There are tons of resources, conferences, books and magazine articles exploring strategies to make the gospel relevant to today’s culture. Some people will tell you it is all about the presentation. Others will tell you that content is the critical element for success. And while both of these are important, I believe one of the missing ingredients in many cases is prophecy.
Depending on your religious and cultural background, bells and warning sirens may be going off in your head right now. But I believe that prophecy has developed a bad rap because of abuses by many misguided or fraudulent “prophets.”
When someone mentions the word “prophet”, pictures of odd men dressed in fur, carrying a staff and proclaiming, “Thus saith the Lord” comes to mind for many people. They think of the angry prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures proclaiming judgment and wrath. Or they think of a crazy guy who went around a church telling people their future.
Today, many so-called prophets act like some spiritual fortune teller, offering advice to whoever will listen. These phonies have caused many to despise prophecy and thereby miss out on a critical element for reaching the lost and restoring the believer.
Some people mistakenly think that New Covenant prophecy works the same way as the office of prophet in the Torah. But this is not true. Prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Joel spoke the very words of God without error. In the modern context, prophecies are supposed to be judged by the prophets as part of a fellowship under the authority of elders, apostles and pastors. Prophets are not to be 100% trusted. All things are to be tested. And false prophets should be silenced.
For many fellowships, instead of deal with possible prophetic abuses, they have taken the more expedient path by simply stifling prophecy altogether. This has robbed the Church of a major gift giving by the Spirit and rendered many of its outreach attempts ineffective.
I believe that quite simply prophecy is divinely inspired truth that reaches to the very depths of each individual in a powerful and relevant way. Prophecy helps people connect the dots and see how the truths revealed in the Bible are relevant to their everyday lives. Prophecy is rooted in love and conveys a message of hope. True Biblical prophecy will never cause condemnation or lead someone to feel as if there is no hope for him.
Prophecy may point out a fault. But it will always be done in such a way to encourage people to live as God intended. Prophecy must never be used as a weapon. Prophecy must be grounded in love or else it tends to get out of hand. Prophets can become prideful and manipulative. They can keep entire congregations under their control by preying on people’s fears and dreams. I am always suspicious of someone who walks around telling everyone else that they are a prophet.
Generally, real prophets don’t have to wear a name badge and they won’t always have a word for you. Prophecy cannot be had like a ball of gum from a vending machine. False prophets tend to be very prideful of their gifting although they may hide it well by their humble façade. False prophets tend to expect to be heard regardless of whether or not they have relationship with the leaders of a particular fellowship.
Wise church leaders will recognize false prophets and keep their lies from disturbing the flock while providing freedom for the real prophetic gift to work. The true prophetic word is needed now as much as ever to convey truth through a glut of information. As a culture, we are saturated with media, marketing and messages. The prophetic gift can make the truth stand out from all the crap that is out there.
Joel proclaimed that in the last days God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Sons and daughters of the promise would prophecy. The apostle Paul encourages the early Christians in Corinth to desire the gift of prophecy. Unlike tongues, which cannot be understood with interpretation, prophecy presents profound truth in a way that anyone can understand. Prophecy exposes the secrets of the hearts causing people to connect with God and repent. Prophecy creates credibility by helping people see God’s power working through Christians.
This new perspective on prophecy has helped me get a better grasp on my calling and gifting. God has gifted me with prophetic insight from time to time. I asked for this gift. And God gave it to me. But I was not sure how it could be used to be relevant and effective today. Thoughts like “Prophecy is not seeker friendly” and “Prophets always seem angry” caused me to wonder if maybe this was a gift best left to the likes of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Malachi.
And while I do not call myself a prophet, I do tend to perceive things that many people normally miss. And I have been known to speak prophetic words from time to time. Honestly, I have seen in my own life the opportunity to abuse this gift, which has caused me to be sober minded. My own mistakes have led me to be in submission to others within the local church. Prophetic words without accountability can cause pain and damage God’s legitimate work.
God has opened my eyes to see that prophecy is not just about the future. Prophecy goes way beyond simply calling people to repentance. A major reason for prophecy is to unlock the mysteries of God’s divine truth so that we can live the best life, God’s way, right here and right now. Prophecy helps us live in the present by the light of eternity. Prophecy makes the truths of God relevant and real to our world today.
If you’re looking for a way to be relevant in ministry, work on the obvious things like presentation, context and content. And to these make sure to add prophecy as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Done decently and in order, prophecy may be the one spiritual element you lack to reach people right where they are so that God can make them what He wants them to be.