New Beginnings or Second Chances: What's the Difference

by Sue McLain

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but recently I’ve come to the realization that subtle differences can make a large impact on the way we view something or someone. Besides, I’m in good company. Jesus has been known to say, “You have heard it said. But I tell you…” The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own very specific and unmovable understanding of the Law of Moses. (Similar, perhaps, to the political parties of today?) Along comes Jesus with a fresh understanding of the Law, based not on legalism but rather, on character: the Fathers character. Looking at something from a different point of view can radically alter our understanding of it. That’s what happened to me.

Several years ago during pre-service prayer I very clearly heard, “I am not the God of the second chance. I am the God of new beginnings.” It was one of those God moments where I knew that I knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to break through and make a point. It has stayed with me all these years as I’ve struggled to understand what that means and what the implications are in my relationship with Him.

I began by trying to understand the differences between a new beginning and a second chance. After all, aren’t they basically saying the same thing? Don’t both speak of a fresh start?

I found that chance, in its purest form, speaks of fate, the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice. Statistically, it’s 50/50. It’s “…the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.” It is impersonal, detached. That does not sound like the Father. He is anything but impersonal or detached. The very fact that He is a person removes the ‘chance’ factor.

OK what else may chance imply? It can speak of opportunity. For example: a job offer from an old classmate you haven’t seen in years, an investment opportunity from a start-up company, a cancelled appointment giving you the time to catch up on some unfinished business. We are given opportunities every day, and they can be monumental or insignificant. They can be created by us or given to us. They can be purposeful or accidental. They can be relational or impersonal. It’s safe to say, “opportunities happen!” But what does second chance communicate?

A second chance is always given by another. There is history inherent in it. It carries weight or debt. An abusive boyfriend gives his girlfriend a ‘second chance’. The husband gives the alcoholic wife a ‘second chance’. The boss gives the chronically late employee a ‘second chance’. There is a sense of control, authority or dominance. “I give you.” You have the right to choose, yes, but it’s tainted, stained by the past. You did this but I’m going to give you a chance to be different this time. Different according to my rules, according to my expectations. Good or bad, there is baggage in the person giving the second chance and baggage in the one it is being given to.

God, on the other hand, says He as a God of new beginnings. He has said, “I will do a new thing”. According to the law of first mention, creation is foundational to the concept of the God being all about new beginnings. Out of chaos He created something entirely new. It was fresh, clean, and untarnished.

What does that mean for us personally? He rewrites our history, gives us a fresh start. Isn’t that the very definition of adoption? He gives us a new name, a new family? He makes us a new creation! What about forgiveness? He does not hold our sins against us. He chucks them into the sea. He is very intentional, very personal. Condemnation, debt and baggage are not in His vocabulary. He has nothing to do with fate or chance.

Some might say, “What about Jonah? Didn’t he get a second chance? ” My answer to that is ‘no’. God had a mission for Jonah. Jonah had personal issues with that mission. But God had a plan and Jonah was an integral part of it. God is not in a hurry. As Banning Liebscher says, “…the Lord will get me where He wants to get me, when He wants to get me there and how He wants to get me there”. Jonah’s call, the storm, the whale, the prophecy, all of it was part of God’s plan for Jonah and Ninevah. There was no ‘second chance’ involved because God completed His plan just as He intended.

Both second chances and new beginnings give us a do-over. Both are given from relationship. But, they start from completely different places. Second chances start from a place of failure. A new beginning, well, from a clean slate, just as if it never happened.

What if we could truly grasp the freedom and intentionality that comes from a God that gives us new beginnings? Past that is dead and gone, sin that is no longer held in debt against us. Who could we become? How would it change the way we view God? How would it change the way we view each other?


A Gift to Remember

A Gift to Remember

Jared and Melissa were excited enough that they couldn’t sleep, not that they gave themselves much opportunity that evening. They had been up until the wee hours, John muttering and cursing through the “Some Assembly Required” toys, and Melissa wrapping gifts, turning every one into a work of art in its own right.

As they worked, they talked excitedly about the morning. They’d waited for – longed for – this day as long as they could remember, and they found they were more ready to anticipate the morning than they were to sleep.

Jay and Missy had fallen in love early, and married fresh out of high school, eager to start a family and share their love with a flock of children. They were stunned to discover that they were unable to conceive. Over the years, they’d spent a fortune, everything they had, on doctors and treatments. She’d conceived a couple of times, but something had always gone wrong, and every conception had ended in miscarriage.

Giving up on medicine, and now into their second decade of marriage without children, they had turned to the slow process of adoption, and while the wheels had turned excruciatingly slowly, they had turned, and last spring they’d gotten the call they had waited for all their lives.

Cautiously, they’d flown to yet another war-ravaged nation, and met with the adoption agency, who had introduced them to the four-year-old stranger would be their daughter, their only child and heir, as they could never afford this again. It was a storybook introduction. When they met, they were already in love, them with her, and she with them. They wept and laughed together.

Little Emily was all that they’d ever for in a daughter, and they were a family in love. Laughter reigned in the house, and joy was their daily bread. And tomorrow, tomorrow! Tomorrow was their first Christmas together, and Jay and Missy had gone all out, blown their budget badly, gathering and making gift after gift for their princess, their beautiful daughter.

