What happens when God speaks to people who don’t know him? Mark Stibbe explores how the gift of prophecy can be used with potent effects in evangelism.
A few years ago I had to take my car into a local garage for a service. As I stood waiting in line at the reception desk the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the young woman who was serving the customers. Sometimes this happens – the Lord highlights a person to whom I am going to minister in some way. But what I sensed the Lord saying was not a positive word. I sensed him saying, “The young woman before you is terminally ill. She doesn’t know me yet. But I want you to help her to find me.”
That was it! I went up to the counter to book my car for a service and saw from her badge that her name was Wendy, but there was no opportunity there and then to say anything to her. And in any case, what do you say when you have a word that serious? Sometimes, when the Lord speaks to you, you need wisdom about how and when to share what you receive. Trusting that God had another time for me to minister to Wendy, I wrote her name on my heart and started to pray for her. A few months later, during the summer, I was conducting a wedding service at the church where I was a curate. Who should I see as one of the bridesmaids but Wendy! After the service, before everyone left, I managed to get alongside Wendy, who was standing with her boyfriend, a mechanic at the garage called Tony.
I told Wendy that I had seen her at the reception desk in the garage and that the Lord had told me to pray for her. She replied that she was very grateful. Even Tony said so too, adding that Wendy had a very serious illness. I told them both that they were on my heart and that they were not to hesitate to contact me if they needed prayer. I gave Tony my home phone number, stressing that he could use it any time.
Several weeks later Tony rang me. It was about 3 a.m. He told me that they had been on holiday in Scotland, that Wendy had gone into a coma and that he had driven her back home in the caravan. He shared that Wendy was now in the local hospital, not expected to survive beyond a few hours.
I rushed there to find Wendy in a bed next to various machines and surrounded by family and medics. I asked for two minutes to pray for Wendy and invited the Holy Spirit to come into that hospital side room. I don’t remember particularly sensing the presence of God or seeing any reaction in Wendy as I prayed. I don’t remember exactly what I prayed either, except that it was something along the lines that God had said I was to help Wendy find him and that I needed more time. After I had prayed, I bade farewell and went home. Several hours later the phone rang. It was Tony to say that Wendy had recovered dramatically and that the nurses were baffled. The doctors had discharged her and she was now back home!
Now I would love to say that Wendy went on to recover completely and that she is alive and well today.
But that did not happen. The Lord had impressed on me that he wanted her to have an opportunity to get to know him. I did not receive a word about her being healed. That has occurred on other occasions. I have prayed for several seekers who have been sick and they have been healed. But this time, with Wendy, I did not sense any leading at all that she was going to get well. Wendy lived another four months. During that time the family invited me to go and visit her in their own home. They were all present on the day I visited. The extraordinary thing is that Wendy, not I, asked them all to leave so that we could have time on our own together. When they had all gone I told her that I had something to share. She replied that she knew, and that she knew what I was about to share. And she did! She knew it was time to get ready for heaven. There and then she confessed her sins, committed her life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and received the Holy Spirit. When Wendy died that winter I was able to tell the whole church – packed with non- Christians – that Wendy was in Paradise. Most of her colleagues from the local garage came to the Christmas services to hear the Gospel as a result of being challenged at that funeral. All this as a result of one prophetic word received in a queue at a garage reception desk!
Prophetic Evangelism Defined
This encounter with Wendy revealed to me the extraordinary power of ‘prophetic evangelism’.
But what do we mean by ‘prophetic evangelism’? Prophetic evangelism is simply God using revelatory phenomena to speak to the hearts of those who don’t know Jesus. When God poured out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, believers were given power to witness about Jesus (Acts 1:8).
One of the gifts that God gave to his church that day was the gift of prophecy (Acts 2:17).
Prophecy is the ability to receive and declare revelation from God. When God empowered his church to witness, he gave the gift of prophecy to help us in that task. The gift of prophecy is of immense value for evangelising the unchurched (1 Cor. 14:24–25).
Now it is important right at the start to realise that there are basically two main forms of prophetic evangelism. I will call these Type A and Type B. Type A is where a believer receives revelation about an unbeliever. This can happen through a vision, or a dream, an impression, through any number of ways, as we will see later. In Type A the person receiving the prophetic revelation is the believer. The believer shares this revelation sensitively with the unbeliever, with the result that the unbeliever recognises that God is real, that he is alive, and that he speaks today. This of course has a huge impact on that person’s openness to hearing and accepting the Gospel.
Let me give you an example. A Christian friend of mine – a practitioner in prophetic evangelism – shared how he had rung the telephone enquiry service recently in order to find a phone number he needed. The woman on the other end sounded miserable so he encouraged her not to be unhappy.
This is how the conversation unfolded:
“Why shouldn’t I be unhappy?” she asked. “Well, God cares about you, for one thing.” “Prove it,” she replied. My friend prayed for God to give him something. “You are unhappy because you were engaged once.” “So what?” she replied. “Lots of people have been.” At this point my friend paused and prayed: “God, I’m on the line here” (forgive the pun). Just then the Lord revealed the name of the person to whom the woman had been engaged.
