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When Prophecies Cry "Wolf"
Most people are familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf. But for the benefit of those unacquainted with the story, here it is again:
A shepherd boy out in the fields was responsible to warn the villagers when he saw a wolf so that the people might come to kill the wolf and protect the sheep. Out of boredom one day, the boy decided to play a prank and cried Wolf! though there was no wolf. The villagers ran to him only to find him laughing and saying there was no wolf. It was a joke. So the villagers returned. The boy played the prank the second time and the people came again, only to find no wolf. Then finally, the boy really saw a wolf and cried Wolf! But this time no villagers came, because they did not believe him. They would not be fooled again. As a result, the wolf killed and scattered all the sheep.
In the prophetic revival of the last few generations, perhaps the most prominent difficulty has been what appears as prophetic wolf crying. Many prophecies have warned of dire things to come that simply haven't happened as predicted. As in the story of the boy, the result has been a dulling of our senses to the urgency of prophetic warnings. The only difference is that the people crying Wolf were not joking. They believed they truly heard from God, and I am personally convinced they did–having been such a wolf crier myself. This frustration is articulated well in a recent email from Peter on the
I have friends in church who take [David] Wilkerson's predictions seriously. I wonder how to react to that. I mean, they said something about a bunch of cities burning (
). I said that I had read a prophecy by Wilkerson in 1999 that there were supposed to be things happen in 2000 that did not happen. And I said that mainly the thing to be careful about is the spirit of how you take these sorts of warnings .... as, like, what does it do for your zeal in loving and worshipping the Lord - as opposed to does it make you fearful or concerned about planning to live in the "right" place as according to some prophet's prediction. New York, Connecticut
Can you help me out here?
I was influenced in the 1970's by negative predictions of dire imminent judgment in a way that hindered my making of practical career decisions ... and I take it to have been a lot like the false prophet in Babylon who said it would be only two years before the Lord's people would return to the promised land.
I totally identify with Peter. I look back over the last several decades and see how that if I had not been so influenced by prophecies of imminent economic collapse, I too might have made different decisions, as I'm sure my father would have also. In the early 1970s we had some property on an undeveloped area of the
South Jerseyshore. We sold it in part under the weight of bleak end time economic predictions. The times are bad. Jesus is coming soon. The One World Order is here. There's going to be a depression. Why keep it? Yet within 10 years the land we sold became steeply prized for prime development and could have been sold for a handsome profit some times over if we had just held onto it.
Stories like this abound. And so, what are we to say? Were we fooled? Were we stupid? Are we still? Were all the worldlings right after all saying, Where is the promise of His [judgment], for since [the apostles] fell asleep, all things continue as they have since the creation. (II Pt. 3:3-4)
Confronting the Mystery of Spiritual Life
Understanding the problem of prophetic wolf begins with grasping the difference between prophecy and human apprehension of reality. Prophecy comes from the realm of the Spirit, while human apprehension belongs to this world. As Paul says, the natural [mind] receives not the things of the Spirit. There is a disconnect between spiritual truth and natural reality perception. The two are of incompatible circuitry and frequency. For them to relate, a converter is required–an interpreter, a translator of some sort. Without such, there can be nothing but confusion and controversy.
The human mind evaluates prophecy on a linear spectrum with two ends and no middle. On one end is the human perception of infallibility. On the other is the perception of falsity. To the human mind, prophecy is either infallibly true according to its expectations or it is false. That's all there is to it. There is no middle ground. There is no other dimension.
But in the realm of the Spirit from which prophecy emanates, truth and falsity are not measured on a simple observable linear spectrum. Rather, spirit truth is from the realm of life. And the dynamic of life defies validation by snapshot observation. To appreciate this, we need only consider how ill-equipped the mind is to measure natural life. The more that science investigates cellular life, the more appears that cannot be explained. Life is about growth, and, while growth can be observed, it cannot be precisely measured in time. (What is the precise moment of birth, or the precise moment a shoot becomes a stalk?)