Finally, the morning arrived, and in a cloud of screaming and laughing, they found themselves gathered around the Christmas tree, giggling, surrounded by a small mountain gifts. This was the day, this was the hour! This is what they’d been waiting for.

The laughter stopped suddenly, and Emmy soberly looked at Mom, looked at Dad, and then turned to the mountain of presents. Missy picked up the top package and handed it to the now-quiet girl, who took it tenderly and set it on the floor between her knees. Eyes sparkling, she solemnly examined the wrapping, tracing the ribbons, touching the label, “oohing” and “aahing” at each discovery of her parents’ careful wrapping. After the top was completely explored and appreciated, she turned the box over, discovering a reindeer in the paper’s pattern, and was delighted again.

Jay and Missy were less patient. “Open it, honey! See what’s inside!” But Emmy was in no hurry, now engaged in a conversation with the reindeer. “She doesn’t understand,” said Jay, and he reached into his daughter’s world, and tugged gently on the ribbon, which came off gracefully. The paper, held in place by the ribbon, now slipped back revealing a hint of the contents. “It’s a present, Emmy. Open it. Look at your gift!”

But Emmy quietly wrapped the paper back over the box, and holding it in place with her small hand, finished her conversation with the reindeer, and started a new one with the penguin next to it.

When that conversation had run its course, she set the box with its slightly disheveled wrapping aside and reached for another package, but her parents interrupted her. “No, finish opening this one first! I want you to see your present!” and peeled the paper back from the box, but either Emmy didn’t understand, or she wasn’t interested.

Eventually, the paper and the box were separated, as much by Missy’s efforts as Emmy’s, and Missy glanced eagerly from her beloved Emmy to the gift, now unwrapped before her, but Emmy was looking not at the box, but the paper that had once enclosed it. She picked up the paper, turned it over in her hands, appreciatively, and gently began to fold it. Jay got up, went to the kitchen to make coffee. Missy watched her daughter, tears forming in her eyes.

It was a long morning, but eventually, the mountain of wrapped gifts was transformed into a neat pile of carefully folded wrapping paper, a collection of ribbons and bows, some of which were now worn by the little girl, and a stack of neglected gifts. Emmy played quietly with the bows as she carried on a conversation with a fat man in a red suit from one of the papers. Her parents stood across the room, talking quietly. Jay comforted his wife gently.


I was sitting with the Lord recently, marveling over John’s casual comment, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” and its connection with the stunning experience with God that he was about to enter, when the story of Emily and her disappointed parents flooded my mind.

As the story unfolded in my mind, I realized that God was talking about his relationship with his own children, that we were Emmy, and I experienced something of the sadness that God was experiencing. “My children have so often treasured the wrappings on the gifts more than they’ve treasured the gifts that I’ve given them.”

That struck me as a pretty strong statement, but as we talked about it, I began to understand a little bit of how we do that.

Father has given us amazing and expensive gifts. We were separated from him by our sin, so he – in the person of Jesus – paid the price for that separation and removed the barriers between us so that we could be with him. As if that weren’t enough, he wrote us the most amazing love story: a book about his love with his children, so that we could understand and therefore embrace the passion with which he loves us.

I’ve become convinced that we have fallen to Emily’s failure. We’ve studied his Book his love story about us, as if it were an instruction manual. (Why would a God of Love write an instruction manual for dutiful study and careful obedience?) The Bible is the most amazing, most powerful book ever written: in it are the words of Life, but it is the Life that is our goal, not the words.

We could discuss other gifts, also given to build relationship, which our quirky little species finds reason to focus on: manifestations of his presence with us (like feathers or laughter or peace) or gifts and callings (like healing the sick, or pastoring a flock of people). These are glorious gifts from the best Daddy in the universe, but they are just wrappings on the real gift: we get Him! God himself is the real gift.

Father’s goal is that we’d move past the barriers that Jesus, on the Cross, tore down and threw aside, and we’d come sit down with him, be with him.

I suppose I must include the obligatory disclaimers lest I be accused of heresy: I treasure the Bible, the Word of God, as much as anyone I’ve ever met. I am immensely grateful for the Cross of Christ! “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

My point is not to devalue either the Word of God or the Cross of Christ. Rather, I would focus my attention on that which these point to, open the way to. The cross was conceived, all of creation was conceived, planned and carried out, because He, in his omniscience, was already in love with us! God had fallen in love with us, and He was determined to do everything He could do to get to us, to find me and wrap His arms around us.

The greatest gift we’ve been given is God himself! But the greatest gift that he has is us: you and me. Not what we do, not what we know, not even our character or our quirky personality. We are his treasure, his inheritance.

We are his goal: relationship with us, “having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

It has also been said this way: “Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

The goal is relationship. Not just relationship, family relationship: he has adopted us into his family as his own children, his heirs, much-loved. He has delegated that management of the family business (a little thing called Earth) to us.

It would be a mistake to try to run the family business without input from our Father, the founder. We must sit with him, understand his heart for the business, recognize the resources that he’s placed at our disposal for the work. Some of that understanding can come from the book he wrote, of course, and perhaps the most powerful engine in the shop is the blood of his Only Begotten Son on the Cross.

But the goal, the end of the matter, the reason all else exists, is relationship: that we would inherit him, and he would inherit us.

That’s the real gift, inside whatever wrappings, whatever else he gives us.


