I’m going to post a 3-part thing I wrote on the spiritual gift of prophesy. Tragically, it might offend everyone. Part 1 will offend cessationist believers. Part 2 might offend Charismatic believers. Part 3… everyone else. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes. Anyways, read on… IF YOU DARE (maniacal cackle)!
In a little sideroom of “Revival Fellowship,” (a happening church in Town City, California), about two dozen people sat in a circle of chairs, talking and joking with one another. A little sign on the outside of the room said, “Prophetic Training, taught by Micah Smith.”
A young man in his early twenties sat and looked around the room nervously. He was white with blonde hair and wore glasses. He had a smooth complexion devoid of facial hair. His neighbor (an older black guy a coupld years his senior) turned to him, “What’s up. Your name was Tom, right?”
“Yeah,” Tom said slowly. “Have we met?”
His partner replied. “Yeah. I’m Bill. Don’t worry about it. You’re pretty new here, right?”
“Right. Four months, so far. I’ve really enjoyed this church.”
“Is this your first time at a prophetic training?”
“Yes. It’s something that caught my attention, so I wanted to see what it was like. Prophesy and all this is still really new to me.”
However, before that statement could be explained, Micah walked into the room with a wave and stood at an open end of the circle. He had arrived exactly three minutes late. Micah was a truly tall caucasian man in his fifties. He had a well-trimmed beard but a bit of a gut. He wore a huge smile. He quickly got the meeting started.
“I’m Micah Smith, for those who don’t know me. I lead the prophetic ministry here at R.F. Please refer to me as Prophet Micah.”
He paused awkwardly, as though expecting some kind of reaction. “Come on, that was a joke. Nobody better refer to me as Prophet Micah. One of the things you’ll learn today is that if you go around referring to yourself as a prophet, it actually harms your ability to minister prophetically. Anyways…”
He got a few other preliminaries out of the way. This was a six week class, two hours each Sunday afternoon, etc. etc. After a few minutes, he began teaching.
“I want to start with a correct definition of prophesy. Prophesy is simply hearing from God and speaking it out. It usually doesn’t relate to any future events and does relate to God’s heart in a matter. When you prophesy over someone, you’re trying to answer the question, ‘God, how do you love this person, today?’ Answer that, and you’re prophesying. Even if you’re just quoting a Bible verse to them, you’re prophesying.
“All Believers can prophesy. Here’s a few verses to back that up:
“I Cor. 14:1: ‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.’ If we’re commanded to seek out the gift of prophesy, we should be able to find it. God wouldn’t command us to seek something out if he’s just withholding it.
“I Cor. 14:5: ‘I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would much rather have you prophesy.’ If Paul wanted everyone to prophesy, it’s for all believers.
“And one more verse for you (still in I Cor. 14). This one mentions everyone prophesying. Verse 25: ‘But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everyone is prophesying…’
“And if God is continually loving everyone, then why can’t any Christian deliver a prophetic word to anyone at any time by listening to Him and being filled with His Spirit?
“So, what does prophesy look like? Prophesy can take the form of images, specific words, Bible verses, or just about anything: God is creative. Sometimes a person gets an image that seems completely random: macaroni and cheeze. Yet maybe that means something to the person they’re supposed to tell it to. So, speak it out! Don’t be afraid. This is a safe environment for you to all learn in.
“One final word of caution. I Cor. 14:3 “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening and encouragement and comfort.” Prophesy is never meant to condemn. That’s not communicating God’s heart. Also, when you’re beginning to learn to prophesy, don’t give a prophetic word that’s negative or confrontational. If you have something like that, run it by an experienced prophet first. Over the years, I’ve watched tons of young people get in trouble by ‘prophesying’ to people they’re angry with.
“Ok, let’s divide up into groups. We’re going to practice. Before we start, any questions?”
Tom raised his hand and asked, “Practice? Does it really make sense to practice prophesy? Where do you see that in the Bible?”
The teacher gently answered this familiar question, “Well, prophesy isn’t the only gift that we practice. People practice evangelism, teaching, and so forth. Does the Bible mention practicing those? The point is that we can’t expect someone to be instantly mature in prophesy. If that were the case, we’re have a fear-based congregation, and no one would prophesy. We’re learning to hear the voice of God, here, and that’s a process.
