There's that mysterious saying of Jesus' in Matthew's Gospel, "Anyone who receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the One who sent me." Jesus is talking to his apostles before He sends them out, reassuring them that kindness done to them would be seen as kindness done to Him and would be rewarded by Him. I think there's more to it than that though. Barry Corey, in his book Love Kindness, explains the power of this mystery with the proposal that while many will reject us, when people receive us, they are unknowingly taking their first steps to experiencing and receiving Jesus Himself. All the more reason to live receivable lives, I suppose.
Jesus continues his line of reasoning with, "Anyone who receives a prophet receives a prophet's reward." (Matt 10:41) Matthew Henry explains the curious little verse as follows. "The blessings conferred on prophets shall distill upon their friends. Prophets rewards are spiritual blessings in heavenly things, and if we know how to value them, we shall reckon them good payment."
While we are all commanded to pursue love, and early desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, (1 Cor 14:1) there is a difference between the gift of prophecy and the gift of a prophet. Someone wise once told me that the difference between the two is about 20 years, depending on how submitted and accountable the prophet is! I would suggest that a prophet is shown by his or her accuracy, authority and maturity. I'm very slow to say, "That person is a prophet." But I do know a few, and while they usually come with their fair share of quirky intensity, when properly received, they come with their own unique reward.
This is how I would describe our past few days as a church with a man called Layne Reading, who came to join us with a team from his church in Colorado for our 3-day fast. Layne and his wife Sheila and their daughters were part of Southlands until 2008, when business took them away to Colorado. We reconnected again last year. Here's how God got my attention. Layne sent me a message to say he'd been praying for our church. he asked if we had an Asian-American couple coming on to our eldership team, and did the country Thailand mean anything to me? He had no way of knowing that we were about to set in our very first Asian-American elder named Daniel Yu, and that he and his wife Marcia were planning to plant a church in Thailand in 2016. We had not announced any of this publicly to the church at that time. Layne and I met a few months later and without having visited our church for around 5 years, he read the mail of numerous people in the church that he'd been praying for. I left after a very intense two hours with him simply knowing that I had met with God. Because of his sincere love for the church, his humility and co-operation with our eldership team and ministry philosophy, and of course the level of prophetic accuracy he displayed, I spoke to our team of elders about bringing him out to be with us during our fast. It was a risk of course, but it was one that came with at least 7 very tangible rewards.
Firstly, and most importantly, he equipped people to grow in the prophetic themselves. It was not the Layne show. Each afternoon he explained, modeled with his team and workshopped the prophetic in a safe, sane environment. The result was that in all three of our Southlands communities, people are boldly prophesying like never before, with real humility and specificity. That's a win, for sure.
Secondly, he emphasized the need for love more than the need for power. I heard him say on multiple occasions, "Gifts of the Spirit are given, fruit of the Spirit is cultivated. We should not choose between gifts and fruit." This emphasis was mighty.
Thirdly, he and his team modeled an earnest pursuit of the presence of God by arriving hours before our evening meetings, to worshiping and pray for God to meet with His people. This was earnestness was contagious. On the last night of our fast, people just would not go home, worshipping Jesus and praying for revival. Exquisite.
Fourthly, he was able to articulate some things I was feeling intuitively about some key leaders on our team. It was like he had been sitting in conversations I had had with them over the last year, repeating certain phrases that had been said almost verbatim. Reward, indeed.
Fifthly, and I know this is very subjective, but I just feel different. I feel like God has put a new mantle of authority and discernment on me, and I have spoken to numerous people who feel the same. More than 'receiving a word,' the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. Prophets should leave people more in love with, aware of, and submitted to Jesus. That happened.
Sixthly, while he was bold enough to speak truth to power, Layne also modeled real submission to the biblical authority of our elders. He brought prophetic direction, but he was also directable. And did I mention that he was understated and didn't use super-spiritual vocabulary? That, right there, is gold.
Finally, Layne warned people not to swallow everything that was being prophesied, but to test it with Scripture, holding fast to what was good and rejecting what was not. (1 Thessalonians 5) Despising prophecy will put out the Spirit's fire, but gullibly accepting every word will produce 'strange fire.' We are to wisely weigh what we sense God saying, with Scripture and in community. What a gift.
Of course, Layne will be the first to tell you that he's not a perfect prophet. But the gift of prophecy and of the prophet has been much maligned, so I want to celebrate the genuine when I see it, and encourage you to take the risk of receiving a gift like this, that comes with its own very real reward.