Is it real? Should we seek it?
Part 8 in the series on The Supernatural in the Church
by Terry L. Craig
© 2013, 2015
Jesus chose to live in total dependence upon God (not upon powers, angels, signs, or miracles). He chose to follow God wherever that took Him (to a mountaintop or a cross). As He did so, He received the Father's approval, walked in power, worked miracles, heard God's words, and communed with angels. . . . And some still believe His people can do the same.
So someone starts a statement by saying “The Lord says,” or, “Thus says the Lord,” or, “God told me,” (or something similar) to a group of people or to you in particular--and the statement contains information and/or directives that are being presented as the actual words of the Lord.
Should you heed these words? Is the Lord really speaking to you through this person? Is it nonsense? Is it evil? . . . It could be any of these. How do you tell which one it might be?
In the beginning of this series I said, “Given the voracious hunger for supernatural experiences in the world at large and even among many in the Church, it would be WISE for Christians to gird themselves with the Lord's means of discernment.” In different parts of this series, we’ve looked at important components in discernment when it comes to supernatural displays.
Although I will discuss false prophecies later in the article, I want to first discuss what true prophecy is.
The purpose of prophecy as stated in the New Testament is to build up (edify) the church (the Body of Christ, not a building).
Even “personal” prophecy (regarding one individual) should meet that standard. At first, this might not make sense, but think about it for a moment. If you are a Christian, two of the calls in your life (daily and on the whole) are to glorify God and build up the Church (the body of Christ). If a “prophecy” is directing you to a course of sin, asking you to entrust your soul to someone other than Jesus Christ, or directing you away from godly fellowship . . . it’s not from God.
A word of the Lord will be in harmony with the wisdom of the Bible. (This is yet another reason why it’s a good thing to know for yourself what the Bible says, so you can know when it is being used out of context or when something is being twisted to say something God hasn’t truly said.) The Lord won’t tell you to murder someone, to steal from your neighbor, to enter into sexual sin, or any other thing that is contrary to the wisdom He's already given us.
If a person speaks a true “word of the Lord” to you, it most often will be a confirmation of something the Lord has already put in you. It should be an echo or an “amen” to something He has already laid the groundwork for in your heart.
Prophecy isn't the destination. God intended it as a signpost along the way. If you are constantly on the prowl for personal prophecies you might as well have a neon sign over your head that says you’ve lost your compass, that you don’t trust God to guide you personally, and are willing to be enticed into sin. Repent and seek Jesus. While He may use people or angels communicate with us, He doesn’t NEED them to speak to us. . . . so where is the blockage? Is it in you? If you think He can’t talk to you, One-on-one, you haven’t truly understood who He is or the nature of a true walk with Jesus Christ. Jesus died so that you could receive Him and He could send the Holy Spirit to come and live IN you.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. —John 14:16-17 (NIV)
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. —Colossians 1:26 (NIV) (see also: John 14:20, 23; 2Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; Revelation 3:20)
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who would go from meeting to meeting to meeting in hopes of “getting a word” (of personal prophecy), or to have someone lay hands on them to impart some miraculous thing, yet rarely did they actually heed the things they heard, rarely did they walk away changed by what they’d experienced. It’s like they were getting drunk on the emotional highs of these meetings, going home, then looking for another place to get drunk . . . having moments of sobriety in between, but always in search of the next high. How this must grieve the Lord. It very much reminds me of the Pharisees who saw and heard the eyewitness accounts of miracle after miracle after miracle wrought by Jesus Christ, yet they always wanted one more that would prove He was truly sent from God. One more sign, one more miracle, one more flaming hoop to jump through, and maybe then we’ll know you’re really who you say you are.
If we aren’t being transformed by Jesus, if we never go on to bear good fruit . . . what’s the point? Are we any different than those blind Pharisees or someone at a séance who wants to get goose bumps when they think a ghost is nearby?
