Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.Acts 17:11-12 NIV
In October of last year, a group of leaders from our church went to Elizabethtown Mennonite to hear how they structured their church. Afterwards, we met with our group of leaders to see what we had learned from our meeting with Etown. One of the things we learned was Life with God which led to the practice of spiritual discernment in Etown’s meetings.
Millie and I have been reflecting a lot on using spiritual discernment in our meetings. This is because of what we learned at Etown. So we’ve been preaching a lot about the topic. Millie and I decided in May that it would be good for our church to practice spiritual discernment by discerning when God wants us to return to worshiping in our church building. So Millie and I gathered the Ministry team and Church council and we’ve met a total of 3 times so far to discern when God wants us to return to worship in our building.
The meetings have not been easy. We are not experienced at spiritual discernment and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to figure out if we’re on the right track or if we come to agreement. Two weeks ago, I shared my own struggle with the process and how I felt like Jesus had abandoned the meetings, but I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 where he says he is with us to the end of the age.
On June 25, Millie and I shared with the discernment group what God had put on our hearts with regards to returning to worship in our building. Millie shared that God is asking us what is in our hearts. I shared that the closing of the church buildings all around the world all at the same time is God shaking the church to wake us up.
Our church leaders are processing what they heard. Today, I will talk about weighing prophetic words.
Personal discernment vs community discernment
When Millie and I shared our prophetic words at the previous discernment meeting it was unexpected. Millie and I had decided only the night before that we were going to do that. When we made that decision, I felt like a big burden had been lifted from me. For our discernment group, there really was no where to go with the conversation after we shared. Millie and I didn’t provide any guidance and this just shows our lack of experience with spiritual discernment in a community setting. After the meeting, Millie and I sent an email with instructions for the group to pray about what was shared.
When it comes to discerning something personal, I think that many of us do an ok job. When we want to discern something in community as a church family, we don’t know what to do. And this is why, instead of discernment, we prefer voting. Voting, by the way, is not discernment. Voting in church is giving your spiritually informed opinion. Voting is good for making decisions that satisfy the majority more quickly, but it doesn’t help build unity. People who vote against something or who don’t vote for something might not take ownership of the decision. Spiritual discernment is about coming to agreement about what God is telling us.
I’ll give an example of what we are used to doing: Before Millie and I became pastors, we spent more than a month praying and questioning if this was God’s call. This was personal discernment, and while we talked with others about it, we made the decision. After Millie and I decided that the call seemed good, we left it to the congregation to decide. The congregation did not discern as a church family if we were called or not, the church voted. People in the congregation may have done some personal discernment if we were called, but personal discernment plus voting does not equal community discernment.
Weighing our words in community is a new thing for us.
Weighing other’s words
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.1 John 4:1-3 NIV
When Millie and I came to our discernment gathering on June 25 with prophetic words, it caused a problem because it hijacked the expectations of most of our leaders at the meeting. The group, as a whole, was still expecting that we would vote, but when Millie and I gave our words, we essentially put a road block on that. How Millie and I did this was not helpful, but we are not experienced with this. In the first 2 meetings, Millie and I played a more passive role trying to guide a discernment process and did more watching and listening. In the 3rd meeting, we changed how we were leading by sharing.
I think I’ve heard stories in our conferences’ past where there were leaders that had made power moves, claiming spiritual authority to override other valid opinions or ideas. What Millie and I did at our meeting could be seen as a power move like this. Millie and I realized that when we shared our words with the group on June 25, it would be a power move. We’re the pastors after all.
What is different from the past is what happens next. Our leaders will need to weigh mine and Millie’s words and we will all need to bear the weight of that decision together. I want to read an excerpt from the book “My Sheep Have Ears”, which Millie has mentioned before, which talks about weighing words of prophesy:
The first thing we have to do with revelation is to weigh it carefully. Most prophecies we hear and speak will not be 100% accurate and infallible. Some may come very close, but at the end of the day it’s still a human vessel trying to communicate the very mind of God using contemporary language, and we will always need a healthy dose of realism and humility to properly discern what God is actually saying.My Sheep Have Ears, Cath Livesey, p. 135
It’s also important to clarify that when we weigh or judge a prophecy we are deciding if it is from God or not; we are not judging the person or questioning their spirituality. We all need to be open to having our own prophecies weighed, but when we are weighing other people’s prophecies we need to be clear that we are not making judgments about that person, we are simply testing the prophecy.My Sheep Have Ears, Cath Livesey, p. 135
Millie and I were reluctant to share our words because we know that our team of leaders would be reluctant to publicly weigh our words, we are the pastors after all. We are not used to challenging each other in this way, but the proper church response is to weigh our words.
