The Spirit of Prophesy (Kingsgate Church, London)
These notes from Paul Tothill are based a version of his message preached at Kingsgate Church, London, on 29/7/19.
Listen to this message on Apple Podcasts
Everyone loves the thought that God can speak to us. This was and is foundational. The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us:
Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways. The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these days God now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time…
Verse 3. He holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word.
In the New Testament every born-again believer has the ability to hear God through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The condition and openness of our heart determines our ability to spiritually hear and engage with the Spirit of revelation and the Spirit of prophesy- who is God speaking to us. Not only does God want to speak to us, but as Paul the apostles urges He wants to speak through us to build one another up. 1 Corinthians 14 is seminal instruction importantly founded on the basis and centrality of God’s love:
It is good that you are enthusiastic and passionate about spiritual gifts, especially prophecy….But when someone prophesies, he speaks to encourage people, to build them up and to bring them comfort….the one who prophesies builds up the church…I desire even more that you impart prophetic revelation to others.
It is important to note the Greek word paramythia, according to Dr. Brian Simmons that is a hapax legomenon and could be translated as “soothing calming speech” or “affirmation”. On that basis Dr. Simmons in his translation of the verse concludes that Paul is not describing predictive prophecy, but as influential to advance the spiritual welfare of the body. This means we must understand the distinction between the Spirit of prophecy as revelatory or forth-telling and prophecy as fore-telling.
Jesus promised three important aspects of our walk in union with Him through the internal work of the Holy Spirit. First, He would never leave us nor forsake us. John 14 and Matthew 28:18. Secondly, His sheep would know- experience and recognise- His voice, John 10 and thirdly, that the person of the Holy Spirit who now dwells in you will lead you into all truth, John 16.
THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION OF PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT
We must understand prophecy and prophetic fulfillment from the point of view of our relationship with the Father, in union with the Son, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. We are in Him and He is in us. We have entered into a mystical and experiential union that marks our very salvation experience. To my mind we need to understand prophecy in the New Testament from that foundation.
Like all of you, I have received many prophetic words over my life. In addition, I have had encounters, dreams, visions and revelation through the Scriptures as God speaks to me, reveals things to me and leads me. In my earlier years I was clueless how to deal with and respond to these encounters. I soon realised I needed the wisdom of God to work with these encounters and revelation. Through experience and studying the Scriptures and asking for an “understanding heart”, I am slowly learning the ways of God. I am still learning. However, there are some things that I have learnt that I would like to propose to you for your benefit.
My own journey, as yours, is fundamentally prophetic. We are always moving from the future into the present.
In a general way we are to live the future Kingdom into the present reality of our lives. In another way, we each have a personal prophetic journey to fulfil as Psalm 139 points to. I am here with you as a result of my own prophetic journey and your prophetic journey coalescing or coming together.
THE POWER OF PROPHESY
Even King David knew the power of prophesy as both foretelling and forthtelling. But here we must immediately distinguish between a Canonical Prophecy or Biblical prophecy that is sovereign and that God will accomplish in His timing and for His purposes and personal prophesy, the things that our written in our scroll or the Books of Destiny as revealed by King David in Psalm 139 as God’s perfect pleasing and acceptable will for our lives.
DISTINGUISHING FORTH-TELLING FROM FORE-TELLING
Further there is a distinction between the prophets who forth-told and those who fore-told. Both are considered as prophesy. To forth-tell is classically Old Testament prophesy moving by the power of the Spirit of prophesy- the Holy Spirit upon a Prophet and involves insight into the will of God; it is exhortative, sharing His Inspired will for the now; it fundamentally challenges believers to obey. In that sense it is a present word of God. The forth-telling was necessarily located in the bigger Israel story and journey. This happens in the New Testament as well. It can also be used in a New Testament context normally but not exclusively through Ephesians 4:11 gifts. This is what the Spirit of prophesy in Paul’s description above seems to refer to.
To fore-tell as the verb implies is to predict or forecast into the future, if you will, some event in the future. This only accounted for a very small part of the prophet’s message.
