The call to send missionaries came during a small gathering of church leaders. Five men, all of whom functioned as prophets and teachers, had set aside time to fast and worship. It appears the purpose for the meeting was to listen to the Lord. It also appears, from the casual way Luke describes it, that this sort of gathering was a normal part of life. He names the men: Now among the church in Antioch there were both prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian (Ac 11:20), and also Manaen, the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch (Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, 4BC-AD39) and Saul. Then Luke tells us what happened: And while ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart to me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. And finally, he tells us how they responded: Then, having fasted and prayed to prepare themselves, and having laid hands on them, they released them.
Once again, these early believers are teaching us how to live out our faith. In this case, they show us how to wait on the Lord and receive guidance. Luke lists who gathered, describes how they listened, and he even reports how they responded. No subject is more important to a true believer. Our softened hearts long to do His will, but at times we still struggle to know His will. Thats why Lukes picture of what took place in Antioch is such a gift to us. Hes given us a model of how the early church listened to God.
Admiration or imitation
Theres no ignoring the fact that this was an elite group of people. Only five men were gathered in that room, not an enormous crowd. And each of them was spiritually mature. They knew the Word of God and could teach it, and they were prophets and could speak out His word spontaneously. They knew how to function intuitively, to discern between the voice of the Spirit and false voices. But we mustnt let these facts about them discourage us. We mustnt set them on a pedestal, assuming they were functioning at a level we cant. Yes, they may have been farther along in their spiritual development than we, but they were not doing something we cannot do. The truth is, they were doing something we must learn to do. Admiring them is of little value. They were great Christians. Yet if all we do is admire them this passage is drained of its transformative power. We must also hear their call to imitate them. We must see them as our teachers, not just our heroes. Were watching people do something we can do, because we have the same grace on our lives that was so powerfully at work in theirs.
Our New Covenant
Before we go any further with this discussion, we need to be firmly grounded in an important truth. The cross of Jesus Christ brings every believer into the New Covenant. During the Last Supper, Jesus held up the cup and said, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood (Lk 22:20). In other words, His death on the cross would bring us the promised New Covenant. This is our covenant. Listen to the promise:
this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord, I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write it
they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying Know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them
for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (Jer 31:33, 34).
Our new capacity
The moment we become a Christian and receive the Holy Spirit, a new capacity is awakened in us. We can know the Lord, we can talk with Him, and we can hear His voice. Every single one of us. Yet this capacity can go undeveloped. It can be neglected, in which case a believer tends to find guidance for their life by using the same process of rational deduction an unbeliever might use. Now rational deduction, that is evaluating the options and trying to make the best possible choice, isnt wrong. It can be done within the boundaries of Biblical principles and produce some good decisions. But as we watch these leaders in Antioch, thats not the process theyre using. Theyre waiting and listening for prophetic guidance. They were deeply aware of Biblical principles and would have tested every prophetic word against those principles, but they were seeking Gods guidance by listening, not reasoning.
Prophets and prophecy
Because of the New Covenant a Christian doesnt become a prophet by having an unusual capacity, but by developing their capacity and having integrity. All of us can prophesy, but for us to listen to someone as a prophet means we trust them enough to accept Gods word spoken through him or her. We must be convinced that you are able to discern the Spirits voice and separate it from the voice of your own flesh. We must see in you a humility that refuses to speak your own word, and will quickly correct yourself, if necessary.
Our relationship to a prophet is very similar to the unspoken contract between a pastor and a congregation. Each person is asking, If I listen to you and believe what you teach, will I go to heaven? There are so many voices, how do I know yours is true? Do you really know God? In other words, Do I trust and respect you enough to follow you? On a personal note, this is why I teach through the Bible, forcing myself to discover the meaning of passage after passage. I want to speak His Word, not my own. I, too, want to hear His truth, His wisdom, not mine.
All believers should be maturing into prophets, just as all should become teachers (He 5:12), but some dont because they refuse to be disciplined by God or humble their flesh-mind. The unhealthy tenor of their lives and their immature character disqualify them. But this doesnt mean the potential isnt there. It just means there are matters of the heart that have to be dealt with first.
Learning to listen
Having the capacity to prophesy is not enough, we must desire to grow in that ability. Paul tells us to
desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (1Co 14:1). So, how do I learn to listen? Where do I begin? Here are some practical steps:
1. Begin each day by drawing close to God:
Read a chapter in the Bible and then look back over what you have read to see which verse(s) especially speaks to you. Write that verse(s) down in a journal; then write out one spiritual truth you see there; then write out how that truth applies to you now; and finally, write out a prayer that asks for God to help you obey.
Sing, out loud, a worship song or hymn.
Pick key verses of scripture to memorize, but also include some longer passages, not just isolated verses.
Write down your prayer requests: What do you need from God today? Include everything, practical and spiritual. Also include the needs of others that God has asked you to pray for.
2. Severely limit the amount of time you listen to, or watch, media. We need to silence the worlds voice.
3. During the day, remind yourself to listen to the Spirit, not just your mind, in whatever situation you are in.
Our foundation in the Word
Any person is vulnerable to deception without a good knowledge of the Bible. This is the infallible standard against which every word is tested. If we dont know the Bible, we have only our own reason with which to test a prophetic word, and our natural mind is not enough.
When I was struggling to discern Gods will in a matter recently, He told me to think less, listen more. When I stopped and listened, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a verse I had memorized. It was Philippians 4:6, 7, and as I quoted these verses out loud, the words
make your requests known to God
appeared in bold-type in my mind. Then He said worry less, ask more. Instead of worrying, I was to restate my concerns as requests. In this way, He reoriented me from trying to figure out what to do, to reflecting on what I specifically needed Him to do. Then I asked, out loud, for each thing I needed, and as I did, a peace that passes all understanding came. And after that, as the days progressed God gave me everything I asked for. This was a very different process than trying to think my way through the situation. He moved me from my own reasoning into the prophetic.
1) We learned to distinguish between our thinking and Gods voice?
2) We learned how to listen for Gods guidance together, to gather with mature, trusted prophets and teachers?
3) We learned to minister to the Lord and fast, to silence the flesh, draw near, and listen?
4) We learned to test what we hear, submitting it to Scripture and the counsel of others who are listening with us?
5) We learned to obey quickly, even if what God instructs is very costly?
6) We learned to lay hands on people and stand with them in prayer as they step out in faith? And then to keep praying for them until the mission is finished?
The answer is wed be following the example of the Antioch church. But more importantly, wed receive Gods guidance for our lives as clearly as they did, because Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (He 13:8). He will speak today as clearly as He did then. We just have to learn to listen.
1) Has anyone ever given you a prophetic word that turned out to be amazingly accurate? Please tell us about it.
2) Has God ever used you to speak a prophetic word to someone else? How did that word come to you? Did you hear something, see something, feel something? How did the person react? Did your word prove to be accurate?