Sheffield, May 18th 1997. Ginny Burgin is praying and mulling over a phrase that has come to her persistently for some months: ‘A Day of Mourning’.
Ginny begins to write. What God is saying to her becomes a little clearer.
“I am at work in the heart and the spirit of the people of this nation. I am doing a work which, at the moment, is very, very unseen. But it is happening quicker than you think. Things are happening much more quickly than you think. And as a sign, this shall be a sign, that there will be a day very soon when the whole nation will mourn. And the whole nation will put flowers in their cities.” Ginny wonders what all this is about and who people will be mourning.
Sheffield, August 31st 1997. Ginny knows that this is the day that she sensed, the Day of Mourning. Ginny goes as usual to her local church, Walkley Baptist. She knows God wants to lift people’s attention away from the death of Diana and onto Him. Knowing and trusting Ginny, her leaders ask her to speak to the congregation. Ginny reads out what came to her in May and then continues speaking. She says God is underlining that His Spirit can move and will move quickly. “I am on the move in the cities of this nation and where flowers are laid, my Spirit will be moving faster than those flowers are removed.” The prophecy continues. This movement will bring joy and changes in areas where people have longed to see change. “For I am at work in this nation and I will bring this nation to its knees before me and they will know the joy of their salvation in the mighty risen Lord Jesus. Therefore rejoice. And do not let that spirit of mourning grasp at your heart. For you have joy inexpressible in your hearts. Therefore let the rivers of living water flow from within you and know that you will have many opportunities from this point to speak of my grace, to speak of my love, to see in action my Spirit at work. Know that I will be with you in that and you will see the miraculous.”
The service that morning is taped. Ginny’s words are passed on. People across Britain are astonished, uplifted and puzzled. What does this mean? Ginny is flooded with requests to appear in the media. Her words add to the mystique of Diana and her death. ??For some Christians there is another exciting question: Does this mean that Revival is about to break over Britain? Has Ginny given the definitive word heralding a nationwide Revival like the old Welsh and Hebridean Revivals? Many people boldly answer, ‘Yes.’ Sermons are preached, songs are written, and prayer meetings are called.
The expected Revival fails to come. What has happened? What are we to make of all this? Can we trust prophecy?
A whale of warning??
London, 20th January 2006. Martin Scott, a teacher of Prophecy in the UK and abroad, has said he and others sense that something notable will happen on this day. It is the twelth anniversary of the start of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ as well as significant in other ways. Martin is a leading member of a ‘Prophetic Roundtable’ – a group of Christians seeking to listen to God and convey His word for London and the nation. They pray and fast, reading the book of Jonah for the 12 days before 20th January. That day a whale is seen stranded in the Thames. Crowds flock to see the struggling giant. The media trumpet this extraordinary happening. What does this mean? Is it yet another sign of Global Warming with all its implications? A dramatic Warning of Warming?
The Roundtable has already sensed God’s heart for the City and the nation, and His desire that people turn to Him.?Without this turning, judgement will come. The whale grabs their attention. Is God using this to speak to the City? Is this a sign, connected with the story of Jonah and his message of repentance for the city of Nineveh? These praying Christians feel led to answer ‘Yes’.
There is remarkable unity among them; what has come to one is confirmed by others. The more they ponder on the whale, and the story of Jonah, the more convinced they are that it is God’s warning. They issue a public statement: “We see the need to warn and to prepare for major flooding from the Thames – covering significant areas of the London flood plain – inclusive of the financial centre of the city… The urgency we feel in the release of this communication is due to our belief that the above events are imminent.” One of the group, Victor Lorenzo, explains that he personally expects the flood on March 1st to 4th that year.
London, March 2006. The month comes and goes with no flood in London. What are we to make of all this? Can we trust prophecy??
Does God speak today??
Some Evangelicals teach that God does not speak today except to highlight relevant parts of the Bible. They argue that God’s written Word is full and complete. Anything that claims to add to the Bible is detracting from the completeness and sufficiency of Scripture. Whether it is Roman Catholics adding the teachings of the Church, or Charismatics adding ‘words of prophecy’, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is denied. If God had wanted to say anything else to His people, He would have had it included in the Bible.
