Back when we lived in Oklahoma, my husband and I would occasionally turn on the TV to find a local minister who was one of the angriest people we had ever seen. He didn't shout. He didn't yell. But the words he spoke were filled with venom. He would speak to the women in the congregation and call them dogs, Jezebels, and worse. He would refer to his congregation as idiotic and stupid. It was almost comical on one hand because it seemed so unreal, so absolutely absurd. But in all seriousness, we would watch, realizing that this was no laughing matter: this man had a sizable congregation who was repeatedly being beaten up all in the name of the 'prophetic edge.'
For years, the church body at large was like that Oklahoma congregation. We sat under a venomous teaching that told us prophetic ministry was brash, in your face, and terrifying. I know personally, growing up in a small Pentecostal church, that whenever a visiting minister was speaking at my church, I sat in the pew white-knuckled, fearful that he would point his finger at me and reveal all the secret sins I had committed. For many who grew up with this same paradigm, they now despise the gifts of the Spirit because they saw them so blatantly abused. I know many people did not grow up with this thought, and it seems bizarre and hard to fathom that anyone would even think of approaching prophecy in this matter. But for many in the Body of Christ, they have seen prophecy cause great heart-ache, not edification like scripture says it should (1 Cor 14:3).
That's why I am so pleased that the Bride of Christ has been awakening these past few years to true prophecy. God's people are learning that prophecy must be coupled with love if it is to be true ministry. Learning how to walk in the Father's love for the best and worst among us has been a key to God's people flowing rightly in words of knowledge and words of wisdom. I am seeing now more than ever, that when someones character flaw is revealed to a minister prophetically, instead of pointing the finger at the dreadful sinner, they speak forth the hope of who they are actually called to be. It's amazing seeing this new paradigm emerge. We are awakening to the fact that Love covers...it doesn't expose. Love gives faith....it doesn't leave us in fear.
It's also why, I believe, we are having a hard time balancing the purpose of personal prophecy with those who are called more as prophets, who have a gift for a much broader audience. As stated earlier, we have learned from scripture that prophecy is suppose to edify, comfort, and encourage one another (1 Cor. 14:3). It's suppose to be rooted in love, giving faith to God's people. So, it's no surprise that we have a tendency to recoil when we hear a well known minister give a message that sounds more like judgment than mercy. We know that God delights in relenting from judgment and giving mercy (Micah 7:8, James 2:13). We know that prophecy in the New Testament is given to edify, comfort, and encourage the church. So, how could words that warn of coming trouble or pending tribulation be of God....right?
It's another example of a pendulum problem in the church. On one hand, we know prophecy should edify and encourage. On the other hand, we see good men of God proclaiming coming trouble. Usually, as is often the case in the church, we have people who stand on one belief verses people who hold the opposite view. Concerning prophecy, there are those who believe God doesn't judge anymore because the cross judged it all, so prophetic warnings of judgment, they believe, cannot be from God. Then, you have the other extreme camp which says God is going to judge the nations no matter what and that there is no hope of Him relenting.
God knows that I have ridden on this pendulum swing. I have had swinging conversations with dear friends who understand the grappling, who didn't judge me in my struggle, but who jumped on the ride with me (thank you, Susan), working out what we believe. I have really contemplated these extremes and have come to really believe that God's heart is found in the middle ground. As in my previous post, I have found that in the Kingdom, it's not one or the other, but both/and. This can lead to confusion if we don't understand God's ways.
A lot of the confusion, I believe, can be cleared up with a simple vocabulary lesson. First, we must understand that such words as edify, encourage, consolation, comfort, and prophecy in our culture, paint the image of cheering someone on and making them feel good. Now, this is a good definition. There is nothing wrong with it. However, the Greek meaning of these words pack a lot more meaning than a simple 'encouraging word.' Strong's Concordance tells us that these words mean:
Edify - the act of building, constructing, as in a building. Criticism and instruction that builds someone up to be a suitable dwelling place for God.
Encourage - a call, an urging done by someone close beside. It's closely related to a 'legal advocate' and therefore has legal undertones. The idea is an intimate call giving God's verdict. This call can be for exhortation or as a warning.
Consolation - for the purpose of persuading, or of arousing and stimulating, or of calming and consoling.