The process is straightforward, but not easy: Pray about the words that were shared. Ask God if this is real. Search your scripture memory, does it sound like something God would tell us? How does it make you feel?
One way to test how something feels is to put it on. Speak the words of prophesy as if they were your own. How do you change the words to make it fit you better? Or do the words not fit at all because they feel out of character. If the words do not fit because they feel ungodly, what scripture causes you to think the words do not fit?
How did my prophetic words come to me, you might wonder? Knowing the process might help you to weigh the words.
The week before our June 25 meeting I became distressed because I was not able to hear full agreement in our previous 2 meetings about returning to worshiping in our building. I started to fast breakfast and pray. I would ask God every morning when we could return to our building for worship. During one of these times of prayer, I started thinking about the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 where the church had a very difficult decision to make. How did they make their decision and why were we having so much trouble? One thought that stuck with me was testimony. In their meeting, people were sharing what they witnessed the Spirit doing in people’s lives. They could see what God was doing and they shared that. So far in our meetings, I did not hear any testimony of what God was doing.
So I wondered why we were not seeing what God was doing. Did we not care what God is doing? Are we blind? What’s wrong with us? And then it hit me: we are all witnesses to something extraordinary: Church buildings, all closed, for an unprecedented length of time, all around the world. God is doing something and it is shaking us. The night after our June 25 meeting I woke up during the night again because I could not sleep and as I thought about being woken up by God in the night, I thought of Revelation 3:1-6 where Jesus is calling the church to wake up.
What I shared, that God is shaking the church to wake us up and that if we return to the building before we see or hear what we need, we will fall asleep again, these words did not come all at once. It has formed over these past few months and only in times of distressed prayer or waking up in the night to read scripture did I come to a new insight.
In Ezekiel 3, God warns Ezekiel that he cannot hold back any words that God has given him. If Ezekiel refuses to warn someone of what God is needing that person to hear, God will hold Ezekiel responsible. When Millie and I decided to share our words a weight was lifted from me, I did what I was asked to do and it is up to our leaders to weigh the words and discern what Jesus is trying to tell us, to accept, refine or lay aside our words. We will carry the responsibility together.
Be prepared to hear Jesus
Talking about sharing prophetic words and prophesy seems strange. The church that I grew up in didn’t talk about prophesy as something that happened. They wouldn’t call anyone a prophet. Prophets and prophesy seemed like they were for Bible times and only a few people in the Bible were prophets. So it’s interesting that when you read the Bible it tells us that prophets and prophesy will increase.
In Numbers 11:29 (NIV) Moses says… “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
The prophet Joel predicts Moses’ wish would come true “… I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…”. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians urges the church to seek the greater gifts of the Spirit, especially prophesy. For example, if you have the choice of the gift of healing or the gift of prophesy, Paul says pick prophesy.
Prophesy, I will remind you, is not about predicting the future, it is about hearing God speak. Jesus tells us that we can all hear his voice.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.John 10:14-16 NIV
Like all spiritual gifts, Prophesy needs to be cultivated. To be able to hear our Shepherd Jesus, we train ourselves to remember his words. The first practice I recommend is scripture reading. We all have access to scripture these days, most of us have a copy on our phone and we can all read. If you don’t read scripture on a daily basis, it’s a choice you’re making. There are many scriptures that rarely make it into a sermon or scripture reading so you’ll never know some scripture unless you read scripture. While we are not saved by our scripture knowledge, it does make it easier to recognize Jesus’ voice.
Being obedient to what Jesus asks us to do is also crucial. If you do not obey Jesus’ command to love each other, or fulfill the great commission, or take up your cross and follow him, then you are actively ignoring the voice of Jesus. This makes you less prophetic.
Have daily routine of prayer that is more than asking God to bless your food and bless your family. Read a psalm to God. Ask God about a challenging scripture. Tell God about the pain you feel. Then listen to see if you can hear the gentle whisper that Elijah talks about.
I continue to pray every morning, asking God when we can return to worship in our building. I also pray that God would open our eyes and ears to recognize and speak the truth of what we are seeing.
Our discernment group will meet again. We will discern if the words of warning to wake up are for our church family in these days. We will continue to share what we see ahead in our future as we look to see where Jesus, our shepherd, is leading us.