Other Evangelicals teach that there is a distinction in the Bible between two different Greek terms for ‘word’ – Logos and Rhema. The Logos word is now in Scripture. This is God’s Word for all places and all times. It is always useful for teaching, reproof and correction, training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16. The Rhema word is what God wants to say at a particular time in a particular place. It does not supplant Scripture because it has a different purpose. The Rhema word comes to encourage, build up and console, 1 Cor. 14:3. The Rhema word does not add to Scripture and never contradicts Scripture. The Rhema word comes from Jesus the Good Shepherd who continues to speak to His flock today. Prophecy is speaking out the Rhema word of God. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul gives detailed instruction about prophecy. He does not say that the time will come when there will be no prophecy. (He has explained in the previous chapter that prophecy will cease when we see Jesus face to face, but that is not in this earth or this age.) Rather, if Scripture is for all times and all places, Paul’s message about prophecy is for all times and all places. Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost describes prophecy as an integral part of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes specifically so that people will prophesy.
Paul tells us to ‘strive for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy’ and to ‘be eager to prophesy’ 1 Cor. 14:1, 39. Paul describes prophecy as a gift, but also something for people to ‘strive to excel in’ (verse 12). People need experience and development in prophesying. They do not begin by perfectly conveying what God wants to say. Paul tells us to ‘weigh prophecy’, not simply to assume that it is all accurate (verse 29). Paul says that there should be restraint and order in prophecy, fitting in with the normal authority of the church (verse 30, 31, 40). For centuries prophecy and other spiritual gifts were not part of the life of the church and Paul seemed to be writing about something that had disappeared. The Holy Spirit moved again in the 20th century, first in the new Pentecostal churches and then in the mainstream churches. Spiritual gifts reappeared – praying in tongues, healing and prophecy. They have not been universally recognised and welcomed, but a large number of Christians now accept these gifts as what Paul was writing about and something to be welcomed and actively sought.
People who have sought the gift of prophecy have also, over the years, learnt something about how to excel in this gift. Mistakes have been made - lessons have been learned. In the UK Graham Cooke from the New Churches and Bruce Collins from the Anglican Church have taught and written in detail about prophecy. In America Bill Hamon has set up the Network of Prophetic Ministries and also taught and written. Mark Virkler has taught ‘How to Hear God’s Voice.’ Each teacher would say that they are themselves still learning. But they give us insights which help to make sense of the prophecies about the Day of Mourning and the London Flood.
Care over interpretation
We should be careful of interpretation that goes beyond the actual prophecy. Bill Hamon describes a ‘prophet in training’ who, when praying for a woman, saw an empty garden swing and the mother looking on in loss and pain. The prophetsaid that he believed the picture meant that the woman had lost her first love for Jesus and that God wanted her to return to it. It turned out that the woman had just lost a child in an accident. The picture was accurate. The interpretation was not. Bill Hamon Prophets Pitfalls and Principles (Destiny Image 1991) p153,4Ginny Burgin says she was bemused when other people took her words to mean that Revival was imminent. That was not her thinking. For Ginny the prophecy was mostly to spur people to look to God and what He can do, rather than to be submerged in grief. She does believe that God will do wonderful things in our nation, and senses that some of this is already beginning. But she does not think it will be Revival as experienced in the past. Unfortunately many people failed to talk to Ginny, and allowed their own wishful thinking to colour their interpretation of her words.
The Roundtable interpreted the whale in the Thames as a sign of an imminent flood. Maybe another interpretation would have been better? Was it saying that the time of hiding in the whale is over? (The whale died.) Is now the time for the call to repent to go out in a fresh way to the Church and the nation?
In prophecy about the future, events that are to happen at different times are often seen together. ‘Not all the statements made within a single flow of prophetic words will necessarily be fulfilled in the order spoken or within a single time frame,’ writes Bill Hamon. This was true of Isaiah who saw Jesus’ first coming and second coming together, for instance in Isaiah 61:1-2. The words of Gabriel to Mary also pointed to her giving birth, very soon, and, in almost the same breath, to Jesus being a King for ever (Luke 1:31-33). What Ginny ‘saw’ about a Day of Mourning and what she ‘saw’ about God moving dramatically through the land do not necessarily follow immediately. It would be in line with Biblical prophecy for there to be quite a gap between the two events. Martin Scott still expects a flood in London, sooner or later.
