A vision from a prophet

translucent_red_lein_flower_221583.jpgEzekiel 7:26: Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients.

Should New Testament Christians seek out prophets? No! Emphatic no! The bible says that as many as are led by the Holy Spirit are the children of God (Romans 8:14). We are meant to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2Peter 3:18); we are meant to not be fools but understand what the will of God is (Ephesians 5:17); we are meant to grow up, not remain spoon-fed like babes but mature in understanding (1Corinthians 14:20); not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but grow up into the fullness of the statute of Christ (Ephesians 4:13-14). That cannot be achieved when you perpetually seek out prophets for guidance.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians that the eyes of their understanding to be opened (Ephesians 1:15-21); that they will realise and live in the full reality of the enormous power of God at work in them, which was the same which raised Jesus from the dead. He wanted them to realise that they are not ordinary.

The Old Testament order of things when it comes to prophet is different from the New Testament order of things. In the old the people of Israel do not individually have the Holy Spirit, but we do now through Jesus Christ.

We are not ordinary. The bible says that he who believes in Jesus will speak in new tongues, will cast out devils, will lay hands on the sick and they will recover (Mark 16:15-18). Talk about internal capabilities! These things that are the common patrimony of believers in Christ Jesus were scarce (or nonexistent) in the Old Testament. There was no manifestation of power of God in individual lives of Christians as we have now because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual Christians.

The ministers of the gospel are not supposed to cultivate dependency on themselves in the people they lead. Leading people to Christ should not end when someone answers the altar call; it also should be all you do as spiritual leaders afterwards, constantly placing Christ before their eyes as the ultimate one. You are not (and cannot be) the ultimate one.

Paul writing to the Corinthians church said that he has betrothed them to one man Jesus and they should have only devotion to him (2Corinthians 11:1-3), not to a prophet, or anyone with claim to any other spiritual credential whatsoever.

Jesus has made available for his body five ministry gifts, of which the prophet is key (Ephesians 4:8-11). Therefore we cannot diminish the role of prophets in our days as members of the body of Christ. However, a careful reading of the New Testament does not suggest that the role of prophets is for Christians to obtain personal direction from God through them.

It did not happen anywhere in the New Testament. The first time we encounter the operation of prophets in the book of Acts, was in a prayer group (Acts 13:1-3). We have Judas (not the one who betrayed Jesus) and Silas whom we are told preaches (Acts 15:32), exhorting the people (not offering consultation for spiritual guidance in the name of being prophets). We also see Agabus, who spoke of an impending famine (Acts 11:27-30), and of the impending incarceration of Paul (Acts 21:10-14).

The people of God in the church in Antioch who were recipients of the former word, made a decision to gather their resources together in response to that word. But they did not “seek a vision of a prophet” as God said of rebellious Israel did in the focus verse.

Paul was not moved by the prophetic word Agabus made about him.

The target people for the prophetic word of the focus verse were rebuked by God because they draw near to God with their mouth but their heart is far from him.

God told Ezekiel that though the people come to him to him to hear the word of the Lord, they are only pretending. They only see came to him for entertainment, not for any serious thing like hearing the word of the Lord, because they will not obey it because their hearts hardened (Ezekiel 33:30-33, 36:26).

God told Jeremiah that the people who have come to him vowing that they will do whatever God says through him, are lying, they have already made up their mind on what they will do. They want to see if they can use the word of God to validate the error of their heart (Jeremiah 42:1-43:7).

Let’s apply the word of God to both prophets to our experience as Christians who seek God for ourselves, by ourselves.

We should not approach God or the things of God with levity, but with all seriousness (anything can happen). Also we need not come with any preconceived notion. We need to embrace the truth of God, as we seek him for it, and take steps accordingly in obedience.

We are born again by faith (Ephesians 2:8); our ongoing relationship with him must also be by faith (Romans 1:17. Hebrews 10:38). What that implies is that even hearing from God takes faith. It is wrong for you to prioritise hearing from prophets over hearing from God yourself, relegating the Holy Spirit in you to merely supplying you with good feeling. He wants to give you guidance in the ways of God for you, based on your personal relationship with him.

Paul wrote that eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor have it entered into the heart of men what God had prepared for you and I but they are revealed to us by the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned. Another reality we have is that we have the mind of Christ. That means we have the capability to see the ways of God (1Corinthians 2:9-16).

But to experience those, first of all you need to take a personal responsibility for your relationship with God (and not have a relationship with God through a proxy, either prophet or “priest”). The relationship that God wants to have with you is not a general relationship, but one-on-one.

Though you can’t see him, you should relate to him by faith. The bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), because the one who comes to God must believe that he is and a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. We should seek God, and we should have the faith/assurance that we will be rewarded with clear guidance from him, by so doing.

Secondly, you must know that God hears you when you call. Jesus speaking loudly and publicly of God said: I know that you always hear me (John 11:41-42). John wrote that we should be assured that when we ask God for anything, he hears us and gives us our request (1John 5:14-15), guidance inclusive (Psalm 31:3).

Thirdly, we should be assured that God will guide us and not be afraid that maybe he won’t, since we are his children and the bible says that as many as children of God are promised guidance by the Spirit of God. We should not see ourselves as being far from God and in need of help from anyone to hear from Him.

Fourthly, when you hear the instructions from God you need faith to step out on that word for it to bring results in our lives. The problem is: people are disobedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within (ignoring and neglecting it), because of their wilfulness.

