Recovering The Spirit of Prophecy

There is a significant amount of misunderstanding concerning prophets and their ministry. Many people believe the prophetic ministry is comprised almost exclusively of angry people thundering God’s judgments. In fact, one pastor recently commented to me, “It is dangerous to have the prophetic ministry in a church.” Although I disagree with this statement, I understand the concern and frustration behind it. Because of misunderstandings about the prophetic ministry and mistakes by some who have functioned prophetically, many people are afraid of the prophetic.
This presents an important series of questions for us. Are prophetic people, by virtue of their calling, critical, angry and uncompassionate? If you are prophetic, are you supposed to be angry and unloving by nature? If you are loving and caring, are you less prophetic than the prophets listed in the Bible? Or do we possess serious misunderstandings about prophets and the prophetic ministry?

As previously stated, these printed teachings are intended as a treatise on the office of a prophet. However, for the purpose of understanding and recovering the spirit of prophecy, we will examine the lives and function of some biblical prophets.

Our View Is Limited

Many of our general concepts about those called to prophetic ministry are inaccurate at best – some are dangerous. Many of these wrong ideas are founded upon a very limited view of a few Old Testament prophets instead of a comprehensive overview of them all.

In many cases we have been so enamored by Old Covenant prophets and their exploits that we considered their character flaws as “prophetic traits.” Instead of recognizing that their attitudes were wrong, we have created reasons and excuses for them. This has arisen from two basic problems. First, our understanding of God’s heart has been less than accurate. In spite of the scriptures to the contrary, many still believe that God is angry, impatient, and easily provoked. As such, we have represented Him this way through our prophetic ministry.

Second, we have had difficulty reconciling the fact that biblical prophets moved in such power and revelation while still having sinful attitudes. Because many have not understood God allowing such power and revelation to be released through weak and imperfect vessels, we have believed that prophets were supposed to be harsh and judgmental. Otherwise, if they were wrong in their attitudes, how could God have used them so powerfully?

One sign of maturity is the ability to understand that revelation and power demonstrated through a person is not necessarily an endorsement of their attitudes. The biblical prophets who represented the Lord as harsh and unforgiving were wrong, and God did hold them accountable for their sinfulness.

Expanding Our View

Not all Old Covenant prophets were wrathful and harsh. We need to broaden our view of the prophets and re-examine our existing prophetic “role models,” to accurately understand God’s heart for the prophetic ministry.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 14:3 that prophecy is for encouragement, building one another up, and comforting one another. However, most of our Old Testament models do not meet these criteria and neither do many of those in our personal experience. So how do we reconcile this?

We need to recognize that our attempt to define prophetic ministry by our limited encounters with a few individuals is like the parable of four blind men and an elephant. Each man attempted to define it solely from the one part that he had touched. In attempting to recreate the whole from a single part, we have created a gross caricature of this ministry that betrays the very spirit behind it.

The Danger of Looking at a Man

Rick Joyner has commented that a significant problem in the church is our tendency to judge any group by its most extreme elements. This has definitely happened with the prophetic ministry. When we think of a prophet, Elijah often springs to mind. We see him engaged in spiritual warfare on Mt. Carmel, calling an apostate nation to repentance. We see a solitary figure calmly praying and God answering by fire. We see him slaying the false prophets in an expression of God’s judgment. When we think of the prophetic, we think of power, miracles, and holiness.

Elijah and other prophets cut imposing figures and have quite naturally become our standard for prophetic ministry. But this presents a serious danger if we do not understand a very basic principle of ministry. God may infuse a person’s words with His power without simultaneously endorsing his attitude. We must separate the exploits of the prophets from their wrong attitudes so that our standard of this ministry will be accurate.

Issuing spiritual ultimatums was not the exclusive prophetic function. Many Old Covenant prophets functioned as counselors to Israel’s kings; some even gave God’s counsel to pagan kings. Not all of the Old Testament prophets harshly treated those around them. As we examine the wider spectrum of prophets, our understanding of this ministry and the spirit behind it will broaden as well.

The Elijah Model

For most people, Elijah represents the highest model of prophetic ministry. He was uncompromising in his resistance against idolatry in Israel. He stood boldly before the worst king in Israel’s history and declared the word of God without fear or compromise. He proclaimed there would be no rain except at his word, and there was no rain for three years (see 1 Kings 17:1). He also single-handedly rid Israel of 850 false prophets in one encounter (see 1 Kings 18:19). He is a good example of faith and courage.

