My guess is that many of you are somewhat familiar with what
has become known as “The Prophetic.” Putting the grammatical felony aside (I
am always tempted to ask, “the prophetic what?” but then realize that
I am usually talking to people who still like to use King James English), it is
something which is not only open to, but I think is literally screaming for,
refers in a general sense to those who believe in the current manifestation of
revelatory gifts such as prophecy(in
other words, that God still speaks to man today about What God Is Up To).
gift of prophecy is not necessarily the ability to see the future, but rather
the gift of “tuning in” to God’s heart and mind and the ability to express
that to the Church. It can be as ordinary as sensing what Bible verse would
apply to a situation, or as “spiritual” as having a full on Technicolor,
surround-sound vision. More specifically, the "Prophetic" often
refers to those individuals who have been recognized (or seek to be recognized)
as someone to whom God has chosen to speak to or through.
Over the past 15 years or so there has either been a growing
number people who have been blessed with above-average prophetic gifts, or
perhaps just an increased awareness of them. And as you would expect, along with
this awareness there has been an increasing fascination, and at times bordering
on obsession, with “prophets” and prophetic revelation. Not that this is
necessarily bad; considering that contemporary prophecy has been
under-emphasized for a long, long time, I think it is something that the Church
has needed to bring attention to.
Personally, I am an avid supporter of valid prophetic gifts.
I believe, like Paul, that the ability to know God’s heart and to be able to
convey that to others is something that is invaluable to the Church and is
something that we should all desire (1 Cor 14:1). But, I am a little concerned
by some of the more flaky aspects of the current fascination with things
prophetic that can detract from the validity and value of true prophetic gifts.
That said, following are a collection of thoughts that may be
of some use in de-flaking the prophetic:
The Office of the Prophet. There is a belief among
some Christians that there is a special position, or office, within the
body, that some prophetically gifted people occupy, kind of like how the
Catholic Church views the office of the Pope. The corollary to this is of course
the special status that supposedly goes along with being a “Prophet.” As you
can imagine, a subtle shift then occurs from a focus on the prophesy itself to a
focus on the individual. Parenthetically, let me add that if there is an office
of prophet, I am not sure I have heard of anyone yet who would be qualified to
But, I think this is just simply bad theology. It seems
to be a problem of confusing Old Covenant and New Covenant structures. The New
Covenant, in which the Holy Spirit has been given to all men and which gave
birth to The Church, has rendered the old (in which God poured out His Spirit
onto a few chosen messengers) obsolete. Rather, I think the term prophet, as
with terms teacher, pastor and elder, is descriptive of gifting and function,
not of office or any position that one holds.
Many people tend to hold those whom they consider prophets as being a special
class of Christian, even if they don’t necessarily hold to the “office”
theology. The prophets are, because of their gifts, held in much higher esteem
that they deserve, and as a result the “average” Christians hold themselves
in lower esteem than they should. Unfortunately, many leaders reinforce that
lie-from-the-pit-of-Hell that there are some “special class” Christians (aka
the “Anointed”), or to borrow from George Orwell’s line from Animal
Farm, some are more chosen than others. But, as my friend Ken Blue is fond
of saying, “there are no number ones and number twos in the church body. Jesus
is the only Number One and the rest of us [whether pew-sitter, pastor or “prophet”]
are all number twos.”
Too many times I have heard of people asking those whom they consider prophets,
“do you have a word for me?” as if they were some kind of fortune-teller.
Our first rule-of-thumb should be James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask God . . .” If God sends a prophet to you, great – if not,
perhaps He’ll speak directly to you, which is even better. Remember in Exodus
when God wanted to address the people of Israel on the mountain? The Israelites
told Moses, “God’s too scary for us. You talk to Him, and tell us what He
says.” However, God wants relationship with us, not some prophet proxy.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and then ask yourself if you want the Old Covenant or the
New one. We need to get away from this idea that God would rather talk to a “prophet”
that to us.
Misunderstanding about What Prophecy Really Is.
There is a very popular myth that when someone speaks a prophecy, the words are
somehow being transmitted directly from Heaven through the person, like they
simply become a radio transmitter or a loudspeaker. That would certainly explain
the sudden onset of the vibrato and all of the other manifestations that
sometime some along with prophecy. However, Paul makes a rather quizzical
statement, “the Spirit of prophecy is subject to the prophet.”
What did Paul mean? We control the prophecy?
I think that is precisely what Paul meant. I believe that
prophetic revelation is more often than not a spiritual and emotional revelation
than a concise word-for-word thing. That is, God reveals things to us in many
ways, including dreams, visions, thoughts “popping” into our heads, “knowings”
felt in our spirit, and so on. It is up to us, the receiver, to put that into
words and express it. Even often when it seems the words are coming directly
from God, I believe often the process is just happening so fast that we don’t
notice it. And, of course, sometimes God does speak to someone a specific
phrase. God is free to do whatever He wants. At least one jackass was used this
way (Balaam's). However, I believe that much of the time we get the essence
of the prophecy – often it’s closer to an emotion than anything else –
and then we decide how to express it. And here’s a hint: prefacing the
prophecy with “Thus sayeth the Lord . . .” doesn’t give it any more
weight or accuracy. It just intimidates the immature. In fact, if it’s truly
from God, it should have impact whether you give God credit or not.
So, as you can suppose, people filter their revelations
through whatever grid they have up at the time. So, in any prophetic word, you
may get 10% God, with the remaining 90% consisting of questionable theology,
emotional garbage, personal opinion and heartburn. This is why it is important
for prophecy to be evaluated and considered and why it is important for
prophetically gifted people to be in relationship with a good supportive body
(another article, another time). It’s also important to take into
consideration the theological background and even the personality of the person
giving the prophecy. It’s not sacrilegious, trust me.
