Regarding the spontaneous song(s) – could you comment or perhaps designate a separate post explaining the “prophetic song”. I thought the song was a sweet ministry to those under affliction & I thought you set it up well & carefully. However, those of us coming from a cessationist view would be interested in hearing you talk about this in more detail.
I wrote about this in my book, Worship Matters, because it’s a gift I’ve been studying or exercising for about twenty years. This is what I wrote there:
For many years I’ve sung spontaneous songs during corporate worship that I believe are a form of prophecy. They’re similar to a spoken prophetic impression from the Lord, only they’re sung, they rhyme, and they are often sung “from God to us.” I’ve never believed for a moment that the words I sing are “word for word” from God. That’s called Scripture. But these songs seem to consistently communicate in verse the Lord’s heart for a particular individual, group, or situation.
[Footnote: When I first started singing spontaneous songs, I wrestled with the biblical basis for the gift. I learned that prophesying in the Old Testament often had musical accompaniment (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Kings 3:14–16). Ephesians 5:18–19 connects being filled with the Spirit with singing. And the effects of prophecy listed in 1 Corinthians 14:3—building up, “encouragement,” and “consolation”—were frequently the effect of this gift. So I told the Lord that if I felt I was to sing a song in a particular meeting, I would do it and let him take care of the results. I would focus on being prepared, humble, and faithful. Since that time I’ve seen God use spontaneous songs on countless occasions to encourage and speak to groups as well as individuals—including single mothers, those in the midst of suffering, young men, widows, and adopted children.]
The effect over the years has been an increased awareness of God’s care for his people. Early on I was nagged by questions that kept me from stepping out in this gift. What if I get to the middle of a line and blank out? What if people think I’m trying to draw attention to myself? What if no one is affected? Eventually I realized that my questions would keep me from ever responding to what I thought were the Spirit’s promptings. Since I decided to simply be faithful, God has given me hundreds of songs to encourage his people.
Seems to me that Christians often exaggerate or underestimate the verbal supernatural gifts. On the one hand, people can heighten their significance and/or authority, like the Corinthians did, and think that “worship” doesn’t happen unless we sing improvised songs at some point during the meeting. When it comes to prophetic songs, this perspective can lead to extended times repeating the same phrases over and over, or simply trying to be spiritually “innovative.” Other Christians find it hard to believe that the Spirit can give us impressions that we should communicate with others that could be a means of encouragement to them.
One person remarked that my spontaneous songs were more “poetic” than “prophetic.” I think it was meant as a critique, but there’s an element of truth in that. It’s like many of the spiritual gifts. God takes our natural talents (which are gifts in the first place) and empowers them by his Spirit. I’ve been writing songs for over 40 years. During that time you get a sense for what words will rhyme, and it’s not that difficult to improvise lyrics and tunes on the spot. What I can’t explain is the timing of many of these songs, why an idea for a song comes in one meeting and not another, and how people often become more aware of God’s perspective, truth, and presence. And of course, there are also times I sing words that apply in particular ways to a person’s situation that I would have no way of knowing about. In those cases I trust that God’s Spirit is reminding someone of the Father’s intimate knowledge of their situation.
Another individual asked if I should call them “improvised” songs. There’s certainly an element of improvisation to most of the songs, as I’m making them up on the spot. The spontaneous aspect has to do with the way the idea comes suddenly. But I’ve also written down prophetic songs in advance if I thought that God wanted to speak to a particular group in a meeting I was about to lead.
Prophetic, or spontaneous, or improvised, songs don’t have to be from the perspective of God to us, either. I’ve been in numerous meetings where a song or chorus was composed on the spot which the congregation learned and then sang with great faith and passion to the Lord. In fact, some of the songs I’ve written (You Have Been Given; You are Lord; Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed) began that way.
Don’t misunderstand me. You don’t have to sing spontaneous songs to be used by God. God’s Spirit is at work in a variety of ways. He might suddenly bring a thought or Scripture to mind that affects the direction of the meeting. You might be led to pause and lead in prayer for a particular category or need. We want to be listening in the midst of leading, “leaning forward” to hear what the Spirit might be directing us to do as we care for God’s people.
I should add that in no way do these impressions replace, supersede, or minimize God’s unchanging revelation in Scripture. Our hope, trust, and authority is in God’s Word, not the next experience we have. But Scripture tells us that God’s Spirit will continue to comfort, encourage, challenge, and convict through the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 14:29-32; 1 Cor. 14:24-25), as we’re reminded that God does indeed know the hairs on our heads and the thoughts of our hearts.
If you lead corporate worship, my hope is that you believe the Holy Spirit can work not only through what you’ve planned, but also through leadings and impressions that occur during the meeting. Without being dependent on them or exaggerating their importance, they’re one more way God can demonstrate the overflow of his love which was most clearly demonstrated in the substitutionary death of the Savior at Calvary.
I’m sure that for some readers, this post has raised more questions than it’s answered. Here are a few of the books that I’ve found helpful in studying prophecy and the spiritual gifts in general:
Showing the Spirit – D.A. Carson
The Gift of Prophecy – Wayne Grudem
God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee
The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts – Max Turner
A Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts – Sam Storms
Hope this is helpful. Let me know.