Prophecy and Pain


WARNING: Plenty of God talk to follow. If that sort of thing makes you choke like a rock drummer on his own vomit, then by all means please skip this blog.

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Prophecy is a heavy burden to bear. I don’t mean saying words: saying words is far too easy. I mean when a “prophet” speaks words over a person. Allow me to give three examples; each a true story. I won’t give the real names of the people involved.

I myself am living “outside” a prophetic word.  I think of it weekly, sometimes.  How come my life didn’t turn out the way the prophecy said it would? Why are my cousin and I not the Moses and Aaron of Children’s Ministries worldwide? Did I miss a boat somewhere, and live my life wrong? what about my cousin? He didn’t even know about the prophecy and he hasn’t fared any better toward this goal. Maybe it’s ultimately better not to know.

Sarah has been blind in one eye since she can remember.  When she was sixteen, she went to see a famous evangelist/healer at her parents’ urging. In the show, he prophesied that her eye would be healed. Her eye was healed, in fact, he promised, in front of thousands of believers who shouted, clapped, and praised God. She just had to believe and come forth into the light. The evangelist left town soon after, as these itinerant preachers do, and the girl’s eye was still unhealed. Sarah continued to believe. A month passed. She asked her parents what she did wrong. It wasn’t working. Her parents insisted it was hidden sin in her life: God was withholding His Glory because she hadn’t yet *deserved* the fullness of His healing. She spent years battling, and finally resigned herself to blindness, and to her decrepit fallen nature.

Beth accepted the minister’s word: she’d been totally healed of her heart condition at a youth camp. She wept with joy for her healing, in a testimony service, and went out from the chapel service to play ball with her friends. She’d never been able to run before; nor hardly walk. God had made her whole! Beth was excited to share the good news to the parents, which she was able to do 2 days later, when she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because she’d overtaxed herself.

Donna’s mother prophesied that her daughter was to marry a pastor and would go to the mission field. Mother had the “gift” — she saw things that others didn’t. She saw the future. She also saw demonic presences, and took very literally the commandment to “pray without ceasing.” She was truly blessed of the Lord, and had a nearly-direct line to the Heart of God. Donna spent four years at Bible College, looking for the mate her mother had prophesied of. Her major was music, appropriate to a helpmeet of a young minister. Her mother scheduled her classes, managed her friends, and acted as the rudder to steer Donna’s life. If she ever dared contradict her, she wasn’t going simply against Mother’s wishes, but God’s wishes as well.  When her mother began to die, it’s as if the rudder had snapped loose. Donna’s life changed. In sorrow, she began to rebel. Her mother passed away. She married a kind man, but not a pastor. She’s lived in the pain of knowing she was, for the rest of her life, living outside God’s will, a shame to both her Mother’s wishes, and to God.

Without much struggle, I can think of five more stories in a similar vein. Accepting prophecy is not a rare thing in the modern Charismatic movement, people. In fact, it’s almost a necessity.  If you don’t believe, where’s your faith? To contradict the Mouthpiece of God is to contradict God himself.  The problem can’t lie within God, who is all-knowing, and omnioptent.  It can’t lie with His Mouthpiece. Where else is there? Well? You. And the Devil. Sin. Maybe a combination of the three. This is the logical chain that leaves us to blame the person who’s been given the gift of a Prophetic Word.

I’m not indicting the Church, or people who are proclaimed to be Prophets. It does make you wonder, though, why prophecy is important? As Christians we’ve been given a relatively simple prophetic vision of the future: There’s Christ, who will be returning, and at some point (depending on your flavor of Christianity) the Chosen of God will spend eternity in Paradise. Isn’t that good enough? Do we have to know more specific things of our life, to be happy? or is knowing the future as much a curse as lamenting your past? Either way, you forget to live.

I’m also not denying the possibility of miracles. You may notice a pattern in the Bible, if you read the Gospels/Acts.  First, the miracles of Christ don’t come with strings attached.  I don’t think I read the passage where Jesus of Nazereth said “Believe harder, and your leprosy will be healed.” Second, the miracles always point to something bigger than the miracle itself. That’s why they’re called miracles, and not “Free stuff from God for his chosen,” notwithstanding the fact that 3-syllable words are easier to say.

Any prophecy though, is rooted in wisdom, not in fortune-telling. I wonder if the evangelist in my first story ever went back to check to see how Sarah was doing? I doubt it. I would bet he forgot about Sarah within a week. Another story to show the power of God working through the evangelist’s ministry.

I am amazed Beth’s parents didn’t own themselves their very own youth camp after that summer. Did the camp ever learn its lesson? What of the pastor who “guaranteed” her healing, and let her leave without a medical confirmation of the miracle? Was he held responsible?

How about Donna? How would her life have been different if, rather than trying to fit herself into the words of a prophecy, she’d have simply lived her life to its fullest? Where would she be today? would she be weeping for her lost past?

Like most of my “religious” posts, I have more questions than answers. This is all for thought. The idea of prophecy in the 21st century is unformed. We all think we know what it means, but if it’s just a license to do and say whatever we like, consequences be damned, maybe it’s time to sit down and really struggle with the meaning of prophecy. Somebody’d better, before anyone else gets hurt.