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.


The Library

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.


Prophetic Discernment in the Northwest

I watch trends in the prophetic environment of the Pacific Northwest. From my post as editor of the Northwest Prophetic website, I have an unusually broad view of the prophetic words spoken to, from, and about the Northwest. I see three general categories of prophecies for our region.

I observe that there are a goodly number of prophetic words that are relatively generic “comfort, edification and encouragement.” There’s a second group of words that can be described as speaking to our destiny, our calling, perhaps even our future in the Northwest. And there are some words that are spoken to the region that invoke images of natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis are prominent in them. (This is not an exhaustive list, of course; these are the three main categories; see the NWP website for a more complete list.)

The first group (“comfort, edification and encouragement”) is pretty easy to understand, and it’s not hard to respond to them.

The second group (speaking to our regional destiny) is also straightforward: not complicated to understand, though an appropriate response to these may be a bit more complex.

It’s the third group (invoking images of disasters) that I’m going to focus on here. How shall we respond to images of disasters in prophetic declarations over our region? Many of these declarations include an additional emphasis on the concept of judgment, which I’ll address later.

I propose that there are five basic possibilities for interpreting these disaster prophecies:

1) The prophet made a mistake. (Here is one example.) This may be a false prophecy (the work of serving the wrong God, or serving with a wrong heart) or simply a bad prophecy (it was a good attempt, but they missed it). For whatever reason (and that reason may or may not be important to discern), the prophecy was in error. Frankly, there’s a whole lot of this going around. Remember Harold Camping?

2) It’s a personal word. I recently read a testimony: a prophet declared an earthquake coming to his region in two weeks. Three weeks later, his report was that he must have missed the timing on the earthquake, but could I pray for him? Everything had gone haywire in his personal life for the past week.

I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of what God speaks to any of us about is for ourselves personally, and most of the rest is for our congregation or community of faith. Only a tiny portion is for the greater region or nation. Prophets who think everything they hear is for the nations may be deluded.

3) The prophecy is a metaphor. (Here is one example.) We’re not really discussing natural disasters; we’re talking about an event that’s coming in another realm than the natural (Spiritual? Economic? Political? Social?) that does now, or will at some time, involve some of the effects that a natural disaster involves: this may include upheaval, rapid change, troubles, etc. As an example, God has been speaking to the prophetic community in more than one region about a move of God that’s coming, and he’s consistently been using the metaphor of a tidal wave.

4) It is a literal, but conditional warning. (Here is an example.) We already know that some promises are conditional; some warnings are conditional as well. Not long ago, there were some credible prophetic warnings of natural disasters in my region. Several prophets in the region judged them to be both literal and true, but heard Holy Spirit saying that since we are heirs and representatives of his Kingdom in our region, we had the authority to change what was in our future. We met together, cancelled that particular future, called another, more appropriate future into being, and cancelled our own disaster preparations. The deadline passed without event.

I believe that prophetic promises fit in this category as well: when God promises a move of the Spirit, it’s appropriate for us to pray that event into the region. King David did that here.

5) And it may be a warning about a literal, physical event. (Here is an example.) God may be warning his children in order to take specific action (as here and here). Ancient records teach us that the prophet Agabus warned the church of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem early enough that the Christians escaped.

I believe that specific warnings for specific individuals are not particularly uncommon – they’re part of God leading his kids. But legitimate prophetic words prophesying literal, physical disaster appear to be remarkably rare. (That rarity may be a characteristic of this kind of word, or of the season we’re in, or it may only be rare in the particular group of prophetic warnings I’ve personally been seeing recently.)

When Christians prophesy foolishness, or when we misunderstand what God is saying and talk publicly about it, the people of God look really foolish (see here). As a result, God and his Kingdom look foolish, and (presumably) hell rejoices. May I suggest that this may not be the best use of prophetic gifts.

It’s time to take up the subject of judgment. In the past few weeks, I personally have heard perhaps a dozen prognostications of disaster on this region or that region which have declared that God is judging the described region for certain sins, though the particular sins under judgment seem to vary, depending on who’s making the declarations. As I take these to prayer, I’ve been reminded that God is not, in this day, doing the “judgment through nature” thing that Old Testament prophets were known for.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that God is not doing judgment right now. Since this is not the topic of this article, I’ll quote a few supporting verses and move on:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1John 2:2


For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17


All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2Corinthians 5:18-19

Apparently, this is a season (“dispensation” for the theologically inclined) in which God’s agenda is about reconciliation rather than judgment. Smiting people is not on his to do list right now.

Here’s where I’m going with this, and I have the same hopes for two groups of people. I’m hoping that these will be heard by those among us who are hearing and seeing images of disaster, judgment, destruction from God, and by those of us who see or hear prophetic words or declarations of disaster, judgment or destruction.

May I suggest that we exercise 1 Corinthians 14:29: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” It’s interesting that “judge” in the Greek is the root for the word used as the “gift of discernment” in 1 Corinthians 12:10: the command is to discern the prophetic word. The word means to “separate thoroughly,” and includes the concepts of discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not.

Discerning the prophetic word is a requirement of any prophetic word shared publicly, and that includes words declared in public meetings, but it also includes words released in email, on blogs, on Facebook, or by Twitter: just because we are not in the same room where the prophetic word is first spoken is no excuse not to obey the direct command of scripture: prophetic words are to be discerned, judged.