“Yes, but you were engaged to someone called David.” The phone went silent. “How did you know that?” she asked. “Because God told me. Now do you believe God cares about you?” “Yes,” she replied.
This is an example of the way in which a believer, receiving prophetic revelation for an unbeliever, causes that person to see that God is indeed alive.
This is a typical example of Type A.
In Type B the Holy Spirit reveals something directly about Jesus to an unbeliever. This may come in the form of a vision, a dream or an impression, indeed in many varied ways. Whatever way it comes to the unbeliever, they realise as a result of this prophetic revelation that Jesus Christ is alive and that he is appealing to them to follow him. Since the essence of true prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 19:10) the effect of this kind of revelation is to awaken the person to the truth of the Gospel. The challenge then is for the person to connect with a Christian so that the journey towards conversion can be completed.
Here is another example. A friend of mine who is now a Christian used to be a Muslim. He was brought up in the Middle East by a devout Muslim family. He was being groomed as a young man to promote Islam in the Western world using mass media technology. But while growing up in the Middle East he became aware of a lack of peace in his life.
While in England on a business trip my friend started to read a Gideon Bible in his hotel bedroom. One night, as he became more and more impressed with the Jesus he was reading about, he fell asleep and had a dream.
Jesus came to him in this dream with his arms outstretched and said to him, “I am the Way.” Jesus also revealed himself to this Muslim man as ‘the Prince of Peace’.
As a result of that dream he went to a Christian church in the city, met up with a young person in a coffee shop, and heard the Gospel. This took more than one visit and more than one conversation. Not long after this he gave his life to Jesus and he is now promoting the Gospel to the Arab world in Arabic using mass media technology. Needless to say, there has been a great cost to pay in relationship to his family back home. Yet my friend believes that it is all worth it because he has a peace that the world, and indeed his own religion (by his own reckoning), could not give. This is a great example of what I call Type B prophetic evangelism. To summarise the difference between the two approaches, Type A involves God speaking to a believer about an unbeliever:
God > Believer > Unbeliever
This is ‘mediated revelation’ (i.e. revelation given through a human intermediary). Type B is ‘immediate revelation’. In other words, it is revelation given directly by God to an unbeliever, without a human intermediary:
God > Unbeliever
In the light of all this, I now want to propose two things. Firstly, that both types of prophetic evangelism are entirely biblical. Secondly, that both are being found more and more today.
Prophetic Evangelism in the Old Testament
It may be a surprise to learn that prophecy was used to bring pagan people to a knowledge of God in Old Testament times. Joseph employed ‘dream interpretation’ in his witness to Pharaoh. Elijah and Elisha both used prophecy in their witness to pagans. In the book of Daniel, chapters 1–4, Daniel, the prophet, and Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan king of Babylon, both receive revelation. In other words, in these chapters of the Old Testament we see both Type A and Type B prophetic evangelism.
In these first two chapters of the book of Daniel we see Daniel using prophetic revelation to interpret a pagan king’s dreams, with the result that this unbeliever acknowledges that Daniel’s God is King. In other words, both types of prophetic evangelism occur in Daniel 1–2:
Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar proclaiming:
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation (Dan. 4:2–3, NIV).
What is powerfully evident from these words is that prophecy, used in evangelism, clearly comes into the category of the miraculous. It is a powerful witness to those who don’t know God. Even in the time of Daniel God was saying, “Prophecy is a potent tool in evangelism!”
Here then, in the Old Testament era, we see prophetic phenomena being used to bring a pagan ruler to the point of repenting of his sins and acknowledging Israel’s God to be the one who saves.
There is Type A in that Daniel receives prophetic insight about the meaning of an unbeliever’s dreams. There is Type B in so far as King Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king, is given dreams that are clearly divinely inspired.
Prophetic Evangelism in the New Testament
In the years after Pentecost, when God poured out his Holy Spirit, the first Christians gradually took the Gospel out to the nations in the power of the Spirit. As they did this, prophetic evangelism was one of the methods used to convince unbelievers that the Gospel is true.
From this point on, Peter uses prophecy frequently in evangelising others. The most important example of this occurs in Acts 10, where we see both Type A and Type B of prophetic evangelism. Cornelius receives a prophetic vision. He is not Jewish and he is not a Christian, but he is a seeker. Then Peter receives a prophecy in the form of an open vision. In this vision he is given revelation about God’s acceptance of ‘unclean’ Gentiles like Cornelius.
This revelation comes to Peter as an enigmatic image.
As a result of these two prophecies, a divine appointment is established between the unbelievers (Cornelius and his household) and the believer (Peter), resulting in Peter preaching the Gospel and the unbelievers becoming followers of Christ. To put it another way, a Type B example of prophetic evangelism, followed by a Type A example, leads to a dramatic conversion of a number of Gentiles.
