The Gospel of John begins with these powerful words,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3
These magisterial words refer to Jesus, the Word made flesh. They also remind me of the power of God’s word. First and foremost, God’s word is revealed in the Bible. No other word carries the weight and final authority of Scripture. However, God’s word continues to be living and active, as we read in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
God’s word is living and active in the world today. We must always be mindful that we will never receive a word from the Lord that will contradict anything contained in the Bible, but the Lord continues to offer his life-giving word to shape and mold our lives.
Paul writes, “To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
While some believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the first apostles, Scripture doesn’t share that view. God’s word is still expressed through revelatory gifts such as words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and prophetic words. While I have always trusted the words of scripture, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was able to look back and see just how impactful prophetic words have been in my own life.
The first prophetic word I remember being spoken over my life came when I was around nine years old. My mom and I were standing in front of my house near some of her beautiful irises. As we were standing there, she said, “For the longest time, I’ve always had the feeling that one of my sons would be a teacher and the other would be a preacher.” My older brother had recently started college and was studying to be a high school science teacher. My first thought was, “poor Philip, when is God going to get him on the right path?!” Because in my nine-year-old mind, there was zero chance I was going to be a preacher. Most of the preachers I knew in my little church were either elderly, sick, strange, scary, or some combination of the above! And yet that word both planted a seed and revealed a picture of who I was created to be.
I can remember many Sundays during the altar calls that were part of our church’s tradition holding tight to the pew in front of me, hoping and praying the Lord wouldn’t call me to be a pastor. Little did I know this wasn’t the common experience of most people! I assumed lots of people had that inkling of a call and resisted it until it went away. Years later, I knelt in the back of a church at a spiritual retreat where I had experienced God’s love in a profound way. There I prayed these words, “God, whatever it is you want me to do, all I ever want to be is your man.” In that prayer, I already knew I was saying yes to a lifetime of serving God in the local church.
As I approached seminary, I had doubts. What if I had misunderstood God? What if I was just trying to find a way to earn God’s love? On a day when I was wrestling with these questions, I received a letter in the mail from the wife of one of my former pastors.
During high school, we had a pastor who was a former butcher. Brother Simon, as we called him, was not the most dynamic pastor, but he simply and faithfully preached the gospel each week. While I would attend worship almost every week with my family, I was not “into it,” and I often just went through the motions. Our little church had a song leader who would stand and call out the hymn numbers before the congregation would sing. When he was absent, he tabbed me as the assistant song leader. I did NOT enjoy it. Not only could I not sing very well, but I also didn’t like being at the front. Each time I was tapped to lead, I would secretly hope no one from my school would show up and see me up there.
As I opened this letter, I was shocked by what I read. Brother Simon had died many years before, and I had not thought of him since he was my pastor. But after finding out that we were now Methodists and that I was heading off to seminary, Simon’s wife Elizabeth sent me this letter.
After reading this, I immediately felt the confirming weight of this word from the past. “They don’t know it yet, but that boy is going into the ministry” was a prophetic word spoken over my life, without me even realizing it. To this day, when I begin to feel the temptation to turn away from the plow and find an easier field in which to make a living, I am reminded that my call is bigger than me and supernatural in its origin.
Every now and then, when facing difficult decisions or situations, I will pull this letter out to read through it again. Just today, I was thinking about what we are facing in the life of the church. We are walking into a season, however long, of having our doors closed because of coronavirus. We have had to make difficult decisions and uncertainty is in the air. When I opened up the letter today, I immediately noticed the bookmarks Elizabeth included for me and my wife. Listed on the back of my bookmark is Psalm 91:1, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” KJV, which is the very passage our church staff has been reading and meditating on this entire week.
Then, I noticed something I’d somehow missed for the last 19 years. Her address is on the exact same street as the church I serve and less than a mile away from where I sit as I type this post. What an amazing confirmation that I am right where God wants me to be for such a time as this!
Friends, we are who God says we are. Nothing more, nothing less. When God speaks a word of promise over your life and mine, our world shifts and new possibilities open up. In the middle of a world that is shifting faster than we could ever have anticipated, I pray that today, you will hear the most basic word that God speaks over you. You are loved. God gave his only Son so that you would have the opportunity to receive eternal life (John 3:15). He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and we can be sure of this: God is with us forever, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)!