This means that the Spirit of prophecy can employ both fore-telling and forth-telling because the gift can be used for the now or for the future. The gifts of the Spirit normally overlap. So, we can have words of wisdom, words of knowledge, discerning of spirits and the Spirit of revelation and understanding all working in various facets through the unction and empowering of the Holy Spirit within us as revelation. Literally bringing forward that which is hidden. It is designed to exhort, to build up, encourage, direct and in some cases admonish and correct.
We have become uniquely enamoured in the charismatic church with fore-telling more than forth-telling. Part of the reason perhaps is that people do not understand the various ways in which God speaks to them and they long for vision and purpose in their life. No one is immune to this desire. I have often longed to hear what God has planned for my life, to give me a hope, a vision and a future that I can specifically aim my life at. That is largely to get understanding of the present situation I am in.
In my own experience, however, when I have received a prophetic word, anything but what I expected to happen from my present vantage point of hearing the word actually happened in the way I thought that it would.
Therefore, every prophesy concerning future personal things must be understood from a certain foundation.
SOME KEY FOUNDATIONS
First, every personal prophesy is invitational. It is not conclusive. In this sense we need to understand what predestination is and what it is not. Predestination involves our will and our actions of Godly obedience to God’s present word into our life. Personal prophesy is not what is known as Canonical or Biblical prophecy such as there will be a new heaven and earth. Jesus will return in God’s timing. The Books will be opened and so on.
Secondly, every personal prophesy that is invitational carries the moral imperative that we be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Your relationship with God unlocks both your spiritual formation and the ability for you to carry the words spoken over your life into fulfillment.
We will discover, these words, if they are genuinely from God, shape our life journey and our character.
Thirdly, personal prophesy must come with the wisdom of God, the means and “how” and the “when” by which it will come to pass. This is where God’s present word to you is future present and necessarily has a timing involved. There the “how” and the “timing” of the personal future word as the wisdom of God are all a necessary part of receiving and carrying a prophetic word as God’s perfect pleasing and acceptable will for your life.
TESTING THE WORD
Whilst it is good to hold a prophetic word before us, and you will even need to warfare with the words spoken over your life as you will see today, the word needs to be first tested and then agreed with. That activates a process. It is not a matter of listening to the words themselves, because sometimes the way God communicates is by pictures that need to be interpreted and words must be carried only by the Holy Spirit for them to be God’s words towards you. Let me comment on that.
As a believer who is born again and Spirit filled, we listen with our spirit to the Holy Spirit in the words being prophesied or revealed.
God will often speak beyond our present understanding to bring us into our future. Most often God wants us to step into faith obedience in our love for Him before we get understanding. So, God will speak to us with a present word and a future word at the same time. He will continue to speak a present word to bring us into our future. The journey involves revelation, experience before understanding and mystery. That is why all prophetic fulfillment is developed in relational union with God.
DISCERNING MIXTURE: FLESH AND SPIRIT
Both a prophet, one who prophesies and a receiver of prophecy can sometimes operate in the flesh more than in the Spirit. This is where the condition of our heart is important. When we prophesy we must do so with God’s heart and by His Spirit. If that is the way we are to speak or prophesy then that is the way we must consider what is being spoken.
That means we do not test the word from the flesh, from our intellect or from the present emotional desires of our heart. It means we listen to the Spirit that carries the words being spoken. When those Spirit-words resonate with our internal spirit co-joining with the Holy Spirit, we get a peace, a sense of “yes” or agreement or resonance to which we bring the internal “amen”. This peace functions beyond our present natural understanding. Sometimes prophesy is no more than the Holy speaking into you what is already in you. See Psalm 139. We can prophesy out of the flesh and hear from the flesh. This is normally when we get into some error.
