it, sometimes it really was a word from God to me! But not always.
Then I heard several teachers warn against this practice. They told of a man who needed a word from God to help him with his troubles so he opened the Bible, put his finger on a verse, and read, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” The man knew this wasn’t the answer so he tried again; this time he got, “Go thou and do likewise.”
Just because we’ve linked this scripture to that doesn’t mean it adds up to what God wants to say.
It took a few years, but one day I learned a secret: the Bible is like a math book that has the correct answers in the back of the book. If you add this scripture to that and get a revelation, compare it to the four gospels and the book of Acts. Does the new revelation make you look more like Jesus, or less?
The people who carry God’s new things wisely are those who learn to anchor them in classic gospel truths.
Don’t throw out the new things God is saying and doing just because the prophet doesn’t add them up correctly. Do your own arithmetic, and anchor new revelation in eternal truth. Look at how Jesus did it, bringing new vision and fulfillment to the scripture. He’s still doing it today, unfolding riches that are new to us but that have been in His heart from the beginning.