This is our problem in measuring prophecy. We seek to measure and take action on immeasurable emergences of life. ("The words that I speak, they are life," the Lord said.) We struggle most over assigning spiritual causes to natural events and to perceiving the timings of the Spirit relative to natural appearances of things predicted. And so our native incompatibility with the living prophetic word makes for conflict over true versus false prophecy and whether one has truly heard from God. If a prediction is fulfilled at face value, it is deemed infallibly true. And if left unfulfilled, it is deemed false. And if an unfulfilled prophecy concerns a warning, one is thus judged to have cried Wolf. Yet there is more to the prophetic dynamic than the mind can adequately account for.
Similarity to Prayer
To further appreciate how the spiritual authenticity of prophecy cannot be so easily proven by human evaluation, let's look at another emanation of spiritual life–that of prayer.
Prayer is a naturally immeasurable process of life struggle. In scripture, it is pictured as the travailing of birth. Consider this familiar outworking:
Early in Christian life, we wrestle over what we perceive by natural experience to be unanswered prayer. Things don't happen as we ask or expect. And so we want answers. We conclude that most of our prayers are not answered because there's just too much carnality and mixed motive underlying our requests. And this is so. After some hard knocks and disappointments, we understand we must be purified in heart and learn to pray aright. This takes time and growth.
Nevertheless, even in later years of deeper friendship with God–having gained sharp discernment between emotion and spirit, and knowing the Spirit's unquestionable unction to pray for specific issues intrinsic to our calling and destiny, we still come up short in perceived fulfillment and expectations. Things clearly promised to our spirits by the Lord just don't happen.
Somewhere along the line, after so many failures according to natural measure, we wonder if the entire concept of prayer is just false. Many unbelievers are in fact unbelievers because of unanswered prayer. Nevertheless, despite the failures, something inside tells us that prayer is real and its promises are real. Despite the evidences, there's just too much of the Spirit of God within our being to conclude that prayer is false.
Of course, the hard knocks may affect our praying. We may back off from being so specific in what we ask for. It hurts less to pray more generally. And then again, as if teasingly, we do see occasions of divinely answered prayer. They pepper our lives here and there and boost our confidence that prayer is real, even if we don't seem to ever get an infallible handle on it.
Amidst this inner tug of war between seeing and not seeing answers to prayer, God's indwelling Spirit forbids us to conclude that prayer is false, or not for today. From behind the struggle comes the whisper, "This is the immeasurable nature of true life." Despite the many heart aches of dashed expectation, the Spirit within continues to labor and groan with great pains over very specific issues which will not let us go, and which we as committed disciples cannot escape. Somehow, through all the contortion, we still find ourselves inexorably driven to prayer, to believe in its effectiveness, to believe that all our prayers are indeed answered as promised, even if not manifestly so as we expect, and that God is the God He has said that He Is.
Like Prayer, Like Prophecy
But my point here is not about prayer. It is about prophecy. I started with prayer because we universally identify with it. Prayer is the lifeline to God for us all. But what we must see is that what is true about prayer is true about prophecy, and we must therefore draw the same conclusion about prophecy that we do with prayer.
As an emanation from the same Spirit of Life, prophecy is a force that cannot be naturally evaluated as to its reality and substance. We must grow spiritually into the prophetic like as we grow into prayer. In the same way that early unanswered prayer may be due to mixed motives, so too early unfulfilled prophecy may be due to immaturity in the presentation and mixed motive behind the hearing. Like as with prayer, prophecies occasionally manifest according to expectation. And as well again, there are still prophecies by godly seasoned men of long trekking in God that do not demonstrate a manifest fulfillment in any kind of agreement with natural perception and expectation, just as prayers remain unanswered among the maturest intercessors.
And so the same struggle of life is set up. Do we still believe in prophecy? How much do we believe? How much should we stick our necks out for? Or should we just debunk it all? Maybe we should at least back off being as specific in our prophecies or taking them literally. Then it won't hurt as much when it doesn't happen! And yet what about the things that do come to pass and could in no way have been coincidence??