If we don’t get a peace, agreement or “amen” we are permitted to hear the word but not take up the word, or take it to heart. If it is God’s word He will repeat it through other means and other people who are not related to others so there is no “collusion”. Often, we can submit that word to God in prayer and ask Him to confirm the word, so that we can move forward in obedience. It is not unusual for God to speak well beyond our dreams into what seems impossible for us in the present. Again, this does not mean the word is wrong. It needs to be tested by our spirit and the Holy Spirit by listening to the Spirit in the words spoken.
If you are being prophesied over, and not sure, but then have a series of the same dream or identical prophesies that when properly interpreted resonate or agree with the prophetic word then that future invitational word is being revealed to you so you can engage with it through every present word of God as you move forward from a place of intimacy with God in the Holy Spirit.
FUTURE AND PRESENT
King David knew that in everything we live our life with both the future in mind and the present in hand. That means that my present decisions shape my future destiny. I can give you numerous examples from my own journey of how you receive then sow into the word you have been given as an action of faith. God is so gracious, kind and loving towards us, if we miss the present opportunity God makes provision for us to come around again.
This is why Israel had to go around the mountain so many times. Their hearts were hard. Also, prophesy is not worked out in a neat straight logical line as we like to think as if God was a strict determinist. “If I do this then that” kind of approach. Whilst obedience is causal, it sets things in motion, and we should be intentional not casual, it is above all else relational. Remember God put a big fish in the water as provision for Jonah’s decision to get back on track even before Jonah made the decision to do so.
Because future words are part of our journey walking with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, we should hold them lightly for the reasons I want to suggest to you. We do not make them our world in some dogmatic kind of way as many believers do without gaining understanding of how these words work in our life. Many believers suffer from target fixation syndrome. When a fighter pilot gets fixated on a target, and become obsessed with the target they forget how to fly the plane and they crash into the target. So, let me make some observations.
First, because in our present understanding we impose on to the revealed word a meaning that is only found at the destination itself, we should not overly interpret what it is going to look like into the future from our present position. If God is moving you future present, then He speaks to your future in every present word. He gets you where you need to go, if of course the prophesy is in fact His perfect pleasing and acceptable will for your life. This is why the word must be tested so then it tests you into your ability to carry it.
Secondly, timing is important to understand. God works everything together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes. Remain both patient and obedient to God’s word empowered by the Holy Spirit. God will get you where you need to go and bring others into the picture as they follow the same process. We must trust that God is faithful to His revealed or prophetic word that comes from the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament shows us over and again that God joins His activities together to bring about His purposes and your prophetic future. He gave Peter a vision and sent an angel to Cornelius to speak to him. He sent an angel to Joseph to prepare him for what was coming and then sent Gabriel to Mary. God will not over-ride our free will or anyone else’s for that matter. But He will get our attention when needed. Sometimes this involves revelation and sometimes it involves a collision of circumstances of our own making so that you will press into hear God. Jonah is but one Biblical example. I have too many of my own life circumstances that prove this thought correct. Sometimes the greatest revelation and transformation into our future comes in our most difficult moments or conflict.
On the issue of timing look at Moses. 40 years in Egypt. 40 years in the wilderness as a fugitive and nomadic shepherd as his preparation to lead Israel into the wilderness into a land, that he was meant to enter but did not enter- Joshua did. The humblest man in the Old Testament had a moment and missed His future. From a timing sense, that might not have looked like his personal calling and prophesy was coming true! He was given great revelation and great responsibility for that revelation. But God was establishing something in his heart and character that could carry His prophetic future. He never did completely deal with his impulsive-anger issue it would seem.
THE CALL TO OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S PRESENT WORD
When Moses struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it the second time- his disobedience meant he could not enter into his prophetic destiny and reward. As humble and amazing as Moses was, his early temperament was not it seems completely dealt with.
Therefore, our calling and God’s perfect pleasing and acceptable will whilst predestined is not a foregone conclusion. It is invitational and it is above all relational.
God’s timing is perfect.
Take King David as another example. Of course, we are all not called to lead a nation, but there seems to be a consistent principle and wisdom in play. David was anointed a future King whilst Saul was still King of Israel. He had to go through a character process and develop the necessary heart and life skills to carry his destiny effectively. Something like 18 years passed between anointing and commissioning.
