What does prophecy look like in the contemporary church? How do we handle the fact that we can get it wrong when we try to hear from God? And what could God possibly be saying to someone when he gives her a vision of a yellow peacock? In this episode of God Conversations with Tania Harris, I’m excited to be talking to Professor Mark Cartledge, a British scholar who pioneered in the field of practical theology by looking at how contemporary prophecy functions in the Church of England.
What I love about Mark is not only is he a very smart man, but he is also a practitioner who has been involved in local church life for over 25 years. He’s a worship leader and preacher as well as a theologian and a lecturer. It’s a winning combination!
In this podcast we talk about:
- How God knows our passwords – God speaks through the preached Scriptures but he also speaks specifically into the details of our lives.
- What Mark discovered in his pioneering research and how common it was for followers of Jesus to just “know things” they wouldn’t ordinarily know
- The need for humility in our God Conversations. How there should be a general reticence towards using the words: “God said” and more commonly preferring the words; “I believe the Lord is saying this.”
I don’t know what your social media feed looks like, but mine is crowded with a confusing stream of conversations about Trump’s rise to the White House. The Christian church it seems, is deeply divided, particularly inside the US. For the 80 or so percent of white American evangelicals who voted for him, Trump is an answer to prayer and the fulfilment of God’s plan to address the immorality in the USA.1 At the other end of the spectrum, he’s seen as a misogynistic and unethical bigot; his win a shame on American Christians who care more about preserving their privilege than protecting the marginalized.2
The majority of these statements are presented as mere opinion, so we know there’s plenty of room for them to be flawed. But among them, there’s also a number of ministries who claim to be hearing God’s voice directly on the matter3: So, Trump is “God’s anointed man to turn America around”4 and, Trump is “like the Cyrus of old who will be used as God’s instrument to lead the nation back to him.”5 These voices make confident appeals to divine origin. But what do we make of them? How do we know if what they’re saying is – or isn’t – from God?
Jesus promised that his people would hear his voice and follow it. Having a personal conversation with the Creator is one of the incredible privileges of being a Christian and one of the best ways to experience the tangible presence of God in the midst of our everyday lives. Here’s four easy-to-follow steps to hearing God’s voice for yourself:
1. Start a Conversation
Hearing God’s voice starts with an expectation that he can and will speak to us. The Scriptures reveal that God has always been a talker. From Genesis to Revelation, we see him speaking to people about all manner of topics from their personal fears and concerns to the rise and fall of nations. This desire for conversation shouldn’t be surprising given God’s heart for genuine relationship. We can never truly know someone without two-way communication.
Want to hear God’s voice? It starts with the understanding that there is a God who loves you and wants to reveal himself to you. All you need to do is introduce yourself. Ask him a question. Start the conversation.
The God who Speaks Back
A Lesson in Hearing God’s Voice from the Meerkat
How a Quiet Heart May Not be the Key to Hearing God’s Voice
2. Hear the Sound
We would all love to sit down and have a coffee with Jesus. But Jesus himself said hearing his Spirit would be better than a personal audience with him. God’s voice is the Spirit of Jesus. It’s a spiritual voice that we learn to recognise as we get to know the kinds of things God says and the kind of person God is. Hearing it is not a skill for those who’ve been a Christian the longest or a formula for those who have studied the Bible the most. It is not something reserved only for pastors, theologians and spiritual leaders. Jesus said that all those who seek him would find him. Those who have ‘ears’ would hear. It’s all about the posture of our hearts.
God is impossibly slow.
Ask anyone who’s ever received a promise from God and they’ll tell you… He is rubber-band-stretching, nails-scraping-on-the-chalkboard, agonising slow.
Think of Abraham, who journeyed twenty years through plaguing doubt and fear waiting for his natural-born son. Or Joseph, who rode a roller-coaster journey of contradictions for over fifteen years before his promotion into leadership. And of course, the Jews who waited through centuries of false starts for their Messiah to arrive. Christmas – the time when promises were fulfilled – took a lot longer than expected. Then when it did finally come, it looked a lot different than imagined.
There’s a pattern here.
I still remember the first time I received a significant promise from God. He spoke of things he had planned for me. Blessings he had carefully chosen and prepared. Gifts that would fill my heart with joy.
So I waited, and I waited. Eyes peeled, wondering, expecting… like the child counting down the days to see what lay beneath the tree.
Today? Tomorrow? Next week?
It’s now twenty years later and we’re still not fully there yet. “Christmas” has taken a lot longer than I expected.
There’s empathy now with the grey-haired Simeon and the prophetess Anna, who lingered day after day in the temple, longing to see the Christ manifest (Luke 2:25-38). There’s understanding of the old-time prophets who “searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances” for the prophecies to be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10,11). There’s appreciation for Mary who “treasured the things God had spoken in her heart” and wondered how they would unfold (Luke 2:19).
How do we know the will of God for our lives? It’s a question that is often hotly debated with one side emphasising the need for God’s direct guidance for our decisions and the other emphasising human free will (Listen to: Is God’s will a Narrow Path or a 6-Lane Freeway?).
In this podcast, John Peachey from the Mornings show at Rhema New Zealand and I take a different tack. We explore this commonly asked question by drawing on the story told in Jessica Kelley’s book Lord Willing. Against the backdrop of her dying 4 year old son’s battle with brain cancer, Jessica challenges the popular idea that God has some sort of master plan where he ordains and controls every decision. In this view, God’s plan did not include her son Henry’s cancer, nor did he even “allow” it. As Jessica so vividly communicates, Jesus came to give abundant life, not to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), so he could never be to blame for her son’s tragic death. God’s sovereignty does not mean he is a controlling micro-manager (Read: What We Mean When we Say God is in Control?), nor he is never to blame for the evil in the world.
Jessica’s conclusions about the nature of God’s sovereignty, the presence of evil and the dynamic of human autonomy help us to better understand how to navigate God’s will in our own lives. If we believe in the so-called ‘blueprint view’, God will always get the blame, ‘everything happens for a reason’ and there is little room for free will. In this way of thinking, we will be paralysed until we hear God’s voice and we will approach decisions with a fear of getting it wrong. But if we understand our world to be a powerful interplay of God’s intervention with the fallenness of humanity, we can be better equipped to navigate the ‘will of God’ in our lives.