I’m pretty passionate about the prophetic ministry; seeking God for it in my life and helping others grow personally in it as well as being an instrument of change for the church to walk deeper in it. I believe I have a pretty good reason to be.
Through the years I’ve had some great teachers on the prophetic ministry. A few books written by Jack Deere and some sermons by Mike Bickle and Paul Cain. They were great teachers; the problem was that the sermon CDs and Jack’s books never talked back to me when I asked a question. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit often did.
But that never filled the hole for a real person who’d walked in the prophetic ministry to help me navigate it’s difficulties. I longed for years to know someone who could help me grow in my understanding of the prophetic and how it could be helpful to the church, but I never found that person.
I’ll never forget going to bed on September 8th, 2001 and having my first and only dream with an angel in it. Not the television kind of angel, but the real kind. He walked me around lower Manhattan and showed me the World Trade Center collapse. As the two of us watched thousands of people rush past us in terror and fear I was dull to the emotions of what had happened. In the dream I didn’t believe what I was seeing was real.
I woke up on Sunday, September 9th, 2001 and thought that I’d had a figurative dream about people’s “worlds collapsing”. I told Bill Biggs, my colllege pastor at the time, that I’d like to pray for people based on that, but I never told him the dream or spoke it out loud. I wished I had.
On the 11th, my dream was all I could see. The swarm of emotions that came with that took months to get over (and to some extent, I still live with the emotions of it–I still tear up to this day when I think about it). I didn’t know what to do with that. I couldn’t understand why the Lord would show me such a dream if I wasn’t going to know to or be able to warn anyone in New York. I’ve since come to the understanding that the Lord works like that–not everything is for us to share or warn others with. But the months that went by that I went through confusion shaped me.
I determined that I was going to do my best to teach and train others to hear from the Lord and be there for everyone I could when they had these kinds of encounters. I’ve grown a lot in my understanding and maturity in the prophetic ministry in the last ten years, and I’m by no means the authority of the subject, but as in all discipleship we don’t have to be the authority on anything; we just need to know the authority. There’s plenty of things that I have no experience in so I wouldn’t dare disciple someone in when it comes to the prophetic ministry. I could point them to scripture or tell them to seek the Holy Spirit more. But there are a lot of things the Lord has given me experience and understanding in to disciple people in to help them grow.
That’s why I’m passionate about the prophetic ministry. Paul tells us that there’s no gift so helpful to the church as prophecy (1 Corinthians 14). So that means that discipleship is a necessity for a prophetic people. We must stress that every believer can prophesy and walk them deeper into as best we can. If prophecy is the greatest gift to be desired by Christians, we must expend serious energy to grow it in our local congregations.
I’m by no means a prophet. Nor do you need to be to prophesy. And such experiences like the one I had on September 9th, 2001 do not make me a prophet. I’m what I call a “normal Christian”, walking just a little bit into the gifting the Lord has offered us all. There are prophets out there, but I’ll save a discussion on that distinction for another time. And really it’s much better for everyone, including those who are called as prophets, to think of themselves as “normal Christians” anyway. It’s much easier to stay away from temptation that way. (Romans 12:3)
I know of a few churches that have endeavored to disciple prophetic people as part of their normal activities. Wellspring Church, outside Fort Worth, Texas (website), strives to do this in normal and healthy ways. My friend Michael Rowntree, a pastor there, has much good to say about that.
When I think of prophetic discipleship, I’m not thinking of an Elisha following an Elijah. It’s not that formal to me. I think of taking opportunities with believers we’re already in discipling relationships with and being intentional with them about teaching those people to seek and grow in the prophetic ministry. We tell our stories, what we’ve learned from them and encourage them to seek God for their own stories that go beyond ours. And the most important thing is not that we grow our number of stories for stories’ sake, but for the sake of growing in obedience in our response to those prophetic encounters.