PROPHECY: 1) Words of the Lord, 2) Soulish Words, 3) Demonic Manipulation
I truly want to have a heart that is open to hear whatever God might be saying . . . on the other hand, I don’t want to heed the words of liars, pretenders, or predators. It calls for discernment on all our parts—especially in meetings where emotions have been stirred to high levels.
1) Words of the Lord
Mary: A perfect example of letting God do what He says is in the story of a young virgin girl by the name of Mary, who was visited by an angel. (There is no evidence she was seeking to speak to an angel or that she frequented meetings where prophets might be in hopes of “getting a word.”) She was simply a young woman with a pure heart who loved the Lord who was open to hear from Him. When the angel spoke to her, she wasn’t entirely sure what he meant when he said she’d conceive and bear a son. She asked him how this could be since she’d never had relations with a man. (God is not perturbed by honest questions.) The angel told her that this wouldn’t be the child of a man, but of God Himself. She simply accepted this. It hasn’t been done before. It’s impossible. She’s never heard such a thing before. She simply believes that God is able to do what He says He will do and trusts HIM to fulfill it.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”—Luke 1:38, NIV
When she visits her cousin, Elizabeth, the Lord speaks to her through her cousin and through the actions of her unborn nephew! Note Elizabeth’s words to Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45)
Joseph was a God-honoring man (who already had started down the path of marriage with Mary) when the startling information that she was pregnant came to him, he could have had Mary stoned to death because he knew the child she was carrying wasn’t his. In fact, a man zealous for his own reputation might have done this. Instead, he was going to leave the engagement quietly . . . but he received a (directive) word of the Lord through an angel in a dream. He obeyed it and took Mary to be his wife.
The baby was born where God said he would be born (in the ancient prophecies)—not because Joseph or Mary tried to study up on it and make it happen, but because the circumstances God foresaw fell into place. Shepherds came and spoke of signs in the heavens, of angelic proclamations regarding Jesus.
When Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the temple, two people—an elderly man and woman—speak the word of the Lord over the child (and Mary as well). Later, wise men come to where Joseph and Mary are living and speak of signs in the heavens that point to the One they have come to honor with gifts. Scripture allows us to see a small portion of what Mary thought about these things, but remember, Joseph also had a stake in this . . . he’d heard some things in his heart too, and God used signs, wonders, and even people to say to both he and Mary, “Yes. You heard rightly. This is my Son.” The signs, wonders, and words were like signposts in the journey that began in their hearts when they surrendered to God (not men or angels). Joseph and Mary were led, not driven, in God’s ways.
Peter the apostle: When Peter was in a place called Joppa, the Lord gave him the same vision three times (and told him he was no longer to call “impure” that which God made clean). While he was still pondering this, the Lord spoke to him, telling him that three men had arrived at the house and to not let anything keep him from going with them. Lo and behold, three men were downstairs and they were saying that Peter needed to come with them because an angel had spoken to their master, Cornelius, and told him to send for Peter. Normally, Peter (born a Jew) would have considered Cornelius “unclean” and not gone. But God Himself had spoken to Peter and told him to go. The fact that these men said an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter was like the “yes” or “amen” to what he’d already heard. He went and the Lord mightily saved the household of Cornelius—which sent ripples through all of Christendom. God did the work and good fruit was produced.
A personal experience: When I surrendered my life to Jesus, I was visiting my sister and I was more than 2,000 miles from where I lived. Within days, I realized that I didn’t know another Christian back home. Not one! My heart was broken for all my friends who didn’t know Him. I was in even greater distress for my husband—for we had been married for more than seven years and I couldn’t recall a single conversation we’d had about Jesus. Although he had disapproved of my activities in the occult, to the best of my recollection we had never truly discussed what he believed, had never talked about his views on spirituality.
