Recently I wrote about disappointment with prophetic words about revival and how God has surer promises that we can depend on. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was that for many people, this brought up a larger issue about disappointment with prophetic words in general, not just about revival. I think what I found was that, for many, prophetic disappointment is real and can lead to dangerous places.
First, for those not initiated, the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit gifting people who are part of the body of Christ to hear what God is saying and speak it forth. God loves to speak to His people, so much so that Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit told the Corinthians (who, by the way were known for the over-use of spiritual gifts) that he wanted everyone to pursue spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). This is still a reality that happens today but everything that the Holy Spirit says should be grounded in and not contradict what God has clearly said in the Bible.
I’ve been part of groups that have believed these truths for the past 20 years and I’ve seen some incredible good come from people sharing things that are clearly from God. I have also seen some people hurt by people abusing the gifts of the Spirit or just through people being wrong about what God is saying. Neither the good or the bad has swayed me, however. Instead, Scripture’s admonition that the gift of prophecy builds the church continues to encourage me forward in hearing God’s voice and sharing it with others. So how do we navigate prophetic disappointment?
Paul actually gives us the following encouragement in regards to those who are struggling with discouragement around prophetic words:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
There are two areas here where we miss the Lord’s will here: We can despise all prophecy or not test any of it. Each of these is a pitfall that can lead to prophetic discouragment.
Despising prophecy is the first pitfall. It’s actually a form of bitterness of the soul that comes from being hurt. Not only will despising prophecy not profit you as a believer, but the accompanying bitterness can spring up and defile you and others. The fix here is that you acknowledge that just because people have used the gift of prophecy poorly in your life, doesn’t mean the gift of prophecy is evil or wrong. We have to be willing to allow God to use prophetic gifts to speak into our lives–it’s part of learning to be the church.
Failure to test prophecy is the second pitfall. Not testing prophetic words sets people up for prophetic disappointment. Because New Testament prophecy is given en masse to the body of Christ, there is the potential for error. This is why Paul calls us to test the prophetic and hold to those declarations that actually pass the test. For many of us, we’ve been so hungry to hear from God in this way that we’ve blindly accepted every word that someone has spoken. This actually sets up ourselves and others for disappointment later. Test everything. Hold to what is true.
The best example I can give you in this arena is Shawn Bolz. Shawn is a legitimate prophetic voice in the body of Christ today and he’s known for giving incredibly accurate words of knowledge.He walks in a powerful prophetic anointing and teaches others to do the same. But Shawn is well aware of the hurt that has come from failed prophecy. He has repeatedly taught in his classes that a sign of maturity in this gifting is being able to go back and apologize for the places where we’ve inaccurately shared a prophetic word. This is the side of the prophetic most charismatics don’t want to talk about, but keeps us from growing as those who hear from the Holy Spirit.
God longs to speak to us today. If we want to grow in His likeness and mature as believers, we need to begin to open ourselves to His voice. In order to do that, we must repent of despising the prophetic and begin to believe in it so much that we test the words others give us and hold onto the ones that survive that test. When we do, we begin a journey of powerfully hearing from the Holy Spirit. This marked the New Testament church and propelled them into amazing things. Don’t settle for less than this.
Last week, I wrote a quick post about a particular type of heartsickness that causes people to give up, not only on their calling and vision but also on Jesus. In what I can only describe as some sort of miraculous accident this quick entry became my most read post of the year. I think that fact speaks to the reality that many of us face heartsickness around something we thought was from God but didn’t turn out like we expected.
I had one friend write in and ask a very pointed question, that I think deserves follow-up. She wrote:
Yeah…what if you have tried to believe in that dream for several years but nothing has happened???? Years and years.