My September 11th, 2001 dream is not something I tell to brag on how good I am at hearing God. It’s actually a low point in my prophetic history as far as obedience goes. I had no clue what to do with a dream like that. It’s a story I like to tell about how God enjoys speaking to us–telling us what’s on His mind. Since then, though, I feel like I’ve grown a little bit in my ability to correctly understand what the Lord is saying and obey accordingly in response to that. And if “obedience” sounds a little odious and “legalistic” to you, take time to re-read Jesus’ Great Commission. He told us to make disciples all around the world, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Obedience is important. It’s actually our key to growing in the prophetic ministry.
Why would God grant someone more authority and experience when they have done little or nothing with what He’s already given them? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes He does, but that’s the exception not the rule. If we want to grow in the prophetic ministry, biblical precepts tell us our way forward is first to ask for them, then to obey the words of the Lord that He does give us.
I mention this because I believe this is primarily the place where the prophetic ministry falls short in its understanding and application in the church, at least in the West. I encounter so many people who receive words from the Lord and then enter into “wait and see” mode. Prophetic leading almost always requires a response from us; either in action or a heart-level shift. To wait and see is like having a fireman come to your house to alert you to the fact that the back half of your house is on fire and then telling him you’ll sit around and wait to see if it actually spreads to the part of your house you’re in. A word from the Almighty God requires us to respond.
Let me give you and example from my life. I was selling a house and having a really hard time doing it. The house was in the hardest-hit zip code for foreclosures in Texas in 2008 and 2009. We’d had 4 contracts already fall apart. But I felt like the Lord gave me a number that we’d sell the house for. I even got a call from another man who told me that the Lord showed him He had put a number in my heart that He’d let us sell the house for. Then we got offer #5. It was a higher offer than one of the contracts we’d accepted that had fallen through, but I countered with my number. My realtor and practically everyone involved thought I was crazy and heavily lobbied me to just take the offer as-is, but I held firm to respond in obedience to what I felt was a clear word from the Lord. The buyer accepted my counter and we sold the house for exactly what the Lord told me we would.
Now, lest you think I’m advocating some perverted form of a health-and-wealth gospel, just know that we lost over 10% in the sale–but we were able to sell it. We have a neighbor there whose house is still on the market today–for almost 4 years now.
Unfortunately for the state of the church today, there is almost a total converse to the “wait and see” crowd out there. I’ll call them the “turn the brain off” crowd. They’re the ones who take anything that anyone who claims to be even slightly prophetic and run with it full-bore no matter what. They have a good concept of prophetic obedience, but nothing of prophetic diligence. If someone regarded as a prophet tells them something, it must be from God. It would be sinful not to act on it.
This is a catastrophic way to live. And sadly, even when time and again those prophetic words turn out to be wrong, many of this crowd continue on this path of destruction. Paul tells us clearly that when a prophecy is given, we must discern it. (1 Corinthians 14) But common sense should tell us this too, shouldn’t it? When we enter into the world of the subjective word of the Lord, we must be very careful. We must judge it against the written Word of God, our highest and most unmovable judge. Then, it must make sense to us on some level.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. A prophetic friend of mine, Draper Smith, called me one day at work and told me he had a dream about me. He, Jesus and I were sitting at a little league baseball game eating hot dogs. Jesus told him I was “hiring” people at work and I wasn’t taking it seriously. I told Draper that was sort of true–I was interviewing lots of people at that time, but it had never been only my decision to hire them. But I wasn’t taking it seriously. I was blowing off my responsibilities there. I took the correction from Jesus seriously and decided to change my attitude, but our hiring blitz had already ended. We didn’t have anyone else coming in anytime soon, so I didn’t know what I could do now.
Draper went further, though. He said the Lord told him I would have an opportunity to hire someone that day, at 5:47pm specifically. I told him that was impossible because I was taking off early that day at 4pm, so I wouldn’t be around. I thanked him and told him he must have misunderstood and that maybe it will happen the next day or week. But Draper was insistent that the Lord has specifically said “today.”