Beyond these definitions, just think of the word encourage and comfort as compound words. What do we find when we break them down, but the need for more courage (en-courage) and fortification (com-fort). Prophesy is absolutely intended to build us up. But building up, as seen in these definitions, is not simply about giving everyone an 'atta boy; it's about releasing courage, fortifying the heart, and calling people to action. You need courage when there is something big in front of you. You need to build a fort in order to prepare for battle. Prophecy, therefore, is not simply used in words of knowledge or words of wisdom, calling people into who they are in Christ; it's also for fortifying and preparing God's people for what lies ahead. Encouragement must involve a loving, cheering on as well as an urging to respond to God's call. Consolation must include tender compassion as well as a persuading to action. The problem is the blasted pendulum. So many of us have known ministers like the one I knew in Oklahoma, who expose sin without a compassionate heart. So many of us have heard gloom & doom prophecies that only release fear instead of faith. So many of us have also known well meaning people, who give us a word without knowing how to deliver it in the package of love, leaving us feeling hurt or offended. These factors and more make us very confused when prophetic words are given that warn us about potential dangers.
Now, most people in the body of Christ do not... I repeat, do not need to be giving words that correct an action and/or instruct for the future. I firmly believe that 99% of prophecy that happens among the body should be exactly what we are finding today: words of encouragement that simply speak forth the beautiful will and heart of God. However, for the 1% who are called to have a Prophet's role (of course, my numbers are not calculated literally), they do have the mandate to correct, warn, and instruct the body at large (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Pastors are called to do this for their congregation. Certain authors, evangelists, and speakers will be called to this form of prophecy. Read through the New Testament epistles and you will see that the church leaders who wrote those books shared many strong warnings, critiques, and instruction. The problem in today's church is that blasted pendulum. We are so use to the 99% who are called to simply give encouragement and comfort, that when we hear the 1% share warnings and correction, we recoil. We have so been awakened to the grace of the New Covenant, that we forget that grace warns us of error just as it tells us that we are His. We must remember that it was in the New Covenant that Agabus prophesied that Paul would be chained and arrested (Acts 21:10-12). If many of us heard such a word given today, we would dismiss it because it wouldn't sound 'encouraging.' This word, however, was a word to fortify, to equip, and yes, to console Paul to know that God already knew what was coming. It prepared Him to not be shaken or to doubt in the moment of persecution. Truly, it is love to warn others about what potential tribulation lies ahead, not to scare them, but to prepare them.
If anyone in scripture walked in the marriage of loving words of encouragement and loving words of warning, it was Jesus. It was Jesus who prophetically called Peter a rock before anyone else saw that trait manifested in hot-headed Peter's life. Such an encouraging word! Such love to call the things that were not visible into the light! But, it was the same Jesus who warned us that lawlessness would increase, earthquakes and famines would happen, and that persecutions and sufferings would kill many (Matthew 24). The same Jesus who came to save the lost is the same Jesus who said he rebukes those he loves (Rev. 3:19). It wasn't either or in Jesus & it isn't either or in prophecy. As a matter of fact, the testimony of Jesus is the very spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10)! His LIFE, his walking out of grace and truth, blessings and warnings, encouragement and fortification are the very heart of prophecy. His HEART here is key. Every word he spoke came down to love. Whether a warning or a blessing, it was all done in love. We have a hard time grasping this in our culture because we think of love in the same way we think of encouragement: as a fluffy feeling. But love will warn. Love will correct. But love? It will always leave the warned and the corrected with hope and faith in their Father.
There are most certainly messages going forth today from 'prophetic voices' that are not rooted in love. Some of them are well-meaning and may even be giving correct words, but they have not balanced the warning with the hope we have in Christ. If a message is hard to hear and seems a bit gloomy and doomy, it doesn't mean that the message is wrong. The INTENT may be wrong. The lack of love and hope may be wrong. But it doesn't mean the message is wrong. This is hard to swallow, I know. But remember Agabus. Remember Jesus. To truly love someone is to warn them and therefore give them time to prepare for a coming storm. I don't know if every prophetic word for America we are hearing today is true. Will the details I'm hearing from different voices come to pass? I do not know. I do know, however, that dark days will come to this world, but not because a prophet said it, but because Christ, himself, said it (Matthew 24). I also know he told me to not lose heart but to be encouraged. He said that when those dark days come, I have the 'more sure prophetic word' ( 2 Peter 1:19) that encourages my heart to 'look up for my redemption is drawing nigh (Luke 21:25-28).'
Today, more than ever, we must meet God in the middle of our ideas about who we think He is and about what we think prophecy is, if we are to rightly receive all He has for us. Let us not be too quick to dismiss prophetic warnings OR prophetic blessings. Let's keep encouraging one another while it is still called 'today' (Heb. 3:13). Let's fortify, bless, equip, warn, and comfort one another like never before. Let's be encouraged, church, in the truest sense of the word. But, if you hear an angry prophet calling you a dog....go ahead...right it off. No matter what storm may come to this nation, you are more than a conqueror through Christ.