I had an interesting conversation online recently: we have many people in the church today who claim to be “prophets” but who are clearly motivated by greed or by a need for acceptance or respect. How can we trust that there are any real prophets today?
There are evangelists in the church and some of those seem to be motivated by, um... something less than God's heart. Yet we never question whether the office of the evangelist is now vacant. I know some evangelists who are very skilled in their gift, and others who have a legitimate gift, but have no training, no discipline and inferior motives; who have too few skills supporting their gift.
So too the prophet: some few indeed are motivated by personal gain, whether financial, social or emotional. Their failure does not invalidate the reality of others. NT prophets have a different role than OT ones: the Spirit is now on "all flesh" where in the OT, it was very rare, yet in these "all flesh" days, the ministry of the prophet is still needed. Agabus was one; Paul and Barnabas were too (AC 13). The instruction about prophets (eg 1 CO 12-14) and warnings about false prophets (eg 1 JN 4) indicate their presence in the NT community of faith.
I've known scores of legitimate prophets over the years, a very few who claimed to be prophets and were not, and quite a few folks who were legitimately called to prophetic ministry, but lack the discipline, the skills, the training to use the gift properly. Too many people with real & legitimate gifts prophesy not out of God's heart of love, but out of their own hurts, out of their religious culture, out of "the second heaven" (in contrast to 2 Corinthians 12) as if it were from God.
And of course, when a man or woman of God whom we know and trust says, "God said thus to me", then whether we understand or not, we much discern: either they are deceived, or they are intentionally deceiving you, or they are telling you the truth, though it may be outside of your own experience. I have had prophets tell me what I had prayed in my hidden place the night before: either they are hearing from God, or there's something demonic going on, but it absolutely cannot be explained away. The first man who did it to me, I knew to be a man of God, which eliminated the option of my blaming the devil.
If I am called to be a pastor, I must also acquire training and develop character. Likewise if I am called to be a teacher or an evangelist: I must acquire (and learn from!) training and develop character. In the same way, if I am called to be a prophet or apostle, I must acquire training and character, and personally, I believe these latter gifts require more of both training and character than the former ones simply because we have so many fewer examples of what a godly prophet or godly apostle is. We can always look to Billy Graham as an illustration of evangelist, Jack Hayford as a pastor, John Maxwell as a teacher. It’s harder to point to as visible, as clear an example of a prophet or apostle.
Lack of training or character does not invalidate the office, nor my call to it. It merely invalidates the results of my ministry.
But the elation was short-lived. Our home had everything that we knew to ask for, but there were some things we didn’t know to ask for. In our first week living there, I learned of three drug dealers on our block. I watched drug deals go down at the front door of the house across the street while my kids played in my yard. They knew about that dealer, and they told me about the other two dealers on the block, and which houses they lived in.
This was absolutely not OK with me. I talked to the authorities, and they told me about the standards of evidence that they needed in order to intervene. I talked to other neighbors, and they shook their heads and “tsk tsk’d”.
Then I talked to God. More precisely, I whined at God. “God, why is this going on? This isn’t right! Make it stop!”
It seemed as if he let me vent for a while, and when I paused to catch my breath, He interrupted. “So what are you going to do about it, Son?” Hunh? That stopped my whining immediately. Once my head stopped spinning, I asked more intelligently, “Uh… what can I do?”
He gave me some prayer strategies: some specific ways to address the situation in prayer, rather than through legal means, social means, or whining. The specific strategies aren’t important except that they involved me obeying Him, and they involved me making some particular declarations over my neighborhood. Throughout the process, God used the metaphor of a gatekeeper with me: the one who decides who can come in and who cannot.
So I obeyed: I prayed the things He said to pray for, the way He said to pray it. It was odd stuff, so I did it in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning: I didn’t want someone calling the cops on me!