Honestly, my original post had no instructions about what to do in the place of disappointment other than to not let it destroy your faith. I stand by that advice in so many ways, but I wanted to offer something a bit more practical for this sister and others out there who find themselves trying to navigate heartsickness and decide what to do with that dream. For those who find themselves in that place, I would do (and have done) the following things:
- Discern What Was Jesus and What Was You- It’s unfortunate but true, sometimes we latch on to a vision that wasn’t from Jesus. Sometimes the things that stir our heart aren’t always the things Jesus is doing. I’ve seen people with ministry visions that are well-intentioned but obviously born out the flesh. In many cases these saints are loved by God but are listening to themselves. Believers in this situation need perspective and the place to get it is in a collective of older, wiser, and trusted friends who are willing to help you discern what is from God and what is from you. Tell them the story of your vision. Tell them about God speaking to you and the times God confirmed His voice. Then tell them the difficulties and let them help you discern what is from God. This is scary because you are trusting people who aren’t perfect. They may be wrong. But over the years, these men and women in my life have kept me from giving up on the right things and from pursuing the wrong things. Once you have discerned what is Jesus, lay down the things that are not. Grieve time you may have wasted on things that aren’t from the Lord. But hold to the things that, once tested, have proven to be real.
- Consider Yourself- We’d be wrong if we didn’t consider ourselves as part of the equation. Is there something in us that is keeping us from entering into the promised land where Jesus has called us? God called the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt to inherit the promised land, but their inability to believe God kept them from entering. While I believe the gifts and callings of God can’t be withdrawn (Romans 11:29) I think its important to remember that we play a part in pursuing the calling on our lives. Paul says “I obeyed the vision from heaven,” (Acts 26:19) which tells me we can disobey it somewhere along the line. So we have to do a non-condemning assessment of ourselves and own the parts of barrenness that come from us. Where have we not believed God? Where have we been disobedient to the heavenly vision? In these places, repent and believe God that He can restore the years that the locusts have eaten. You may find yourself quickly catapulted back into the vision you’ve long considered dead.
- Remember Timing- Once you have spent real time figuring out what is from Jesus and what is from you and you have considered how you may be impacting your own vision, consider whether you have missed God’s timing. It’s possible that you saw something way off in the distant future and because of the way God speaks to our hearts, you thought it was for now or a year from now, but it was a decade or more in the future. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in this. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us that (at least) Abraham and Sarah “…died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth,” (Hebrews 11:13). In Abraham and Sarah’s case, they were given a generational vision that was real, but they could never pull it off by themselves. They had to raise up others to inherit their promises. So while your vision may be real, your expectations of timing may not be right. For those who are here, ask God about timing and prepare for the long haul. As Westerners, we believer everything must happen now, but God has His own timetable He is working on. God’s words to Habakkuk are also important. Habakkuk was a prophet who saw a vision of God but was discouraged when it didn’t happen immediately. God says this: “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed,” (Habakkuk 2:3). All of this is to say don’t let a discerned vision cause heartsickness just because of delay. Delay may be a misunderstanding of God’s timing.
Most importantly, remember that the things that are truly from God will happen. God calls things into existence out of nothing and spoke the Earth into existence over a period of days. Once you have discerned something is truly from God, don’t give up. All of the heroes the Bible tells us about are broken and unlikely people who believed God when all hope was lost. Don’t lose faith. Be like Abraham:
Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, ‘That’s how many descendants you will have!‘ And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Jesus, Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22
For a long time I thought these verses meant that we should pay attention to what the Holy Spirit was saying. That seemed pretty straightforward.
I also used to think the reason that God asked us to share what we’re hearing from the Holy Spirit with others was to keep us from being deceived. And I’m still sure that’s part of the reason.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the Holy Spirit speak to people from different backgrounds and locations about the exact same thing, weaving a tapestry of a message that could never be accomplished if only one person or even one church was the only one hearing what the Spirit was saying. It’s got me thinking that maybe God has something more for us in sharing what we’re hearing than just accountability.
I think there is a place where we can listen to the Holy Spirit ourselves, but when we bring together what we hear from Him, there is a richer, more in-depth, more accurate picture of what God is doing in the Earth. It only takes us being willing to listen with other believers, being willing to wait together to discern His voice, listening to what the Spirit is saying to all of us.
Who knows? Maybe God wants to weave what you are hearing from Him together with what He is speaking to others to accomplish more than you could ever imagine. Maybe, just maybe, if we begin to listen together, we can confirm and establish the reality of what God is doing in our day.
But it starts with us sharing what we’re hearing, together.
Are you listening?
Are you sharing?