I would also counsel us to consider soliciting wise discernment, judgment, of those prophetic words which we judge are strictly for our own lives and not to be released publicly. Several times, I’ve taken what I’ve been hearing from God personally and submitted it to prophets and other mature believers whom I trust. Sometimes they’ve affirmed what I’m hearing; other times, they’ve helped me fine tune or re-interpret what I was hearing.

Note also that there are two Greek words for “others” (as in “let the others judge”): one refers to “others of the same kind,” and in this case would refer to other prophets. But this verse uses the other word: “others of a different kind,” and would extend the responsibility of judging prophetic words beyond just “other prophets” to “All the other believers who are hearing [or reading] the prophecy are responsible for discerning – discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not – the prophetic word that is given.

The days of a prophetic word being unquestionable are over, if indeed they ever existed in any realm beyond the minds of the lazy or uninformed. Let me say it more directly: There is no such thing as a prophetic word that is beyond questioning, and anyone who insists that their words cannot be questioned should be treated as undisciplined children in the community of faith: they are part of the family, and they’re kind of cute sometimes, but they need to learn discipline before they’ll be able to contribute meaningfully to the community.

There is one more issue to be identified before leaving the topic: the discernment includes the necessity of “discriminating and deciding what is good and what is not.” I believe that a fairly substantial portion of the un-judged prophetic words circulating around right now are mixed: a good portion of the original revelation was legitimately of God, but the interpretation of that revelation was not correct.

Remember the prophet who declared “an earthquake coming to his region in two weeks,” but experienced an upheaval in his own life instead of in the region in that time frame? It’s my opinion that the prophet saw the original revelation clearly (an earthquake is coming in two weeks), but mis-interpreted the revelation (assuming a physical earthquake in the region, rather than a metaphorical earthquake in his own life), and therefore his application was wrong (he had urged everyone to prepare for death and destruction, when a more appropriate response would have been for him personally to prepare for change and upheaval in his own life).

If I could speak to those who speak prophetically and those who hear or read prophetic words to judge the prophetic words carefully: consider and decide: is this a true revelation? Is it from God? Is it speaking to me/to us? Is it correctly interpreted? Is the application consistent with God’s heart? Then receive that which is from God, and reject that which is not.

Even a dumb old cow knows enough to eat the hay and spit out the sticks.

Regarding Physical Manifestations,

Freaky Physical Reactions

If you attend a charismatic or renewal service, you’re likely to eventually come upon a scene which has left many people with questions: late in the service, when people are praying for folks, some people start freaking out, physically reacting. Some stand (or lie) quietly twitching, almost vibrating. Others jerk violently and even thrash about. Some shout, moan, roar or make other, less-describable noises. I’ve heard some roar like lions, others bark like dogs, and I’ve heard the clucking of a chicken.

The percentage of people who reacted strangely varied, from just a few, to most of the crowd, and it appeared that their reactions came from different motivations; some appeared more sincere, more genuine than others.

People who frequent such meetings are often completely at ease, even inattentive to the reactions. People who are not from a tradition that includes “physical manifestations” often find those manifestations distracting, confusing, off-putting. Neophytes often come away from these meetings with more questions about the congregation than about the sermon or the prophetic ministry:

  • Why do they do that?
  • Is that God?
  • Can they control that?
  • Are they faking it?
  • That can’t be good for them, can it?
  • That’s not going to happen to me, is it?

Those are good questions, actually. I try to encourage them.

John Arnott pointed out one time that there are many reasons why people react physically in a spiritual environment.

  • Some folks react because God is touching them; it's involuntary, like touching a live electrical wire.

  • Some of them, God isn’t touching them physically, but he’s working on their emotions, and their physical manifestations are simply a symptom of God addressing and healing deeply rooted emotional wounds.

  • For others, it's psychological: they need to feel like they're part of what's going on, or they need to feel loved. For some of these, it's marginally voluntary: they may not know whether they can control the physical reaction.

  • Others are moved socially: everybody is doing this; I need to fit in, so I should too: their reaction is voluntary, though the thinking behind it may not be.

  • Some may be manifesting because their resident demons are freaking out.

  • And there are mentally ill persons among us, who are legitimately reacting for their own reasons, real or imagined.

  • I leave out those who are mockingly “faking it.” I actually haven’t ever met such people, and though I imagine they exist, I have difficulty imagining them sticking around without fitting into one of the other categories.

Among these motivations, are there any of these people that shouldn’t come to God, that shouldn’t bring these needs – spiritual, psychological, emotional, whatever – to God and invite him to work in them? Is there any reason to separate some away from God and permit others to come near?

If we accept John’s observation that these physical reactions come from many sources, we can answer the question “Is this God?” with, “Well, sometimes it’s God.” And we can make that statement without judging the person who is twitching undignifiedly on the floor: whichever of these motivations is making them flop, they deserve a touch from God, they deserve to be loved by God’s people, they deserve to be pastored, not judged, not excluded.

For some people, a touch from God won’t be the whole solution; they’ll also need to replace a lie with truth, and they may need deliverance. But the touch from God is a part of the process, is a part of the healing, and often it makes room for the other components of the healing.