THE CALL TO REPENTANCE TO GET BACK ON TRACK
God- Father, Son- as the living word of God, and Holy Spirit will always lead us into our future even if it looks like we are being led around the mountain. Even in our error God has made provision for us. Take Jonah for example as I have referred to twice now. God has provided ahead of time for a big fish to be in the ocean in the region that Jonah was travelling on the boat to another region. He came to his senses and threw himself as good as dead into the sea. God did the rest and supernaturally got him to Nineveh.
This is the power of repentance when we try to do things according to our understanding not God’s present word or simply reject God’s will and His purposes for our life.
THE MORAL IMPERATIVE - THE ABILITY AND TIMING TO CARRY THE FUTURE
Take Joseph. The story is telling. He was 17 years old. He was dearly loved by his father Jacob and gave him a robe of many colours. His brothers were jealous of him and hated him. Now let me say this from revelation and experience. Even when people are working against you from God’s perspective they are working for you! Every time you overcome you grow in the necessary character and maturity to carry your future. Everything Satan uses to oppose you, God uses to strengthen you in Him and your destiny as His perfect pleasing and acceptable will.
Now Joseph had a dream. When he told them his dream they hated him even more. The dream was the Holy Spirit speaking to him about his future. The dream was in metaphoric language. Now he never said he would rule over his brothers. But the brother’s interpreted the dream with hatred in their heart. See Genesis 37:8. Then he had another dream but this time he told it to both his father, Jacob and his brothers. Jacob rebuked him, but did not hate him. The effect would be that he would rule over not only his brothers but also his father. Joseph was no doubt seeking interpretation of the dreams. His motives seem naïve rather than malicious. Often those closest to us resent the idea of what God is calling us in to!
GOD SPEAKS TO US IN MANY WAYS THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT
Let me make this point. God can speak to us through Jesus, the living word of God by the Holy Spirit to us, through the illuminated and revealed word of God, through dreams, visions and angelic encounters and of course the Spirit of prophesy flowing through someone else.
I have received revelation as both a future and present word for my life by encounters with Jesus, the illumination of the Scriptures, prophetic words, angelic encounters and a lot of dreams and visions. After being clueless in what to do with these experiences and making some really stupid basic errors, I asked God for understanding, and to give me, like Solomon, an understanding heart. I was getting revelation but I lacked wisdom and understanding to know how and when to apply it.
So now I am very careful in how I treat each of these and some of these experiences seem more reliable in my context than others. I am always careful to get before God and surrender all my ego, all my emotions and who I am in worship before I simply rely on these revelatory words. I bring each of my experiences back to the word of God and Jesus as perfect theology. Revelation is an invitation to obedience and God’s wisdom and understanding. I start to understand that God loves me consistently, patiently and with such kindness. I learnt to obey from His love. His love empowers me to obey the present word so I can establish my prophetic future.
I also test prophetic words over my life. Sometimes big name prophets have prophesied things and given a time line to them. They have not come to pass. The error could be in the revelation, the wisdom or the timing, because every prophetic word has to have these three things when it speaks to the future.
At the same time every present word leads me into the future word. So, I rely on that. I rely on that because I know as Jesus teaches that every present word comes with God’s ability to perform it. It comes with God’s faith, God’s ability and God’s authority. I allow the present word to be the seed bed to my future. I don’t just obey- I invest.
So, I have learnt to test things, hold things in my heart, shelve things but always inquire of the Lord and live as best I can by God’s empowering grace in obedience to both the previously spoken and presently spoken word of God in my life so they are performed. God rarely speaks to me about the next thing until I have responded to the present thing. So many of us are waiting for God to move, when all the while God is waiting for us to move into what He has previously spoken to us.
God’s present word to us is the foundational intimacy that all prophesy is outworked. We outwork God’s calling and future for our life in Him and with Him not apart from Him as if we are getting a Taro card-reading from a prophet.