His instruction to me was to establish some "gates" at the entrances to my neighborhood. That felt really weird. I didn't see anything in the natural, looking with my "spiritual eyes," they looked like the gates of an ancient walled city.
Fundamentally, the decree to the "gates" was: "Welcome in the Holy Spirit, and the human spirits of the people who live here, and their legitimate guests. Keep out every other spirit, human or demonic."
Suffice it to say: it worked. Within 30 days, the three dealers were gone. The one across the street sold the house to a family with a daughter the same age as my daughter. The other two just picked up and left, leaving empty houses. All three houses were soon remodeled.
I was stunned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen prayer answered in more detail than I did in this adventure: first our house, then the removal of the drug dealers. Life was good!
Then my next door neighbor invited a woman to live with him. She brought guests: two silicon implants for him, two full-blooded wolves for herself, and a host of demonic co-habitants. Life was no longer good.
I called every government agency I could think of that might have some authority with wolves: federal, state, and local agents told me time and time again: “No sir, wolves don’t belong in a residential neighborhood, but yes sir, she does have the necessary permits for them. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
I ignored the time that they lunged from the back of her Toyota pickup and nearly ate me. But when they tried to eat my daughter (they didn’t succeed, but just barely – she was unscathed), I confronted the neighbor: politely, gently, because he was a wimpy little guy and I didn’t want to intimidate him. But the wimpy little guy got big and snarly when I suggested that the wolves shouldn’t live there: he cussed me up one side and down the other in his rage, and vowed in no uncertain terms that they were not leaving, not today, not ever!
Hokay! That’s not going to work!
So I tried prayer. Again, I whined at God; again, He interrupted, but more quickly this time. “What are you going to do about it?” Again my slack-jawed “Hunh?” Then He went on, “You’re my representative in that neighborhood. It’s up to you. What’s your decision? Do they stay or do they go?”??
That floored me. I didn’t have a theology to deal with that kind of a question, but I didn’t hesitate. The wolves wanted to eat my daughter, and God was saying that it was up to me? “Heck no! They cannot stay. They have to go!” and I knew I was speaking with the authority of a judge announcing a decree.
That very weekend, they moved out. No explanation. The guy that cussed me out and shouted that they were staying, took their wolf-house down himself, packed it into the Toyota truck and moved it away. We never saw the wolves again, or their owner with the implants, except once, and the Police arrived en masse with drawn weapons to make sure that didn’t happen again. No explanation for that either.
Since then, I’ve tried to exercise this authority in other ways, and when I felt that I was following God’s leading rather than my own, I have found that things often unnaturally change.
I have also found that I need to increase my skill in wielding this power: I watched a porn shop close after I made some decrees, only to be followed by another in its place, and that one was more firmly rooted (though it had a “going out of business!” sign on it regularly). A pagan worship center was closed, only to open up again a couple of blocks away. Both have since gone out of business
These are curious stories, and true ones, but what’s the purpose?
I have developed a couple of guiding principles from these events, and the others that surrounded them (this was an interesting season in my life!):
1) God delegates authority to His representatives in an area. (My “area” of influence was only a couple of blocks; others’ territory may be smaller or larger.)
2) He takes that delegated authority very seriously. When He gives authority, He means it.
I guess there’s a third principle:
3) I probably ought to exercise the authority that I’ve been given, and I probably ought to exercise it for good purpose.
I know I’m nothing special. May I suggest these principles for the life of the church in this season? May I suggest these principles for you?
The Pilgrimgram comes from an elder Pilgrim about the thing we call "church." Seldom politically correct, this is what I hear God saying to and among His Church today. Feel free to share it with others.
Years ago, I worked with a daycare that had a field for their playground; the kids stayed in the middle of the field, or near the building. When we fenced in the field, their behavior changed: now they used the whole field.
The Bible treats us this way. In Galatians 5:13, Paul says "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love." That's freedom within limits: "Yes you're free, but you're also free from sin! In your freedom, don't choose sin."