“By the way, that’s also why you don’t attach ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ to your prophesies. We really want to respect God’s name and His Word, so as young prophets in training, it’s better to say ‘I’m getting a picture of…’ or ‘This is what I’m sensing.’ Speaking like that gives grace for being wrong or making a mistake. It doesn’t make you sound infallible. Anyways, everybody pair off. Try to pair with somebody you don’t know.”
The room quickly divided up and Micah gave more instructions. “Ok, we’re going to practice prophesying over the person you’re with. Take a moment of silence and ask God, ‘How do You love this person, today?’ Then sit there for a minute, and whatever comes to your mind, share it. We’re not trying to call out someone’s destiny to go to Africa as a missionary. You’re seeking an encouraging word or an image. And after you’ve delivered, ask them: ‘Does that resonate with you?’ And if not, try to be gentle with your answer, because you’re next.”
Tom paired up with a young girl named Jessica. She’d been a Christian for less than a year and wore a big smile on her face. They exchanged introductions.
“This is so awesome! I’m so excited to prophesy,” she said. “Ok, can I go first? Let’s see.” She sat silently for a moment, her eyes wide open but not focusing anywhere. Then she opened her Bible, closed it, and looked up to Tom. “I got two things over you. The first was Ephesians 7:4 over you, but I looked, and that’s not in the Bible. But I also saw that God has given you a lot of discernment and wisdom and maturity. You’re like an aged wine that’s better because it’s older. Uh… not that you’re old, but you’ve been a Christian for a while, and that’s good. Does that resonate with you?”
Tom thought for a moment. “Well, maybe a little, in a very general way, but not strongly.” The girl looked down in saddness, and the young man tried to cover his tracks. “But, well, thank you.”
“Ok, your turn,” she said, quickly recovering and smiling.
He bowed his head and folded his hands. How do you love this girl today, God? He asked. His thinking continued. I’m not saying I’m some amazing prophet. I’m not trying to speak for God. I’m just trying to encourage this new friend with something from the Spirit. He’s not going to smite me if I get it wrong, but man, this feels weird. “I think that God is really bringing about a lot of restoration and healing in your life right now, and this season is really important for that reason,” he told her. “Oh, and does that make sense for where you’re at?”
Tears formed on the edges of her eyes. “You have no idea how accurate that is right now!”
The young man couldn’t help but to notice how generic his “word” was. How strange. He started thinking. Our words were both pretty non-specific, but she almost cried when I said that to her. I guess we’re just really different personalities. Someone like this girl doesn’t see all the complexities and statistics of generic prophetic words. She just got encouraged and felt like I spoke something from God.
Around the room, people tried. “Well, I can see you’re pregnant, and God is going to minister to you so much through this child.”
“God says that He doesn’t look down on you for your past.”
“I see an Egg McMuffin.”
“Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…’”
“…And there’s this huge, deep blue lake, and the swan is diving into it, and these snow-capped mountains are all around. And then swan dives off a waterfall, and into a green pool at the bottom, and there are thornbushes all around the pool, but the swan explodes through the thornbushes and flies into a beautiful sunset over the ocean.”
Part 2: Conversation
A few days later, Tom sat in a nice little Thai food restaurant with a friend named Paul from his previous church, ReBible
Fellowship. They sat over a steaming plate of noodles and chatted about the last couple months of their lives. “So, we had this prophetic training last week.”
Paul’s face took an incredulous look. “Prophetic… training? Fascinating. And you actually went?”
“Yeah, I’d heard of prophetic trainings and always had been a bit skeptical, but I wanted to see firsthand what it was
like, rather than writing it off as heresy based on hearsay.” He chuckled at his own joke. It wasn’t the first time he’d
“Do you think it’s Biblical to do something like that?”
“Well, we try to train up evangelists, right?” And Tom summarized a good part of the teaching from the Sunday before.
Paul listened carefully as they finished their food, interjecting a few questions now and again before he voiced his opinion. “Well, at least you’re not trying to add to the canon. But still, there’s some parts I don’t like. For example, that part at the end about ‘whatever you see is from God for that person.’ That seems like a rather naïve way to approach hearing God. Maybe the reason I have an image of pipes in my head is because I was playing Mario Brothers an hour before the meeting. That teaching just doesn’t take basic human whims into account. Sometimes, our minds just come up with things, and that’s not God speaking. I feel like with trainings like that in a church, you’d get weird people who are convinced that every whim of their mind is the word of God. If anybody clears their mind and ‘waits for a word,’ they’ll get some kind of image, Holy Spirit or not. That’s just basic human nature. I’d say that images like that are pretty meaningless when you take that into account.”