While still visiting my sister, I went to a gathering of Christians. I had never met or heard of the woman who was sharing that night and she knew nothing about me. After a time of worship, and a teaching about the Lord, I became inwardly filled with sorrow about my husband—I hadn’t discussed this with anyone, it was just something that was rolling around in my heart. The woman speaking came up and spoke to me (I don’t have the exact words memorized or anything, but this is the gist of what she said:) “You’re worried about your husband. The Lord says, ‘Don’t worry. He gave his life to Jesus when he was a child (and she added that she could see my husband as a child doing this and getting baptized when he was a boy of eight or nine). Then she went on to say “the Lord says, ‘Don’t pay any attention to what he says about it now, I’m telling you that when he did it, he did it with his whole heart, and I will draw back to Myself that which is Mine. Don’t try to make it happen.’” Again, this isn’t word for word what she said, but what she conveyed to me was for me to be at peace about my husband and not to try to maneuver him back to the Lord.
Did this woman receive any benefit from talking to me? Not above whatever small amount I’d already put in the offering for the meeting.
Did this woman know me or my concerns? No, but the Lord did.
Was this word directing me to trust the Lord? Yes.
Did these words give me comfort and hope in Christ? Did they make me want to follow Him? Yes.
Did her words echo something already in my heart? Yes, in that God heard my inward prayers and concerns, it demonstrated that He was listening and responding to me personally.
Was it “directive” (in that it prescribed something for me to do)? Yes—so this was open to some scrutiny. It would be wise to make sure that it placed the Lord in the center, and that the prescribed action was in harmony with the wisdom of Scripture. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 1 Cor. 7: 13, 14, &16)
Did God say that He would do something? Yes.
Did He do it? Yes.
A week after I got this word, I came home and I couldn’t wait to tell my husband that I’d given my life to the Lord. By the time we were sitting on the sofa in our living room and I shared the news, I wasn’t thinking of the word of the Lord to me. I told him I had become a Christian. My husband was . . . not happy. We had a short, very uncomfortable conversation before I blurted out, “Don’t you believe in God?” and he told me he did, but in a general oversight of the universe sort of way. Still not thinking about what I’d been told, I asked, “What about Jesus? Don’t you believe in Jesus?” He responded that he’d gone to some Christian summer thing as a kid and even gotten baptized “but that was just so they’d leave me alone.” I felt as if someone had stuck a knife through my heart and ran to the bathroom to cry. When I was in there, kneeling down, snot and tears all over my face, the Lord reminded me, “Terry, didn’t I tell you not to pay any attention to what he says about it right now. . . ?”
Did I heed the words of the Lord? Well . . . not entirely in the beginning. While the words gave me hope, I wasted several years trying to convince my husband to follow the Lord instead of simply living the life that Jesus called me (and calls every Christian) to live. Convicting and convincing people are the job of the Holy Spirit, not the job of Terry Craig. As I let God change ME and I learned to love my husband with the love of the Lord, as I learned to increasingly LIVE what I claimed to believe . . . my husband’s heart and life changed as well. I’m happy to say that he’s been walking with the Lord for almost twenty years now.
When the Lord says He will do a work, you aren’t responsible to make it happen and your efforts to do so will often muddy the waters for His clear message. If He is making a conditional promise (you do this, I’ll do that), and His request is consistent with the wisdom of Scripture, do your part and TRUST that He will do His.
2) SOULISH Words Spoken as Prophecies
Sad to say, there is a LOT of soulish junk out there, posing as ministry in the Holy Spirit, even among those who say they are Christians. But being a Christian, even a “Spirit-filled” one, doesn’t make you (or anyone else you know) incapable of error or sin. Every day that you live on this planet you will still face a fork in the road with three different paths to follow, and you choose which path you will take. One way is utter denial of God and what He has done. The second is to do things that serve God in some outward way, but merely reflect desires for enrichment, personal glorification, or other sins. The third (and least traveled road) is the one that calls us to abandon ourselves to God—allowing Him to set us free while He gives us the strength and wisdom for our journey with Him. Some of the worst things happen when we try to “help” God do stuff or when we take matters into our own hands entirely—while claiming it’s all for the Lord.
