(NO ROOM FOR ERROR?)
For all ministries except one, we allow opportunities for people to grow in their gifts and abilities. No one expects teachers to be flawless, or even completely comfortable, when they first begin teaching. Nor do we require perfection of pastors when they begin their ministries. But because of misunderstandings surrounding the prophetic ministry, most of the church expects perfection from beginners. In so doing, we have effectively stopped many who were called to walk in the prophetic.
We must grow in our understanding of God. Like the children of Israel, we have seen His acts. However, we must become like Moses and understand God’s ways (see Psalm 103:7). To have a mature prophetic ministry functioning in our congregations and in the church at large, we must first embrace immature prophetic people. As we provide a safe place for them to “try their wings,” they can have a place to grow and mature.
Is God a Harsh Judge?
While preparing for a prophetic training conference where I was scheduled to minister, God dramatically confirmed my choice of messages.
The Lord had instructed me to share a message entitled, “No Room for Error” that I had taught once before at a conference. I do not like to speak the same message twice, so I was questioning this leading. The central theme addressed the wrong concept that unless we are 100 percent accurate in our prophecies, we must be false prophets.
At the previous conference where I shared this message, God had given me an emphatic confirmation. The day I was scheduled to speak, our local newspaper carried the headline “No Room for Error” on the front page. It was a story about the leader of the Blue Angels resigning his commission because the pressure to be perfect was destroying him. This article was a prophetic outline of my message.
The day before the current conference was to begin, I was wrestling with sharing this same teaching. That morning, I saw the following headline in the sports section of our local newspaper: “No Room for Error.” I was stunned. This was the second time that God had used the local paper to confirm my message
This newspaper article described the absurd strictness of the judges presiding over the women’s Olympic gymnastics competition. These judges penalized the young gymnasts severely for the smallest infraction. The article said that one gymnast “had made several mistakes early and had taken herself out of the competition.” My message for the conference was that many had “taken themselves out of ministry because of a few small mistakes, believing that God was a harsh judge.”
The first night of the conference, one of the other speakers approached me just before I was to share this message and said, “God just told me to come over here and tell you that He is not like those Olympic judges for the women’s gymnastics. He is not critical and harsh with His people like that.”
Why would God give so many powerful confirmations of my message? Because we desperately needed to hear it. If we do not understand that God is a Father and not a harsh judge of His people, we will never have the faith necessary to begin in prophetic ministry
Mistakes Will Happen
When people first begin functioning in prophecy, they will make mistakes. It happens to almost everyone. Those who know God’s grace and mercy are able to endure the embarrassment, failure, and sense of shame and press ahead in their calling. Others, believing that God is a harsh judge, make a few mistakes and “take themselves out of the game,” thinking they have been disqualified.
God is not critical and harsh with us as we are learning to minister. Ministering prophetically is obeying God and serving His children in love. Why would God harshly judge anyone trying to obey Him and help His children? What parent would be harsh and critical with a child who made an innocent mistake while trying to help a sibling?
Jesus tried to help His disciples see this truth as well.
“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13 NAS)
As stated previously, this analogy reveals God’s heart toward providing us with the spiritual gifts we need to minister to others. But would not this fatherly attitude be exhibited in other ways as well? We do not expect our three-year-olds to be as mature as our teenagers. If we did, we would inhibit their development. In the same way, God does not expect instant maturity from us.
No one will mature in ministry if they are not given ample opportunity to try their wings without having to fear harsh judgment for mistakes born of immaturity. We must understand that the Lord not only allows, but expects us to make mistakes as we begin in ministry.
Is it possible that more people are making mistakes by not moving in faith than by sincere, though immature, efforts to follow God’s leading? While He is able to correct our mistakes, we must follow Him and do what He has shown us. If we fail to step out in faith, the people who need our ministry will not be touched. All ministries require us to walk in faith. I discovered this truth the hard way.
Making Sure It Is God
As I was driving across town to my fiancée’s house one day in 1988, the Lord spoke to me and instructed me to go see a friend whom I had not seen in six months. We had been estranged from one another because of a misunderstanding. When the Lord spoke to me, my first response was doubt. I immediately thought to myself, He won’t be home; it’s the middle of the day!
