“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
Prophecy remains one of the most controversial spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ even by those who still consider it an active gift today. Why is that? Well I think it is often because of the prophets themselves. Sometimes they are their own worst enemy. Unfortunately it is all too common to hear these comments associated with prophetic ministry: flakey, harsh, off the wall, squirrelly, or critical.
Yet prophecy is the gift we are told to especially seek. “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1) The prophet has a high calling indeed as God’s mouthpiece, but with that comes an even higher responsibility. There is more to it than just speaking the word God has given. HOW, WHEN and WHY are equally important and that’s where new or untrained prophets likely falter. Wisdom is usually the missing ingredient when the prophet falls flat on his/her face.
It’s an unfortunate lesson my friend Patrick learned the hard way. Yet in the end he calls it one of his most treasured lessons. They say practice makes perfect so it’s good Patrick was practicing in a safe environment when he flubbed up rather badly in his prophetic gift. I was with him that night so I know in intimate detail what happened.
Our church prophetic team was invited by the Youth Pastor to spend an evening praying prophetically over the youth group. It was an opportunity for the youth to benefit from prophetic ministry and an opportunity for those with prophetic giftings at varying levels to use their gift to the edification of the youth. Patrick has a strong developed gift, but as you’ll see, that wasn’t the problem.
We all had a wonderful time. It’s amazing how beautifully prophetic juices flow when a whole team of people get together and stir each other up. Things were going great but after several hours of intense ministry I withdrew to an easy chair off to the side. My intention was to be done. I felt exhausted and decided to let the other team members finish praying over the remaining young people without me.
That was not to be. As one of the last two boys seeking prayer approached the ministry seat I began to be stirred. My heart felt broken for him; I had a deep spirit of grief and the word “martyr” came to me with persistence. I knew I had to go back and pray for Gavin (not his real name). I went up to him with tears in my eyes, laid my hand on his shoulder and began to pray.
Finally I stopped praying and said, “Gavin, you do not know what the future holds. You don’t know if a time may come when you will have to make a really hard decision in order to continue serving the Lord. I encourage you to count the cost now. Think about whether you would be willing to serve Christ at all costs.” I kept repeating, “Count the cost.”
Patrick stood there with growing impatience since in his mind I was obviously skirting the issue. Prophetically he knew exactly what I had gotten as he had gotten the very same word and very same sense about Gavin himself. He thought to himself, why won’t she just SAY it? Finally he burst out: “Why don’t you just say the word? Well, if you won’t say it, I will. The word is martyr!”
Everyone gasped but Patrick barely noticed because he was so excited about how wonderfully the prophetic gift was flowing in unison. It didn’t occur to him what a devastating pronouncement it might be to tell a teenager God was revealing possible martyrdom in their future. Gavin agreed that yes, he needed to count the cost and he would take it all seriously. Fortunately, even for his age, he was already a pretty mature believer.
The session ended and the prophetic team came together for an informal debriefing. Patrick got an earful from everyone but by then he realized how entirely inappropriate he had been and he felt awful. A follow up conversation took place between Patrick, the Youth Pastor and Gavin in which Patrick sincerely apologized and Gavin accepted.
Wisdom in delivery
Patrick’s case is quite mild in comparison to some of the horror stories I’ve heard about the prophetic gift going awry. As I mentioned before, Patrick was in a safe environment under the leadership of a strong mature Senior Pastor. He had others with the prophetic gifting around him for balance. He humbled himself and submitted to correction immediately. No real damage was done to Gavin who also had some help in seeing the prophetic word in the right light.
Earlier I said that HOW, WHEN and WHY are as important as the prophetic word itself. Let’s examine how wisdom can be applied to each of them.
Proverbs 12:18 says “…the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Since that is the case, great care should always be taken with the manner of delivery for any prophetic word, either to an individual or to a church. Think before you speak. Even if the word is accurate it will only have a chance of edifying the receiver if it is given with discretion.
I once had a lady tell me she was a prophetess with an Ezekiel ministry. Somehow Ezekiel is often linked with railing, harsh judgmental prophecy and what this woman really meant was that she felt she had a mandate to deliver this type of prophecy within her church. They didn’t much cotton to it and eventually asked her to leave. From her viewpoint they were rejecting God but the truth is that they were rightfully turned off by her negative delivery.
Suppose you aren’t sure how to gracefully express something you feel God is giving you? Get some help. Seek advice from someone more experienced. Submit your word or thoughts or impressions to another team member or pastor who can discern not only how to say it but whether to say it at all. That leads to the next point.
I know prophecy is fun and exciting but not every word has to be delivered at all. Those with prophetic gifts often “get stuff” and wonder why they got it and what they are supposed to do with it. Just because God gave it doesn’t mean he wants you to necessarily turn around and give it out. Maybe he wants you to hold it for the right timing or maybe just pray over it.
One of my close friends once told me that God had revealed to her that a mutual friend of ours was shortly going to go through several years of severe trials. Rough water was ahead. I asked her at the time if she was going to tell our friend. “No” she said, “let’s just pray for her.” So that’s what we did every chance we got. My friend’s word ended up being quite accurate. How much tougher might it have been for our mutual friend without the extra prayer support? To this day I don’t think she has any idea there was a prophecy detailing her long trial.
Timing is very important in prophecy. If you have prophetic leanings, get used to the idea that the time you receive the prophecy is not necessarily the time to share it. God is not usually in a big rush and you don’t need to be either.
A good question to ask yourself when you feel God gives you a word is: what is the purpose of the prophecy and what is your motivation in deciding to share it? Is your flesh getting in the way or did the flesh push its way into the prophecy to begin with? That happens easily when we hold strong opinions about someone or something in the church.
Watch for a desire to manipulate or to control a situation or person or to pronounce judgment on something you disapprove of. Our own self can leak into the prophecy, rendering it virtually worthless. Additionally, be careful not to get too excited about the gift itself rather than the Giver of the gift. That’s what happened to Patrick.
Prophets and prophecy are of wonderful benefit to the body of Christ. Those benefits are most effective when we remember their highest purpose: “…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:16)