False Prophets vs. Bad Prophets
Not long ago, Harold Camping had quite energetically predicted a date that would be the day of the Lord’s return, the Rapture as it is called, and yet we’re all still here. Twice, he did that!
Apparently, he missed it.
We've all seen similar situations: someone stands up and declares "Thus says the Lord" and then misses it. It didn't come about as the prophet declared it would.
Holy Spirit keeps drawing my attention back to that issue: the prophecy was wrong. And he keeps asking me this question: What's the difference between a false prophecy and an inaccurate one? What is the difference between a false prophet and an inaccurate one?
Think about Baalam, son of Beor, the famous false prophet of Numbers 22, the man with the talking donkey. While not using the label “false prophet,” the NT castigates him as such (see 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14). And yet, pretty much every single prophecy he declared was fulfilled.
The false prophet spoke true prophecies.
In the book of Acts, we meet the prophet Agabus, who is received and treated as a true prophet of God. By contrast, his prophecies, though accurate in general, missed some key details; more importantly, the point of the prophecy (to go to Jerusalem or not) completely missed what God had been speaking to the apostle.
The true prophet spoke inaccurate prophecies.
It is clear that the old method of judging a prophet – if his prophecies come to pass, he’s a true prophet, but if his prophecies do not come to pass, he is a false prophet – is a complete failure, at least by Biblical standards.
It appears that Baalam was judged a false prophet, not for the accuracies of his prophetic words, but for his loyalties. He spoke words that were nominally from the heart of God, but his loyalties were mixed. From my perspective, it appears that in addition to serving the Yahweh, he was also moved by his desire for honor and for money (see Numbers 22:15-18). Baalam may have been living in the warning that Jesus gave thousands of years later: “No man can serve two masters.”
By contrast, it appears that Agabus did not suffer from a divided heart.
Agabus was not a false prophet, just an inaccurate one. He got most of the revelation right (Paul would be arrested when if he went to Jerusalem), and he got most of the interpretation right (though it was the Romans who arrested and bound Paul, not the Jews), the people missed the application (“Paul, don’t go!”).
I have witnessed the ministry of people who had a wonderful heart, but missed most of the details in what they were saying, and missed the conclusion. They were bad prophets, terribly inaccurate. But they were not false prophets. There was no motive other than obeying God in their heart.
As I’ve been meditating on these things, I have begun to suspect that it is the heart, not the words, that determine whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet. If we are motivated by the need for fame, we cannot be moved by God alone. If I change what I say in order that offerings won’t be hurt, we may need to ask some hard questions. (Note: I am not addressing HOW a word is given, or even how it is worded: wisdom has much to say about that. I’m addressing the WHAT of the word that is being given.)
This may be the biggest danger: If I declare a true word, but fame or fortune come as a result, then whatever seeds have lain dormant in my heart will sprout quickly and reveal the condition of my heart. If I speak a prophecy without the need for fame or the lust for money, but fame and money come, the seeds of that need for fame, the seeds of the lust for money, if they were present in my heart, may sprout and grow and flower and bear fruit.
Harold Camping prophesied what time has proved to be an inaccurate word. It is self-evident that his prophesy has brought both fame and fortune to SOMEone (all those ads cost money!).
But is he a false prophet? Or is he merely a bad prophet, an inaccurate one?
This is a time when I am thankful for the apostle’s wisdom: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” (Romans 4:4) I am thankful that I have no responsibility to judge Harold Camping, no responsibility to train him, no responsibility to make him stand. He has another Master who has both that responsibility and that ability.
I’d been visiting the Library for years before I figured out what it was. It’s easier to tell you what it’s not than what it is: I guess most significantly, it’s not a place, at least not in any sense of location.
The Library is a place in my imagination where God and I meet. But oddly, it doesn’t seem to be an imaginary place; it’s just that the imagination is the way to get there. Some folks describe these kind of things as “a visit to the third heavens.” OK. Whatever. I suspect we’re both talking about the same thing, and I suspect that neither of us is completely familiar with the best vocabulary to describe a non-locational location.
