When Prophets are the Enemy of the Prophetic

In last month’s blog Chris Wanstall shared some of the things she’s has learnt about pursuing maturity in prophecy and finding healthy ways to communicate what God puts on our hearts. This month’s blog follows a similar theme as we consider the dangers that an immature prophetic ministry can bring.

The New Testament is pretty clear: prophecy is a gift for all God’s children. A gift to be eagerly desired, that brings enormous blessing as it connects people to the Father’s heart. Over the years I’ve seen the potential of prophetic ministry to bring encouragement, hope and freedom to countless people. And I’ve seen the joy that comes when we realise that we can all join in: it’s not an exclusive gift for a mysterious elite, but a dispensation of grace that the Holy Spirit pours out abundantly. We can all use this gift and be channels of God’s love as we seek His heart for everyone we meet. A healthy prophetic culture is one where there is an active understanding that prophetic revelation is available to all.

So it’s a sobering thought that often the biggest barriers to releasing a healthy prophetic culture are the prophets themselves. All too often the thing that stops people engaging with the gift of prophecy is the immaturity and unhelpful behaviour of prophetic people. By ‘prophet’ I mean the New Testament ‘five-fold-ministry’ prophet that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4: that section of the church who have a particular calling to help the church hear God’s voice. Jesus has given certain ministries or callings to the church, distributing them among all the people as He sees fit. God has made each one of us to fit a certain place where we can serve Him best. These five ministries are given so that the whole body of Christ might grow and mature, that we might live out the unity Paul describes at the beginning of the chapter. That we would become the people Jesus intended us to be.

We get a little glimpse of the mature New Testament prophet from this verse in Acts 15:32:

    “Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to strengthen and         encourage the believers.”

This is a great snapshot of what the prophets were up to in the early church: they were channels of God’s strength and encouragement. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:3, when we prophesy we speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. I would have loved the opportunity to hang out with Judas and Silas and be a recipient of their wonderful ministry.

Alongside bringing prophecies and speaking encouragement, the primary role of the New Testament prophet is to help other people hear God for themselves. Mature prophets do this by laying down their own agendas, and the desire to go it alone, and instead focus on investing in others. They find ways to effectively multiply their ministry and allow others to imitate them. They give people a framework to climb on and an invitation to come and join in.

A mature prophet has a key role to play in establishing a healthy prophetic culture in their church. Their heart will be set on edifying the body by encouraging others to step out and listen to God, and they will model a humble, accountable and community-focused approach to the gift. In fact they will model it in such a way that it’s infectious – people will eagerly desire prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) because they see the fruit of the gift in the mature prophet’s life.

But all too often we see the opposite dynamic happening – immature prophets that actually put people off prophecy. And this is how it happens:  

  • By their attitude and language they imply that this gift is exclusively theirs. Their inability to convey their prophetic experiences in normal, accessible language means it appears unattainable for the rest of the church.
  • Their stubborn independence leads to a lack of accountability and submission. They won’t engage with discipleship and they won’t embrace the common vision of their church family. They end up being a critical voice on the edge of church, quick to point out every problem they see.
  • Their lack of rootedness in community and their avoidance of accountability means they quickly rush into acting on whatever they think God is telling them to do, without the discipline of properly weighing and testing their word with others.
  • Their tendency to speak judgement rather than mercy creates a culture of fear.
  • Because their identity is so caught up in their prophetic ministry, if their prophecies are rejected they feel personally rejected. Anyone who questions their actions or words gets accused of quenching the Spirit.
  • Their lack of humility and grace means they demand to be listened and responded to, becoming frustrated when leaders don’t immediately act on the revelation they bring.

No wonder the response of so many church leaders is to shut down or tightly control any expression of prophetic ministry. No wonder so many church members avoid an active engagement with prophecy.

There is a spiritual battle going on. Prophecy is a wonderful and powerful gift that God has given His church but the enemy hates it and does all he can to twist and distort it . I’m aware of a number of situations at the moment where the desire of churches to develop a healthy and mature prophetic culture is being jeopardised by the attitude and actions of immature and unaccountable prophets. Of course this is exactly what the devil wants.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and long to see prophecy welcomed in our churches, here are some hints on how to be a help rather than a hindrance:

  • Remember: it’s not about you and your ‘gifting’ or ‘anointing’ – rather the focus needs to be on how you can help others hear God for themselves.
  • Actively seek out accountability. Find a safe place of accountability where you can be transparent about your life and ministry.
  • Cultivate a servant heart; read Philippians 2.
  • Get some training on how to communicate your ideas with humility and grace.
  • Look for creative ways to bless your leaders with your prophetic gift.
  • Don’t be weird or super spiritual – aim to be as normal as possible.
  • Hang out with apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors. Choose to learn from them and their perspectives.
  • Follow in Judas and Silas’ footsteps and seek to say much to encourage and strengthen believers – all the time!

