In a Patheos online article last year, a self-proclaimed Wicca witch wrote about her visit to a well-known California church where many people were prophesying over each other. Remember, this woman actively invites spirits to work in her soul. Two of the church members asked permission to pray over her. After she gave them permission, these two women gave a prophetic word which endorsed the way she was practicing her faith. They confirmed that the spiritual track she was on was a good one, and that the people she was being taught by were genuine and helpful.
She had a good laugh over that one. Of course, as followers of King Jesus, we realize these two were both wrong in their prophetic utterances. It’s not a big deal; we’re human and we get things wrong. If this was an isolated incident, I could and would overlook it. But it’s not isolated. These days, it is more than the norm than anything.
I believe in the spiritual gift of prophecy. I believe it is the ability to hear God’s voice and then speak it out. There is supernatural power in this gift and I believe it is still for God’s church today. It is more than just good preaching and teaching. God still speaks through his people today.
However, I also know there is an explosion of people encouraging Christians to prophesy without giving them enough good teaching on how to do it accurately and consistently. As a result, I have found that most of the prophetic words I hear are unhelpful at best and misleading/wrong at the worst. In other words, there are very few prophetic people around even though so many are prophesying.
These days, if you believed all the prophetic “words” spoken, everyone is going to be healed, every one of us is going to win thousands to the Lord, every one of our visionary goals is going to succeed, every future spouse is already picked out, and every bill will be paid even though we have spent foolishly. It is all good.
Except it isn’t. I have despaired at the state of the prophetic in America today. But not quite. I think we can all learn to prophesy more accurately if we correct some bad habits. I believe there are at least a dozen reasons we hear very few accurate prophecies. Let me take a few moments to go through them.
1. Too Much Social Interaction: If you want to be an accurate prophetic person, you must get away and spend time with God. When Jesus was called to choose twelve apostles, he spent the entire night all alone with God before choosing them . Elijah spent over three years hiding with God in a ravine. Paul went away for several years, purposefully avoiding other apostles. All of these prophets did this to hear more of God’s heart for this world. Today, there are few people who are not glued to their phones, tablets and computers. There is constant interaction with other people. This might seem like a good thing. But it leaves very little room to hear God and to learn to hear God. The prophetic takes work and it takes accuracy. None of that comes easily. If you want to be accurate in the prophetic, it will mean many weeks and months with limited conversation other than with God. I am serious.
2. The Wrong Attitudes: If you want to hear God in order to share it with others, you must approach it with the right attitude. There are many wrong attitudes which really prevent us from getting to the heart of God for others. Here are the most common ones:
a. To Impress Others: We have to admit there are times we would love for God to speak through us so it will validate our ministry and our walk with God. The problem with this is we would be tempted always to say things which would be impressive. We would avoid a word which is unimpressive. Who wants to share with another person, “you’re going to struggle in your current job, but God wants you to gut it out.” Yet, those are more the norm of what you hear if you listen to the Spirit of God.
b. To Prove God is Real: We often have these nagging doubts about God’s reality in our lives. We would love to have those moments where God gives us a message for someone which is accurate and outstanding. We hope He will do this so we can know for sure God is there and is real. The warning should be clear: Do not put the Lord your God to the test. He is real even if He never speaks to you.
c. To Control Others: One of my prophetic mentors told me once: “If someone prays over you and says ‘you’re going to move to Texas and marry a tall blonde with a large fortune’ forget Texas, forget a blonde and forget the fortune”. What he was saying is that these kind of prophetic words where we are directed to go to a place or be involved with people are desires to control. This is what they were doing with Paul when he was heading to Jerusalem to be arrested. The disciples all had “words” for him that he wasn’t supposed to go. They wanted to control and direct his life. If you give a prophetic word, it is to strengthen them to make their own decisions.
d. So Others Will Like Us: The true words from God rarely cause others to like us more. They often contain sharp words which are designed to get others out of their doldrums. Can you imagine Nathan the Prophet wanting King David to like him when God came and told him to confront David in his adultery and murder? If Nathan had given in to this attitude, he would never have approached the King.
