PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
THE DANGERS OF PROPHECY
There are many ways God speaks to man. He
us through the Bible, through teaching and preaching, through prayer,
through circumstances, through others, and through prophecy. Since
prophecy is only one of the ways God speaks to us, what makes prophecy
so potentially dangerous? I have listed nine ways prophecy can be
I have seen many Christians go from one “prophet” to
another seeking a word from the Lord. I believe this does not please
God. Why? Because we are to seek Him. We are not to seek a prophet's
Of course it is proper, even essential, for a
Christian to seek God's will. But it is wrong to seek prophecy. Why? If
we seek after a prophetic word, we are seeking His will solely through
a mediator. We must allow God to communicate His will to us through
whatever means He chooses.
In prophecy, the hearer is relatively passive. In
other means of divine communication such as Bible reading, prayer,
teaching, etc., the learner is an active participant. Learning to
discern the Lord's voice for ourselves through study and seeking brings
the believer closer to the Lord in his daily walk.
If a believer seeks a word from the Lord through
prophecy, he or she is thrusting the burden for the word on another,
thereby potentially abdicating the personal responsibility of hearing
from the Lord for oneself. The Israelites made this mistake early on in
their walk with God. When God displayed His awesome power at Mount
Sinai the people of Israel were terrified:
The Israelites, by this appeal to Moses, were
saying, “Moses, you find out what God wants from us and tell us what we
are to do. We don't want the personal responsibility for learning God's
will. You do that for us.” The Israelites opted for a human mediator!
God wants mature believers who have learned to hear His voice in any
way He chooses to communicate with them.
Another danger of prophecy is that the focus shifts
off God and onto man. There is something in the human mind and soul
that wants to exalt self. I believe it is innate in all of us. This
tendency can manifest itself in the area of prophecy by shifting the
focus onto self, whether you are the one who is receiving the prophetic
word or you are giving it. The, “Wow, I'm special!” mentality can creep
in. Young Christians particularly are vulnerable to this trap. We would
do well to keep in mind Matthew 23:12 “For whoever exalts himself will
be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV).
Closely tied to the problem of man becoming exalted
in the use of the gift of prophecy is the problem of pride. Pride is
almost certain to become a problem in the heart of all whom the Lord
begins to use in speaking prophetic messages. It takes much time and
maturing before God's servants can leave pride behind and speak the
Lord's word in true humility.
And pride can affect the hearers of prophecies as
well, not just the speakers. I have seen pride completely blind an
entire staff of pastors because a “prophet” came to their church. At
first the prophecy was soothing, free flowing, and easy on the ears.
Then the prophecies began to subtly change. They become much more
exclusive in their theme such as, “You are the chosen church. You are
the chosen pastor. You are mighty. God has a special anointing on you!”
As pride began to deaden spiritual discernment in the church
leadership, false prophecies began to flow freely and no one stopped
it! Many lives were adversely affected and the church suffered a
tarnished reputation in the community . . . all because of this
blinding pride stirred up by these “prophecies.”
There is another human tendency that can get us into
trouble in prophecy . . . that of always hearing only what we want to
hear. We are often like the small child who is slow to hear correction
but eager to hear something he or she loves. Most of us have the same
problem only it is in adult form!
Thus, when God does speak to us prophetically, we
place our “colored” interpretation over it. When God says He is going
to do thus or so for us, we immediately think now. God spoke to Abram
and told him he was going to have a son (Gen 15:4-5). But Abram waited
25 years for that son!
Or we build into the prophecy something God never
intended and will not cause to come to pass. Once we have put our own
interpretation on it, or at least our own timing, then we try to make
it happen. The net result of this process is that we become restless
and unhappy when God does cause His word to come to pass and it's not
just exactly what we had in mind.
There are some in the church who try to use prophecy
as a means of control. They abuse the gift of prophecy in an attempt to
control others. From the outset it must be understood that the Holy
Spirit is not the author of this kind of “prophecy.” Usually such a
person has willfully moved beyond the Holy Spirit's control and is
trying to bring his or her own will to pass.
A few years ago I taught on the subject of prophecy
and prophets in Tanzania. After the session a pastor sought me out
privately. His church had just been split through the abuse of
prophecy. Some of the members allowed themselves to be controlled by
the “prophet.” This prophet's quest for total control of the church
ultimately led to the church split.
I have even been told of a church where a “prophet”
would stand every Sunday morning after the pastor had preached and
publicly critique and/or comment on the pastor's sermon!
I am a product of the Charismatic Movement which
swept America in the 1960's. A very popular phrase during those days
was, “the Lord told me.” Yes, I do believe that is a valid
statement--when the Lord has told you. However, the misuse of this
phase can lead to great abuse. I believe the abuse is birthed in a very
subtle pride . . . “God talks to me--regularly.”
This phase sounds so spiritual. Often unseasoned
believers tend to begin to think that every thought they have is the
Lord speaking. Or they begin to think that they must ask God about
everything and, when they do, He will answer them. Have you ever known
someone who says things like, “The Lord told me which dress to wear”
or, “The Lord told me to cook chicken and rice for dinner tonight” or,
“The Lord told me to go to town . . . ” and so forth.