“See, I disagree with that,” Tom said. “I do believe God can speak through a mental image, but it’s just not every mental image is from God. I’ve known people who’ve been really impacted by some of those funny images.” It’s funny, because somehow, Tom was the type of man who tried to get people to play fair. Around his new, Charismatic church, he’d defend the Evangelical Free and Calvary Chapel sectors of Christiandom, where around his old friend Paul, he’d try to give a fair hearing for the prophets.
Paul continued. “Anyways, we could argue about little things like that, but let’s cut to the core, shall we? The biggest thing I’m hearing from you about the Pentecostal idea of prophesy is that definition. He said it was ‘hearing God’s heart’ or something like that, right?”
“Yeah, basically hearing from God for another person. Do you have a better definition?” Tom ignored the word “Pentecostal.” They were “Charismatic,” and he’d told that to Paul a million times, but it just didn’t seem to sink in.
“Yes. Prophesy is speaking for God! There’s a weightiness to it that training didn’t capture. You just can’t go around saying you’re prophesying and making all kinds of mistakes. At the very least, it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain. At worst, it’s something of a blasphemy. If you just want to encourage someone, then don’t say ‘this is prophesy,’ because that’s saying that you’re speaking for God. And if you’re speaking for God, you better be sure of what you’re saying! And if prophesy is just vaguely hearing God’s heart for someone, then does the word still mean anything?
“I mean, God speaks in many ways: through the Bible, through wisdom, even through impressions. And if we just take God’s word through the Bible, I could say John 3:16 to you any time of any day, and bam, prophesy, because that’s always God’s will for you. Or if we take God speaking through wisdom – say that you’re doing terribly in school. And I determine that it’s because you’re watching too much TV. ‘God’s will for you is to cut down on the TV,’ I say. Prophesy!” He waved his hands in the air.
“The way your training went, it sounds like prophesy revolves around giving minor, insignificant, personal insights. If that’s prophesy, then any psychologist is a skilled prophet. Heck, if prophesy is that easy, then my last pastor, who vehemently denies the spiritual gifts, prophesies all the time in marriage counselling situations. It’s almost like the Pentecostal–”
“Charismatic,” Tom interjected.
“–World isn’t as unique as they think in possessing prophesy; they just have too wide a definition of it.”
When Paul’s mind got into debate mode, he got carried away. A waitress dropped the bill as he continued. “However, what about big prophesies? At the very least, prophesies that change the course of individual lives. But what about world events, calls to repent, etc? If someone came into your church carrying that kind of a ‘word’ but couldn’t read your palm (so to speak), would they be a prophet? Or say someone like Martin Luther came along and reformed the way we do everything. I call that prophesy in the biggest, most major sense. That kind of prophesy changed the world. But Luther didn’t look deep into your eyes, wait for a picture of a blue unicorn, and give it to you to hold like a stuffed animal. You haven’t really created a prophetic church; you’ve killed prophesy.”
“Little harsh there, don’t you think?” Tom asked.
Paul suddenly noticed that a few other customers in the restaurant were looking at him. “Sorry, maybe a little. But it bugs me to put prophesy in a box of little ‘words’–” he made quotes with his fingers “–given on demand when God’s got to be speaking bigger things to people – if He’s really speaking. I just hate to dress up a scarecrow in camel’s hair and call it a prophet. I want the real thing. Something I can’t deny!”
“I know, and I’ve been in that place,” Tom said. “The funny thing about that place is that you can always find reason to deny the obvious work of God right in front of your eyes, and I still do, sometimes. Without an open heart, you can look at a healed man and say ‘He did it on the Sabbath.’”
He pointed straight at Tom. “You calling me a Pharisee?”
They paused in silence for a moment, then the two old friends both collapsed in laughter, breaking the tension. Paul slipped his credit card onto the bill plate. “You paid last time, right? I think it’s my turn. Look. I just don’t want to cheapen God’s voice by calling every true statement in the world a prophesy.”
“Well, I think you’re missing one piece,” Tom said.
“Prophesy has a certain ‘now’ quality to it. I’ve heard people call it the rhema word (Greek meaning the Word of God for right now) as compared to the logos word of the Bible. Quoting John 3:16 or Jeremiah 29:11 may be true, but it isn’t prophetic, because it’s not what the Spirit is saying right now to me. I’m just doing it out of my own head. Quoting a Scripture like that in bad timing can actually wound deeply. If someone is really hurting and I quote a common Bible verse to them (say, Romans 8:28), then it sounds trite, and I seem uncaring. That’s not prophetic, because though it’s God’s plan for their life, it’s not what He wants to speak through me right now.