However, the Scriptures say that he was a man of human frailties like us (see James 5:17). He was lacking in compassion, patience, and a redemptive heart. Paul writes in Romans 11:2-3 that Elijah actually interceded against Israel in his despair and anger. He cried out for God to judge and deal harshly with them.

He also apparently misjudged Obadiah who, the Bible says, feared God greatly (see I Kings 18:3). Additionally, Elijah was self-willed, not completing the assignments given to him by God, but leaving them to his successor (see I Kings 19:15-16). While we can admire his faith and courage, he did not embody the spirit of the New Testament prophet and prophecy.

True Prophets Who Helped Ahab

For those who hold Elijah to be the proto-prophet, it is enlightening to examine the other prophets of his day. On three separate occasions, God sent prophets other than Elijah to direct and inspire Ahab during battles (see I Kings 20:13-28). Many today, with a narrow understanding of the prophetic ministry, cannot imagine God sending prophets to help and encourage Ahab, who had led Israel into idolatry.

However, even under the Old Covenant with Israel’s worst king, prophets were called to help and encourage the one in leadership. They functioned in this capacity because they were motivated by God who is patient and long-suffering.

They did not encourage sin, but they did bring strength and help during times of battle and in preparation against the enemies of God. If this was the case under the Old Covenant, how much more redemptive should the prophetic ministry be under the New Covenant?

When Ahab disobeyed God’s command, another prophet came and rebuked him for not heeding the Lord (see I Kings 20:41-43). Later, when Elijah brought warning of God’s judgment, Ahab repented. Remarkably, God instructed Elijah to mark how Ahab humbled himself (see I Kings 21:17-29). God saw Ahab’s repentance and delayed the judgment coming to his house. God was trying to teach Elijah about His heart to save, redeem, and forgive so that the prophet would reflect God’s nature which rejoices in mercy, not judgment.

In many cases, prophets today need to hear God’s instruction to Elijah and see how patient He is with His people. He is longing to show His mercy and will quickly move on behalf of someone who takes one step of repentance, no matter how small (see Luke 15:17-23).

Which Spirit Are You?

Another damaging concept of prophets also comes from the life of Elijah. After being confronted by Elijah for his idolatry, Ahaziah, king of Israel, sent a captain with fifty men to bring Elijah to his palace. As they approached Elijah and demanded that he come with them, he called down fire from heaven and the soldiers were killed. Another captain with his fifty men were dispatched to bring Elijah back and were summarily consumed as well (see II Kings 1:9-12).

Taking this story to heart and ignoring Jesus’ command to love our enemies has led some to believe that prophets are exempt from the fruit of the Spirit and the walk of love. Having been molded by this wrong concept, some prophetic people are quick to call down judgment whenever they are threatened or rebuffed. In fact, some of Jesus’ disciples held this wrong concept as well.

When traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus would have passed through Samaria, but the Samaritans would not allow him into their country (see Luke 9:51-56). His disciples, enraged by this insult, asked Jesus, “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54 NIV). They did not ask Him to do it; they asked if He wanted them to do it for Him!

The previous day, these same disciples did not offer to deliver a young demon-possessed child. They were not nearly as motivated by love as they were by anger. Jesus’ reply is a rebuke to all who are mistaken about the spirit of prophecy today: “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56 NAS). His disciples did not realize that love, not anger was the true prophetic motivation.

Being prophetic means we should not only hear God’s words, but we should have His nature as well. If we want to be truly prophetic, we must have the spirit of prophecy which is the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10). The testimony of Jesus, or His witness, is God’s redeeming love for mankind. Remember, “God is love” (I John 4:8, 16 NAS).

God’s love is not sloppy, gushing, or sentimental. God’s love is not afraid to speak truth, but it is not anxious to judge either. In fact, the ability to speak the truth motivated by love is difficult and is a mark of Christian maturity (see Ephesians 4:15). If our motivation is anger, rooted in pride, we will be prone to quickly offer judgment instead of patiently interceding for mercy.

Judgment or Grace?