I didn’t change my plans based on Draper’s words. I already planned to take off early, and I wasn’t going to change that because of something even a distinguished prophetic person told me. What would be the point of that? It was an unconfirmed and untested word of the Lord, so I wasn’t going to change my life to self-fulfill the prophecy somehow. I took off at 4 that day like I planned and as I was pulling into my subdivision I got a call from our secretary. She told me we had an interview scheduled that my boss forgot about. He was in a meeting with the CEO he couldn’t get out of and wanted me to come in and do the interview. It was already 4:30pm, but I knew this wasn’t coincidence. Of course I went back and did the interview. My boss came it toward the end, asked a couple questions of his own and then walked the gentlemen out to his car since the building was locked now. He came back in and asked me what I thought about the guy. I looked at my watch and it was 5:47pm.
My point is that just because I consider Draper the most clearly prophetic voice I know, I wasn’t going to be intimidated by his stature so that I changed my life to fit his word for me. That’s wrong, and fatalistic, actually. We have to live our own lives, not waiting for God to direct our every single step. Over time He can direct more and more, but God didn’t design us to shuck our responsibility to make our own decisions. We don’t over time somehow meld our minds with God’s and become Him. That’s Easter Mysticism, and I’ve seen plenty of it work its way into the church. We have our own mind that we work to fill with the thoughts of God, not become God’s mind.
Now, when it was painfully obvious that Draper’s word was correct, did I say it was too inconvenient for me to miss some R&R away from work to go back? Certainly not! I obeyed. Obedience was required. What I’m saying is that God doesn’t make obedience difficult like we have to be afraid of prophetic words that we’ll get them wrong and God will be mad at us. He’s for us, and obedience is easy.
Don’t act on prophetic words unless there’s some confirmation from the Holy Spirit that it’s from God. That’s what makes it so easy for us–we have the Holy Spirit. We’re not stuck on this path without a guide; we have the best guide the world’s ever known. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is an even better guide than He was in the flesh and that it was better for Him to go to heaven so the Holy Spirit could be given.
Every September 11th I think back on one of the most significant prophetic experiences I ever had. It makes me think about how the Lord has called us to be a prophetic people and how slowly the church has walked down that path in the last few decades. We must be intentional about encouraging people to hear the Lord for themselves and actively disciple them to grow in that. Every September I recommit to my efforts to teach and train others to grow in the gift that Paul said was preeminent among those the Lord has given.
To conclude, I’ll share one final testimony. I was recently involved in a church that sought the prophetic ministry very earnestly, but was completely out of control in their application of it. Probably something like why Paul wrote to the Corinthians to correct their abuses of the gifts. It really was out of control. It was so bad that I was approached by multiple people who told me they were ready to believe that prophecy wasn’t for today anymore because of how awful it was at the church. Manipulative, hurtful and mostly wrong. There was no discernment, especially from leadership–only full acceptance of everything that was spoken under the premise of prophecy.
I’m happy to report that the new pastor there has, to my understanding, taken a very healthy approach and fixed many of the reckless abuses. But before he came I had to reassure several people not to give up on God. I told them that even when there are wild abuses, manipulations and hurtful things done under the guise of prophecy, we can’t assign those problems to God, but to our own fallen human nature.
“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox to bring in a harvest” Proverbs 14:4 NLT.
If we’re going to grow in the prophetic ministry, we must be willing accept a lot of mess (ox-crap, as Solomon cheekily puts it). It doesn’t mean we don’t clean up the mess as leaders, but we must be willing to have the mess to bring in the harvest. And that’s what Paul says is the real power behind the prophetic ministry–when it goes beyond the church and “thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.” 1 Corinthians 15:25 NKJ
So, let’s accept the messes, move past them and intentionally and actively teach, train and disciple those around us to grow in the prophetic ministry for the grace and betterment of the church. Even better, let’s grow the prophetic ministry in the church for the sake of the harvest! Lord, give us the lost!