Given the New Testament had not been written God used all those means including using the Scriptures as a foundation for revelation with both Peter and Paul and used an angelic encounter in Acts 10 for an angel to speak to Cornelius that opened up the nations to receive the Gospel and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
When we come to dreams and visions we need to be careful how we interpret them and obviously the heart in which we carry in interpreting them. The interpretation of dreams is a gift of the Spirit.
UNDERSTANDING COMES AFTER OBEDIENCE
The point being made is Joseph believed the dream but only had understanding in hindsight when he looked back with maturity to say “God meant it all for good”. But as he received the dream as a present word or activation in his heart the process began and then in each unusual step of God fulfilling the dreams in his life he needed to proceed from the present situation and the present word without complete revelation and understanding. The journey towards his destiny looked nothing like what he thought! But he had to learn to trust God. This is called faith. Prophesy is outworked by faith.
So, God decreed a famine upon Canaan Land, cutting off their food supply. But he had already sent a man ahead of his people to Egypt, it was Joseph who was sold as a slave. His feet were bruised by strong shackles and his soul was held by iron. God’s promise to Joseph purged his character until it was time for his dreams to come true. Eventually the king of Egypt sent for him, setting his feet free at last. Then Joseph was put in charge of everything under the king, he became the master of the palace over all the royal possessions. Pharaoh gave him authority over all the princes of the land, and Joseph became the teacher of wisdom to the king’s advisors. Then Jacob, with all of Joseph’s family came from Canaan to Egypt and settled in Goshen. God made them very fruitful and they multiplied incredibly until they were in greater number than those who ruled them.
Joseph had to learn how to move in the present word of God to fulfil the dream as an invitation to his future God had revealed to him in two dreams. And the process was both God’s timing and Joseph’s obedience to trust God in the process even when it looked like his life was going in completely the wrong direction. God was using every life circumstance towards establishing Joseph in his future. He needed to learn character and patience through obedience. They are not popular ideas in the contemporary church.
One can see that Jesus knew both His future assignment and yet lived from God’s present word. Every present word remains present until it is activated by obedience. A present word does not mean it needs to be released instantaneously. Sometimes words are to be released now, because they are both a present and a “now” in time word. But even then, one must measure what is going on to both release and receive that word. God is moving in all hearts so we need to keep that in mind.
Moving from the future-present word is a fundamental key that I want to speak about this morning to guide us in carrying a personal prophetic word for our lives.
Lord you know everything there is to know about me. You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind. You are so intimately aware of me Lord. You read my heart like and open book and you know all the words I’m about to speak before I even start a sentence! You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past.
With your hand of love upon my life, you impart blessing to me. This is just too wonderful, deep and incomprehensible! Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength. Where could I go from your Spirit? Where could I run and hide from your face?
In John 14 Jesus tells us that he will not leave us as orphans. He tells us he will never leave us nor forsake us. He tells us our loving him empowers us to obey him. Everything in the area of the Spirit of prophecy and carrying our prophetic destiny and words in our life are first and foremost relational and in the New Testament reality outworked in our union in Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. We proceed from the fullness of Him including all His perfect pleasing acceptable words for our life. Again, Paul tells us we must renew our mind from the pattern of this fallen world to understand these things.
You formed my innermost being shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvellously breathtaking! It simply amazes me to think about it. How thoroughly you know me Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place carefully, skilfully shaping me from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me!
Before I had ever seen the light of day the number of my days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. Every single moment you are thinking of me! How precious and wonderful to consider that you cherish me constantly in your every thought! O God your desire towards me are more than the grains of sand on every shore! When I awake each morning you’re still with me.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure feasting on his faithfulness. Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and he will provide for you what you desire the most. Give God the right to direct your life and as your trust him along the way you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly! He will appear to you as your righteousness as sure as the dawning of a new day. He will manifest as your justice as sure and as strong as the noon day sun. Quiet your heart in his presence and pray: keep hope alive as you long for God to come through for you.
Want to get the latest from Paul Tothill delivered to your inbox? Submit your details here, and Paul will send you a regular digest of thoughts, news and content.