Still doubting he would be there but determined to follow God’s leading, I drove to his street. However, I wanted to find some way to make sure this word was from God so I wouldn’t be embarrassed by pulling into his driveway only to find that he was not there. If he wasn’t there, it would mean I had not heard the Lord and was therefore a false prophet. So I decided to drive by his house first to see if his car was in the driveway. As I drove by, sure enough, his car was there! I rejoiced that I had heard the Lord and went to the end of the cul-de-sac to turn my car around.
As I drove back to his house and pulled into the driveway, I was shocked to see that his car was no longer there. In the three minutes it had taken me to turn my car around, he had left! When his sister answered the doorbell, she told me that he had just left for Bible college.
I never saw him again. Our lives went in two different directions from that point, and we never had the opportunity to be reconciled as the Lord wanted. We were robbed of our reconciliation by my fear of missing God and my misconception that I had no room for error in following His leading.
Crushed by my failure, I forgot about my fiancée and returned home. Convinced that the Lord was done with me forever, I fell on my face in repentance, repeatedly promising Him that I would never fail to follow His voice again. However, the error in my understanding was not corrected, and I was headed for disaster.
That same evening, as I was driving through the opposite side of town, the Lord spoke to me again. He told me to go by another friend’s house because her Buddhist brother was in town from New York and I was to witness to him. Again, my initial response was doubt. He won’t be there; I’m just making this stuff up, I reasoned.
Having forgotten the painful lesson earlier in the day, I decided to drive past her house to make sure this word really was from God. Just as the Lord had spoken, his car was there—New York license plate and all. Not thinking about the episode earlier that day, I drove to the street’s end to turn around, excited that I had heard from God so clearly. Three minutes later, when I returned to her house, I could see her brother’s car pulling out of their street onto the main road. I went to the door and found that he had just left to return to New York. I have never seen him again to this day.
In one day, I had two opportunities to see the power of God released by my obedience to His leading. Instead, I had two dramatic failures; not because I did not hear God correctly, but because I tried to make sure it was Him before I obeyed! By trying to make sure it was God, I had not moved in faith and missed the blessing that God had reserved for two people.
I wrongly believed that God did not allow for any mistakes for those who move prophetically. As a result I became immobilized through fear. There I was, required to obey God’s unusual leadings, yet with no liberty to miss the mark in any way. Because of the harsh judgment I thought I was receiving from God, I eventually proclaimed, “I will never prophesy to another living creature!”
The Mercy of God
After these and other mistakes, I put all prophetic ministry on the shelf for about eighteen months. During that time, God began to teach me about His mercy, something I badly needed to understand. As I learned about the depth of His love for me, I gradually became bolder in stepping out again in faith. He also placed me in relationships with more mature believers who could disciple me and help me as I grew in understanding about how to function in my spiritual gifts.
The idea that God expects perfection from us is unbiblical. God always provides for us what He expects from us (see Genesis 22:8-14). He is not expecting instant maturity, but He does expect us to grow into maturity. God wants us to eventually walk in all of His fullness, but this will only come as we are rooted and grounded in His love. Paul prayed this for the believers in Ephesus:
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NAS).
If we do not understand the mercy of God, we will end up missing what God has for us and others. On the other hand, as we become rooted and grounded in His love, we receive greater fullness from God. As we grow in and receive His love, He is able to release greater ministry through us.
We must faithfully serve Him in difficult endeavors, confident in His mercy toward us. Like every person of faith before us, we must launch out, believing in faith what God speaks to us.
God’s Method of Confirmation
The Lord does have a method by which He confirms prophetic words and words of direction. We find this mentioned in Exodus 3. However, it may not be the way we want Him to confirm things. In this chapter, we find the account of God calling Moses to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. Moses had been following sheep around for the past forty years when God suddenly called him into ministry.
God told Moses to approach Pharaoh, ruler of the greatest civilization on earth at that time, and demand that he release his slave labor force (all 1.2 million of them) so they could worship God in the wilderness. Moses, full of self-doubt, tells the Lord that he is not able to accomplish this task. The Lord then encourages Moses and gives him a sign:
But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain” (Exodus 3:11-12 NAS).