The library is a large room; it belongs in a very big, very old, stately mansion. Its thousands of books are neatly aligned on dark shelves, and between dark paneling (is it walnut?), both of which stretch from the thick, crimson rug over the dark oak flooring, to the sculpted ceiling far above. It’s the kind of room where you’d expect to find a couple of ladders on wheels to reach the top half of the bookshelves, but I’ve never seen a ladder in there. In fact, I haven’t yet taken a book off of the shelf.
The quiet in the room is tangible, nearly physical. I’m not sure I could work up a good worry in that place, but why would I try? The peace could be cut with a knife, but why would you cut it? There is no hurry there, no pressure there, either to do or to be something that I’m not already doing and being.
I generally see the room from somewhere near the center, and until recently, my attention has always been drawn to the middle of the long wall in front of me. There’s a fireplace there, and it’s a big one, and I’ve never seen it without a bright and cheery fire crackling in it, giving light and warmth – more than merely physical warmth – to the whole room.
There is no grate, no grille, no glass doors to separate us from the fire, but the floor in front of the fireplace is stone tile, not hardwood, and it’s been laid well. There is a round, emerald green rug over the stone floor and its presence infers the union between the two chairs there. Tall, remarkably stately, dark leather wingback chairs, face the fireplace, the chairs are clearly for conversation, and serious conversation at that. It’s evident that those who converse in these chairs are working together towards a goal, never – not ever! – working to change someone’s opinion or position. The unity between even the chairs is remarkable, but then this is a remarkable room.
Often, I’ll take the seat on the left, and as I sit, I’m embraced by the welcome of the warm fire, and simultaneously, I’m strengthened and focused for the work to be done between us. I’m beginning to become familiar with these conversations. For a long time, they startled me, even shocked me. The first time I sat down and saw Jesus across from me, next to me, I was undone! We’ve met many times now, and while it may never be “old hat” between us (I don’t actually aspire to that), I’ve grown comfortable in our time together.
And what a time it is together. We visit like close brothers, for that’s what we are. Not separate from the visiting and family talk, but in its midst, more troubling topics arise. I’ll often bring up something that has been hard to understand or difficult to carry, and that’s where I first began to understand “the counsel of the Lord.” He listens, asks insightful questions (I’ve never asked why my omniscient elder brother needs to ask questions, but it comforts me when he does), and we share the matter together. In that place, while we’re visiting, next the blazing fire, I begin to understand the matter from Heaven’s perspective, from the perspective that my ever-loving brother sees the matter, and I am strengthened. The matter is not less – in fact, it’s often greater, once I’ve understood it from his viewpoint – but the burden is better, like a comfortable load that I can carry for long distances, instead of the crushing weight it had been earlier.
There have been times when Jesus brings a matter of his own concern into our conversation. I expected that it would be an issue that I need to change in my own life, and occasionally it is, though there is never any of the condemnation that I used to expect there. Occasionally, he brings to my attention a matter relating to someone dear to me – my family, my close friends – and he gives me insight, which brings with it a power that changes the troubling matter into a place of peace strength, though I’ve learned it may be a long transition.
From time to time, and this is not an every-day affair, he will bring up an issue that is not well known to me and is not even within my power to influence. We’ll discuss it, as before, and it’s clear that while he never asks me to do anything with these, yet he is asking my opinion, my counsel, on the subject. I’ve stopped asking myself questions about why the Only Begotten Son would seek my counsel; it has confused me, but I’m growing to understand how seriously he takes the matter of my participation in the kingdom he and I are inheriting.
Occasionally, it’s Father who’s in the other chair, and in those times, very often my chair is empty, because I’ve crawled up into his mighty lap, rested my head on his bushy beard, and for a good long time, I just breathe deep of his fragrance: campfires and a good cigar, fresh cedar and fertile soil, rich leather and bright wildflowers: the fragrances of life and depth and truth. I love his smell. Often, my free hand finds its way between the buttons of his wool shirt and rests in the midst of his wooly chest. I listen to his strong heartbeat; I feel his beard and my hair stir in his warm breath as we rest together.