3. The Quick Prophetic is Too Difficult: Many of you reading this have heard me teach on hearing God’s voice. I used to do exercises where we get a quick word from God over other people. I don’t do that any more and here is the reason. I believe it is very difficult to get accurate words from God if all you have is a few seconds. Though it can happen, this is only after you have established a regimen of spending a lot of time with God and have learned how to sense small differences in how your soul is reacting to God. For most people, it takes a lot of time and practice to hear what God is saying. See point #1 for why this is not happening all that often.
4. Our Agendas Are in the Way: During last year’s election, a number of prominent Christian leaders claimed God had showed them why the Church was to support Donald J. Trump. Very few voices in evangelicalism were disagreeing. Even some of the most prominent people in the prayer movement and the prophetic movement were on board with this. I kept a file of the prophetic words which were claimed over his first six months in office. Almost all of them have been completely wrong. Remember, you will know a prophetic word by its accuracy. But I want you to know, there is a reason for this. Most of these people didn’t realize they had attached their own agenda to these words. What happens when we want something so badly is we re-interpret what God is saying to fit into the word. This can happen when we’re looking for a job, need money, desire a spouse, are seeking a ministry or a church, engage in a conflict, etc. The way to overcome this is to empty that agenda completely and to come to God with an idea which says “I will accept anything you give me”. Read 1 Samuel chapter 3 and see the attitude of Eli. God told him that both his sons would die because of their sin and Eli’s reaction is that God is good and his word is acceptable. I want that attitude. It is the only way to be accurate in hearing God.
5. We Forget That Exhortation is Part of Encouragement: In 1 Corinthians 14 we are told that the prophetic is for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening and edifying. We look at the word encouragement and think “this is for making people feel better about life so they can keep growing.” And that is the meaning of the word encourage in English. But, 1 Corinthians was written in Greek. The Greek word translated “encourage” means “to exhort”. This is more than encouragement; this means to prod, to push, and to coach. The picture is of the coach who drives the players to go beyond what they think they can endure in the game. Of course, it also includes coming alongside that person who feels defeated and to lift them up. But at times, it means to say the tough thing. Recently, God had me approach a friend and tell them they were putting a half-hearted effort into their calling. God showed me a picture of a sports car engine and the person driving it was only pushing the gas pedal down a half inch. This person was initially offended. But later they came back and thanked me for this word. Three weeks ago, a friend told me bluntly I had dishonored a mutual friend and that this would be a hindrance to my life. I hated hearing it, but it was an accurate prophetic word. It saved me from a terrible attack of the enemy. We need to have much more than encouragement; we need exhortation.
6. We Listen too Much to Other Prophets: Several times in the Old Testament, groups of prophets gathered together and just echoed each other’s false prophesies. This happens among prophetic groups. Once the word gets out, others echo it as if it were their own. I saw this in recent years as people get on Internet mailing lists of certain prophetic people. It is amazing how I can read about a prophesy on one of those lists and then weeks later it seems like every second person is getting the same prophetic word. As I mentioned above, the prophets who spoke over Paul had the same problem. They kept repeating the same thing. The prophetic is often a one-off proposition, meaning that God speaks one time to one individual and rarely speaks exactly the same thing to others. The best advice I can give is to pay only moderate attention to what other prophets are saying and just listen to the Holy Spirit.
7. It’s a Game: Hear me: Some of you are treating this like a game. Everyone is doing the prophetic thing and you want “in”. Stop it. This is serious business. God does want to speak today and unless you’re going to be serious about spending the hours necessary to learn to hear God accurately, don’t bother being involved until you are willing to pay the price.