In effect, God told Moses, “This is a sign to you that I have sent you to deliver over a million slaves from their bondage. After you have done it, you will worship Me on this mountain.” In other words, ‘After you’ve done what I’ve told you to do, you will know that it was Me who told you to do it!”
Though this method of confirmation may not do much to alleviate our fears, it is often the only way God shows that His word of direction to us is really from Him. When we obey God and step out in faith and the situation works out, then we know that it really was God.
Then I Knew
Consider the great prophet Jeremiah. At the risk of his life, he was willing to prophesy a hard word to the king of Israel. He stood against false prophets and prophesied the true, but unpopular, word of God. Surely he must have immediately recognized when God spoke to him. However, if we examine Scripture more closely, we may find differently:
And Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, ‘Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.’ “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD” (Jeremiah 3 2:6-8 NAS).
When the word God had spoken to him came to pass, then Jeremiah knew that it was the Lord! When we read that the word of the Lord came to the Old Testament prophets, we envision much more dramatic circumstances than what usually happened. We think of thundering voices, wheels within wheels, four living creatures, and angelic visitations. However, much of what they received prophetically was on a lower level of revelation. Sometimes they didn’t know that a word was from the Lord until it came to pass.
The Necessity of Faith
We need to recognize that every aspect of God’s work requires us to walk in faith. Prophetic ministry is no different. While it is awesome to witness someone moving in dramatic levels of prophetic ministry, when we are the vessels the Lord is using, we may at first experience fear instead of euphoria. Prophesying, like any ministry, is a step of faith that usually requires us to get past our feelings and our fears.
Since prophetic ministry is telling people things that we do not know by our own knowledge, it is like walking on water every time we do it. If we are insecure in the Lord’s willingness to cover us, we will struggle as we give prophetic words.
Faith and humility are two primary requirements for prophetic ministry. There are two ways you can circumvent these requirements: Don’t prophesy at all or cheat when you do. Cheating is prophesying things you already know in the natural, which is a characteristic of false prophets. While most believers avoid this temptation, many fall to the first. They do not prophesy because they are afraid of making mistakes.
However, mistakes are not optional. Although no one enjoys the process, the way most of us learn is through trial and error. When we try something new, we will make errors. This is the nature of life and ministry. If we are unwilling to function at an immature level of prophetic ministry, we will probably never walk in mature prophetic ministry. We must crawl before we walk.
When we first begin, we usually start out with prophetic ministry that is not spectacular. But we must not despise the day of small beginnings. If we will only give the revelation, God is able to profoundly touch people through the smallest and simplest prophetic revelations.
Several years ago, I held some prophetic training classes in a small town in another state. After some basic instruction about the prophetic gifts to a group of about fifty people, I released them to minister to someone in the meeting. A young lady from a nearby town volunteered to receive prophetic ministry from the others.
After we prayed for the Lord to give us words for her, people began sharing what the Lord had given them. Many relayed scripture verses or visions that were very encouraging to her. The majority of them spoke directly to her present situation, even though none of the people knew her. At the end of our ministry time, a man in the back said he had received a picture, but was unsure what it meant. He said simply that he had seen a picture of a kangaroo while praying.
Immediately, the entire group erupted in laughter at this picture, because it seemed out of place. People began making jokes about kangaroos and were talking loudly among themselves while the man sat back in his chair somewhat embarrassed by the reaction.
Trying to restore some semblance of order, I turned to the lady and asked if she had ever been to Australia. She replied that she had been a missionary in Australia for two years and had lived on a ranch there. She reported that the owner of the ranch had a pet kangaroo that would follow her around everywhere she went. She was back in the United States now, looking for direction from the Lord. A hush came over the crowd as the fear of God fell in the room.
This simple prophetic word propelled her into quite a journey over the next eighteen months. Encouraged by the “kangaroo word,” she moved across the country to attend a ministry training school, less than one month after receiving the word. Two months later, a prophetic minister visiting the school called her out at a meeting and spoke to her about a calling to Australia and New Zealand.
