Even if we’ve been burned by misguided prophetic words, we can’t afford to dismiss prophecy or the office of a prophet. Here’s why.
Mention the word prophet to some people and their palms get sweaty, a lump develops in their throat and they begin eyeing the door. For many, it’s not because they don’t believe in prophecy; it’s because they’re fed up with being burned by overzealous prophets and unbalanced prophecies, and they’re ready to throw in the towel.
No matter how we feel about prophets, however, one thing is certain: They are God’s idea—yes, even when they mess up, cause havoc or make life difficult for a church’s senior leaders. God designed the church to need this crucial office.
He also knew the church’s desire to completely wipe its hands of prophets and prophecy. For this reason, He commanded us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.” Notice that God links the Holy Spirit’s ability to move freely among believers—and not be suppressed or snuffed out—with the prophetic. The word despise comes from the Greek word exoutheneo, meaning “to make of no account, to regard as nothing, to despise utterly, to treat with contempt.” Verse 21 goes on to say: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”This is a needful caution when dealing with the prophetic.
Indeed, God knew from the beginning that using inherently broken people to serve as His mouthpiece would result in more than a few broken transmissions—and yet this was His perfect plan. Today that plan continues as He brings reformation to the prophetic office and realm. The word reformation,defined as “to straighten out thoroughly,” comes from the Greek word diorthosis. In a physical sense, it refers to making straight, restoring to its natural and normal condition something that in some way protrudes or has become out of line, such as a broken or misshapen limb. To some, the prophetic has certainly become like a broken limb to the body.
By the same token, we must understand the weightiness of what it means to be a prophet. Can you imagine the responsibility to speak for God—to hear, see and interpret the heart and mind of God for your generation? Can you fathom having the courage to then speak this out loud in a culture in which one mistake can seemingly disqualify you for life, regardless of your track record?
I am an advocate of prophets. I’m not blind to the mistakes they’ve made in the past, and I’m aware of their challenges today. But the church should extend the same mercy and grace it gives to a pastor who preaches a lousy sermon to a prophet who “misses it.” The church is not a material building but a spiritual house built of living stones—we who are to be built as the habitation of God by the Spirit. Today, even through all the scars and wounds caused by prophetic misfires, Christ is still building His church by the power of His Spirit through prophets and prophetic ministry.
Yet if the church is to mature into the fullness God desires, it must utilize and properly position prophets and prophecy. To eliminate prophets from the building process of the church is to take away the key of knowledge, which is one of the most vital tools in building strong New Testament churches. It isn’t possible to lead a Spirit-empowered church or a ministry without direct leadership of the Holy Spirit in the daily flow of the church. Prophets are essential to the maturing of the church because they have been gifted with an ability to hear relevant wisdom and insight from God.