It’s way too hot for an early October morning.
I’m sitting at a plastic table under a tent where people are worshiping Jesus, praying for one another, and collectively sweating off the dust we gathered during yesterday’s events of nonstop prayer and worship at the Washington, DC National Mall. My mind is still spinning from the previous day, moment following moment of the explosive Presence of God while surrounded by joyous crowds swarming around over 50 tents that have gathered from all over for one purpose—to worship. Not too different from a YWAM worship night, I think, laughing to myself. But this morning I’m with a group of fellow creative lovers of Jesus getting to do something a little different, something I’ve never done before. Sure, I’ve told strangers about God’s love before, but not like this.
My group’s contagious mood of messy, creative experimentation fills me with an energy I normally wouldn’t have at this muggy hour of the morning. On the table we have a wild assortment of bottles of half-empty acrylic paints and plastic cups full of paint-swirling water and soggy brushes. As a young woman I’ve never met before sits across from me at the table, I lean forward, smiling as I take her hands.
“Tell me your name!” I shout over the noise of the crowd singing and dancing in the tent and on the grass around us. She tells me, and then even though she’s already approached the table knowing why it’s here, I explain what I’m getting ready to do, “So I’m going to do some face-painting on you, but first I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit what He wants me to paint. And as I paint, I’m going to tell you what I hear Him saying about it. Are you ready?” She gives a small smile and nods, and after a quick prayer inviting God to speak, I reach over, grab a paintbrush, and dip it into the first color that catches my eye. I’ve found that I often hear His direction best during activities like this—I just pick a color and let it speak through the brush, allowing my mind to simply follow and translate what I see happening into words.
While I talk to her, I study her features and silently invite the Holy Spirit into my imagination. As soon as the bright blue paint touches her face, I get a picture in my mind’s eye of her as a girl—sitting at a school desk, or at a cafeteria table, or wandering a playground… surrounded by classmates and friends, but feeling alone. As I continue to paint, I see that same loneliness planting a seed in the little girl’s heart that suggests she should feel timid, afraid and unnoticed. I see her growing up into a woman with that seed still lodged in her heart. But I’ve learned to see these pictures through the lens of love—this loneliness and fear are not who she is. My heart feels drawn to her large, clear eyes and hesitant smile. It’s the hesitancy I see that causes my heart to feel a little tug—one of the ways I’ve found that I can notice when God’s directing me to a certain aspect of His thoughts about her. The next picture I see is the Lord standing in front of her, His great unabashed Jesus-smile bathing her in sunlight and causing her to radiate with a newfound understanding of who she is in His eyes. Rather than hear Him whisper, I feel Him say, “Wow—look at My daughter! She’s so confident.”
“I feel like Jesus says you’re really confident,” I say aloud as I create strokes of color around her eyes and along her cheekbones. And as I speak I suddenly feel a rush of warmth run through me, and as I refocus on her features I suddenly can almost “see” confidence radiating from her skin like a subtle glow. Whether it was there before I spoke the words or not, I noticed it now. Jesus’s presence starts to feel stronger, so I continue to paint. Pictures of His relationship with her flooding my mind, I speak out both the thoughts and feelings that I’m perceiving: “I feel like the Holy Spirit is giving you a taste of adventure and bringing it out in the personality He gave you”, “He sees you as someone who’s wild and brave”, “You have this God-given confidence and wildness about you that lets you follow the Father wherever He leads, and it’s always an adventure to you and Him”. After I finish, she quietly thanks me and stands up so that the next person in line can sit and get their skin painted with bright colors and (I’m hoping) God’s thoughts. I feel a twinge of frustration with myself that my words hadn’t seemed to affect her more.
After the last person in line leaves, we all put away our art supplies and disperse, then, I see the girl approach me out of the corner of my eye. As she walks closer I notice that there’s something different about her than just a few minutes ago. At first I thought it was just the colorful face paint, but it takes me a moment because the change is so subtle. She’s standing straighter, her eyes more intense yet comfortable, her smile sure and no longer hesitant.