One month later another minister visiting the school gave her a similar word. Upon graduation, she was invited to work with one of the strongest ministries in New Zealand. She now lives there, ministering in New Zealand, Australia, and throughout Asia. She points back to a simple word at a small meeting, in a small town, as the catalyst that put her in the geographic will of God more than 10,000 miles away.
There are several simple but profound principles in this story. First, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. While this is offensive to perfectionists, it is a powerful truth. We start where we are and grow from there. Some people want to be excellent in ministry before they ever begin ministering! But that’s not how it works.
What musicians become skilled with their instruments without making thousands of mistakes as they learn how to play? The answer is none. Then why do we expect people just beginning to move in prophetic gifts to do everything perfectly from the start? We must be willing to do it poorly before we can do it with excellence. The key is to just get started. The sooner we start, the quicker we can become excellent.
The man who gave the kangaroo word started in a weak fashion because he did not have an interpretation, just a simple picture. From that simple beginning, he has progressed remarkably. One of the last times I saw him minister prophetically was two years after the kangaroo word. By then his confidence had blossomed and his accuracy in prophecy was amazing. He would never have matured in his gifts, however, without the freedom to “try his wings” in a safe environment with no fear of being labeled a false prophet if he failed.
There is another important lesson in this example. This man did not attempt to create an interpretation of the picture he saw; he simply shared what God gave him. Instead of diluting a valid word from God with his own interpretation, he allowed God to fill in the blanks. The one word God speaks is more powerful than a thousand that we can speak on our own. Though the mental picture he saw seemed foolish, God supplied the interpretation through someone else. Through this word many lives were changed forever.
Another obstacle that some experience as they begin to prophesy is incomplete revelation. While in France for a conference, I received a vision one night immediately after retiring to bed. I saw a woman with red hair wearing an Australian hat on her head. I immediately thought, “Some woman needs an Australian covering (husband),” but I did not know whom this was for. I turned my reading lamp back on and wrote the vision down. When I turned the lamp on, a team member who was traveling with me also received something from the Lord and wrote it down. We did not discuss the words that we had received.
The next day this team member began ministering to the man who was driving us to lunch. He encouraged this man, who was an evangelist, that the Lord was for him and that this year would be better than the last. The driver thanked my friend and began to describe his deep and painful experience during the last year. He explained that he was engaged to a girl from Australia, but that they had decided not to get married. Although he felt this was from the Lord, it had been incredibly painful to endure and he had almost left the ministry.
I immediately told him my vision about the girl with the Australian hat from the night before. My friend then told the man that he had received the word of encouragement for him at the same time I received the vision! We admitted to him that we could not explain everything about his situation and we did not receive any further insights. Our new friend still had many unanswered questions because our revelation was incomplete.
The next day as we entered the conference hall, I saw this evangelist standing across the room, and I immediately saw a transformation in him. I turned to my friend and said, “God has healed the crack that was causing him to leak. Look, he’s fatter in the spirit today!” When I said this, my friend looked stunned. He told me that the previous day, a woman had come to him with a vision she had received for this evangelist. In it she saw him as a clay vessel with a crack that was causing him to leak. The crack was a wound in his spirit.
God confirmed to us that this man had been healed through what we had considered incomplete revelation. Regardless of how incomplete our revelation was, God had healed him. Incomplete revelation still has power to heal. As we mature in prophetic ministry, we must never disregard what God gives us, even when it is incomplete. We should pursue the Lord for more revelation, but if we do not receive any more, we should still give what we have.
Another area that shuts down inexperienced people is receiving very general revelation. Because we are often looking for profoundly specific words, we sometimes reject the general revelation that God is giving us.
This was true in the case of a good friend of mine named Carl. He met the Lord as a result of what most people would consider a very general prophetic revelation. He had become very successful in business before he was thirty years old, only to see it all crumble before his eyes. While driving to work one day, he saw a billboard advertising a competitor’s business which was thriving. Although he did not know the Lord, Carl began questioning God as to why his business was failing even though he was honest, and his competitor’s business was thriving, although he was corrupt.
