In case you hadn’t noticed, the role of prophetic ministry in the western church is going through a bit of a shake up. With good reason! There are all kinds of voices out there, saying all kinds of things. Some are from God, some almost certainly are not.
But how do we know what’s what?
The most common answer to that question would be: Did the word come to pass? Was it accurate?
While that sounds reasonable, I don’t personally believe that is the only, or even best, litmus test.
Here’s the thing—no matter how close we are to Jesus, no matter how “mature” we are in our gifting—according to the New Testament, we see in part and we prophesy in part (see 1 Cor. 13:9 ). Yet we often present our “part” as if it were the whole.
And, pretty much every time we do, we get in trouble.
Not only do those prophesying sometimes fail to present their words with humility and an awareness that they don’t necessarily see the whole picture, but those critiquing from the sidelines often insist on a standard of 100% accuracy and consistency or declare the messenger to be a “false prophet.” (Of course these are usually the people who don’t believe in the role of the prophetic in the modern church anyway, but that is a different discussion for a different day.)
Insisting that God never changes His mind and that there should never be a prophetic word that doesn’t come to pass exactly as it was initially interpreted, denies the reality of Scripture. Remember how God told Abraham to take his son up Mount Moriah and sacrifice him there? And remember how that same God stepped in and STOPPED Abraham from doing the very thing He had clearly asked him to do?
Kinda messes with you, doesn’t it? At least it should.
Beloved, His ways are not our ways. Even in the Old Testament there are multiple examples of conditional prophecies and of God intervening in and/or deviating from what had been prophetically declared. This doesn’t even begin to take into account a new paradigm in the New Testament where “all may prophesy.”
The bottom line is we are still working it out. But according to 1 Thessalonians 5:20 throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t a viable option. We are a bunch of mostly well-intentioned but broken and frail human beings trying to comprehend and steward the Divine. We don’t always get it right. Even when we get it wrong—or partially wrong—we have different ideas about how to respond. But as long as we maintain a right heart and attitude along the way, it is all part of the process of growing in grace.
Clearly, I am no theologian. Because I’m not, I like to keep things simple. When a subject is obviously nuanced and complex, rather than trying to over-intellectualize and edit the mystery right out of it, I accept there is much I don’t understand and hold fast to what I know to be true. And in this vast and complex subject of how the prophetic should function in the current age, my personal litmus test for any prophetic word is simple:
Is it the testimony of Jesus?
The spirit of prophesy IS the testimony of Jesus (see Rev 19:10). Or, put even more simply from the NLT:
The essence of prophesy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.
Does the word provoke fear rather than awe of God? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is there a harsh or hopeless tone? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is the word about judgment with no hope of restoration or redemption? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is the word presented with an attitude of boastful pride, rather than a humble confidence in Him? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Does the word make you focus on the schemes of hell rather than the victory of heaven? Not the testimony of Jesus.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. ANY New Testament prophecy needs to be viewed through the lens of the finished work of the cross. The messenger should neither be glorified nor demonized, but all authentic prophecy must point to JESUS.
I’ve heard words I disagree with that stir my heart and point to Him, and I’ve heard others that align with my personal opinions but don’t align with His heart. I care far more about whether or not Jesus is being glorified than I do with the exact right content and context. None of this is to say that prophets and prophetic people don’t need to take responsibility for the words they speak in His name. They do. That’s where the humility comes in—on both sides of the equation. I’m far more grieved about a Church that gleefully throws each other under the bus, than I am with one that sincerely, but imperfectly, walks in faith.
Church, this isn’t a moment to shrink back. This isn’t a moment to point fingers and throw darts. This isn’t a moment for posturing, positioning, or people pleasing. This is a moment for God pleasing. This is a moment for God seeking. This is a moment for humility and honor. This is a moment for examining our own hearts, not for judging the motives of others. This is a moment to make sure, that above all, our words, our actions, and the meditations of our hearts, are consistent with one thing, and one thing only …
The testimony of Jesus.
Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. -1Thessalonians 5:19-21