One prophetic friend learned this lesson the hard way. A powerful prophet with an extremely accurate ministry once prophesied judgment upon a group of pastors for a period of five minutes, reacting in anger to their sinful attitude. The Lord rebuked Him for speaking from his own anger and declared that he would be sick for five months—one month for every minute of judgment that he prophesied on God’s people. He quickly learned what spirit he was of and has not replicated this mistake.

Judging is much too easy and can be rooted in our carnality to truly prophesy the life and hope necessary to change a situation requires God’s touch. If we offer judgment without offering hope, it is probably because we are still operating from our carnal minds, not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only knows what is wrong in a situation; He knows how to help make it right because He is the Helper.

The Jonah Model

The Jonah model is an updated version of the Elijah model. God had instructed him to go to the Assyrians, but Jonah did not want to help them because they were Israel’s enemies. Instead, he boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction. When God sent a storm because of Jonah’s presence on their ship, the heathen sailors were more spiritually sensitive than Jonah. Recognizing the spiritual nature of the storm, they prayed to their idols and inquired why this storm had been sent.

When it was discovered that Jonah was to blame, these idol worshipers were unwilling to sacrifice his life for theirs. They rowed with all their might, at their own risk, to save Jonah. Finally, seeing there was no other hope but to obey Jonah’s word and throw him overboard, they did. Consider that these pagans had more compassion for someone who brought judgment on them than the man of God who claimed to understand God’s goodness and mercy (see Jonah 4:2).

Jonah may have theologically understood God’s love, but he did not possess very much of it. He was possibly the most stubborn prophet on record. It took three days and three nights in a fish’s belly before he humbled himself and repented of his sin (see Jonah 1; 2:1)! I think I would have repented the moment I was thrown overboard, and if not at that moment, then the instant a fish swallowed me.

When he was restored to dry land, the Lord once again spoke to him, sending him to Nineveh. This time Jonah went and declared, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4 KJV). When the entire city repented to the degree that everyone from the king to the cattle was wearing sackcloth and ashes, God canceled the judgment against them. Jonah, having no love for the people of Nineveh, complained about this to God, hoping He would change His mind and judge them. Jonah then waited to see what would happen.

Jonah was the only person in the entire story who had no compassion for others. The only compassion he ever showed was toward a plant that benefited him personally. God’s love was so profound, on the other hand, that He was concerned not only for the people, but also for the cattle (see Jonah 4:11). How long will we continue to misunderstand God’s heart?

Many have been taught wrongly that prophets should eagerly look for judgment, but that is inaccurate. This is not a prophetic trait; it is a character flaw. People with little or no compassion delight in judgment; mature, prophetic people delight in people turning to God and receiving mercy from Him.

Angry Young Men?

In 1 Kings 13, we find the powerful introduction of a young man of God to the nation of Israel. This man, called as a prophet, exploded onto the scene in a bold and dramatic display of prophetic power, with signs and wonders following his words. His story contains a powerful revelation of God’s heart for prophetic ministry

Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.

And he cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “0 altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.” Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.” Now it came about when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel,  that Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD (1 Kings 13:1-5 NAS).

This was dramatic ministry to say the least! God validated His word with powerful signs. He also verified and protected the young man of God with a curse upon the king. However, a more profound revelation is found in the verbal exchange that follows between the king and the man of God. When the backslidden king asked the young man of God to pray for the restoration of his hand after attempting to kill him, the young man immediately sought the Lord on his behalf.

If he were of the nature many of us believe the Old Covenant prophets to be, he would have said, “How dare you seek God, you backslidden king! Seek your pagan gods, and see if they can heal you. God will not heal you, since you have left Him and have led the people of God astray. From this day until you are gathered to your fathers, you will not lift up nor stretch forth your hand against any man again.”

But this was not his response. He sought the Lord and the Lord restored the king’s hand. Even in this instance, God’s purpose was redemptive. God is not possessed by uncontrollable anger, but is merciful and gracious beyond anything we can understand. There are instances when God’s judgments will fall, but even then they are redemptive in nature.

This man of God later made a tragic mistake—one which cost him his life. His mistake and the message it contains is much needed for our hour and is addressed in a future teaching.