“I wanted to tell you what happened while you were painting my face,” she says. “As you were getting ready to start painting after we prayed I was thinking to myself, ‘She’s probably going to see how fearful I am and then pray for the fear to go.’ Because I’ve actually always been just a really fearful person, I’ve never really felt that confident. And when instead you said, ‘God says you’re confident,’ I sort of shut myself down on the inside saying, ‘No God, I’m actually afraid.’ But the more you spoke, the more I started to realize that that’s actually the way God sees me. He doesn’t always see me the way I see myself. I am confident, I am brave, I am adventurous with Him. So instead of calling out my fear you called out the truth. You called out the truth.” Then she hugged me and left the tent.
As I stood stunned, I felt the Holy Spirit come in close beside me. I felt His rushing excitement and His words tumbling over into my thoughts like a waterfall, “See? See?? This is what prophecy is!”
Ray Hughes says, “The prophetic is not so much about telling people what to do, but it’s about awakening who they are.” And although I already knew it in my mind, my heart finally caught up with the meaning of that statement. Where the “prophetic” is becoming more and more of a catchword in the church today, it can be easy to complicate it into this vague future-telling gift that only the most spiritual of Christians attain. I used to think it was. But I’ve discovered the spiritual gift of prophecy is actually a gift we are all meant to have. To prophesy is to hear what God has to say, by feeling what He feels and thinking what He thinks about someone, and to relay that information in a way that His love and mercy can shine through our words into that person’s heart. That’s why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy… The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort” (verses 1 and 3 NIV).
To maintain this spiritual gift and to steward your gift of prophecy, does not look like practicing telling people their future so much as it looks most like becoming absolutely obsessed with what the Trinity is really like. The more you understand the character of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the better you’ll recognize His voice when He talks to you about someone. Yes, you will discover as your gift grows that it will sometimes come with a word God may have for someone’s future—but more often than not I’ve discovered that true prophecy simply reveals who He already wants to be for them. Everything else you speak out of this beautiful gift—strategies, the future, answers to unanswerable questions—is meant to be an extension of that core expression. Then a prophetic vision for their life will have a healthy starting place of seeing the way He already sees them.
To give this gift away is to allow God to speak His love notes through you to the world.
To call out the God-intended identity He’s placed as the innate gift of significance in every human being. Practice your gift of prophecy by asking Him what He thinks about everything in your inner and outer world—God is so relational in the way He wants to speak to you. Let His kindness and joy challenge your concepts of your everyday life, of events that have marked you, of His character, and of people, including yourself, until you are helplessly erupting with His personality. Every word you speak will begin to be more and more prophetic (“strengthening, encouraging, and comforting,” remember?) as it becomes a reflection of the nature of God inside you. Immerse yourself in Scripture. Become a lover of the Word and the Holy Spirit, and you will grow in hearing the Word being spoken all around you.
There is a revelation of Truth that comes from the heart of God that all of His followers have access to through the Holy Spirit. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts; they transcend simple facts or what we can easily observe from looking at the exterior of a person. It is not fooling ourselves into believing only whatever we can imagine—we need the Holy Spirit to show us this higher truth. It is looking past someone’s layers of shame or failure, beyond the dirt we know any fool could see at a glimpse, to the gold that God placed within them. No matter how deep down it has been buried and ignored, gold does not lose its value—it is still precious. Where we might see fear, the Father sees the confidence He wants to replace that fear with. Where we see deep loneliness, He sees a human heart that He can fill permanently with the friendship of His Spirit. Where we see regret and shame, Jesus sees what He paid for on the Cross and the purity He won back for every person. And the list goes on—as far and deep as the facets of His loving character and the bounds of His boundless mercy.
Your authority in using this gift lies in your capacity to let the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit fill you with their thoughts and compassion for humankind.
You are going to see people be transformed into the work of art the Savior saw from the very beginning. It might seem as small or invisible as a planted seed when given, or the Father’s love may bring them into wholeness at once. Either way, God’s love letter to humanity will never return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). Your responsibility is simple obedience by following His voice. You will see the fearful stand with confidence when they realize they are brave. You’ll see the bitter become soft again as the Lord gently teaches them about reconciliation. You will watch orphans find their hearts at home again by encountering the Father. You can experience the illogical, perfect joy of witnessing someone’s entire broken world be made whole in a moment that outside of the Holy Spirit’s work would take decades to heal. You will get to see love notes from God planted in every life you and He touch together—including yours.