I remember the night that I undeniably encountered really strange manifestations on people as they encountered God – this was the night that a man clucked chicken for twenty minutes as he was praying for me! I saw hundreds of people fall on the floor and flop around like a fish out of water. Afterwards, when most of the flopping fish were through flopping, and had been helped up, had straightened out their clothes and stumbled off to the parking lot, I was talking to the guy running the sound.

I asked him a blunt question: “Do you do that?” “Do what?” he asked. “Do you fall on the ground and flop around like a fish?”

His wife interrupted before he could answer. “Yes! Yes, he does, and I’m glad he does!” Um. Ok. “You’re glad he does that? Really? Why is that?”

“Because the man who gets up off the floor is not the same man who falls down there. God works on him while he’s there, and he always gets up a better man for it.”

She went on to tell me about some of the character issues that have changed, grown, matured, since he first landed unconscious on the carpet, twitching. In my evangelical vocabulary, he was growing more Christ-like while he flopped about on the carpet.

My evangelical mind had trouble with that concept. But I was beginning to be convinced. I really didn’t understand (I don’t claim to understand even now!), but when something I don’t understand brings about the result of increased Christlikeness, increased fruit of the Spirit, then I can’t really argue with it, even if I don’t understand the process by which God works in them. I understand the results even if the process confuses me.

Reactions to the Manifestations

At those same meetings where some people who didn’t participate in the festivities. Some wandered about, wide-eyed, watching what was going on, others clung to their chairs, with the same wide-eyed curiosity. I love watching these folks’ honest fascination with what God was doing.

Others stood, often along the back wall, often with arms crossed, scowling, watching the shenanigans, usually with growing unease. I’ve been this guy, so I know that the mental process behind the scowl is not generally one of approval. These folks may ask the same questions, but with a twist, perhps twisted into a statement, usually a statement of disapproval, judgment, even condemnation:

  • Why doesn’t somebody stop that?
  • That is not God! That can’t be God!
  • They could control that reaction!
  • They’re faking it!
  • That can’t be good for them!
  • That’s not going to happen to me!

Often, they’re rehearsing in their minds all the reasons why this can’t be God. Confusion is replaced by indignation, then anger, and they leave the meeting, usually early, more justified than before, in their opposition to the physical manifestation of the touch of God. Often they’ll write an angry blog post afterwards, justifying their judgmentalism.

Curiously, some of their judgments touch truth in the matter. We’ve already described how some of the manifestations are from psychological or emotional sources, so it can legitimately be said, of some, that it is not God making them shake; some of those could be described as faking it, though I have come to question the need (or benefit) from identifying or judging that. And it’s true: most people (though perhaps not all people) can indeed squelch the reaction (the critics sometimes do that themselves!). But those who enjoy encountering God this way, choose not to squelch the experience. And the statement “That’s not going to happen to me!” is in some measure self-fulfilling.

A Comparison

So I compare the three perspectives: ● Those who twitch and moan (“those who manifest”), ● Those who eagerly watch the manifestations, and ● Those who stand back and judge. (Note: I have been all three of these people.)

One could make a biblical argument to each of these three people for the validity of physical manifestations (referencing Matthew 17, or 28, for example). But it’s my experience that the first group doesn’t need the argument, the second group isn’t paying attention at the moment (but will ask about it later), and the third group can’t be convinced, no matter how biblical the argument.

In my mind, the more important issue is the question of fruit: what kind of fruit does this encounter produce in each of the three groups? Let’s look at them in reverse order:

  • The critics are an easy one: their fruit is bitterness, judgment, and anger. That doesn’t sound like it represents God well. Therefore, I decline to partake of this fruit.

  • The curious observers are easy as well: they manifest genuine hunger, honest questions, eager anticipation, or legitimate confusion. They are willing to listen to testimony and teaching on the topic, but will judge both by what they’ve seen. Most of these onlookers will become participants before long. These characteristics (these fruit) seem to reflect God’s character well; they fit well on his children who are growing and learning. I find this to be very nice fruit.

  • The fruit of those who manifest is harder to classify, because it’s so varied. Some, like my friend the sound guy, have an honest encounter with God and get up changed. Those are easy to discern: that’s God! But some seem to have an honest encounter with God, but develop a fixation on the encounter, missing the God whom they encountered, and these seem to be less changed. I find good fruit in some people, and less desirable fruit in some others.

The conclusion I’m coming to in all of this is this: I like some of what goes on, and other aspects, I’m ready to distance myself from. I have decided that what happens between them and God is really none of my business, none of my business. My business is about being impacted by God myself.

Some may ask, “But what about those who you lead? Don’t you have a responsibility to them? Shouldn’t you warn them?”

This is a good place for a testimony, a story: Some time ago, I took a group of fairly intellectual young believers on what we called a “Field trip.” We visited a church who had a guest speaker that was known for these kind of manifestations. I intentionally did not tell the group what to expect, except to say, “It will likely be different than you’ve experienced before.”

Sure enough, God showed up, and people started falling, twitching, moaning, whatever. Two ladies were convinced that this was fake, but were hungry for God enough to get prayer. They had been convinced that the pastor was pushing people over, and they stood there, braced against pushing, hands in their pockets, as he lightly touched their heads. When he removed his hands from their foreheads (and not before), they both fell down backwards (caught and lowered gently to the ground by people less skeptical than themselves). Twenty minutes later, hands still in their pockets, they woke up, confused as to how they had landed on the floor, but excitedly chattering about their encounter with God during the time they were out.