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7 thoughts on “Prophecy and Pain”

  1. I am a close friend of one of your examples. (She showed me your post and I followed you!) She and I were discussing prophecy after reading your post and I pointed out to her that, as a husband, a man is the pastor of his own family, responsible for drawing them to Christ. If that is the case then my best buddy DID marry a pastor, just not one overseeing a great many people.
    As a person who has been to many denominations in my life, including some Charismatic ones, I can agree with you about the uselessness and even destructiveness of making the Gospel about our own personal journey and not about the Church–all of us together.

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  2. My experience with prophetic words has been interesting. I attand a church where the prophetic word is quite active and is exercised in nearly every service. That being said I think it is important to understand that a word does not necisarily mean what you think it means when you first heard it. Also a prophetic word that is in fact from God will be confirmed indepentently by another source. Also prophetic words are often for more of a heading than a destination. Like when you get on a highway “to Los Angeles” it doesn’t mean your going all the way to Los Angeles, just in that general direction for this particular leg of the journey. Maybe the direction God sends you is not for you, but for someone you will interact with that will need you. The unfortunate downside is that not everyone that claims to have a word from God does have a word from God. Back in the day when a prophet was shown to be inaccurate they were executed as a false prophet. It cut down on careless words being given. That is typically frowned on now-a-days. Since we can’t kill’em we need to be more careful and thorough about getting a confirming word or scripture before we sell everything we have because the rapture is gonna happen next thursday.

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  3. Churches try to make God soooo hard. It’s so simple. Have faith and believe in Him. Accept his gift of salvation. There are so many different ways to explain a “Missionary” life. All of us a missionaries. Maybe we don’t go to Africa or where ever, but we are missionaries in our everyday life. We are just asked to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Many of the “Good Churches” have done no favor to God.

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  4. I’d never heard of this phenomenon until I was at Bethany, where a very well-meaning gentleman (I hope he was well-meaning, I just assumed that part) “prophesied” over my life. Jesus told him that I would be married, attending an AG church, and preggo within two years! I think he implied that this meant my life would be a success and full of deep meaning.

    I told him I hadn’t ever heard that from Jesus and I didn’t see why Jesus was talking behind my back.

    He told me that unless I prayed in tongues I’d never know what Jesus wanted for my life.

    I tried to avoid this man from this point on. It’s been 6 years, and none of those things are even likely, let alone happening– success and deep meaning be damned. As far as I understand God, which is precious little, He (or She) can speak to whomever He (or She) wishes. If God has news for someone, I’m pretty sure God can let that person know without resorting to gossip.

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  5. Brian,
    Thanks for your blog on prophecy and pain. I am currently teaching 1st Corinthians in a local church on Sunday morning, and we are in chapter 12. I am a Pentecostal by experience – and later as an adult embraced my Pentecostal heritage through scholarship. While I did not throw the “baby out with the bathwater,” I did discard many of my childish (1 Cor 13:11) ways of thinking during the process of graduate studies. In my opinion, Pentecostals seem much more comfortable with the category of “theological studies” — rather than “exegetical studies.” Theological studies is a deductive science, designed to answer questions and match human experiences with divine reality. It helps to make things fit. Pentecostalism, with its orientation toward the immediacy of the Spirit, by nature is filled with many unanswered questions from a logical orthodoxy. As a result, Pentecostals have created their own logic of sorts with “tools” found in theological studies. By doing this they have made assumptions – in this discussion – specifically about spiritual gifts that have no firm biblical foundation. Those of us who prefer exegetical studies (with its inductive orientation) often grimace at the doctrinal gymnastics of some Pentecostal “theologians.” For if we combine the premise of the exegete that a “text can never come to mean what it never meant,” – with the affirmation common in classic Pentecostal statements of faith that the “Bible is the sole rule for faith and practice,” – then we must find the purpose of the gift of prophecy within the context of the meaning of the original author(s) of the Bible. A review of the New Testament, clearly outlines the purpose of prophecy – “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Cor 14:3). The Corinthian correspondence gives the most comprehensive picture of the role and use of spiritual gifts. Using the tools of exegesis, it becomes abundantly clear that spiritual gifts are to build up the body (note especially the discussion found in chapter 12:12ff). Even when prophecy had a future element (Agabus the prophet warning Paul in Acts 21), it was in the context of the life of the church – not Paul’s future “success” as a person. Prophecy is NOT equal to inspired Scripture. It is a word from God – not the Word of God. The messages are more for the situation and context – not to be written or collected and passed down. Ultimately, they are to build, strengthen, encourage, comfort, and give hope to the church body – not an individualistic “prophetic word” to someone regarding his/her future. The practice of predicting individual’s future in Christianity today – in my opinion – is a product of contemporary theology – and not founded on the practice of the New Testament church. For those who have suffered through the pain of “I have missed my prophetic path” – I would encourage each to move on past those experiences and embrace who God is developing you to be.

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  6. Yeah. I get this. I’ve had bizarre words prophesied over me in the heat of the moment (for the prophet). The problem is that the words go out, regardless of the person’s age or maturity hearing them. As you mature, you learn to weigh and test the words against the Bible and against what you already know about yourself and God’s plan. But as a child, these words can devastate and derail. Maybe there should be a filter, get it in written form, have it be digested in private? Why isn’t there a recovery group for people hurt by crappy prophetic words – Prophecy Fallout Anonymous? I don’t know.

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