EXAMPLE: I don’t know how many churches in America become bankrupt (financially and spiritually) because they embarked on some massive expansion project after someone claimed the Lord told them “If we build it, they will come!” The people build . . . and the projected increase doesn’t come. Generally, no one wants to admit that they’ve been fooled into some costly project because someone quoted a line from a movie(!). . . so the charade goes on and on with different reasons given as to why “they” didn’t come. :-( Often, it boils down to a lot of people who never really got an inner witness about a project, but each of them feeling that perhaps they were the only person in the room who didn’t hear the voice of God so they just agreed.
If a prophesy doesn’t bear witness to your heart, I’m not saying it’s false—but you should truly bring it before God and ask for wisdom before acting on it. If it still falls flat within you . . . don’t pursue it.
3) Demonic Manipulation—Soothsaying and Fortune Telling in the Meeting
Many Christians would reject information that came to them through astrology, psychic phenomena, tarot cards, magic, witchcraft, demons, or ghosts since these are plainly forbidden in Scripture. But some of these same people would use visualization, the “law of attraction,” or some other occult practice falsely labeled (re-branded) as “faith” because it can bring the desired results. People are erroneously thinking that if something "works," it must be the Lord or it must be right. What makes false prophecy evil is that it leads your heart (your trust) away from the Lord.
When Satan was allowed to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, one of the temptations was to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (presumably past, present, and future) and to say, “All these are mine. I’ll give all them to you if you bow to me.” Note, Jesus didn’t dispute the accuracy of what He was shown . . . nor did He dispute authority over the kingdoms. And, think of it, what a deal! Jesus could skip the humiliation, the sorrow, the loss, and an excruciating death on the cross in exchange for a bow. Riches, gratification, safety, all you want—it’s yours. Just bow. But Jesus saw the lie. Do you? He chose to live in dependence upon God (not upon powers, angels, signs, or miracles). He chose to follow God wherever that took Him.
THE BOTTOM LINE when it comes to prophecy: It isn't the destination. God intends it as a signpost along the way.
If it all revolves around obtaining what you want, or if it involves manipulation, controlling others, or domination—how can you honestly believe that it glorifies God, that it will produce the fruit of the Spirit, or that it will bring others to a closer walk with Jesus?
I was an adult when I started walking with Jesus. Before that I spent much time in the occult, and most of the people I knew in the occult had a religious spirit. They told themselves they were doing what they did with the approval of the Lord, or at the very least, they were only using their "power" for "good" things. Some of them were even able to pull out Bible verses that supposedly supported practices, which centered around fear (the need to control), lust (consuming desire that becomes a god in one's life), or greed (the endless need to acquire more).
It is the same with people who claim to be following Jesus but are merely working some sort of system to stay in control, to have what they desire, to keep amassing more and more. Some of them obviously have the ability to do such things and can find Scripture verses that seem to support their pursuits. But having the power or ability to do something doesn’t make it right or pleasing to the Lord. We all need to look at the fruit and to see what or whom is being glorified, to see if the Body is truly being built up in Christ. A personal prophecy can be loaded with facts and accurate accounts of the past. It may lead people to temporary “prosperity” or some measure of safety. . . . but even if it can do some of these things—if it also diverts people from a personal walk with Jesus Christ (being built up in Christ), it’s false prophecy. If it revolves around building personal kingdoms (of wealth or power)—it's false prophecy.
I'll say it again. Jesus chose to live in total dependence upon God (not upon powers, angels, signs, or miracles). He chose to follow God wherever that took Him (to a mountaintop or a cross). As He did so, He received the Father's approval, walked in power, worked miracles, heard God's words, and communed with angels.
Do I believe that God still speaks to people? Yes, I do. But I want to trust Him to communicate with me when, where, and how He sees fit. I don’t want to spend my time in search of some word, I want to spend it trusting that He’s right here with me, that He is aware of my needs, and able to guide me through every step of my journey on this earth.
© Terry L. Craig 2013, 2015
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Terry L. Craig is a follower of Christ, a Bible nerd, and a comparative thinker who likes to engage people and get them thinking about why they believe what they believe. She's an author, an indie publisher, and occasional speaker.
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