Another time, I took another young believer to a similar meeting, but the results were different. We talked about it afterwards, and she was indignant: “He pushed me! That’s just wrong!” I probed further, “So you’d say this was not God?” “Well, he sure wasn’t working with God! I landed on my back, mad, because he pushed, and because he wanted so desperately for me to fall down. But while I was there, God said, ‘While you’re here, do you want to make the most of the time?’ and then he showed me some really cool things while I was lying there!”

We concluded that the minister was, for whatever reason, relying on pushing, rather than on God, for the manifestations. But we also concluded that God likes the heart that is eager to interact with him, and is willing to use people’s fleshly and inferior responses in order to reach his eager children.

So in regards to the question of pastoring, my conclusion is this: If I am leading people to myself, then I guess, yeah, I need to have all the answers to all their questions. But if I’m leading people to God, then the measure of success of my pastoring them is this: do they know God well enough to discern for themselves?

Yes, I’m there to help them process the experience, and that’s valuable to them. But my role is not to make their judgments for them; rather my job is to support them in their own encounters with God, and to encourage them to encounter God.


Ministry Flows From Relationship

This God that you and I follow is an interesting fellow.

Some time back, he went through a lot of work, starting with, “Let there be light,” and then using that light to make the sun and the moon, to make planets and stars, then to make plants and fish and antelopes and woodpeckers, and finally to make a species of beings – we call them “human beings” – in his own image. “And,” he said, “It’s really good!”

And God worked hard enough during those six days of creation, that when he was done, he – God – had to rest, for a whole day.

And when he had finished this amazing work of creation, what did he do? What did he do with this thing that took six days of God working to create?

Why, he went for walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, of course.

That was the high point of creation. God went through all of Creation for one thing: a relationship – a friendship – with his creation. God made us so that we could be close with him, so that we could be intimate with him.

And God said, “It’s really good.”

And that’s been a priority for God ever since: that we’d be close friends with him, and we’d be close friends with each other.

And you know the story: Adam & Eve sinned, and our race fell out of close relationship with God, but God had a plan to deal with that – a good plan, but it was an expensive plan. And through Jesus, we have a way back to close friendship with God.

And God still says, “It’s really good!”

For thousands of years, humanity related to God through Moses’ Tabernacle, and later through a Temple built on the Tabernacle’s laws. But for a very few of those years, King David had a tabernacle – a tent, essentially a pup tent – in his back bedroom or his back garden, where he and his friends worshipped God side-by-side, intimately, face-to-face, with nobody in between.

Both tabernacles fell into disuse over the centuries. And God has not chosen Moses’ Tabernacle, the place with tradition and history, as the model for New Testament worship. He chose to restore David’s Tabernacle, the place of informal intimacy, and he specifically emphasized that this was the way we relate to him: intimately, personally.

In these New Covenant days, God has completely affirmed this value. When the Son of God stepped into space and time as a human, he called a some human beings and “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”

Clearly, their efficacy at preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons came from being with him.

I love how Jesus described our relationship from his point of view. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus considers you and me to be so precious, so alluring, that he sold everything – in Bible terms, “He laid aside the prerogatives of his deity,” and became one of us: God became human – so that he could have that intimate relationship with us again. We are his treasure!

And that’s been our foundation for doing anything worthwhile ever since. We’ve been saying it this way: “Ministry flows out of relationship.” Relationship with God. Relationship between us.

Without that, the best we have to give, is just us. Without an intimacy with God, there’s nothing supernatural to give.


Prophetic Obligations

Prophetic Obligations

I’ve been reflecting recently… no, that’s a cop-out. Let me try again:

God has begun to speak to me about some things in relationship to the prophetic gifts, and about some ways that the church as a whole has let prophetic people down. We who teach others how to hear God – how to prophesy – we have in some ways failed the very prophetic community we train. This began, I believe, with good intentions, and with accurate instruction, but without enough wisdom.

When we teach people to prophesy, we have been very intentional about “lowering the bar” of hearing God’s voice. That’s a good intention, but it does a disservice to our brothers and sisters who are called to prophetic ministry. Let me explain.

When we teach prophecy, we generally teach newcomers how Jesus said (in John 10:27), “My sheep hear my voice.” So if we’re his sheep, we hear Him speaking to us. The challenge is not to learn to hear his voice, but learn to recognize it, learn to discern his voice from among the other clamoring voices. That’s good, and I still stand behind this teaching.

We teach them from Luke 11:11-13:

11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

When we are asking God for a manifestation from the Holy Spirit called the gift of prophecy, then we should be able to trust what we hear, what we see, what we “get” when we’re asking.

And as part of that training, we put limits on prophesying: we teach that (as 1 Corinthians 14:3 says), “He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” And so we limit the topics accessible to prophecy to this realm.

When we teach people the basics of prophecy, most of our teaching is in the context of personal prophecy. In fact, the vast majority of prophetic training I’ve seen or heard (and that’s a lot!) assumes the context of personal prophecy, in a public setting, and it emphasizes the limits of “edification, exhortation, comfort.” No predicting the future, thank you very much; no declaring judgment, no “You must marry this person,” no “Sell everything and move to Africa.” Just prophesy these: edification, exhortation, comfort. The end.

