Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Surprised by the Voice of God - are you a prophet?

Welcome to A Good Bible Study. Have you ever wondered if you are a prophet?

Prophecy is a very real gift of the Holy Spirit, and is the topic of the book Surprised by the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions, written by Jack Deere. Deere is a former associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, now a pastor, writer, and lecturer and author of the best-selling book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.

Deere gives a clear explanation of the ways God communicated to first-century Christians, and why God continues to speak to us using the same methods. He also explains to those of us brought up with a more "conservative" church background, how to accurately hear God speak through prophecies, dreams, visions, and other forms of divine communication.

I found the book very easy to read, as well as full of clear references back to the appropriate Scripture.

In addition to explaining the Gifts of the Spirit, Deere reminds us that just because someone is using gifts, and even using them for ministry, does not mean we should follow all of their teachings blindly. Gifts are subject to the human beings to whom given, and so can be misinterpreted or actively misused. For example, there are "psychics" who are very adept at "cold reading" subjects to get clues about who and what the person most wants to hear about.

I can think of one highly popular medium (someone who claims they are in communication with the dead) who asks multiple questions to get all the information he needs to appear "all-knowing. "I am sensing someone who's names starts with a B, anyone here have a loved one who's name starts with B . . . Is it a male figure, a father, uncle, or brother? No, then it must be a female with male energy, is she a strong personality? Was it a sudden death, no? Then did she die sooner than you expected, yes, I'm getting that . . .etc.) This isn't prophecy, this is knowing human nature and manipulating the hopes and fears of people desperate for answers.

So how do we know if someone is worth believing? A true prophet points us to God, not to ourselves, and not to the spirits of deceased loved ones, or to created things (like nature).

Who better to ask than God to reveal to you personally what you need to know to have comfort and peace? Of course He sometimes gives messages (prophecy) through others, but be careful not be taken in by someone who's true interest is in your money. Remember, much of what a psychic says can't be proved, and does not come true, anyway. But, the message of a prophet is often a confirmation of what God has already put in your own heart.

Another way prophecy and psychism differ is that a prophetic message refers to God's plan and reflects His values. Psychic readings tend to give us permission to do what we want to anyway, regardless of the effect on others.

Jesus told us to evaluate prophets, ministers, and teachers by their fruit:

A Tree and Its Fruit
15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.


21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:15-23
Also look up 1 Kings 13:18; Jeremiah 23:16; Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:22; Acts 13:6.

So, even people with good gifts are able to claim they are serving God, but in reality serve themselves. We don't have to look far to see examples in the media!

Just what is good fruit? What should we look for in the lives, character, teachings, and churches of our leaders?

"22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."
Galatians 5:22-26

One good way to examine fruit is to look at our spiritual leaders' lives and relationships, their business practices, the attitude of their staff, and how they treat those who differ in opinions. Deere suggests we ask these questions about prophetic ministers and teachers:

"1. Are they honoring Christ and bringing glory to Him, or are they bringing attention to themselves?
 2. Are they walking in humility, and does their ministry produce humility?
 3. Does their ministry produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Are they setting the example for others to encourage the Holy Spirit to grow in them, and produce fruit?
 4. Are their words accurate and do their predictions come true? Those gifted with prophecy gain authority and stature by exhibiting the character of the Lord Jesus and consistently giving accurate predictions. (As we trust and obey God, we will deliver more accuracy as we mature.)
 5. Does their teaching fall in line with Scripture? Very important! Reading and interpreting Scripture as written, and for ourselves, is vital. At times our religious traditions contradict Scripture, and some religious leaders prefer to honor man-made tradition over the very Scripture on which are traditions should be built.

Speaking of which, it is never a prophet's role to control the lives of his or her followers, i.e., as in a cult!

 A prophet never replaces the Holy Spirit in our walk with God, and certainly does not remove our accountability before God for our choices and decisions. Read  Kings 13:1-18.

In fact, quite frequently a prophetic word serves to support, confirm, or clarify a leading God has given us individually, through the Holy Spirit. 

What if you have been given the gift of prophecy?

If you feel led to share a prophecy to someone, or your church body, pray and ask permission from God to share the prophecy at this time. Some prophecies are are more of a FYI, a preparation for a coming event. Others are to gently correct, or to encourage others. Speak to your church leadership first if the message is for the body. Ask for prophetic confirmation and permission to speak. If the answer is no, go back and pray for more guidance from God.

Also, pray and ask for the correct interpretation of the prophecy. It's easy for us to get a revelation, but then interpret based on our own opinions of what someone should be doing. Too often people have been publicly humiliated over a revelation when prayer and a private discussion would have resulted in glory to God, instead of resentment over a misunderstood reason behind the prophecy. 

Prophecy is best given in a spirit of humility, without dramatic exclamations or "Thus says the Lord,"  or in loud voices. This self-aggrandizing results in fear, or self-appointed authority, when in truth, prophets are messengers acting under God's guidance and insight, not their own.

Leave the outcome of the message to God. People will either listen, or they won't. They will be blessed, or they won't. We don't know the purpose behind the prophecy sometimes, just that we need to share it. Say something like, "I feel like God wants me to share this with you, I hope it's meaningful to you."

If you are looking for praise, applause, or personal obedience you've forgotten your place. This is God's message, not ours, and we don't always know why someone needs to hear the message we've been given it.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

Let's pray:

Lord, thank you for your good gifts. If there is anyone reading who wants what You have, who wants to bless others with Your gifts, lead them to know You and Your ways. Help us to be open to what You would have us say to encourage and lead others. Help us to be humble and remember it's Your wisdom, not our own. And help us to be willing to listen, and not just to speak. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Love, Karen

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