Let us heed these words from 1 Peter 4:10:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…”

Help! No one is listening!

For those of us who are ‘prophet’-shaped, one of the challenges of working out a mature expression of our calling and ministry is dealing with the frustration of not being listened to. How do we keep our hearts right? This month’s blog addresses this question and is written by Christine Wanstall who leads Accessible Prophecy in Australasia.

 

Occasionally I will have a blog or a prophecy cross my desk and it is clear that the prophet who wrote it is frustrated by the lack of response to their prophetic gift. Often these prophecies are strong in judgment and condemnation and it is clear the prophet is frustrated. I feel for these prophets. I can feel how frustrated they are and I recognise times when I have been frustrated and angry when I have not felt heard. “Don’t they realise this is from God?” or, “If they had only listened to me they would not have found themselves in this situation.” Often when we find ourselves in these spaces we end up on the edge of community, not being heard and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of frustration, condemnation and judgment.

It causes me to pause and think, as a prophet, how do I make sure I don’t end up in these places? We know communication is a two-way process so if I am not being heard, maybe there is an issue with how I am communicating, rather than the person receiving it not hearing it correctly? Here are a few thoughts I have found helpful in managing my frustration and placing myself in a posture where the prophetic words I communicate can be well received.

Recognise that a prophet is only one of the five-fold gifts that God gives the church

Being a prophet is no more special than being an apostle or a shepherd, teacher or evangelist. Although my gift means that I have a strong connection to the Father’s heart, this is no more important than the evangelist who sees opportunities to speak the gospel or the teacher who helps people understand the word of God. The New Testament talks strongly about being in community and living as the body of Christ.

If I am a prophet who is constantly speaking words of judgment and condemnation, then I quickly become someone that people don’t want to hang around with or listen to. I am learning to value community and trusting that God is able to speak through other gifts, and that I am not the most important super special. It is a humbling experience…

Make sure I am speaking words of encouragement, comfort and words that build up the body

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,” the Lord declares in Jeremiah. It is challenging to take a posture of kindness when I am frustrated and annoyed. If I have a word that is more condemning than kind, I am learning to process these with trusted people who help me work out how to communicate them or to discern if maybe they are just words for me to pray through and not communicate!!

Recognise that I don’t always get it right

Although I would like to think I am perfect – I know that this is not the case! There are times when my own agenda, hurt, frustration, ideas and thoughts come to the fore rather than a genuine prophetic word. Taking a posture of humility means that I recognise that I may not always get things right and that’s ok. My identity sits in relationship with the Father outside of my ability to hear God perfectly. So if the prophetic words are not being heard, then maybe I have got it wrong.

Learning to grow in my prophetic gift

It is important to recognise that my prophetic gift is like any other gift that God gives. It requires me to learn and grow in my understanding and ability to hear God and communicate this well to others. This requires patience and tenacity to find the right place and people to help me learn and grow. I deeply value the Accessible Prophecy huddle process where I find myself in a safe environment to be challenged and encouraged to grow in my prophetic gift. I want to steward well the gift God has given me.

Find opportunities to serve the church and the people in the community that God has placed me in

I need to make sure this is not an attitude of, “Let me serve you a cup of broken glass,” but an attitude of genuine love and care for the well-being and future of the people I am placed with in community. Again this requires humility to genuinely serve people with whom I might feel angry or annoyed. In doing this, it has taught me to see that I need to trust the leaders God has placed me under. This includes trusting them in applying the prophetic words rather than me telling them how these words should be applied. Serving the church means releasing the words I hear and caring for, supporting and loving the people that I am placed in community with.

 

It is deeply challenging to find ourselves, as prophets, in a frustrated and angry place and feel like we are not being heard. I invite you today to consider how we can allow God to speak to us about our frustration and grow in our prophetic gift to serve the body of Christ. Listening to God about what sits beneath our frustration allows us to grow and mature in our gift and we then see prophecy taking its place within the community of Christ as a valued gift to the body.