The Pharisees of Jesus time set a model that is occasionally followed today: "Yes you're free, but you're also free from choosing! In your freedom, don't choose anything." As leaders, they choose to keep us safe from ever making a mistake, ever becoming exposed to anything unhealthy, or anything that could eventually become unhealthy.
And so they set up fences to protect us. Like this poor guy has.
The foundation on which he stands reads "Freedom" but he's fenced in so tight he's functionally immobilized.
The fence around the daycare's playground enclosed about half an acre: there was room where the kids could run all day, wear themselves out. It also enclosed the coolest playground in town: bridges, climbing things, tunnels, a fireman's pole, all custom-designed and hand-made with love. There was so much fun inside the fence that we never had trouble with the kids even wanting to leave. In fact, it was difficult - on sunny days - to bring them back inside after play time was over.
There must be fences around our lives. But the fences must be so big that we can run at full speed as long as we can and still not run into fences. There must be enough play stuff inside the fence - stuff like opportunities to heal the sick, disciple young believers, field trips to glorious meetings, treasure hunts on the streets - there must be enough of a playground that we don't ever want to get out of the fence.
That's the way life in the Kingdom should be!
I love the worship of the big group; it’s often really hard to match that in most home groups. And the teaching in the big meeting is often (but not always) really valuable. There are things that you can do in a big group that you can’t do in a little group.
But the reverse is equally true. There are things you can do in a little group that you can’t do in a big group, really valuable things like making great friends, like sharing your heart, like getting prayed for regularly, like laughing together until your sides hurt, or weeping together in the presence of God.
The combination of the two is priceless. In fact, between the two, I often think the home group is the more important gathering of the two. Not always. Not saying the big meeting is insignificant. Just saying home groups are that valuable.
Too often, I’ve found it too easy to be too comfortable in a big church. If I plaster on a big fake smile and don’t linger too long in conversation in the lobby, I can get away without ever having engaged anyone at all. I can’t get away with that in a home group. And I like that. I need that.
We’re starting home groups in our church. It’s kind of hard work, mostly because of all the bad experiences we’ve had before. We have as much un-learning to do as anything else.
Here are some values we have in our home groups:
• The first rule is that church leadership is not making a bunch of rules for home groups. If you want to start a group, go for it. We’ll help, but we won’t tell you what to do. Well, we’ll try not to.
• You can meet whenever you want, wherever you want, and as often as you want. Homes are always a good place for home groups, but so are coffee shops, pubs, conference rooms and the local shopping mall. Take field trips. Wherever you are, the Church is, so have at it! Be creative.
• Teach what you want to teach. All we ask is that you love God and love people. Then teach what you want. Teach the Bible. Teach from a study guide, from a popular book, from current movies. Or don’t include any teaching in your group. We don’t recommend reviewing this weeks sermons unless the group insists. They’ve already heard that.
• Invite who you want to invite. People from the church. People from the neighborhood. People from other churches. People from other home groups. Heck, you can invite people from other planets if you can figure out where to park their cars. Bring in guest speakers if you like. Or not.
• Relationships are primary. More than teaching. More than acts of service. More than prayer. More even than having a meal together! (Oh my!) On the other hand, there’s not much that’s better at building relationships than praying together, or serving together, studying the Word together or especially sharing supper together.
• If you’re leading a group, you’re choosing to submit yourself to a higher standard of accountability than Joe Schmotz in the back row of the church with the big fake smile. But like Paul Manwaring says, “Accountability is not about making sure you don’t smoke. Accountability is making sure that you are on fire.”
We’ll undoubtedly think of more values as we do this for a while. But for now, this is a good starting place.
Visit Northwest Prophetic for a complete archive of regional prophetic words.
Hope Does Not Disappoint.
Hope Involves the Unseen
Hope is a Fight
Hope Has an Object
Visit Northwest Prophetic for a complete archive of regional prophetic words.