Managing Prophetic Expectations26 November, 2020
Across cultures, continents, and chronology; in fiction and in history, ancient rulers and despots always appointed people with access to supernatural insight. Divination was the basic tool for direction in matters of State and for success in spiritual warfare.
After all, foreknowledge is power, so any and all divine help was sought after and welcomed. King Arthur had Merlin, Liu Bei had Zhuge Liang, Aragon had Gandalf, Pharaoh had Joseph, King Saul had Samuel, and King David had Nathan as their personal and court prophets.
But, for every celebrated and successful prophet, numerous others died brutal deaths if their prophetic words failed to please the king. If they were allowed to live, they spent their remaining years in ignominy and obscurity.
Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill all the magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers, and burn their dwellings if they could not reveal the contents of his dream. The prophet Isaiah was sawn in half and stuffed into a tree for decrying sin and idolatry, and the prophet Jeremiah was pitifully persecuted for prophesying unpopular truths.
As a matter of historical fact, prophets have often been killed by those they served, so it’s not surprising if history repeats itself today, as anger is still directed towards modern-day prophets.
But should that be so?
After all, no one kills an usher who mistakenly leads visitors down a section that ran out of seats. A worship leader who sings a wrong note is not automatically punished with a revoked church membership. A disagreement in doctrinal dogma or scriptural interpretation doesn’t get the senior pastor instantly fired.
Yet, we’re more than ready to condemn a prophet if his prophetic word does not come to pass. We’re quick to declare him a false prophet, triumphantly quoting Scripture while revealing a stark shortfall in the dispensation of grace towards the prophetic ministry in the wider Body of Christ.
This was true in the Early Church as well. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he had to exhort the young church to not treat prophecies with contempt. Considering miracles, prophecies, and supernatural acts of healing were commonplace in the days of the New Testament apostles, I believe this despising of prophecies stemmed from the apparent non-fulfilment of the words given, not from a lack of belief in the prophetic.
Years ago, when I first read 1 Thessalonians 5:20, I wondered, ‘Why and how would anyone treat prophecy with contempt?’ I’ve since come across many facets of what that looks like over the years, so I shall list a few briefly.
1) Dismissing the Gift
When one has been bitten, he becomes twice shy and decides to never to believe these ‘charlatans’ again. Just because it didn’t rain when it was supposed to means it’ll never rain again. There’s no such thing as a weather forecaster.
2) Demonising the Prophet
When one confuses the ministry office of the Old Testament prophet with the New Testament one. The OT prophets received dreams and visions directly from God to lead and guide His fledgling nation and warn them against the consequences of idolatry.
There was no room for error because the stakes for their survival and calling were too high. Post-Pentecost, when the Spirit of Jesus was released upon us all, we’re all supposed to flow in the prophetic gift, which thankfully, DOES allow room for error.
That’s why we know in part and prophesy in part. That’s why we’re supposed to test all spirits and prophecy. Pointing fingers at the errors of anointed prophets only proves that we’ve not done our own due diligence. Labelling an entire company of Jesus-loving, Christ-exalting people as a band of false prophets for getting a prophetic word wrong is really an indictment on the state of our own hearts and consecration.
3) Disavowing All Involvement
After tasting and benefitting from honey, it now tastes bitter due to severe disappointment. It results in withdrawal, non-participation, and discontinuing anything prophetic. In fact, leaving the church is becoming an attractive option as well. Does it make sense? As the weatherman disappointed me, I’ll not go near anything related to meteorology ever again?
Brethren, this should not be so. Besides admonishing us to not despise prophecies, Paul also tells us to “Hold fast to what is good. Test everything.” If we’ve not tested the word and sharpened our own spiritual discernment, how dare we blame our brothers and sisters for falling short?
Have we checked and processed with our leaders and community and prayed against deception and for truth to prevail? Have we exercised grace, love, and forgiveness when our brothers and sisters stumbled in error? Never forget that the judgment we mete to others will be meted back to us.
‘Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.’ James 5:17 The Bible candidly reveals that Elijah, that great fiery prophet, was fallible, prone to exhaustion, depression, and self-pity. Even though he was so intimate with God, even though he was one of the greatest prophets, even after he experienced the miraculous and magnificent, he still got it wrong thinking he was the only true and faithful one who had not bowed his knee to Baal. But he was wrong by a wide margin. There were 7,000 others, and God called him out on that.
God is jealous for His prophets, just as He’s jealous for His Body. This is His time for refining and purifying a Church that has fallen into idolatry, pride and lukewarmness. This is a time for us to look within our own hearts first and destroy the plank within before we rush to remove the speck from others’ eyes.
If our prophetic discernment was correct this time, and the rest were all wrong, remember that the next time it might be us who see and prophesy the wrong part. So let’s be quick to bestow grace and mercy on our prophetic brethren and encourage them to sharpen and consecrate their gifts in humility once again so that the Body of Christ will be blessed. And let us make sure that we ourselves are walking circumspectly according to the pure Word of the Lord, led by His Holy Spirit and fulfilling the assignments that He has called us to complete.
Pastor Timothy Chong