We have the same conversations, really, as Jesus and I do, though we may not bother with actual words. We visit, we tell stories, we boast about people we both know, and dream about the future together. I share my burdens, and come away with strength, he brings up matters about my growth, about the circle of his children that I influence, and occasionally, other matters, and we … well, we counsel together about them all. In all matters, I know I’m heard, I know I’m trusted, and I know that the matter – whatever it is – is less important than the love we share together.
Some years ago, Jesus caught me before I sat down, and he took me to a new corner of the room. It was in the right-hand corner, behind where I usually view the room from, and there was something there that I hadn’t expected: it was a tall, oak, judge’s bench. He took me around the far side of the bench, and up the stairs behind it. But rather than sit down himself, he sat me in the great chair behind the bench, and when I sat, I was wearing black robes, I think I had a white wig on, and I had a wooden gavel in my right hand.
I’ve learned – well, more honestly, I’m learning – to trust him in that place, and so I didn’t resist him, though my sitting in that chair was more of a novelty that first time than it was about actually judging anything. Since then, I’ve begun to learn some things about judgment, how important it is, how powerful it is, and especially how good it is.
It seems that the really big judgments, he’s kept for himself; I’m new at this after all. I’ve been charged with judging my brothers and sisters, but judging from Heaven’s perspective, from the perspective of a king who’s madly in love with them, who’s unreasonably proud of them, who’s amazed and overjoyed with their every step of faith. So the judgments that I’ve been invited to pronounce are about God’s favor on his children; I’ve been charged with finding them guilty of pleasing their father, and sentencing them to be loved and adored for all their natural lives, and beyond, if they’re willing! It’s better work than I first feared it would be; I’ve actually come to love that bench.
But some of the judicial work has been darker than that. One day, I was praying intensely for a dear sister against whom hell was having a measure of success. Jesus interrupted my sober work and brought me around to the stairs and up to the bench. I could see more clearly from up there, and with his help, I saw the cloud of miserable, filthy, little spirits that were harassing my sister. “Judge them,” he said, and as he spoke, I began to understand. I began to recognize their crimes, their trespasses, their rebellion against their rightful king and his rightful representatives.
As I identified them – the spirits and their crimes – I spoke the name, and as I named each spirit, it was as if the gavel moved on its own, gently tapping, “Guilty as charged” to each charge; with each tap, a beastie was bound. Soon, I got into it, reaching into my spirit for the discernment of each spirit and shouting its name, its crime. The gavel would bang and the demon was bound. This was more judgment I could get excited about.
I needed to be careful, in my exuberance, to still judge accurately, according to what was true, not merely because I felt bad for my sister’s misery: this was a matter of justice, not pity, and it was a mighty justice that was handed down that day, and other days like it. I’ve developed the opinion that the judge’s bench is an excellent place for intercession.
I still visit the room often enough. We sit next to the fire and share the business of the Kingdom. Not infrequently, I’ll climb up to the bench to pronounce one judgment or another. I cannot say I’m used to this – how does mortal man get used to partnership with the immortal? – but it’s become familiar, comfortable like the well-worn stock of a favored and trusted hunting rifle. We do good work together.
There was one day, though, that I still shake my head about. It happened some years back, and I’m only now beginning to understand what may have actually gone on.
The visit started rather like any other: I was in the middle of the room, looking at the leather backs of the empty fireside chairs, and I was startled: Father somberly walked up to me, and he was looking very serious: he was garbed in a rich black judge’s robe, and his eyes were as intense and alive with fire as I’ve ever seen them. With his eyes fixed on mine, he slowly opened his robe. I was surprised to see a red plaid shirt underneath, but before I had opportunity to react in surprise, he pulled a shotgun from the depths of his open robe, and handed it to me. Startled, I took it from him and glanced at it. Yep, that’s a shotgun, all right.
