Have you ever been caught in a summer storm? The sensation of being drenched by warm rain is something extraordinary to experience. Recently, my home town was hit by a few such deluges, and if you were lucky or unlucky (take your pick) to be caught in one, you’ll have some measure of the true sense of the word ‘downpour’.
What does it look like when the Spirit is poured out? How are we ‘drenched’? The prophecy given to the prophet Joel suggests that the most obvious mark will be an increase in direct communication from God himself. The sort of encounters usually reserved for ‘holy people’ like prophets – prophecies and visions – will now be commonplace for young and old, male and female: in other words, all of God’s people.
The church has largely had an uneasy relationship with this idea. Whether through fear of losing control or risk of this gift being abused, generally we have been more comfortable restricting the outpouring of this kind of spiritual anointing to certain ‘leaders’.
But this was not God’s intention. The kingdom is for the lost, the last and the least, and often it is those we least expect who become agents of God’s will. And not just in the pages of the bible. For example, some years ago one of our best friends ended up leaving London and becoming a missionary through a word spoken to her by one of the children she taught at Sunday school. The child, I suspect, was unaware of how God had used her, but the word transformed our friend’s life!
It is important, though, to set this wonderful prophecy of Joel in its proper context. The verses before and after vv28-31 describe what the true salvation of God looks like – both at a corporate and individual level. God’s favour is restored to his people, and ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ This is vital when talking of things like prophecy and visions, because it reminds us that God’s ultimate purpose is our salvation, in the broadest sense of the word: not just forgiveness of sins, but renewal and wholeness at every level – becoming the people God made us to be.
And as God draws us into this wholeness, as we truly recognise that He is our God and we are his children, so the Spirit is poured out into our hearts. The Spirit is not an impersonal force but a healing relationship of love. This guards against the sort of ‘prophecies’ that give such revelations a bad name. It also encourages us to trust that as we grow in our relationship with God, He really can, and does, speak to us with words, dreams and visions.
You may or may not have received something like this. But why not seize faith to believe that one day – maybe even soon – you just might?