Encouragement in difficult days?
Prophecy of blessing to come is intended to lift our spirits through immediate hard times. Many people have had words of prophecy given to them of financial security or family reconciliation, only for their bank balances to lurch into the red and more relatives take sides against them. The prophetic word can seem to be the opposite of what happens. But God, knowing that a hard time is imminent, wants to encourage people that good times will come eventually. The word is meant to encourage, strengthen and console, not to promise an easy life. Graham Cooke Developing Your Prophetic Gifting (Sovereign World 1994) p221-4 Ginny believes the chief purpose of her word was to lift people out of grief. As we continue to be aware of the activity of the world, the flesh and the devil in our nation, we are to rejoice, because we know that the power of our God is stronger.
Both Bill Hamon and Graham Cooke point to what Jesus said about Lazarus – ‘his illness will not end in death’. Who could have expected this would be fulfilled by Lazarus being raised from the dead? The many prophecies of the coming of the Messiah led to people having certain expectations. But Jesus came in a way that fulfilled the prophecies but was against people’s expectations. We need to be careful of not making too much of our own expectations of how God will move through the nation, expectations of revival or judgement. C S Lewis wrote that one prayer to which God never answers ‘Yes’ is, ‘Same again please!’ God will move in this nation, in a new unexpected way.
Eyes on Jesus?
Prophets need to make sure their attention is firmly on Jesus. In Ezekiel 14:4-9 God warns his people against asking for a word from him, with ‘an idol in our hearts’. An idol is anything that commands our attention instead of Jesus. If we are focused on a whale in the Thames and we then talk to Jesus about it, what comes may well not be accurate. The ‘word’ from the Roundtable was similar to what was ‘in the air’ at the time, the message of the media. The ‘prophecy’ seems to have been the same message, filtered through the perceptions of one group of Christians. What was needed was to turn away from the whale, put it to the back of the mind, focus on Jesus, and then ask Him to speak.
“God’s time terminology differs considerably from our own,” writes Bill Hamon. Jesus said he was coming again ‘soon’. ‘Soon’ to Him means after more than 2,000 years. Mark Virkler says that every time he has asked Jesus for a specific date, he has been wrong. Bruce Collins discourages people from giving words about specific dates. It is not for us to know the times and seasons. Victor Lorenzo made a mistake in being specific about the timing of their prophecy.
Private or public?
?Make sure that God wants a message to be public before it is broadcast. For personal prophecy, the person speaking must be sure that God wants them to speak out, rather than only to pray with insight. If there is any doubt, they are to check out with the church leader what they think God wants to say. Prophecy for the wider church or the nation would normally be given to church leaders for the leaders to decide what to say and to whom. A word for the City of London should normally be given to church leaders in London and left with them. Gerald Coates, leader of the Pioneer network of churches, describes what he believes was a prophetic vision he received concerning an attack on a particular building at Heathrow airport. Rather than make a public pronouncement, Gerald spoke to someone he knew who works at Heathrow. It turned out that this man worked in the building that Gerald described, and, when Gerald explained, understood the vulnerability of that particular building. Gerald then left the ‘word’ with this man who had responsibility in that area.
Our response to prophecy
?We can rejoice that some people are striving for the spiritual gifts and especially that they may prophesy. Some people have the confidence to speak out what they believe God is saying, knowing that they could appear foolish. We can celebrate their striving, their confidence. We trust that through mistakes and learning from others they are on their way to excelling in prophecy. The Day of Mourning prophecy encourages us that Jesus does see and care about what we go through. He is the same today as ever. We may sometimes consider our nation heartless but if we believe these prophecies are from God - He has said otherwise. Britain has a heart and a spirit which can and will be moved. Thank God for that!
These prophecies claim God will not let our nation drift away from Him deeper into trouble. The message of repentance needs to go out in a fresh way.
God will bring Britain to its knees in judgement. He will create a situation where people turn to Him. Maybe it will be like a flood which sweeps away old decayed structures and washes away unclean habits. It may well happen more quickly than we imagine. It will almost certainly surprise us.