"God Told Me ..." I can't tell you how
many times over the last 25 years I have heard this, in connection with things
like, "God told me to buy this new car" or "God told me that
you're supposed to marry me" to things as mundane as "God told me to
have Wheaties for breakfast." Well, maybe He did - or, maybe He
didn't. Maybe He reminded you to have breakfast, and you inserted "Wheaties"
because that's what you really wanted. There are a lot of things impacting our
ability to hear God, much less hear God correctly, including (perhaps
especially) our own voice. We are told that we
prophesy in part and we are told to weigh carefully what is
prophesied. These cautions are for a reason.
It's OK to be uncertain of something you heard; that's not a
lack of faith, that's just good sense. Sometimes the best we get is a
"hunch," and that's fine. Depending on what it is, you may decide to
act on the hunch, and see if it was indeed the voice of God, or if it was your
overactive imagination. It's also OK to be wrong. I presume as a matter of
course that all contemporary prophecy is partially in error, because it's
Scriptural to believe it's partially in error.
So, be careful with saying "God told me." Don't
blame God for your whims. Don't try to impress others. And don't be upset when
someone questions your prophetic insights. They are supposed to. That's how the
body works. The bottom line is that if it is God, then it is; if it isn't, it
isn't. If we are honest and take the risk of being wrong, then we can learn to
better discern the voice of God.
"I Have a Word for You." This is another big
danger area, because besides looking foolish, you can lose friendships and wreak
havoc on other people's lives. Now that we know that we are often wrong when we
believe we hear from God (we do know this now, don't we?), we have to decide
what to do with the things we think God speaks to us about other people.
The answer, in 3 words, is "pray about it." In my
opinion, the chances are that 99 times out of 100 all God would like you to do
is pray anyway. It is a common feeling that when we hear something from God
about someone else, that it is our responsibility to tell that person about it.
This is not a good idea for a couple of reasons. One, to say this one more time
because it's really, really important, you could be wrong. Second, it may not be
beneficial for the person to know, and God really may have just told you so you
could provide prayer support for the situation.
So again, pray about it. Pray about the situation, and pray
about whether or not to speak to the person. Pray about how to present the
prophecy, if you think that's what you should do. My personal opinion is that it
should always be phrased to bring encouragement, as that's what prophesy is for
- the building up of the church.
Around the Burning Bush.
I stole this line from Tommy Tenney’s book, The God Chasers. (Buy it,
it’s really good.) He is using, obviously, the story of Moses as an analogy to
us today, getting so focused on having a revelation from God that we spend all
of our time celebrating the revelation, and never go to release the captives out
We in the Western world have become so focused on ourselves
that we often forget that we have been called to participate in the work of
Jesus, not just the knowledge of Him. If I recall correctly, the 90’s were
referred to as the “me” decade, and I think that also applies to the Western
Church. We have reached the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and are stuck
in self-actualization. We forget that most of the world is stuck at the bottom,
fighting for basic survival. It’s ok to visit the top of the mountain. God
longs to speak with us, to tell us how much He loves us and to heal us. But He
also wants us to climb back down so we can reach the others. You see, God is
going down there, too. He doesn’t just stay up on the mountain. If we are
really going to grow in relationship with Him, it means that we have to do some
traveling with Him. Or, back to the burning bush analogy, after God spoke to
Moses, God went to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. Moses' relationship with God came
as he chose to go "on the road" with God. Had he chosen to stay back
at the bush waiting for his next great revelation, he probably would not have
even made it into the Old Testament.
Collector. There are many who merely collect prophetic words as if they were
baseball cards. They come back from a conference and brag, in effect, “Hey, I
got 4 more prophecies for my collection! Wanna see??” But, they fail to
realize that what they have received is in fact (presuming they are valid
prophetic words) a revelation of God’s heart, and that with that revelation
comes two other “R” words – relationship, and responsibility.
Point. We need to keep our focus on what the point of all this is. Paul
tells us that he has gifted apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. to equip the saints for the building up of the Church (Eph
4:11). So why does the Church need building up? I think there are 3 main
reasons. First, we need building up because we are essentially broken, needy
people who are still in mid-salvation (1 Cor. 1:18). The second, and perhaps the
primary reason, is just because God loves us to an incredible degree and desires
to have relationship with us.
Finally, I believe the Church needs building up because
reasons 1 and 2 also apply to everyone else, too – and that we have been
called, not to just be disciples, but to make disciples. This is
what Jesus was about. This is why He revealed Himself to us (Isaiah 61:1,2) and
why he has asked us to participate with Him in seeking others.
Response. I love quality prophetic things, because they reveal the
heart of God. I also like the Renewal stuff that often goes with it, because
again, God’s heart is revealed to His people. I believe that God really wants
us to know that He loves us, and He wants us to experience that in a tangible
way. But, what should our response be when God reveals himself to us? I think it
probably should be better than it usually is. After all, how would you feel if
you shared your heart with someone who merely responded, “Cool! Thanks!” and
then walked away?
With revelation comes responsibility (the root word in is
response). I have a hunch that if people took the revelation they had a little
more seriously, they would spend a lot less time looking for new revelation. We
need to seek God’s face, to be sure, but then we need to be ready to respond
with, “What does this mean for me? What does this tell me about God? How does
what God has said impact my relationship with Him? If this is a true word for
me, what am I now to do?” Then, I believe, we will truly see God’s heart
expressed, both to us, and through us as we respond to Him.
“Seek the spiritual gifts, especially that you prophesy.”
But please, don’t be a flake. We have enough of those already.