These phrases indicate someone who has a mistaken
idea of how, when, and why God uses His Holy Spirit to communicate with
us. Now certainly there are occasions when the Holy Spirit will tell
you what to wear or what to cook. But, for the most part, God gave us
brains and He expects us to use them on an hour by hour basis for such
mundane tasks. And when we do, we should not mistake this for God
speaking to us. God wants us to be mature to the point that He can
freely communicate to us when He chooses concerning His plans for His
There is a further problem with saying, “the Lord
told me.” It can often be a subtle form of control. If one uses this
phrase it is often meant to end the discussion. Or what wife or husband
can argue with a spouse who says “God told me we should . . . ”? What
congregation can argue with a pastor who says, “God told Me . . . thus
If in fact God has spoken, that's good. But if God
has not spoken and it was your thinking, or your own will, or a demonic
deception, then you are in real trouble. First, you are misusing the
prophetic gift. Second, no one may feel the liberty to tell you that
you are wrong. Or, if someone does, he seems “unspiritual.” For all
these reasons, I personally prefer the phrase, “As I understand it, the
Lord told me . . . ”
The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that prophecy
must be judged. He wrote to the Corinthian church:
I do not intend to expound here on how to judge
prophecy. That subject is covered in chapter four entitled “Judging
Prophecy.” But I will say that the failure to properly judge prophecy
is one of the prime reasons people are abused by so-called “prophecy.”
The concept of a premature prophecy is somewhat
difficult to grasp. One might think, “If God has a word for me I want
to hear it . . . now!” We think that we are able to receive anything
from God and act maturely on it. This is not necessarily so. Remember,
Jesus told His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than
you can now bear.” (Jn 16:12 NIV). What Jesus was saying, at least in
part, was that His disciples were not ready for more at that point in
time. We can be in the same position.
Sometimes the person who has received a prophetic
word does not act with the desired spiritual maturity. Let me give you
an example. Several years ago I knew a young believer who was a new
Christian. He had a remarkable appetite for the things of the Lord. He
devoured God's word and committed much Scripture to memory. In a small
prayer meeting one evening an unseasoned prophet prophesied over the
young man. He said, “My son, the Lord would say unto you that He has
called you to the ministry of a prophet. You shall move in the might
and in the power of the Spirit of the Lord. Yes, the Lord shall do
mighty exploits through you.”
My young friend immediately began trying to be a
prophet in his own strength. When he was not recognized and accepted as
a “prophet,” he felt rejected and became discouraged. His Christian
walk faltered and he drifted away from the church. Ultimately he
backslid. Was the prophecy wrong? No, I don't think so. It was just
several years premature.
During the development of the gift of prophecy, or
the maturing of a prophet, there will be times when the person
perceives something by the Spirit that he or she should not speak out
loud. This is a normal part of the development of the prophetic gift.
(This is also true of every believer as his discernment matures. We all
see things that we simply should not say out loud). When these things
are said inappropriately they can lead to problems.
We are all prone to “helping God” by trying to cause
a prophecy to come to pass. This is especially true if God is a “little
slow.” Let's look at an example from Scripture. God promised Abram a
son. When a few years passed and there was still no son, what did Abram
and Sarai do? They decided to help God's word come to pass.
to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years,
Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her
to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. (Gen 16:2-4
A son named Ishmael was the result of this
“self-help” union. Thirteen years later Sarai bore a son--the son God
promised. That son's name was Isaac, the father of Israel. To this day
Ishmael, the father of much of the Arabic world, and Israel are at
odds. They are still fighting each other!
Any time we decide on our own to help God's word
come to pass, we are acting in the flesh . . . the same as Abram and
Sarai. God spoke to me in the early 1970's that He was sending me as a
teacher of His church among the non-Western nations of the world. It
wasn't until 1988 that the Lord said, “Now is the time.” Because I
understood this principle, the only action I took when I initially
heard this personal prophecy was that I tried to be a diligent student
of God's word and His principles. In other words, I tried to learn all
I could so I would be prepared to go teach. I left the timing and
commissioning to God.
When God gives a promise, through prophecy or
otherwise, our part is to 1) believe it, and 2) make the necessary
preparations. Then we must let God bring it to pass. Otherwise, we act
in the flesh and produce “an Ishmael.”
Ideally we should react to every prophecy the same
way Mary did when the angel Gabriel came to her with the Lord's word.
She said, “I am the Lord's servant. . . May it be to me as you have
said.” (Lk 1:38 NIV).
Most of us are thrilled at the prophetic word God
sends, especially when the word is comforting and encouraging. When the
prophetic word is heavy, goes against our will, or tells us what we
don't want to hear, our reactions aren't always so pleasing to the Lord.
The reactions to hard prophecies are as varied as
the people who hear them. I once heard a very hard but true prophecy
delivered to a church. Sadly, it was rejected. We must learn to discern
the word of the Lord . . . and receive it, even when we don't like it.
Remember the way Eli responded when young Samuel
gave him the devastating word regarding the Lord's punishment on his
household for its sin?
Our intent in writing this book is to help provide
some answers to these problems. The proper biblical approach to this
whole issue of prophecy and prophets is to honor those whom God uses to
shepherd and nurture us. And certainly mature prophets fall into this
category. But we must keep our focus on Jesus. We can, with full
confidence, state that the answer to all these problems is to
continually focus on the person of Jesus Christ. If He is the prime
object of interest in our lives and our churches, the possibility of
deception through any means, including prophecy, is much more remote.
Some pastors look at the gift of prophecy, its
dangers and woes and make what appears to be a safe decision: NO MORE
PROPHECY IN THIS CHURCH! Safe? Yes, but a wrong decision.
The proper response is for those in church
leadership to learn all they possibly can about prophecy, train their
congregations in prophetic giftings, and allow the Holy Spirit to
The Lord Jesus Christ specifically left us with the
Holy Spirit as our counselor and guide. He will lead us into all truth
(Jn 16:13). The benefits of a free flow of the Holy Spirit, including
the prophetic word, far outweigh any accompanying dangers.