Within those limitations, there’s plenty of room for a whole lot of valuable prophecy. It is a significant and valuable venue for prophetic ministry, and there is much good that can come from prophecy within these limits.

Are these limitations on every exercise of all prophetic gifts? No, the Bible gives these limits for public exercise of the gift of prophecy. They’re pretty good training wheels for training rookies! But this isn’t the whole story.

There are actually three lists of gifts from God in the New Testament, and the prophetic is the only gift common to all three lists. The gifts from Holy Spirit are enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12, including the gift of prophecy, and the related prophetic gifts of the “word of knowledge” and “the word of wisdom.” The gift of prophecy is the focus of 1 Corinthians 14, and this is where the limitation of “edification, exhortation, comfort” comes from.

There’s another list of gifts, often called “motivational gifts” from God the Father, in Romans 12, and this list also includes prophecy. Here, the only limitation to prophesying is “let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” I observe that this passage assumes that not everyone works in this level of the gifting; only some of the Body are gifted by the Father to minister regularly with the gift of prophecy.

The list of gifts from Jesus, the head of the church is in Ephesians 4, and it includes the gift of the prophet. The limitation here – a limitation on all five of these gifts including the prophet – is that the gift is to be used “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” Here too, the passage assumes that not everyone has this gift: only a few members of the Body are called to be prophets.

So it seems the full range of prophetic giftings are not limited to only prophesying “edification, exhortation, comfort.” The calling of a ministry in the prophetic, and the calling of a prophet are not subject to those limitations at all times. (Though I would argue that the vast majority of prophetic words coming from someone called as a prophet should still fall into these guidelines, but “the vast majority” is not the same as “all,” which is how we’ve taught it.)

There come a couple of problems, when people take the prophetic gifts outside of those beginning limitations: we don’t make much room for other applications for the gift, and we don’t show people how to minister outside of those areas. Since most training for prophetic gifts has been designed as an introduction for everybody, the content has necessarily been limited to the aspects of the gift that apply to everyone.

And this is the exact focus of my concern: that when we have lowered the bar to include everybody in the prophetic training, we have failed to train two-thirds of the prophetic gifts described in the Epistles; we’ve generally failed to train any application outside of the prophetic outside the realm of rookies.

Where might gifted people appropriately take prophetic gifts outside of these rookie limitations?

1. Prophetic evangelism: prophesying to strangers on the streets and in shopping malls is becoming fashionable in many Christian circles, and it’s wonderful that the church is finally taking prophetic ministry to the streets, and I’m thankful for it.

The risk is small here, and there are usually (but not always) experienced leaders around to help temper the prophetic words given, and to train the givers of those words. There has been very little training focusing even partly on how to prophesy to non-believers, and this is a surprisingly different skill, a different (and appropriate) application of the prophetic gift. On the other hand, prophesying to strangers on the streets strikes me as a reasonable way to learn how to prophesy to strangers in the streets.

Recently, a friend of mine was sitting in a restaurant after hearing a very bad report from her doctor; she was questioning the promises that God had given her, which the doctor’s report had just challenged. Then a man she’d never met came up to her, apologetic and nervous, and told her, “God told me to tell you, ‘Never question in the darkness what I have told you clearly in the light.’” It rocked her world, and put her back on course, though her battle is not yet over.

I judge that this is an excellent use of prophetic gifts which falls outside of the traditional “personal prophecy in a public meeting,” but generally within the traditional limits of “edification, exhortation & comfort.”

2. Daily guidance. I don’t subscribe to the theory that God must tell me everything to do in my everyday life, but I know people that do expect God’s leading them in each little detail of their daily life. (We’ll leave the very appropriate questions of the degree in which personal guidance is appropriate for another day.) More to today’s point is the issue that very little training is given to the topic of daily guidance for believers. And yet, I believe that hearing God say, “Today, I want you to do this,” is a very valid use for prophetic gifts. Our initial verse tied the two together: “My sheep hear my voice,” is linked with “they follow me.”

Jesus said of himself, “…whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19 So I suppose if we’re going to be like Jesus, we’re going to need to know what Father’s up to, so we can (like Jesus) join him in that work.

There have been times when I have heard God say, “Turn around and go back and talk to this person,” and that experience has been the turning point of an amazing new season in my life. This application of the gift has certainly been valid in my experience, though it, too, is outside of traditional prophetic training..

3. Public prophetic declarations, especially on the internet. It seems that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of websites nowadays where someone, eager to prophesy, and (usually) with some measure of a prophetic gift, makes a public presence. Many of these start posting “prophetic words” – just like the big name prophets – addressing everything from what they think is wrong with the church, to “God’s word for this year,” to prognosticating when Jesus is going to come back and what He’s going to do when he gets here. (I confess to thinking that some of these outbursts may be an example of individuals falling short of the instruction, “let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.”

Let me hasten to point out that having a website or making public declarations in no way either validates or invalidates a person’s prophetic gifting or calling. My point is that while they may have been trained in “how to prophesy,” they have not been trained for this kind, this level of public ministry, and that knowing how to “hear God’s voice” is not a sufficient foundation for a public prophetic ministry.