Just as no matter how frustrated we are by unanswered prayer we still intrinsically know we can't disbelieve its reality, neither may we do so with unfulfilled prophecy. And if despite our innumerable disappointments with prayer we yet hold fast to it, then we must also hold fast to prophecy–not mocking, not quitting, not disbelieving in it, any more than we do in prayer.
OK, fine. But how does this practically help me know what to conclude about specific prophecies of imminent societal collapse from mature prophetic ministers? How do I look at past obedience to unfulfilled prophecies that left me holding the bag of shameful failure? And how am I supposed to go forward when the next dire warning comes out? What is to stop us from becoming like the villagers who simply stopped believing the cries of Wolf?
All we have done so far is show that the confusion surrounding prophecy does not invalidate its reality, and that apparent fulfillment or unfulfillment of prophecies can't alone prove whether they have been inspired by the Lord. We've only shown that as a vibrant living growing force, there is more to prophecy than can be ascertained by appearances on a linear scale of fulfilled expectations.
But to know how to discern and rightly respond to specific declarations, we need more detail. It's not enough to conclude that if so-and-so godly man predicts something we must act on it, or else to say "If such and such doesn't happen, the prophecy wasn't from the Lord." We must come to something beyond blind gullibility or hardened skepticism based in linear evaluation of the prophetic. The Lord is calling His People to something up the middle in all this. This is where a higher wisdom is needed. It is where we need that converter I spoke of earlier. We need a truer approach to weighing prophetic warnings and determining our actions based on them.
False Prophecy or Hidden Conditions?
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 Arise, go to
the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you. 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh Ninevehaccording to the word of the LORD 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, Yet forty days and will be overthrown. Jonah 3 Nineveh
Before getting to the practicals of how to respond to prophetic warnings, we need some finer discernment on what does and doesn't make for false prophecy. To begin, we need to clarify something. In showing as we have that prophecy is a living dynamic whose fulfillment transcends natural measurement, we are not saying that all warning prophecies are true whether they happen or not! As there is carnal praying God will not hear, so there is false prophetic warning God will not fulfil–loads of it.
As emanations of spirit, prophecies can be known by their spirit. Spiritually, false prophetic warnings are marked by a carnal alarmism whose only end is to stoke fear of the future based in the knowledge of evil. Such prophecies are saturated in the knowledge of satan's conspiratorial plans among men and often offer no constructive plan of response. Their fruit is to engender paralysis in the hearers, or otherwise feverish actions of self-preservation. (Occasionally they are accompanied by commercial motives in which the prognosticator is hawking a survivalist product.) The prophecies almost never come to pass, and if they do, it is mere coincidence or self-fulfilling luck.
But our focus in this article is not on the predictions of knee-jerk doomsday prophets regurgitating prognostications derived from the knowledge of evil. We're focused instead on the unfulfilled prophecies of spiritually burdened men of seasoned godly character, such as a David Wilkerson in our friend Peter's example. Are their prophecies also false because they don't happen? Does the lack of fulfillment prove they are false prophets? And so should we become deaf to them as well as to all the alarmist prognosticators of evil?
In logical linear thinking, it is instinctive to conclude that whatever yields apparently similar results must be sourced in similar spiritual causes. Scripture tells us for example that the prayers of the carnal will not be answered (James 4:3). This leads us to scientifically believe that all unanswered prayer has a carnal root. But if that is the case then even the apostles would have to be judged as carnal men because not all their prayers were answered. This arrests our logic. We know that the apostles were spiritual men. So it cannot be that all unanswered prayer must have a carnal root. Our reasoning must give way to this.
The same is true of prophecy. Scripture tells us that false presumptuous prophecies will not come to pass, and that you can know them by whether they do or not (Dt. 18:22). Yet there must be something incomplete about that statement. Why? Because Jonah's prophecy of
s destruction did not come to pass. Please note: no condition was put on that prophecy. Jonah's word did not say, " Nineveh' will be destroyed in 40 days unless you repent." It just said, "In 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed." Period. By an inflexible interpretational standard of the Law, Jonah would have had to be judged a presumptuous prophet uttering a false prophecy. (Anyone care to make that case?) Nineveh
No, then. When it comes to spiritual reality, similar results cannot prove similar sources or causes. Greater discernment than this is required. While presumptuous judgment prophecies certainly will not come to pass, it does not follow that all failed judgment prophecies are false. The story of Jonah's unfulfilled prophecy proves this. Jonah's prophecy was true, but the results did not follow because of conditions hidden in the heart of God that could change the immediate outcome of what otherwise appeared as a false wolf prophecy.