Moses and the Rock

Displaying God as angry when He is not angry is probably one of the more grievous sins we can commit. It is a danger for all called to ministry, but especially those called to speak prophetically. Even Moses succumbed to this error. In Numbers Chapter 20, this was the sin which kept Moses from entering the Promised Land after enduring over thirty-nine years with Israel in the wilderness.

And there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron.  The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! “Why then have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? “And why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank (Numbers 20:2-11 NAS).

Can you hear the Lord’s tone as He gave Moses the instructions? The Lord instructed him to assemble the people, take his rod and speak to a rock, and it would give forth water. Did God express anger or disgust with His people? Was He frustrated that they doubted Him once again? No. In keeping with the revelation of Himself to Moses, God was gracious, merciful, patient, and long-suffering (see Exodus 34:6-7).
When Moses began to speak, however, he misrepresented God as being angry at the people for their rebellion. God had expressed no anger, but Moses represented God as angry, impatient, and short tempered. Moses, provoked and frustrated, struck the rock in anger instead of speaking to it.

God then issued His judgment against Moses in Numbers 20:12: “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in (rely on, cling to) Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Israelites, you therefore, shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (AMP).

God was not angry with the people, but Moses was, and he communicated his anger as God’s anger. Because of this, Moses was unable to lead the people of God into the Promised Land. This was not only a judgment against Moses; it is a message to us. We can never represent God as capricious in His anger.

Consider how damaging this error was to Israel. Have you ever worked for someone who was easily angered at seemingly insignificant issues? Never knowing what small action or question will set them off, everyone around them is paralyzed by fear, never knowing how their leader will react to any initiative they take. Heed this warning: If we are volatile and communicate that God is also, we will kill the faith and initiative of those we are leading. We cannot lead them into their Promised Land if we present God as volatile and easily angered. He is neither!

Jesus Is the Model

Some current models and teachings about prophetic people excuse this type of anger, but it is clear that God neither endorses nor excuses it. We must hold to God’s standards regardless of our experience. Prophets are not called and created to be critical, harsh, and angry. These qualities are not inherent in the prophetic gift. If we believe and teach that they are, we will create a new generation of harsh and angry prophets instead of those who are patient and forgiving like Jesus.

When Jesus’ disciples wanted to follow Elijah’s model and call down fire from heaven, He instructed them to follow His example and life, not Elijah’s (see Luke 9:54-56). If we are called to minister prophetically, we are not to model the sin and mistakes of those whose lives are revealed in Scripture. Their lives are laid bare for all to see so that we can avoid and overcome these mistakes. We must honor them for their sacrifices and zeal for God, but we cannot overlook the lessons we must learn from them.
Our Experience Can Rob Us

Church leaders must be careful to avoid the mistake outlined by C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series. A group of dwarves had been deceived by a counterfeit Asian, who was the Christ figure of these stories. Deceived by the counterfeit, they determined never to be deceived again. With this posture, they set themselves against the true Asian when he came, rejecting him and his provision for them. If we are not careful, we can reject the emerging prophetic ministry because of the mistakes and immaturity of those in our past.

I originally said that I disagreed with the pastor’s comment about it being dangerous to have the prophetic ministry in a church. His statement is an understandable viewpoint, based on the many spiritual shipwrecks caused by misunderstandings of this ministry However, it is not dangerous to have the prophetic ministry operative in your congregation—it is dangerous not to have it!

If we do not have the prophetic ministry operative in our midst, we are missing one of two foundational ministries God has given us. What building would stand if half of its foundation was missing? If you are attempting to build without the prophetic ministry as a part of your foundation, you are building something dangerous for habitation.

The prophetic ministry is not to be destructive; by its very nature it is an equipping ministry. The problem has not been the prophetic ministry but the misunderstandings surrounding it. We cannot throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. The prophetic, although still a baby in some ways, will eventually mature to be an unprecedented source of strength in the church.

Instead of reacting to the mistakes of the past and allowing these mistakes to define the prophetic ministry, we must endeavor to find God’s standards. They are available to us if we choose not to settle for the commonly accepted traditions that currently exist. As we find God’s heart and standards and proclaim them, we will begin to see the true spirit of prophecy come forth in those who are emerging in this ministry. They will be a blessing we never could have imagined.


Adapted from the book by Steve Thompson “You May All Prophesy!” Practical Guidelines for Prophetic Ministry
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