8. We Over-do the Application side of it: As I have spent months going through all the prophetic words of the Bible looking for a pattern, here is one I noticed. The prophets often are given the word and the interpretation, but they do not always give people the application. I find it is often in the application of a word that we get it wrong. Why is this? Let me give the prophet Jonah as an example. His word to Nineveh was clear: 40 days and this city will be destroyed by Jahweh. That’s it. It’s a clear word of warning. He personally was hoping God would destroy the city. But he stopped short of giving them an application. He left it up to them, because often the prophetic requires that people exercise their faith to respond to it. When John the Baptist told King Herod that he was wrong to kill his brother and take his brother’s wife, all he did was give him a warning. He didn’t tell him how to respond. Just be careful to allow the person room to respond to the word without directing them; unless God shows you to give the application as well. This is what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5 where he tells the church to exact discipline on the man having an affair with his step-mother.
9. People Try to Read Other People Instead of Listening to the Spirit: If you are an emotionally sensitive person, you can sometimes pick up on what is going on inside of others. Sometimes we are reading non-verbal cues and other times we are sensitive to their wants and desires. I believe this is what the girls who prayed over the witch were experiencing. We may foolishly believe that this means we are hearing God when it may mean nothing of the sort. I have made this mistake many times and congratulated myself when the person confirmed what I prayed was exactly what they were thinking themselves. Now, if a person reacts too quickly and positively to what I speak over them, I often question if I have “read” them instead of hearing God. This takes discernment and a discipline to just listen to what God is saying and not what we’re sensing from them.
10. We are Way Too Busy: This one is more than just an over-reliance on social media. We are filling up our lives with so many things these days in a fear of missing out that we have so little time for God. In the words of Eric Liddell’s sister in the movie “Chariots of Fire”: “All you do is run, run, run…you have no time for standing still.” She is right. When you are this busy, how can you cultivate the discipline of sensing the subtle tones of God’s voice? It is impossible. Only the truly unhurried can hone the skills necessary to minister in the prophetic. Jesus himself spent many, many hours getting alone. I think it takes an unusual soul to do this. I admire people like Rick Joyner who spends 5-6 hours every morning communing with Father God. This is why the quality of the prophetic which comes from him is consistently high.
11. People Ignore Prophetic Acts: In the Bible, God often called people to do the prophetic as much as speak it. From Agabus tying his hands with Paul’s belt to King Ahab being told to beat the ground with his arrows, from Ezekiel told to lie on his side for 70 days and eat food cooked over cattle dung to Hosea being told to marry a prostitute, the prophetic people are often called to do things as the visual message from God. I don’t see the prophetic being done much any more. Too many words and not enough actions.
12. The Goal is Not Comfort, it is Truth: One final word. If you want to minister in the prophetic, your goal must be to speak/do the Truth. You are not called to comfort others as your main goal. The Truth indeed will comfort the afflicted at times. But it will also afflict the comfortable. A friend of mine who moves in the prophetic came to me at a conference one time. He mentioned a mutual friend of ours who was also at the conference. He invited me to go talk to this person. He had a word of God for him. I went along, but I had a feeling of great sorrow come over me. This was not going to be fun. My prophetic friend asked our mutual friend if he would do something for him. Would he empty his pockets on the table? Our mutual friend refused to do it. When he did not empty his pockets, my prophetic friend told him what was in his pocket. It was definitely something he didn’t want others to know about. He broke down and admitted a fairly heinous sin. The two of us ministered to him for several weeks. But a month later, God gave me a word that our ministry had not changed anything. His heart had become hardened. I phoned him up and warned him about this. He swore viciously at me over the phone. Two months later, he left his wife and his ministry and took off with another woman. For twelve years he was gone. Then, out of the blue, my prophetic friend called me up. He told me our mutual friend was about to repent and come back. The two of us arranged to meet with him and God used us to help bring him back to God. I share that story to get to this: You are not called to comfort everyone. But you are called to bring truth to everyone you prophesy over.
Hopefully this will not discourage you. It is an article meant to show you the price of the prophetic. But, in the words of the Apostle Paul, it is my desire that you all prophesy. As long as you do it well and correctly.