What Acts 10 shows us is the way in which God uses prophecy in evangelism. He uses prophetic phenomena in order to help those who are far away to come to acknowledge who he is. Indeed, we should really note that it is prophetic evangelism that causes the Gospel to break out of the confines of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. If we go back to the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and that they would receive power to bear witness to him in ever increasing circles of influence. It is Peter’s use of prophetic evangelism in Acts 10 that really begins the mission to non-Jews, or Gentiles, and makes possible the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Prophetic Evangelism Today: Type A
While prophetic evangelism has not commonly been in evidence during church history, it is appearing more and more today.
There are a significant number of Christian leaders who are using prophecy in evangelism, and teaching others to do the same. For example Doug Addison, writes:
I was in Orlando this past weekend leading an outreach at the Florida Mall. Phil Zaldatte and I held a prophetic evangelism workshop on Friday. Then on Saturday afternoon we led a team of 45 people into the mall for ‘Holy Spirit divine encounters’. I was totally stoked when my team approached our first table and asked if we could interpret a dream. They just happened to be talking about a dream and were wondering what it meant. We gave the woman the meaning and she was so touched and open that we led her to the Lord in front of her two friends.
Another team went out and took a ‘prophetic stroll’ down the mall. They walked around praying until the Lord spoke to them to go and sit next to a guy who looked lonely. Within minutes he was revealing his feelings of emptiness and they prayed with him. Feeling a little more confident they moved to the next person that the Holy Spirit pointed out to them and he received the Lord after having a dream interpreted.
One particular group from our team had a sensation of ‘hot tingling hands’ as we started the event so I instructed them to look for sick people. They bee-lined to a lady with a withered hand and walking with a limp. All they had to say is that they felt God telling them to pray for her for healing in Jesus’ name. As they prayed her withered hand opened and her foot straightened! She was so excited at the power of God that she received Jesus on the spot. Our outreaches are normally low key and we don’t see many salvations. We view evangelism as a process and we look for people who we can ‘nudge’ closer to God. To our surprise there were 14 people who came to Jesus over the weekend! A handful of people who were not bold evangelists nervously took a walk down the mall and asked God to show them who needs a touch. Imagine what would happen if we got intentional and began trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us to people that need the Lord!
Prophetic Evangelism Today: Type B
More and more unbelievers are receiving revelation from the Holy Spirit about Jesus. While some might argue that this does not qualify as prophecy, I disagree. In such instances, God is speaking! One of my favourite verses in the Bible at the moment is Isaiah 65:1:
The Lord says, ‘People who never before inquired about me are now asking about me. I am being found by people who were not looking for me. To them I have said, “I am here!”’
A survey has been conducted of over 600 ex-Muslims who now follow Jesus. The survey revealed that over a quarter of those interviewed confirmed that dreams and visions played a vital role in their conversion to Christianity.
A man from Guinea told of a person in white who appeared to him in a dream, calling him with outstretched arms. This sort of dream, in which Christ appears as a figure in white, is a frequent pattern in missionary work among Muslims, according to the report.
A Muslim called Malay saw her dead Christian parents in a dream, celebrating in heaven. Jesus, in a white robe, told her, “If you want to come to me, come!” She realised that she had been trying to find God all her life and that God had Renewal she had been trying to find God all her life and that God had now himself taken the initiative to reach her through Jesus.
A missionary working among the Tausugs, the Philippines’ largest Muslim people group, reports that a number of faithful Muslims ‘saw Jesus’ in their dreams following Ramadan in 2003. One man could hardly believe it when he dreamed of Jesus killing a huge dragon in a duel. The following day, he had the same dream again, and became open to hear the Gospel.
This research reveals what many of us are encountering in actual experience: that people who don’t know Jesus are receiving prophetic revelation by the Holy Spirit. This is happening to people of other faiths and of no faith. It is happening in the East and it is beginning to happen more and more in the West. None of this should surprise us.
Experiences of God are widespread even in the UK. The Alister Hardy Research Centre in Manchester was set up to ‘make a disciplined study of the frequency of report of firsthand religious or transcendent experience . . . and to investigate the nature and function of that experience’. A poll conducted in 1985 suggested that 15 million Britons would say that at least once or twice in their lives they have been aware of, or have been influenced by, a presence or power. A further survey in 1986 suggested that nearly half of the UK population has had a transcendental experience, with nearly 80% of people claiming this was an experience of God. Of these positive respondents over half never attended a place of worship and many have never told anyone of their experiences.
So we should not be surprised by the fact that nonreligious people are having religious experiences. What is surprising, and indeed revealing, is the fact that Muslims are having revelations of Jesus. One of the arguments used by atheists to counter the spiritual nature of these experiences is that research often shows Hindus having Hindu experiences, Muslims having Muslim experiences, and so on. In other words, atheistic scientists argue that such experiences are culturally conditioned. If that is so, how do we explain Muslims having visions of Jesus Christ? This is hardly conditioned by culture!
The only conclusion that makes sense is that the dreams and visions about Jesus being currently experienced by people of other faiths and no faith are examples of genuine prophecy. If this is the case, the church needs to wake up to what the Holy Spirit is doing, not just in the church but outside the church too.
Adapted and extracted from Prophetic Evangelism by Mark Stibbe published by Authentic ISBN 1 86024 457 2 £7.99. Used with permission.