Examples of Hidden Conditions
This matter of hidden conditions in the heart of God is not foreign ground to scripture. At least three Old Testament stories note situations in which hidden conditions affected circumstances when there was no apparent spiritual reason for an issue. One is the famine that David's kingdom suddenly experienced late in his reign (II Sam. 21:1). David had to discover by enquiry that the famine was due to Saul's sin of killing the Gibeonites decades previously. Now why would a famine come out of nowhere decades after a sin committed by a predecessor? Why at that time, when there was no way to link it to anything anyone had done? This is hidden in the heart of God.
Another story is that of Elisha from whom God hid a situation and its cause regarding the death of a boy whose birth he had prophesied (II Kings 4:27). In the story, the cause for the death is never revealed, though at the last the ending is happy. The son is raised back to life. The point however is that, due to the particular prophetic circumstances surrounding the son's birth, the unexplained death not only taunts the mother but causes Elisha's original prophecy to appear to have been a cruel joke similar to wolf.
A third and the most obvious story regarding hidden conditions for unexplained circumstances is the story of Job, which needs no repeating here. The point is that no matter how uprightly Job lived or how many faith confessions he could muster, nothing could have prevented the calamity that came on him even though all his prayers were directed to the Lord to prevent just such. He had no way to know he was the object of an unseen heavenly contest that overruled what his upright life dictated should have been his just lot from God.
This matter of hidden causes upends all superficial judgments regarding the failures of both prophecies and prayers to be fulfilled. The possibility of hidden causes in God's heart prevents a clear link between spiritual causes and natural effects. As words emanating from the mysterious realm of life, not all apparently unfulfilled judgment prophecy is due to presumption on the part of the prophets. Hidden causes can and do prevent righteous prayer and true prophecies from finding their expected or predicted outcomes.
Human Response and Prophetic Alterability
As shown, Jonah's unfulfilled wolf prophecy reveals that fulfillment of prophetic warnings can be affected by hidden factors known to God. One of those conditions may be men's response to the warning. Prophetic outcomes can sometimes be altered by human responses to the prophecy. In Jonah's case, not only did God hide the conditionality behind the prophecy, but the conditionality was tied to human response. In fact, Jonah suspected such conditionality behind the word he had been given. He knew that outcomes of unconditional destructive prophecies could sometimes be alterable by human repentance:
2 He prayed to the LORD and said, Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life. Jonah 4.
The issue of responsive alterability really throws the issue of predictive prophecy, especially judgmental prophecy, into a tail spin. It opens wide a challenge to all searchers of the meanings of God's warnings. Some threats are alterable, others are not. So it is not enough simply to know "Thus saith the Lord" about a destructive prediction that requires action on our parts. A mandate is upon us to search deeper than the appearance in the words to weigh the possibility of a prophecy's conditionality through repentance.
In a recent round-table discussion at
Global Fire Churchin , prophetic visionaries Terry Bennett and Larry Randolph take a stab at discovering what differentiates alterable prophetic decrees of judgment from the inalterable ones. (I encourage you to watch minutes 12-16 and 29-38 of this linked video.) Terry Bennett has become renowned in recent years for his heavenly encounters with the Lord and angels in which he receives predictions regarding the Murphreesboro, Tennessee and the development of the final antichrist world system through the year 2028. These visions are instructive, providing something of a bridge between current prophecy and biblical end time prophecy. United States
Discerning the issue of alterability between biblical and current end time prophecy is important because a way must be found to harmonize conditional contemporary prophecies within the context of scripture's unalterable prophecies which cannot be broken. In all this, we labor as prophetic searchers to prove and reconcile the alterable with the unalterable.
