As a mother of three girls aged 18, 16 and 12, who are all wonderfully different, I am acutely aware of how dangerous it can be to compare ourselves with others. Having to navigate the teenage landscape of exam results, friendship groups, proms, ballet classes and boyfriends, it sometimes seems like every aspect of my daughters’ lives involves comparison with others (including their siblings) and the need for us as parents to provide constant affirmation and reassurance.
If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us spend far too much time comparing ourselves unfavourably with those around us – making judgements based on what we perceive to be evidence of other people’s anointing and giftedness. This way of thinking is rooted in insecurity and is quite detrimental to our own spiritual growth, and actually ends up preventing many people from learning to hear God’s voice for themselves –
“I could never be as spiritual/anointed/gifted as that person… so why should I bother trying to hear God myself?”
I’m very aware that in certain church circles there is what might be (somewhat cynically) described as a prophetic hierarchy. Everyone knows who the most gifted prophet is, and everyone knows the criteria used to judge relative levels of prophetic anointing: which usually boils down to how many angels have been encountered, how accurate the ‘reading of my mail’ has been, and how ‘spot on’ their words of knowledge have been.
Now I willingly put my hand up and confess to having used these very criteria from time to time in assessing the relative levels of ‘anointing’ of many of the prophetic people I have known over the years. There is something in our human nature that likes to categorise and stratify, to judge and measure, but at the end of the day it’s really unhelpful.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t recognise and honour gifted prophets and appreciate the gift they can be to us. Let’s be thankful for them and the potential they have to hugely bless the community. It’s important that churches can answer the question “Who are our prophets?” – because they can then release them to serve the church with their ministry.
And as a prophetic person myself I am always hungry for more. I want to hear God more clearly and I long for an unhindered flow of revelation. So there is a temptation to use this same judging criteria against myself – sometimes in a healthy way, giving thanks for what God does through me, but perhaps more often in a negative way as I compare my prophetic ministry with others.
Now of course at its basic level the prophetic is simply about hearing God’s voice, and some of us find that easier to do than others. I have spent a lot of my time over the last ten years helping people hear God more clearly and I love doing this. Paul tells us to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1), and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be sharper, clearer and more accurate as we exercise the gift of prophecy.
But the problem with judging and measuring different levels of prophetic ‘anointing’ is that it causes us to be introspective and self-focused, rather than focused on equipping others, and it reflects a very one-dimensional view of the prophetic. It leads us to asking the wrong sort of questions.
Rather than measuring each other’s levels of anointing, and comparing ourselves with other people, a far more profound question to ask of ourselves is “Am I living a prophetic lifestyle?”
I met a friend for a coffee a while ago and he asked me a question along the lines of “What does it mean to be a mature prophet?” In giving him my answer I realised that over the last few months I’ve come to have a much more holistic understanding of prophetic expression and ministry. I believe that a truly prophetic lifestyle is one where we:
- Reveal: reveal the Father’s heart and the light of Jesus to people
- Equip: help other people to hear God for themselves
- Steward: be good stewards of whatever He gives us
Did Jesus measure anointing?
John the Baptist was the last – and greatest – of the old covenant prophets. Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28), but when we examine his ministry we find few prophetic utterances recorded in the pages of the scripture. His significance was not in the quality or quantity of the prophecies he delivered; he was the greatest prophet for the simple reason that he prepared the way for the Messiah and bore witness to Him.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him. Luke 1:76
All John really did was prepare the way for Jesus. Our understanding of John’s role and ministry should inform our perspective on prophecy. There is something about the mature prophetic ministry which opens up the way for Jesus, that goes ahead of the Lord and makes hearts and minds ready to receive His message.
And as I look around at my prophetic friends, the ones I most want to imitate and follow are not necessarily the ones who can tell me what I had for breakfast yesterday, but the ones who are so captivated by the love of God, and who are so committed to following Jesus wherever He leads them, that their whole life is a beautiful prophetic picture: God is revealed to everyone who meets them.
For all of us who desire to really grow in the prophetic, it’s worth reflecting on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. The message of this parable is to be good stewards of whatever we are given. Jesus says that if we are faithful in a little we will be given much. We need to take what we’ve got and invest it well, even if it’s really little.
Some of us wait a lifetime to receive what we consider to be a reasonable level of ‘anointing’, but it’s the people who are prepared to step out in faith with the smallest level of prophetic proficiency that will see the greatest return on their investment. I’m always incredibly challenged by the people I know who, with grateful hearts, put whatever gift God has given them to work with utter determination.
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Matthew 25:21
So let’s choose to have a mature and healthy approach to growing in spiritual gifts and anointing. It’s not about comparing ourselves with others. Rather it’s about pursuing God’s heart, seeking to be a blessing to others, and being faithful stewards of whatever gifts He gives us.