With so many questionable prophetic words circulating these days, concerning both the wider world and personal prophecies, wouldn’t it be a good thing for the body of Christ to sharpen its discernment?
I fear that to fail to do this will ultimately result in a tragic disillusionment with prophetic ministry at a time in history when accurate plumb line prophetic ministry is desperately needed. What are some ways to sort true words from false?
- Does this supposed word from God stand the test of Scripture?
Colossians 2:18 warns against the one who takes his “stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” It can be supposed revelatory visions we believe reveal a truth or it can be receiving a vision for some ministry you want to do or a position you’re convinced you hold that fills you with an energy that isn’t the Lord. In any case, it must square with the eternal Word. The apostle Paul wrote: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8)
- Does this word reflect the revealed nature and character of God?
Begin this test with I John 4:8: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God is love. His love may take many forms, ranging from tenderness to discipline and even anger, but it will always be love for our sake – love in the content of the word and love in the spirit of the word.
- Does this word line up with what God is already doing and with what the Bible tells us God wants to do?
Question words that lead us in different directions than those already in evidence, bearing fruit in our lives and ministries. For instance, we founded the church I pastor on a vision for mercy—that we would be a place of refuge and healing. But for a time, we allowed ourselves to be side-tracked by those who called for a spiritual warfare emphasis. The result was predictably wounding. Until God brought about a cleansing, removed the competing voices and restored us to the original vision, warfare nearly destroyed us. We should have known. There have been others who called for a primary emphasis on prophetic ministry as our foundation. It resulted in deception and harm because God had dictated and confirmed a different foundation.
- Does it pass the reality check?
A man who believed himself to be prophetic brought a word that a group of men would soon approach me seeking a financial alliance, but that I should not ally with them because it would lead to financial ruin for the church. This “word” failed the reality check in two areas. First, I have refused over the years to treat wealthy people any differently than others. This has actually lost the church a lot of money, so the likelihood that I would make any kind of financial alliance involving the church is remote at best. The second is that this word was given at least 15 years ago and no such group of men has ever approached me.
“You’re going to be a great leader.” Look behind you. Is anyone following? You’re going to stand in front of thousands and sing your songs, but do you have the skills? Is your voice of star quality? How do audiences respond to your music today?
“There’s great disharmony in the church.” Is there?
“The one world government is just around the corner.” Is it? In reality, the world trends toward fragmentation these days, every ethnic group wanting to become its own nation. Reality check!
- Do any concrete realities accompany the prophetic word?
When God called Moses to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the people go, He gave him a burning bush—a real bush in real flames. When the apostle Paul received his call, he saw a bright light and heard an audible voice. Others saw the light and heard the voice as well. These were real manifestations! As I considered planting the church I now pastor, I sought a concrete confirmation in the form of three months’ income in advance. God miraculously provided!
- What is the role of fulfillment in determining the validity of a prophetic word?
It has often been said that a true word will confirm something we are already thinking, considering or feeling. Nowhere in Scripture can such a test be found. Too often the supposed prophet has only sensed what was already in the heart of the one to whom he was “prophesying” and has then reflected it back as a word from God without discerning the difference between what comes from the heart of God and what has its source in the heart of the human being. This is not confirmation. It is rather a reflection.
The defining test in Scripture is therefore always tangible fulfillment. Deuteronomy 18:21–22: “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Fulfillment can come either in seeing the edifying effect of a word or in actual fulfillment of predicted events.
- Whom does it exalt?
Revelation 19:10: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy…”
True prophetic words strengthen us in our relationship with Jesus and in some way reveal who He is. Any word failing to accomplish that purpose must be regarded as false.
Please, brothers and sisters, let’s pursue good discernment!