A little over three years ago, my life fell apart. Up until then, I had success in dreaming my dream, pursuing it, and living and working my dream job. By-in-large, things went the way I wanted them to go, and I was happy, satisfied and fulfilled. Suddenly and completely outside of my control, it all fell apart. I found a new job and moved to Denver Colorado and started looking for and building community. A friend took me to meet one of her friends, who was and elderly missionary who was highly influential in an inter-denominational mission board. After eating lunch together and talking about common interests, he said, “Let me prophesy over you before you go”.
This was a new experience for me. I was raised in more traditional belief systems, and while I was exposed to a level of charismatic variation in college being a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, this was the first time someone so boldly set out to speak God’s future intentions over me. I have absolutely no recollection of what he said to my friend as I was busy praying, scanning through relevant Scriptures in my mind and wondering what was about to happen. He turned to me, grabbed my hands, and closed his eyes. Moments later he began speaking in that spiritual voice we all use when we pray, and he said, “I see you riding on a horse, at full canter. Back where your heart desires.” He opened his eyes, and said that I would certainly be back on path to my dream in just a short period of time.
Even in light of my upbringing and reformed beliefs, I am by no means a cessationist. Many, if not most, in my circles of comfort have lived their entire lives in the Christian West which has come to believe God as sovereign over eternity and over salvation, but not involved in anything supernatural [in practice, at least]. We pray for healing but expect it to come through doctors or time. We pray for intervention, but watch for it in explainable ways. I, however, lived in a third world country for four years where people interact with the Spiritual world on an entirely different level. And while I still wonder if I have the faith required to speak as the local Christians in these situations do, I have seen many miraculous events which directly led to the furthering of the Kingdom, which are inexplicable apart from God’s direct intervention.
In my circles of comfort, they would heartily agree that God continues to work miraculously in pioneering situations, where the Gospel has not yet gone, where there is not yet a Bible or Christian witness, but I do not see that taught in Scripture. I think often times we simply do not have because we do not ask [or believe] (James 4.2-3). If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and if God is sovereign over all creation, then he is both capable and willing to work in ways we cannot understand (Heb 13.8, Ps 103.19).
We also see an interesting example of prophesy in the book of Acts. Again, my background would seek define prophesy as “speaking the Word” or “speaking the authority of God – via the Scriptures”, but we all know – both from reading the Old Testament and from the normal use of the term – that prophecy usually implies telling of the future. It is rare that someone gets up to proclaim Truth (as in the Gospel) and defines it as prophecy.
“On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’ When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done’!”
– Acts 21.8-14
The book of Acts is an historical document that informs us of what happened, often without making a moral claim on the incident. Luke assumes his readers to have a grasp of the Law and the will of God enough to determine God’s intention behind and the acceptability of those actions. Thus, it is exceptionally dangerous to build doctrine based on the actions of a person in the book of Acts without weighing it against the rest of Scripture. That being said, Luke openly names Philip’s daughters as prophetesses and when Agabus spoke by the authority of the Holy Spirit, Paul and his cohorts not only listened, but believed the prophecy to be true. Those present begged Paul not to continue, and Paul had already made peace with that destiny, revealing later that the Holy Spirit had already told him the same thing:
“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”
– Acts 20.22-23
This is a direct foretelling of the future, that was not about Kingdom advancement (people coming to faith) and that was fulfilled, thus validating the prophet. We are taught in the Old Testament to evaluate and test prophets by the occurrence of their prophecy:
“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
– Deut 18.22
Paul spoke clearly of the gift of prophecy in many of his letters throughout the New Testament, and we see him interacting with the prophet Agabus, and we also see that the Spirit directs, warns, and reveals things to come to him. We also believe, as Christians, that Jesus and John in the book of Revelation prophesied about the End Times. And we are left now, in the Church Age, with a wide spectrum of variations on the practice: some completely ignoring it, and others grossly abusing it.
It is so distorted, in fact, that some churches hold prophesy classes and conferences, promising to teach people how to prophesy over one another and assigning people partners to practice. They stand before God demanding that He give a word for another person that is extra-biblical. This is extremely dangerous folks. And many times we end up with a psychic-like vision of a girl, riding a horse at full canter, implying that she will soon be back where she wants to be. What does that even mean? The Holy Spirit told Paul not only that he would be bound, but how and where. It was not a vision left for interpretation, it was cold, hard fact. This man might have seen a bold and driven spirit in me, and thus it would be a normal assumption that I would work diligently to pursue my dream, and thus his “vision” would most likely be self-fulfilling. But God has seen fit to teach me, through this season, to wait on Him and not force my way. For three years, I have waited on Him and learned faith. Quite the opposite of this man’s prophecy.
People also grossly distort prophecy with the prosperity Gospel: “God is going to bless you greatly, good things are coming your way” and similar hogwash. Yes, God has promised that all things will work out for the good of those who love Him, but He has also promised that all who desire to live a godly life will suffer (Rom 8.28, 2 Tim 3.12). Jesus appointed twelve disciples, and eleven of them were murdered. New Churches were established throughout the known world shortly after Jesus returned to Heaven, and the believers were scattered by persecution and murder. Jesus Himself was hated and murdered, and He promised us that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20). Is that your God? Does your lifestyle and expectation of God allow for people to plunder your property and imprison you, and you to respond in joy?
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”
– Heb 10.32-34
So what is the takeaway here? It is simply this: God is bigger than we expect. He not only can, but does speak to us. Often times it is directly through His Word, but He can also speak through His servants as prophets. We cannot, however, force God’s hand to speak through us or to us through another. Prophecy training and/or conferences will put people in a vulnerable situation in which they will get hurt and disappointed in God, expecting extra-Biblical blessings or promises. Promises of vague blessings will be a self-fulfilling prophesy that we super impose on our situations. And God will never promise or foretell anything that is against His nature.
Thus, if you believe that God has given you a word for someone else, test it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently. If it is in any way contradictory to the Word, do not say it – it is not from God. If it is in line with Scripture, then share it boldly – but know that your words will be proven with time. If someone offers you a word from God, immediately examine it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently. If I had taken this man’s word as truth, and pushed through to do what I wanted to do, my faith would be nowhere near where it is today, and I would have missed out on meeting my husband and being a part of wonderful things happening at my local church.
Prophecy played a role in testing Paul’s and the disciple’s faith. Prophecy may play a role in maturing our faith as well. But let us be passionately careful to never place our hope or expectation in the prophecy, but in the God who alone can fulfill it. If the prophecy does not point you to Jesus and to greater faith, it is dangerous and takes our hope from Him and places it somewhere else. Prophecy is extremely dangerous, because it can distract us from our only hope: Jesus Christ. Unless something is promised to us in Scripture, let us hold loosely any other promises or fore-tellings. Let us know that we have been given everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scripture and in Jesus, and anything else is just icing on the cake (1 Peter 1.3).