[For a complete exposition of Terry Bennett's visions, please view the 6 sessions of the 2008 Signs of the Times Conference originally held at the former Zadok House of Prayer led by Kirk Bennett in Fort Mill, South Carolina.]
The Underlying Search for Prophetic Reliability
So it is we do understand some of this already. We know some prophecies are conditional and might not come to pass. But meanwhile, a gut level quest continues within for prophetic fulfillment we can rely on. After all, isn't the purpose of prophecy to predict what is going to happen so we can obey and be prepared?? Must there not be some way to sift out the alterable from the unalterable and the unconditional from the conditional so we only have to deal with the certain? Otherwise, what's the point of preparing and jumping through hoops over things that might not even happen? Why pay attention to any of it?
This longing for prophetic reliability is born into us all. The scriptures themselves build in us an expectation of prophetic reliability. We want the real deal and only the real deal–without all the contortions over the conditional versus the alterable, never mind the false. Surely there must be a way to filter through and by-pass that which is not going to necessarily come to pass so we don't engage in wasted costly responses.
To retain our confidence in Him and not leave us utterly confounded, God assuages this inner longing for reliability by leaving us with prophets whose words have a better than average track record. Just as not all unfulfilled prophecy is false, neither is all prophecy unfulfilled. Certainly it encourages us every time a prophet speaks and we can witness the fulfillment of his words. It helps validate the prophet in our eyes.
Speaking in general, I think for instance of Robert Holmes and Mario Liu of Storm Harvest who can point to some solid recent natural and national predictions from the Lord. As a currency trader, I particularly noted a word by Mario a couple of years ago predicting that the Australian Dollar would surpass the U.S. Dollar by as much as 10 cents. At that time it was unimaginable for that historically weak currency to do. But guess what? It reached parity with the U.S. dollar in Nov. 2010 and hit the U.S. $1.10 mark in May 2011 continuing in that range to today (Dec. 2011). Unthinkable. (And talk about the possibilities for insider trading!)
Similar remarkable fulfillments have come about in other ministries. Take for example the precise prophecies that grounded the development of the
prophetic movement in the 1980s, and still later the International House of Prayer. Such stories have the clear mark of God's handiwork on them, certifying what critics of the prophetic otherwise seek to gainsay. Indeed, it is imperative to the Lord's glory and the establishment of His ministries that some things absolutely have to come to pass as prophesied. He can't let everything fail! The same is true with many who have had ministries of prophetic warning. Kansas City
Nevertheless, just as with prayer, even those prophets who see fulfilled prophecies see many others that are not. They too, as Elisha, are left with unanswerable questions. This becomes as much a cause of discouragement to them as it is to the hearers. The prophets themselves bear the undying shame of the backbench critics and scoffers for their unfulfilled warnings, never mind the hearers who act on them in faith. So they as well as we all are into the search for ultimate reliability.
But in the end, despite the impressive records of some, still, no one proves entirely reliable, and no foolproof way has yet been discovered to sift out only the absolutely certain from all the rest.
Heart Faith vs. Scientific Faith
In the discussion so far, we've laid a ground work that is leading toward but has not yet shown us how to practically respond to prophetic warnings. We have learned that like prayer, prophecy is an emanation of spirit life whose veracity cannot be linearly measured. A prophetic limbo is in force where on one hand, not all unfulfilled warnings are false, but on the other, not all true warnings are unfulfilled.
Contemporary prophetic warnings may be subject to hidden conditions in God's heart, especially that of human repentance. Or they may not. Many threats have come to pass. Many more have not. At the same time, end time warnings codified in the unbreakable scriptures are unalterable. They will happen. Yet how and when will they happen? Underneath all this, a search for the ever elusive prophetically reliable remains in our hearts. We can't escape it. We can't give up believing in the literal fulfillment of prophecy.