I looked up again, and now the robe was gone, and with it, the stern look from his face. Instead, he sported a red hunter’s cap and a huge grin, and he held up a shotgun of his own. Movement caught my eye, and I saw Jesus, similarly attired with plaid shirt, red hat, grin and shotgun. Father asked, “You ready, Son?” but before I could answer, the air above our heads was suddenly filled with demons, their leathery wings flapping franticly as they zigged and zagged about the room.
Father laughed mightily, hoisted his shotgun and fired; a demon exploded into a black cloud. Jesus cheered and blasted another one. Soon all three of us were shouting and hollering and laughing uproariously. And blasting demons to tiny black dust. Shotgun blasts were interspersed with shouts of encouragement, great fits of laughter and the soft splatter of the demons shards. They had met their maker, and it had not gone well for them. He is a very good shot, actually.
I had enjoyed this experience so much that I hadn’t stopped to ask what it meant until recently; the answer wasn’t particularly surprising; something about “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” But the experience was, frankly, a great deal of fun. “Spiritual warfare” and “fun”: two concepts I had never expected to put together.
That hunting party only happened the one time. I think it was more about teaching me a lesson than a regular part of our business in that place. He’s a good teacher, by the way: I’ve never forgotten that experience, though I’ve been slower to learn its lesson.
The intimacy of counsel by the fireplace, though: that’s a part of our regular work together, governing this kingdom that we’re inheriting, as is the judgment from the bench.
Training The Gifts
John Paul Jackson said, “Studying your gift will enhance its strength; it tells God you value what He has given, enough to spend time developing it.”
When someone discovers they have a teaching gift, they go to college or Bible school and they train their gift. When someone aspires to being a pastor, they train the gift, often in a school called a seminary. In recent years, schools for prophetic giftings have sprouted up all over the world.
Not all training, not all studying, happens in a specialized school. A lot of training happens in church; pretty much every pastor has taught on the gift of serving and the gift of giving, and I don’t mean that as cynically as it sounds. There’s often pretty good opportunity to study an train our gifts in church.
But there are holes, gaps, in the equipping of the saints.
When was the last time you went to a training school on the gift of mercy? Who has ever attended a school for the gift of tongues? Or when was more than a passing mention given to the gift of the word of wisdom?
I observe that there are at least two significant motivators that contribute to which gifts we train, and which gifts we don’t:
1) Some gifts have generated a whole lot of interest among people. When half of your congregation is asking about prophecy, an opportunity to learn will show up, whether in your church, or somewhere else within reach of hungry believers. (I believe as a principle, that God will answer his kids’ cry to become equipped saints.)
2) Sometimes, leaders will teach on a topic – about a gift – that is needed in their community, because that really is an effective way to help people get excited about that gift.
And there are some gifts that miss out on both kinds of glory. They lack the flash and popularity of the more exciting gifts, and their lack is not as desperate in the local body as others. Both are motivated by a sense of urgency, rather than by what God is doing.
One problem with this approach is that, by nature, it tends to devalue the less urgent gifts. We don’t mean to teach that mercy is unimportant, but when we skip the gift in our training, we do communicate that. We aren’t intentionally saying that tongues is optional – we often believe differently than that, and Paul certainly emphasized the gift – but when we don’t help people to grow in the gift, if we only bring it up in our annual “You Must Be Filled With The Holy Spirit” sermon?
We, as leaders, have responsibility to equip saints, and the measurement of our success is pretty high:
…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13
If we are well equipped in the exciting gifts, in the urgent gifts, then that’s really good. But it falls short of the “to a perfect man” standard, and short of the standard of “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
I guess I want to invite those who are involved in equipping others (which, according to 2 Timothy 2:2, should be all of us, to one degree or another) to consider equipping people in the full range of gifts.
That doesn’t mean just classes on the gift of interpretation of tongues, of course. In fact, it might begin with us asking questions. “God, how can I grow in the gift of tongues?” “Father, would you teach me how to use this gift of mercy you’ve dropped on me?”
Let’s go after maturity. In all of the gifts.
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