Take the lid of what you think is possible for you in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that your faith-for-guidance muscle can be exercised on a daily basis to obey his promptings.

 

Proclaiming a fast

plateEzra 8:21: Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

How do you proclaim a fast? Should you proclaim a fast? Is it right to ask that a whole congregation fast all at once?

As far as Ezra was concerned proclaiming a fast was as a means of seeking God, a sign of humility and an expression of neediness.

By eating the forbidden fruit the first family showed their pride and rejection of the rule of God. I am talking about Adam and Eve.

In fasting, there is the expression of humility and dependence on God; conversely, eating the fruit (by Adam and Eve) signified independence from God.

Ezra was going to seek God for a straight way, the right way, for a safe journey, and that journey represented a new responsibility for him (Ezra 7:1-8:32).

He was the leader of a delegation that was taking valuables from Babylon back to Israel. It was a new chapter in his life, where he was changing location, going to a new place. He believed he needed help in this time of his transition. And he sought it through fasting and prayer.

He refused to lean on the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 17:5) by asking the king to supply security personnel, determined to lean on the everlasting arm. This means fasting is not “nothing”; it is big deal for those who want to have a walk with God, those who depend on God. It is the rejection of human strength to take on the strength of God.

Ezra called for fast, and there was no dissenting voice in the camp, as much as we know, meaning that they all saw the necessity for such a fast, believed enough in the leadership of Ezra and saw things from his perspective, having gained his vision.

Queen Esther also called for a fast. We do not know the length of the fast embarked upon by Ezra and his people but for Esther, it was three days and night of no eating or drinking, what you can call an absolute fast.

It was a time of a “national” emergency. Someone had gone to the king and moved him toward the destruction of all the Jews in the land at a particular date. If that had taken place, it means that there would be no Jesus Christ to come and save the world, if the nation that was to produce him, have all been wiped out, the plan of God for the earth was in serious jeopardy.

To stop this satanic agenda, Mordecai made a call to Esther that she needed to get to the king as a queen, for him to change his mind. But the problem is: you only approach the king without invitation, on the pain of death; hence Esther’s call for a fast. She called for an intense fast. The whole Jews in the capital city were to go without food or water for three days (night and day); they needed a rescue from God as the date determined to have them wiped out by the enemy of Israel drew near. And there was a reversal of fortune on that day for them. The nation was saved.

In Nineveh, the king called for a fast (Jonah 3). It was also in the face of impending danger to the nation. There was no fasting-sacrifice too much because the danger they faced just like Israel in a foreign land was that of being wiped out.  So they fasted for their own good. They decided to express their need for salvation from their impending doom through a fast, and the prophesied evil was averted.

In the New Testament one example of corporate fasting that we see was done by the leadership team of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Who decided to separate themselves not because they were in mortal danger but as an expression of corporate hunger for the presence of God?

Another place where corporate fasting was mentioned it was as part of the arrangement for ordaining elders, leaders in the churches that Paul and Barnabas founded (Acts 14:23). In fasting, they sought to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in a corporate setting, to help the people to carry on the work of leadership in that place. Remember that it was during a time of fasting that the Holy Spirit was invoked (in Antioch) and he said Paul and Barnabas should be set apart for a new role and they were thus energised for it.

However, Jesus seemed to condone the lack of fasting of his disciples as opposed to the practice of the Pharisees, and the disciples of John (Luke 5:33-35). Though he himself went without food for forty days and forty nights at the beginning of his ministry, it seemed he had a lax attitude towards fasting when it comes to his disciples. When people criticised his disciples for not fasting, He defended them saying: “they don’t need to.”

He criticised the prevailing manner of fasting at that time (Matthew 6:16-18). Then, fasting had become a part of public relations for the religious. Jesus described some people as hypocrites, who were fond of looking sad and making a scene of themselves when they fast to show how deeply religious they are, they seek to gain attention of the people when they fast so that they would be seen as really spiritual.

Jesus said that is what they are seeking (human attention) is what they will get and nothing more. They should not expect God to account to them any blessing because of the fast. That means that going without food without the right attitude delivers no spiritual value.

So throughout the time he (Jesus) was with the disciples, he taught the people on faith, and on following Him unflinchingly. He wanted them to focus on him.

When he spoke on why his disciples do not need to fast, he said it was because they don’t need to fast when he is with them. When with them, they have no need since he is all they need. But when he leaves, he said they will fast. It means fasting is a decision they will make when He is no longer with them in the flesh.

The occasions in the book of acts when the leadership of the church fasted happened based on what Jesus said that his disciples will fast when he is no longer with them.

Back to the original question of the validity or otherwise of congregational fasting; I don’t believe there is any hard and fast rule to it. Remember that the bible says that anyone who eats does so unto the Lord and anyone who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord (Romans 14:3-8). What that means is that the one who fasts (and in this case, the congregation who fast) should make sure it is focused on the Lord and the one who don’t, should still maintain an attitude of devotion to God.

Whatever the case, there is the biblical promise for reward of fasting; there is a release of new vision, new commission in fasting. There is renewal of spiritual strength in fasting, there is the denying, stifling the works of the flesh in fasting to release the spirit.

Don’t reject congregational fasting, cutting off yourself from the blessing in it. However you should ensure that your faith is not in fasting but in God.