The mysterious immeasurability between conditionality and unconditionality within the living drama of true prophetic warning produces great frustration. It drives us up a wall. Yet there is a higher purpose and design to this which, if we can grasp, will bring us to the practical understanding for right response to prophetic warning. The problems of maturity of hearing, mixed motives, hidden conditionality, and responsive alterability which produce selectively fulfilled prophecies–with all the disappointments and embarrassments that ensue–are not problems to God and are not mistakes in our midst. Rather, they are strategically designed into the dynamic of prophetic discovery. The following story will illustrate the purpose for this:
The Makings of a Cult
I once was part of a house fellowship that was emerging from fundamentalism to begin exploring charismatic reality, especially prophecy. Our search was on for the certain, the reliable, the infallible as I have already described it. Books were read and teachers were brought in. And given the unbelieving realm that this fellowship was coming out of, a lot of mind renewal in the Holy Spirit had not yet occurred to make the people equal to stewarding the gift of prophecy with its unique inscrutabilities.
After a certain time, the house church leader felt he had come to an adequate sense of what made for certain, infallible prophecy. He then took it on himself to become that same reliable, infallible prophet for the group as a whole and for every one there in particular. And in sheep-like assent, everyone else in the church looked to him for such infallibility.
In short order, the house fellowship became a prophetic cult, the people hanging on the words and directives of this leader like a guru. People came under a legalistic obedience to what was presumed to be prophecy, living under condemnation with the threat of judgment for failure to respond to it. Eventually, I was forced to become involved in confronting the leader, ensuing in a splitting of the group that set a number of families free from the false prophetic bondage they had entertained. Those who stayed with the leader eventually went off to start their own remote end time community in the mountains, etc.
Nor is this story unusual. I have been in other settings where prophecy was commandeered by leaders such that the prophet(s) became as divine mediators between God and the people who hung onto to their every prophecy and whose obedience became reduced to a slavish adherence to humanly mediated prophetic directives. Modern and past church history is littered with these incidents. However, it is precisely by this sad reality that we learn why the Lord has strategically left prophecy to us as a medium fraught with frustration relative to predictable fulfillment.
Balancing Two Faiths
The Lord is always after faith from people. The problem is that there are two kinds of faith, scientific faith and heart faith, and they are at first indistinguishably mixed within us. The Lord is after heart faith, not scientific faith (i.e., faith in the scientifically provable). In order to bring us to a relationship rooted in heart faith, the Lord has to work through a strategic interaction in which He alternately satisfies then smashes our confidence in scientific faith relative to prayer and to prophecy. Scientific faith–wherein we are graced to physically witness the fulfillments to prayer and prophecy–acts as a training wheel that has to be alternately added and removed in order to bring us into perfected heart faith.
Satisfaction of our scientific faith is a necessity due to our weakness in spiritual trust. But left unchecked it works against spiritual faith to support our native bent toward idolatry of whatever we can see and comprehend. That is why God will at times meet people on the level of their scientific faith, and then later will not.
The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 perfectly illustrates this. The first time on the mountain, Jesus met the people's need by feeding them with a miracle they could see. This was so that they would believe in Him. And the people did believe in Him–scientifically. The next day these same people wanted Him to feed them again the same way asking for another proof of His divinity. This time He would not feed them but challenged them to believe in Him spiritually. But they would not.
For Jesus to continue satisfying their scientific belief was now counterproductive to fostering heart faith, and would have instead engendered an idolatrous belief in Him based in the satisfaction of their minds demands and expectations. (The best known gospel illustration of the tension between scientific and heart faith is that of Thomas, to whom Jesus said, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.")
We now understand God's strategic purpose in leaving prophetic warnings subject to selective manifest fulfillments and hidden conditions of alterability. God's mercy on sinners through the hidden alterability of His warnings also acts as a redemptive ministry to deliver His own from the confines of scientific faith. While scientific fulfillment is necessary at one level (the level to which Deuteronomy 18:22 speaks) to show that God does not utter empty threats, were He to fulfil every threat on the level of scientific appreciation, it would breed idolatry and fear of the prophets themselves, usurping the fear of the Lord in the hearts of His people.
This generation's most notable prophets such as David Wilkerson and Leonard Ravenhill would quickly become the Mohammeds of the Christian faith, and our own heavenly Father would become as the unapproachable Allah. (Jesus Himself will accept that kind of worship only from demons, but never from us.)