Immediately, God showed my friend all of the times He had tried to draw him to Himself and how often he had rejected the Lord. He broke down emotionally and began to weep in his car. Deeply convicted, he cried out in his distress, “God have I gotten so far from you that I can never get back to you?” He wept uncontrollably during the remainder of his drive and for thirty minutes after arriving at his office.
While trying to regain his composure, a business acquaintance called and left an urgent message for Carl to call him at home. He called the gentleman and finally reached him on his car phone. This man explained to my friend that he was a Christian and often prayed for my friend and his family. He said that during his morning run, the Lord had reminded him of my friend. He then prayed for Carl as he ran. After this gentleman finished his run, the Lord told him to call my friend and tell him that “he had not gotten so far from God that he could never get back to Him.” My friend had a profound encounter with the Lord as a result.
Many are looking for spectacular prophetic revelation and dismiss the general revelation. Saying to someone, “You haven’t gotten so far from God that you can never come back,” may not seem like a high level revelation or ministry in our opinion, unless we know that person’s situation (and we usually don’t when God uses us prophetically). This is a very important concept: What may sound general to us is often extremely pointed and accurate to the person for whom it is intended. We cannot judge prophecy before it is given. We must give it first and then let the people we are prophesying to judge it.
There are several other principles that we can see in this example. First, this man obeyed God at the risk of his reputation. He had to push past fear of ridicule or rejection in order to give this word. We must get past these fears if we are to ever be fruitful in prophetic ministry. We will overcome them when we realize that the obedience which may cause us to look foolish may also bring someone’s salvation.
Another area that beginners need to deal with is rejected revelation. Often people are more prone to receive a word from someone who has a reputation for being prophetic. While this may not be right, it is a reality As such, when we begin in prophetic ministry, people may often reject the prophetic words we give to them because they have no previous experience with us. Also, people may not realize that the word is valid and may reject it out of ignorance as well.
A good example of this occurred during a conference I attended in another country. After the last session, a very kind, young woman asked to speak with me because she believed she had a prophetic word for me. She said that the Lord had told her there was a wound between my wife and me and that she would like to pray for it to be healed.
I thanked her for her willingness to share the word, but told her that there was no wound between my wife and me. In an attempt to encourage her, I told her that I did miss my family since I had a newborn son at home and did not really want to be thousands of miles away from them. I told her she was probably sensing my feelings of missing my family. After encouraging her, I turned to walk away.
Very kindly, she stopped me and asked if she could pray for me anyway. I let her pray for me and then thanked her again for stepping out in faith. When I arrived home, I found that there was a new freshness in my marriage from the moment I stepped over the threshold. There bad been a wound between my wife and me that neither of us was aware of, but now it was gone. The Lord healed my marriage through a prophetic word that I rejected.
Just like this woman, we do not need to worry when our words are not received. They often have power even when they are rejected. God is only asking us to deliver them. We are not responsible to see that they are received. If we will do our part, then He will do the rest.
Note: If I had told this woman, “No, you cannot pray for me,” it would have been wrong for her to persist and pray with me anyway. If I had refused her prayers, I would have missed what God had for me, since my humility and her prayer were part of God’s plan. We cannot force people to receive our words. We must simply give them and trust the Holy Spirit to do His part.
Walking on the Water
Our part is easy, unless we begin to analyze it. If we begin reasoning about a word God has given us, we are probably in danger of not giving it. Prophesying is a lot like walking on the water. We are asked to do something that we cannot do. God asks us to tell people things about themselves and their situations that we could not know This is difficult when we are enslaved to our reason, afraid of failing, or afraid of appearing foolish.
We must be willing to look foolish in order to walk in prophetic gifts. A prophetic word that is not given cannot minister to anyone. We must give what God has given us. I Corinthians 14:3 says that “one who prophesies speaks to men.” We must speak to them or they will not benefit from the word. If we stay within the parameters of encouragement, edification, and comfort, we will not make harmful mistakes. The prophetic words we receive for others can bring restoration, healing, and deliverance. Share what God gives you without the fear of being labeled false.
Adapted from Steve Thompson’s book: “You May All Prophesy! Practical Guidelines for Prophetic Ministry”