People can be very gifted, perhaps even gifted to ministry in the Lord’s power, and yet they are still sinful men and women. Their gifting does not excuse their sin, and it should not lead us to elevate them to a place where they are unaccountable for their sin.
Like any of us, prophets are subject to sinful temptations. There are several traps that are common to those in prophetic ministry, temptations they are especially prone to fall into due to the nature of this ministry. They can fall prey to bouts of jealousy and anger, the desire to please people and to be applauded and lauded by crowds. Prophets who minister with humility will seek out accountability and be aware of their own shortcomings and seek to avoid some of the most common mistakes and traps of prophetic ministry.
Prophesying Out of Jealousy and Anger
Prophets should never trust a “revelation” received about someone with whom they are angry or jealous. Saul knew what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit come on him in prophetic power (1 Samuel 10:10). He also knew what it was like for the Spirit of God to empower him for heroic action (11:6–11). Later in his life, Saul’s jealousy of David drove him to rage (18:6–9). This is what happened to him during one of those periods of jealousy and anger:
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.
1 Samuel 18:10–11
One of the most instructive things about this passage is the phrase used to describe the evil spirit: it “came forcefully.” This is the same phrase in Hebrew that is used of the Holy Spirit coming on Saul in 1 Samuel 10:10 and 11:6. Another remarkable thing about this story is that when the evil spirit came on him, Saul began to “prophesy.” This is the same word for prophesying used in 1 Samuel 10:10. I think the biblical author is telling us that when the evil spirit came on Saul and gave him demonic prophecy, Saul mistook it for the power and inspiration of God. His jealousy and anger caused him to mistake the power of an evil spirit for the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Desire to Please People
The apostle Paul wrote, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). People-pleasing is a killer for all ministry, not just for prophetic ministry.
In the Old Testament, false visions and flattery go hand in hand (Ezekiel 12:24). When prophetic people give in to the pressure of telling people what they want to hear, they end up prophesying out of their own imaginations (13:2). The desire to please people leads a prophet, or any other leader, to ignore sin and give vain comfort (Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:15–16; Zechariah 10:2). In the worst case, this desire to please can open the door for a demonic spirit to speak through a prophet (1 Kings 22:6–28).
The Desire to Be Awesome
The desire to be awesome in ministry, to be “a prophet to the nations,” is exactly opposite of the true spirit of prophecy. An angel told John, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10 ESV). Prophecy is meant to testify to the awesomeness of Jesus, not to the awesomeness of the prophet’s ministry. The greatest prophets want people to behold the glory of Jesus. They care little about how they are viewed. John the Baptist was one of the greatest of all prophets because he said and meant, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). People who feel like John the Baptist can be entrusted with great revelations.
Sometimes prophetic people rationalize their mistakes or simply refuse to admit they made a mistake. I don’t know any prophetic people today who are 100 percent accurate. All prophetic people I know make mistakes, just as evangelists, teachers, pastors, or other Christian leaders do as well. Sometimes prophets mistake their own impressions for one of the Lord’s impressions. Sometimes they make mistakes in interpreting and applying impressions the Lord gives them. Rationalizing or failing to admit mistakes is what usually ruins credibility. People trust people who say they were wrong. They can’t trust those who won’t admit they were wrong.
Making Economic Predictions
I think it’s a good idea for prophetic people to avoid all financial predictions and leave the stock market, bond market, and real estate market to the experts in those areas. There are at least two reasons for avoiding these kinds of predictions. First, it cheapens prophetic ministry. God is raising up prophetic ministry to exalt Christ, not to enrich church members. Second, too often these predictions will be wrong, since the Holy Spirit is against using spiritual gifts for personal financial gain.
Ask God how to invest and spend your own money, but don’t prophesy to others what they should do with theirs. You will probably be wrong.
Prophetic Gossip and Slander
If prophets tell a negative vision or impression to someone other than the person who was the subject of their revelation, they are most likely committing a sin. If the vision is true, the sin is gossip. If the vision is false, the sin is slander.
I have seen significant trouble caused by prophetic people who have revealed the sins of others and prophesied judgments on people without ever taking it up with the original people.
Calling Out Sins Publicly
Sometimes it is appropriate for a leader to deal with a person’s sin publicly. Peter called out Ananias’s and Sapphira’s sin, and Paul called out Elymas’s sin, and sometimes he named people’s sins in his epistles. Paul even rebuked the apostle Peter publicly when Peter’s hypocrisy compromised the gospel (Galatians 2:11–21). Likewise, elders who are sinning are to be publicly rebuked (1 Timothy 5:20). And when someone is disciplined by the church, it must be done in public (1 Corinthians 5:1–5). However, in the New Testament, public exposure of a believer’s sins is reserved for extreme cases. The normal procedure is to go to a brother or sister privately and attempt to win them before there is ever a public exposure (Matthew 18:15–17; Galatians 6:1–2). Normally, you may never accuse someone of sin based on a private revelation. In the case of an elder, the church is not even allowed to entertain an accusation against the elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses who have firm evidence (1 Timothy 5:19).
Once I was speaking to an audience of committed Christians, many of whom were leaders and pastors. At the conclusion of the meeting, I had an impression that a number of people in the audience were addicted to both prescription drugs and alcohol. My attention was drawn to a small section in the back of the room. I said, “I think the Lord will help some people today who are struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. If you’ll stand up where you are, we’ll pray for you now.” Then I pointed to the section in the back and said, “There is someone in this section who needs help.” Immediately a man stood up, and then people in every section began to stand.
I think this is an appropriate way of publicly naming sins. It gives a person the opportunity to choose to make a public confession. It also does this in a way that says to them, “We want to help you, not embarrass you.” People frequently write me to say they repented and were delivered of sins in meetings like this.
A word of caution, however. I don’t do this often. The church is filled with sins. Anyone can stand up before a Christian audience and say, “The Lord shows me that some of you are committing the sin of . . . ,” and accurately name sins present in the audience. But if the Lord is not leading someone to name those sins, not much good will come of that “ministry” and, in fact, significant harm may follow. Naming sins takes no gift at all. The key is knowing what particular sin the Lord wants named—if he wants it named at all—and when, where, and how he wants to deal with the sin. He gives grace to deal with these things when he is leading. We usually get frustrated and cause frustration when we are leading.
Are you interested in learning how to hear the voice of God in your life? This is an excerpt from Jack Deere’s new book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God. This is the story of how Jack Deere learned to hear the voice of God and, in doing so, became a friend of Jesus. Now a modern classic, Jack wrote Surprised by the Voice of God over twenty-five years ago. Based on that first book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God has been entirely rewritten and includes additional thoughts and insights from a lifetime of hearing God speak. Deere guides you through the Bible to discover the variety of creative, deeply personal ways God still communicates with us today. You’ll learn how God speaks with people apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it.
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