Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the Bible. He dared to oppose tyrants. He even faced up to Jezebel (presumed to have been the most wicked woman in the Bible). His prophecies came true, and he performed many remarkable miracles. But he was constantly plagued with loneliness and discouragement and, following his greatest triumph, had a complete melt-down and wanted to give up. Towards the end of his life, he took a young prophet under his wing as an apprentice. For a while that young man, named Elisha, acted as Elijah’s personal servant and, eventually, he took over from the great man.
When someone gives an outstanding performance, people often joke (perhaps sympathetically) “Follow that!” That’s more-or-less what they thought when Elisha took over from Elijah. He came to the River Jordan, carrying Elijah’s old cloak, rolled it up and beat it onto the river surface, then walked across as the waters parted in front of him. It was amazing, but the people who were watching weren’t convinced, and went searching for Elijah. They didn’t find him, so Elisha took the lead from there on. Despite that discouraging start, Elisha went on to have a distinguished career. The Bible records that he performed exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah, and his prophetic powers reached foreign kingdoms. In many ways, he was more outstanding than Elijah – and he never had a melt-down. What was his secret?
Elijah and Elisha had the same calling and the same gifts. We don’t know anything about their parentage or upbringing, so let’s ignore the nature/nurture arguments between them and take note of their circumstantial differences. It’s really quite simple. Elijah lived and worked on his own, but Elisha had a whole team of prophets around him and backing him up.
I’ve blogged about prophecy before (see “Prophetic Paradox”) because I care about it. Christians don’t worship a theoretical deity, but a living God – and he speaks today. Some sects may have over-emphasised the miraculous, but a more common error in western churches is to ignore it, or even to deny it. God is real. I’m privileged to be in a church that acknowledges the gift of prophecy but keeps it in balance. It’s a church that holds traditional liturgical services and lively modern meetings. It’s a church that seeks to be inclusive. But prophecy has been an important element in the growth of the fellowship over many years. It has guided our prayers; it has lifted our faith; and it has encouraged us to act boldly and practically.
Prophecy can be an unruly force but, at the same time, individual prophets can feel lonely and isolated. So, we’ve taken a hint from Elisha, and created a contact group for those in our church who seem to have a prophetic gift. Elisha served an apprenticeship under Elijah. So why not train our modern prophets? We expect pastors and evangelists to be trained but, for some reason, expect prophets to appear from nowhere. And we expect them to be strong-willed enough to stand on their own. That’s ridiculous. Prophets are only human, and they need nurture, support, and encouragement as much as anyone.
Our prophecy group meets bi-monthly. It’s main point is to enable those with a prophetic gift to recognise one another so they can look out for each other and provide encouragement and accountability. We want them to be spontaneous, but we don’t want them to be ‘loose cannons’. We don’t necessarily expect any of us to become ‘great’ prophets (only God can make that choice). But we want their alertness to God’s voice to be a source of blessing to the church. Meanwhile, because prophets grow old, they need successors. Our group is there to nurture those who are starting to feel their way in this useful ministry. We don’t want to overstate the importance of this ministry, but we are keen to ensure that the church benefits from every gift that God gives. It’s within that context that I wrote my latest book, “Prophecy in Today’s Church” in collaboration with our vicar, the Revd. Canon Simon Jones. It’s a simple, compact study of the biblical basis for prophetic ministry, together with modern examples of prophetic gifts in action. It includes sections covering:
- Biblical roots of the prophetic ministry
- The varied gifts of the Spirit
- How many and who can be a prophet?
- Forms of prophecy and related gifts
- Using prophecy wisely
- Prophecy in action
- Developing our prophetic gift
- Maturing prophetic ministry
- The better way
Prophecy is for ordinary people, in ordinary churches, serving our extraordinary God.
Prophecy is for today.
This book is available from Amazon in Paperback or Kindle versions.