And I must add that while there are a lot of eager little rookies foolishly prophesying their guts out on their blogs or on Facebook, there are some individuals who are called to a larger realm of ministry, and whose assignment it is to make such decrees. (I include a very small sampling of them – public words that have been judged by other prophets – on the Northwest Prophetic website.)

4. Prophetic correction. I have far more stories than I wish I did about people learning to hear God and suddenly recognizing that other people are doing things wrong. There are many, many people who have received prophetic words, generally uninvited and unwelcome, which outline just how badly they’re screwing up.

It is fair to point out that most of the “prophetic correction” that is sweeping the internet is in error (certainly by motivation, if not by content), and while that may be a symptom of the topics in this article, it is not to our point today.

I don’t deny that correction, on very rare occasions, becomes a very tiny part of mature prophetic ministry (1 Samuel 13:13 may serve as an example). I point out that the training we give is insufficient for this work, and that this is occasionally a legitimate exercise of the prophetic gifts outside the traditional limitations.

But on the other hand, I know of a few leaders who have fallen into sin, whose sin was revealed prophetically, and nearly always to their own great relief. In every single successful case, the revelation was presented to a small group of leaders, and the leader in question had been invited to be present. This is clearly not an application for “proclaim it from the mountain tops!” Matthew 18 guides us in this process.

5. Directive prophecy. Most teachers on prophetic gifts are clear: personal prophecy is not for the purpose of correction or direction. And again, this is a tiny part of the greater arena of prophetic ministry, but it is a part, and traditional prophetic training makes no preparation for this: neither for teaching us how to prophesy direction, nor teaching the body how to discern, judge and respond to directional prophecies.

While there are models of this kind of prophecy in the Old Testament (Samuel’s is one of the more exciting); in fact, it made more sense in the Old Testament, since only a few people had the Spirit of God and could access God’s perspective on the future. By contrast, we now live in a day when the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, and every one of God’s children has the Spirit living inside them and directing them. Therefore the most effective use of directive prophecy today is generally in confirmation of what a person is hearing already, and in fact, I generally counsel the recipient of such prophecies to ignore them if they are not confirming something already in their heart and mind.

In my own life, there was a season where Papa required that I pray 1 Corinthians 14:1 before I pray for anything else that day; I petulantly prayed the verse every day, but told nobody about it. Some time later, a prophet called me out and said, “God says you’ve been asking him for prophetic gifts, and he says that it has been his plan to give them to you.” It changed my world.

6. Direction for our personal lives. “Shall I marry this person?” “Do I accept this job?” “What is my calling in life?” Certainly, this is similar to “personal prophecy,” but these questions are waaay outside of “edification, exhortation and comfort in a public gathering.” But they’re powerful and vital questions that cannot go unasked, and theoretically should not go unanswered. And it seems that there are never any good experienced, prophetic leaders around when people are asking these powerful questions in their private times with God.

I have often been frustrated by the emphasis some of us put on having God tell us what we should do, when he has given us a powerful free will, and when our own desires measure so strongly in the subject. In fact, when I asked Papa whether I should marry the woman who is now my wife, his answer was, “Son, you may marry her.” The emphasis was that my choice was very valid for my marriage.

Having said that, there are a very few occasions where God clearly points out who a person will marry, though if such a word is not a confirmation of something in our own heart, I would seriously question the word. (That woman, now my wife, heard God say to her, “He will be your husband” while I was engaged to another woman; she very wisely said and did nothing on the subject until after our second anniversary.)

7. Working with apostles and apostolic teams. While I know a number of prophets who do work with apostles, I don’t know a single one who has had any significant training in that line of prophetic work. But I judge that this ministry, when done well, is likely one of the most valuable parts of the prophetic ministry of someone called as a prophet.

My favorite example of this ministry was a few years back when Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets were called by God, as a prophet and an apostle, to visit all 50 states and make declarations about them. Their declarations were powerful, and their interaction was wonderfully instructive.

I realize the mixed message here: Yes, the limitations commonly taught (of “edification, exhortation, comfort”) are valuable, but no, those limits are not absolute limits.

My focus is about some concerns about prophetic ministry today, about how well we have trained our people to hear God’s voice, and how that is insufficient for many of the prophetic tasks and responsibilities before us.

Many years ago, shortly after I began to understand how to hear God’s voice, my young family and I were given an invitation. A friend of ours was moving to Canada to plant a church, and he invited us to join him. Of course, we took this to prayer, and in response, I heard God saying, “What do you want to do?” which I interpreted as permission to quit our jobs, sell most of what we owned, and start over in Canada. What resulted was a two-year exercise in persistence in an endeavor that God was clearly not blessing, followed by a decade of recovery from that failure.

Had I learned the skills that I needed to discern far larger issues than “personal prophecy, in a public gathering, aiming at edification, exhortation, comfort,” I believe I would have been better equipped to make that decision, and better equipped to handle the consequences of it.

This is my hope: that we as a maturing prophetic community would move beyond the valuable but baby-steps beginner’s training of “personal prophecy, in a public gathering, aiming at edification, exhortation, comfort.” I envision training schools (a few have already begun) and competent mentoring (I’ve seen greater advances here) where we are addressing not just beginner issues, but real-world issues of those called to prophetic ministry. I look forward to regional communities of mature prophets, raised up as sons and daughters by mature prophets and apostles, ministering in the “gates of the city” in every city or region, at least in the Northwest, and ideally, in the world.