Part 1 of my notes from this outstanding seminar from the Brighton Leadership Conference 2006
What you believe about the future will dramatically affect how you choose to live in the present.
This is what this marvellous prophecy is about. It draws our attention to:
1. The state of the church
2. The vital need for the prophetic word
3. Our dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.
1. The State of the Church.
Described as a “slain army”. We in Europe have become an irrelevance to Western culture since the First World War. A relic of a former age. We have been uprooted and exiled – exile is a condition where at best you are regarded as marginalised and barely tolerated or at worst you are violently persecuted for being out of step with the rest of the world. This passage has great prophetic importance not only for his time but for all time. God gives us visions like this in order that we may see a situation like He Himself sees it. God does four things with the prophet:
a. He takes us to a place where we don’t want to go.
“In the middle of a valley”. A valley is a low shaded place with echoes and haunting memories that we would rather leave behind. God often takes us back in our personal history, back in our church history and back in our denominations history to where it all went wrong. Few people willingly visit such valleys because they tell themselves we are to live for the future and no point dwelling on the past. It is sometimes very healthy to review the past, see what wrong turns we have made, go back to where you began to experience decay. Something has been lost, even died on the way! It would be good to go back to some of the major conferences that have been held. God sometimes takes us to these places to give us a fright.
b. He causes us to see what we don’t actually want to see.
“It was full of a great many bones that were very dry”. This speaks of humiliation, depression and inconsolable grief. It is a seemingly irreversible loss. This is a portrayal of the people of God. “The whole house of Israel”. These are the only remains of a once powerful people that put the frighteners on the enemies of the people of God. This is the evidence of a large scale cataclysmic disaster that took place. People are staying away in their millions from our churches! What’s there to see except this overwhelming evidence of mass extinction? Rampant democracy has even outvoted Christ from the headship of His churches and He is outside knocking. God hasn’t spoken in some of these places for a very long time.
c. He asks us tough questions that we may not want to answer.
“Son of man, can these bones live?”. This is a tough question but a good one. You may want to despise the bones and say, “Well we are into Restoration – we are doing fine” then run in shock and horror from the bones. You may have a worship conference or a retreat or simply go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Could it be possible to realise that God has plans to reverse all of this? How do you see the future? The answer to that question will determine how you being to think and plan and pray and work for the Lord right now. “Some men see things as they are and ask why? Others see them as they can be and ask, “Why not?” – John F Kennedy. Humanly speaking, the answer to this question is obviously – no! But we aren’t humanly speaking. We are meant to be a prophetic company of people who can see things from the divine perspective. “Oh Sovereign Lord – you alone know!”. That is a start. He knows God has the solution. Faith does more than sit on the fence. Faith believes in advance what will ultimately only make sense in reverse. You will then see how God works.
d. He commands us to do what we are very reluctant to do.
“Prophesy to these bones and say to them”. “The task of prophetic ministry is to hold together both criticism and energising. We are not ready for the latter task of energising until we have absorbed the former of criticism and begun the repentance that is the forerunner of revival” - Walter Bruggeman (OT scholar USA). Revival is nothing less than the commencement of a new obedience to God on the part of all of our lives. We have to face the fact that we are a valley of dry bones and we must face our call to action - prophesy. Because words are the most powerful things in the universe. Resolve to speak whatever words God wants said in that situation. Perhaps the greatest chapters of church history are yet to be written. If Jesus first miracle was to turn water into wine, it’s certainly true that the church has been turning wine into water ever since. The goal for each of our lives at this time is in verse 7: “So I prophesied as I was commanded”. The mighty wind of God – His breath, His Spirit, His Presence, His manifest glory.
More and more I am coming to see that the primary function of prophetic ministry is two-fold. It is to remove all the obstacles to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and secondly to promote the conditions essential for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
That’s why prophetic ministry is so vital today. Ezekiel “saw” and we need to “see” too. What Ezekiel did, we need to do. What is important to see is that God uses the twin agencies of Word and His Spirit to bring the desired changes.
We tend to polarize to the Reformed and the Charismatics. But the word here includes all forms of teaching, evangelism proclamation and prophetic ministry as well as wise biblical counselling or of vision building and teaching and instruction. Of conferences, seminar teaching and training tracks. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. The Spirit entails our complete reliance on and longing for the anointing of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. It is the anointing that breaks the yoke as the prophet Isaiah says and this means there will be a release of all of His gifts and the expectation of His manifest Presence not just occasionally but regularly. Characteristically of our churches – God is there! We must have room for unusual affects on our minds, our bodies, our worship and our emotions. Are we ready for this?
Walter Bruggeman put it this way; “Prophetic ministry penetrates the despair all around us so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us. It is the Word that summons new forms into being but it is the Spirit that infuses life into those forms. It is the Word that conveys visions to our minds but it is the Spirit that makes vision a reality. It is the Word that imparts faith but it is the Spirit that leads us to faith actions to follow up our faith. It is the Word that clarifies the means to the end but it is the Spirit that excites us about the end in themselves. The Word enlightens us to our resources but it is the Spirit alone who can give us the results”.
It is a manifestation of a religious spirit even in charismatic churches that has caused the death and decay all around us. A religious spirit is an evil demonic spirit that seeks to substitute religious activity for the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. It is a form of godliness that denies the power thereof and that’s why we become a slain army. The landscape of Britain is strewn with the corpses of live churches. God help us if we become “very dry” because our number one need is for more of God’s Holy Spirit.
Next: 2. The Vital Need for the Prophetic Word.