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…”

Åbenbaring

This month’s blog is written by Anders Lindegaard who is a graduate from The University of Copenhagen with a Masters of Theology. He’s part of Byens Valgmenighed where he leads prophetic ministry. He is also launching ‘Røst’, which is the Danish branch of Accessible Prophecy.

 

Unless you are from Scandinavia or you are, for some reason, familiar with the Danish language, then the title of this blog probably won’t mean anything to you. But allow me to enlighten you with a very small Danish lesson. The word åbenbaring is the Danish word for revelation. It is closely related to the German word offenbaren and is best translated into English as to openly bear/carry something.

For the past nine months I have been intensively studying the prophetic as it was the subject for my Theology Masters thesis. I find it hard to isolate a single aspect of the prophetic and deem it the key purpose of prophecy. It might even be that the purpose of prophecy is entirely relative, since God reveals himself for different people in different ways for a number of different reasons. That being said, I do believe that one of the key reasons for God revealing himself is relationship, which is a concept that is captured in the Danish word åbenbaring.

When we look at the Bible, in particular Genesis, we see how the relationship between God and man was, in it’s original state, one of immediate communication. There was a complete openness where we were able to communicate directly with God. This continuous openness between God and Adam meant that there wasn’t need for any particular moments of revelation. God was showing all of himself all of the time to Adam because he loved him. When you love someone, you desire that other person to be open and transparent. It is absolutely vital. Without openness there is no chance and no room for communication and love to survive. This is the case in every relationship we have with someone.

From the beginning, God was inviting us in to a deep and profound love; a love that already existed within the Trinity. Augustine reflects profoundly on the relationship between revelation and love when discussing the theology of the Trinity. The foundation of the Christian concept of revelation is that God is love and that love can never be love without a person to love, hence meaning that the dynamic bond between the three persons of the Trinity is one of love. This dynamic bond is not only an internal one (Augustine’s words: ad intra operatio) that exists solely between the three persons of the Godhead. It is rather a Trinitarian power that is directed out to other creatures (ad extra operatio). The inner-Trinitarian love between the Trinity’s three persons cannot be separated from the One God’s desire to love others. This means that we are invited into that very love that exists within the Trinity itself.

With the Fall, the immediate openness between God and man was broken and hence revelation became a necessary premise for us to continuously communicate with God. For as we know, God is love! Love is dependent on communication and openness to exist. God’s desire is for us to be part of Him; he desires for the same state as before the Fall. For God then to communicate with man and thereby show his love, he needs to reveal himself to man. God’s love makes revelation a necessity!

Reading the Bible, we see how the Old Testament prophets are the champions of continued openness and communication between God and man; they were his instruments through which he sought to re-establish the broken unity. It is this role of Old Testament prophets that continues with the prophets in a New Testament paradigm.

Revelation is an expression of God’s continued longing to communicate with his people, whom he deeply loves. Through revelation and prophecy God wants to equip, build and edify his people and his church. Revelation manifests as God’s personal words to the individual believer as well as to the church in general. It is an expression of God that still intervenes and cares for his people, both as individuals and the whole church. Hence revelation expresses God’s longing to restore that open and immediate communication that was interrupted by the Fall, which can now only exist through God’s revelation. Revelation allows humanity to access the most insight into who God is.

This understanding of God as being relational and revealing himself in order to show his love was the biggest eye-opener for me growing into the prophetic. Cath Livesey describes my process in her new book My Sheep Have Ears (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

“When Anders moved to a church with a different approach, people started regularly asking him the question ‘What is God saying to you today?’ At first Anders’ response was based on his analysis of the sermon. But as people kept asking him the same question he started to consider the possibility that he might be able to hear God speak to him personally. In this new environment Anders’ mind began to change. As his mind changed he started actively listening for God and found a relational God that was really speaking to him. The new mind-set opened up a whole new dimension of his faith and today Anders hears God with great clarity.”
Cath Livesey, My Sheep Have Ears.

This is why prophecy is so important. It’s revealing purpose in showing people the heart of their loving Father as well as speaking true identity into peoples’ lives, allows them to understand who they really are. It allows them to further understand that they are most beloved children. Prophecy is absolutely dependent on revelation in order to understand and know God and for people to grow into a covenant identity with him.