“And take wisdom. See, I get words for people where I feel like wisdom plays a big part. A girl in my Fellowship Group last week talked about some problems with her dad, and I suddenly knew that she needed to call him and apologize for her part in the fight. I felt wisdom, but there was more: God put all the facts together (plus some extra knowledge) into a whole package of discernment. With just wisdom, I wouldn’t have been able to piece it all together with such confidence. I had this firm sense that ‘this is correct, and it’s God. By the way, didn’t you say you had class at 1:30?”
Paul looked at his watch and spoke in flawless Christianese. “Crud, shoot. I do. Gotta run. Later, Jeremiah!”
Part 3: Prophesy
Tom pulled back his arm and threw hard. The little disc flew straight toward his target. But then it slowed and seemed to come to a complete standstill before veering a sharp left and off into some bushes. Tom sighed. His game was terribly off. The sport, of course, was disc golf, and old favorite of his. He’d spent his first few college years coming in last of his friends, but he made a commitment to come out at least four times a week, and his skills were improving.
Except for today. The day started when a friend from Revival Fellowship cancelled on him (not the voice of God, just school work). He was distracted through the whole game, and now he was six over par on the ninth and final hole. As he tromped towards the big, prickly bush which had eaten his disc, the same thoughts echoed in his mind. He found it funny how sometimes, when you’re alone, the same sentence or two echoes over and over again for hours. This whole game, since he had no one to talk to, two sentences kept circling in his mind, complete with the images of those who spoke them.
“When you prophesy over someone, you’re trying to answer the question, ‘God, how do you love this person, today?’ Answer that, and you’re prophesying.”
“But it bugs me to put prophesy in a box of little words, given on demand, when God’s got to be speaking bigger things to people – if He’s really speaking.”
After a few more bad throws, he finished seven over par, slipped his putter into his black, vinyl bag, threw it over his shoulder, and plopped down in a nearby bench. Only a few other players were out on the course (all doing much better than he had), and two kids played on a see-saw, trying to balance such that they were both in the air.
An older man (maybe in his sixties) sat on a bench next to Tom. He had a slightly wrikled face, but it didn’t carry as many cares as his age. He wore a striped, button-down shirt with some jeans. His hands held a little, round gray hat on top of his lap. He turned to Tom and smiled. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
The words snapped Tom out of his funk. “Ah yes, it is,” he said, watching a few large clouds float overhead.
“Have you lived in this area long?” the man asked.
“No, just a couple years. I go to Town City University. I’m done in the spring.”
“And that frisbee golf is your hobby, then?”
Tom winced at the misnaming of his sport. “Yeah, I enjoy disc golf quite a bit. Between school and” – he walked out on a ledge a little – “church, I need something to simply relax.”
The older man caught his little nuance, like an Ixthus symbol of old, and replied, “Ah, you’re a Believer, eh? I go to Assemblies of God on Traffic Way.”
Tom hadn’t heard of it. “I’m at Revival Fellowship.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that place. The Spirit’s really moving there. I visited once. Lots of young people. Lots of young people.”
The conversation died for a moment. Tom wasn’t sure what to say next.
“Well, I have a word for you,” the old man said. He sat up straighter and looked Tom directly in the eyes (it was a little intimidating). “This is what the Lord God says. You’re in a time of great transition. You are encountering the things of my Spirit in a new way, and the choice is before you to run from them or walk towards them. The choices you make in the next six months will impact the walk you have with me for the rest of your life. You will either walk closer to me or farther from me, but the time for decision is now. Know that I will be with you in those decisions and give you wisdom if you will only listen to my Spirit with prayer and fasting.”
There it was. He’d broken half the rules from Bill’s training and significantly weirded Tom out by speaking in the first person from God’s perspective. But Tom felt his head spin and his stomach turn over. He stared at the old man as if to say, How did you know all that? He couldn’t pick out words to tell the man and uttered a distant “Thanks.”
The old prophet put his rounded hat on his head and stood up straight, bearing great posture for his age. “I hope to see you out here again, young man. I wish I’d followed God half as closely as you when I was your age. You have a good day.”
In the end, all Tom could think was, the voice of God is a mystery to me.
Any thoughts on the subject of the gift of prophesy? Post in the comments, below!