Hannah was barren. She longed for a child. As a Jewish wife, she knew her God-given calling was to be a mother of children. She knew her husband loved her – more so, we’re told, than his other wife who had borne him children. But for Hannah, it wasn’t enough to be loved – she longed to be fruitful, and she was depressed because she wasn’t.
What about us? Are we fruitful or barren?
The fruit that God is looking for, is the fruit of healings and prophecy.
In these last four days, Fr Pat has taught us much about what prophecy can achieve in the Church. We must put his teaching into practice. It seems to me that we are not totally barren, but we can be pruned so that we bear grater fruit. In our prayer times, we often seem to receive pictures without clear application, or give words that are generally encouraging. That’s a good start – we are like Hannah, receiving her one share of her husband’s sacrifice. Like Hannah, we know that we are deeply and profoundly loved, by a Divine Spouse who gave his life for us.
But we’ve barely begun. How often do we receive a word which leads directly to a miracle taking place? How often do we speak a prophecy which is specific information about another person’s life? How desperate are we to see this happen?Hannah didn’t want to settle for a single portion. She wanted to bear life, and rightly felt hurt that she hadn’t fulfilled her calling.
I want us, this morning, to feel as dissatisfied as Hannah. I want us to lament, to cry out to the Lord that we are not prophetic enough. And I’d like to offer us three steps which will lead us to be more fruitful in our prophecy.
Fr Pat has suggested that we lack openness to the prophetic because we lack sufficient unity with one another. Michelle gave us much to think about yesterday, about how we share responsibility in the community. If this community is our place of work, then we might imagine going somewhere else for our day off. But if this community is where we are brothers and sisters in the Lord, then a ‘rest day’ is about how we renew ourselves while spending time with our family.
I want to invite ourselves to ask one question which will help us see how far we have grown in love. In recent days we have had guests among us; guests from Slovakia and guests from Milton Keynes. How many times did you choose to go and speak to these guests – not waiting for them to approach you first? If the answer is ‘none’ then ask the Lord to increase your love for the stranger in our midst.
Next, ask yourself, “Do I want to prophesy?” Don’t you know that Scripture says that you should “eagerly desire the gift of prophecy”? Don’t you wake up every morning, bounce out of bed, and pray: “Lord, I’m desperate that you should give me a word today so I can bless someone else?” Don’t you? So you aren’t eagerly desiring the gift of prophecy.
There was a Protestant minister called John Wimber who studied the Bible and realised that to be faithful to God, we must pray for people to be healed. He spent 6 months praying for healing at the end of all his Sunday church services, with no success. But John was desperate. The members of the congregation thought he was foolish an fruitless: six months offering healing prayer at the end of his services, and no-one got healed. Then he got one amazing result. Then the floodgates opened! His faithfulness led to the founding of the Vineyard churches in 1982. As John Wimber learned to co-operate with God, it was about learning to listen; most of his healing ministry was by declaring what God wanted to heal. Sometimes God spoke clearly; other times Wimber had to press in for an answer. The struggle itself is a witness that prophecy and the power that flows from it comes not from ourselves but from God: prophecy can be like listening for the voice of the one you love on the other side of a crowded room.
Ten years ago, I spoke to about 200 members of an Irish Prayer Group. On the last day I challenged them to be open to God’s prophetic word, and asked them to pair up and pray silently for two minutes, asking God to show them what to pray for, for their random partner. Then they were asked to share with their partner what they had prayed about. At least half the people present felt God had inspired a very relevant prayer! Even allowing for the reality that some will just be feeling good because of vague affirmations, I think that’s significant. But I also want to put in a word for honest feedback. Let’s affirm accurate prophecy for being accurate but generally upbuilding words with gratitude. Always be grateful for goodwill and prayerful care. But only affirm accuracy for accuracy.
We can never be fruitful ministers of prophecy, and the healing which flows from it, without obedience to God’s will. Obedience means being willing to listen, and following the instructions.
Think back to Mass last Wednesday. For the bidding prayers, I invited us to seek a word from the Lord and pray into that word. Now most of the prayers I heard at that Mass were the things I would expect us to pray for – personal friends in need, and things in the news headlines. But if we truly open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, we’ll be following God’s agenda, not our own. I didn’t get the sense on Wednesday that many of us had tuned into God and received an unexpected word.
Prophecy comes at a price. Hannah is begging God from a child – but if her prayer is granted, she will not only pay the usual price (the care a mother must give to a newborn) – but also the greater sacrifice of giving her son away to the Temple. To make room for God’s spirit to work, we must sacrifice our own agenda. Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, to be fishers of men – but they had to lay down their nets, put aside their familiar way of doing things. It is the same with us. If we want to be used by God, we must leave behind our own agendas.
I think I must speak a word to those among us who today begin Exodus 90 or Fiat 90. Why are you doing this? Is it about your will or God’s will? Is it about recognising that God has called you to offer a deep sacrifice, which would be excellent? Or is it about using your own human will to do something challenging to prove you can do it? Remember that the Pharisees were experts in setting up super-hard religious exercises and encouraging each other to fulfil them. Jesus was not impressed. If you have a spiritual director, have you discussed this with them? If not, have you discussed it with your prayer companion? If, together, you agree that God is personally inviting you to 90 days of penance, blessings upon you! But if not, may you have the courage to offer God the sacrifice of stopping!
Now we are going to enter into a time of prayer, like we did last Wednesday. But today, I am going to be strict. I do not want anyone to pray for your own agenda. Think about what the people and situations you would like to pray for today – good, the Lord knows it is on your heart. But I forbid you, at today’s Mass, to speak this aloud. As a sign that we are opening ourselves to the prophetic, you may ONLY speak if God inspires you to pray for something you wouldn’t normally pray for. Now, as Fr Pat has taught us, let’s sit in a still posture, pray in tongues for a few moments, and then enter that inner prayer in tongues – I mean the kind where your tongue is moving but your mouth is closed, or your mind is asking God for the gift but you don’t allow your muscles to move. You have permission to speak out ONLY if a word or picture leads you to pray for something you wouldn’t normally have asked for. Now come, Holy Spirit, come!