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From Listening to Doing

We’re delighted to have Brandon Kelly from the States as our guest blogger this month. Brandon is part of the Accessible Prophecy US team.

 

As an apostle, my admiration and appreciation of prophets and prophecy has grown significantly over the past couple of years. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience a prophetic huddle and have spent a great deal of time with prophets, both of which have developed my understanding and experience of prophecy for my own life. There’s one thing, though, that continues to stand out in most interactions that I have with prophets – they spend too much time listening and not enough time doing.

Now to be fair, apostles spend too much time doing and very little time listening. Once during a prophetic huddle, I was sharing how I always immediately respond to what I think God is saying and was considering giving myself a twenty four hour wait time before I acted on anything. Bursting with pride, I thought that I would be an example to the prophets in my huddle of what it looks like to be patient and wait on God. After everyone stopped laughing, I realized twenty four hours is nothing to a prophet. I was challenged to consider a week or maybe more to fully engage with the voice of God and hear clearly what he is saying before I do anything.

This is why apostles and prophets work so well together. Prophets keep apostles on track with what God has spoken, helping them to hear clearly and deeply. Apostles keep prophets moving forward, helping them to take action. When both are represented there’s an equilibrium of listening and doing in the life of the church. What can a prophet learn from an apostle to help them take action on what God has said?

I’ve found that there are five questions that are helpful to ask yourself, and others, when moving from listening to doing:

  1. What’s one way that you can respond to what God is saying in the next two weeks?
    Usually, there’s never any lack of inspiration for large and lofty plans for us to accomplish when we’ve heard from God. The dreaming of what God can do in us and through us can be significant, especially for more profound and memorable prophetic words. However, if we can’t identify the next action step that’s needed to move us on the journey to God’s words, the likelihood is that we’ll never do anything about it. Asking what someone can do in the next two weeks presses them to the next practical step that can be done. If it can’t be done within two weeks, there’s probably a smaller step that could be taken to move them in the right direction. I like the two week timeframe because it allows enough space for unforeseen issues that come up, but is short enough that the action and word remains fresh in your heart and mind.
  1. When are you going to do that?
    Once the next action step has been identified, it’s helpful to get specific about when the action will take place. If you leave out the specifics now, it’s unlikely they’ll get clearer as time passes on. You need a plan for when your response to God’s word will take place. What day will it be? What time will it be? Even categories of time – in the morning… at lunch… – aren’t specific enough. Will you do it before breakfast or right after you wake up? The amount of clarity that you have about your plan now is directly related to the likelihood of follow through later.
  1. Who’s going to hold you accountable?
    When the plan is in place for what you’ll do and when you’ll do it, you need to figure out who can hold you accountable. This isn’t someone who will guilt and shame you for failing to do what you’re supposed to do, but someone to support and encourage you to do the things you’ve said you will do. It could be someone in your huddle, a friend, a spouse, or anyone that you trust will actually follow up with you. It doesn’t do you any good to be held accountable by someone who won’t hold you accountable. It also doesn’t do you any good to lie about what you’ve accomplished, it misses the point of accountability. Be honest and admit when you’ve fallen short. The person holding you accountable should respond with grace and offer support for making your action step happen.
  1. What can you do right now to ensure that it will happen?
    There are often small things that can be done right away to help ensure that the action step gets accomplished. These are usually simple and quick items such as: emailing or calling the person who’s going to hold you accountable, placing the action step on your calendar, writing yourself a note, or setting up a reminder on your phone. If you can do one of these now, you can set yourself up for success later on.
  1. What roadblocks would stop you from doing it?
    We can’t always foresee the road ahead, but sometimes we can anticipate roadblocks before we run into them. If we can identify roadblocks now, we may be able to adjust the plans we’re making or add some steps along the way that will overcome them before they become an issue. Roadblocks could include: not having the right resources (think time, materials, and knowledge), someone who may be adverse to what you’re trying to do, personal fears, spiritual warfare, etc.

Listening to God is vital to the life of a disciple, but equally important is responding to what He says. As we consider taking action, we can set ourselves up for success by putting some additional thought and intentionality into our planning.

What have you found to be helpful in moving from listening to doing?

What other questions might you ask to bring greater clarity to plans and actions?