It is ultimately then for our own greater salvation and that of the prophets themselves that God does not predictably fulfill all His warnings in a reliable way. Our struggles over unfulfilled warnings and obedient actions in response to them are entirely designed to deal with the remnant unbelief and idolatry of our scientific minds. And to accomplish this, it is worth it to the Lord to suffer just a little longer with the world's mockers and scoffers who say our God is really just a paper tiger who utters empty threats. And He is equally willing to extend His endurance of the unbelieving in the church who say, "See, just another false prophecy. I could have told you it wasn't going to happen. Prophecy isn't for today."
Every time we get burnt by an unfulfilled word, it acts as a crucifixion and death to our natural mind. We don't like this, and this explanation certainly won't satisfy anyone finally committed to a scientific level of faith in the Lord. Nevertheless it is the truth. All the embarrassment and ridicule of false prophet or fool for having taken action on a false prophecy is part of the process of perfecting heart faith.
Understanding all this, we may now at last approach the issue of how to respond to prophetic warnings in a way that will leave us ever alert and sensitive to them without feeling betrayed like the villagers should the next one not happen as predicted.
Prophecy vs. the Voice
It is not the Father's will to leave us continually shamed by our responsiveness to bona fide but delayed or commuted prophecies of destruction. It is not His will that we feel condemned by past responsiveness to unfulfilled warnings made in good faith. Assuming we are not the objects of His displeasure, it is also not His will for us to feel cajoled into responsiveness to such warnings. Nor is it His will for us to become deaf and callous of heart to prophetic warnings or to deny that such are for today.
See, these are all the internally-evoked senses we have to deal with when facing warning prophecies–shame, condemnation, coercion, ungodly fear, callousness, unbelief. Not one of these is a fruit of the Spirit. Yet how easily they surface from within whenever warning prophecy is issued.
There's a saying that "What God reveals He heals." God's ultimate strategy in subjecting us to prophetic limbo over warning prophecies is to reveal these spirits within us and to deliver us from them. In the end, the issuance of prophetic warning is not ultimately about the warnings or the actions to be taken in response to them. It does not matter if the prediction is alterable or not. It is instead all about coming to a place of maturity in spiritual relationship that knows how to prove the immediate Voice and Will of the Father for each one of us.
"My sheep hear My voice," Jesus says. It is one thing to hear a prophecy. It is another to hear the living Voice of the Lord within. What God is after in the hearing of prophecies is the deeper Hearing of His own Voice to us by using prophecy first to expose everything in us that is contrary to that Hearing.
The difference between prophecy and the Voice is something that multitudes exposed to prophetic reality do not understand. Prophecy is but one external medium of the Word of God. Prophecy is of an anointing that is extrinsic to the hearers. It is the same as the Law, or the Scripture.
But the ultimate reference point for faith and obedience in the life of the believer is not the externally mediated word, but the Voice of the Shepherd as an internal living dynamic, i.e., the Living Word. (For more discussion on the difference between the prophetic word as a form and the Eternal Living word within each of us, please see the 1989 article The Word of God Through Flesh and Blood.)
What must happen then is a testing of external prophecy against the internal Voice and vice versa. This is the ultimate iron sharpening iron experience we will ever face. Prophetic warning is used to expose and prove what is in our hearts relative to the Voice; and the Voice within is used to prove the meaning and application of prophecy to us. The ultimate goal is to see the perfect aligning of Voice and prophecy, something that oft takes extended time of mutual friction between the two under the guidance of the Spirit.
The point here is that prophetic warnings must be neither blindly obeyed contrary to the inner Voice, nor blindly rejected because they do not immediately witness to what is already in the heart. The two must be brought before the inner court of the Lord's Spirit for proving and weighing for final action. Certain further illustrations can be instructive here:
- Prophetic Law, Voice Regulation and Spirit Adjudication
As a medium of divine communication from outside us, prophecy acts as a law, just as the Mosaic Law was in its origins a prophetic utterance by God through Moses. In understanding this, we must next grasp that no law is ever complete within itself for dictating specific action under all conditions. Rather, all law is subject to a series of subsequent finer rules and regulations for implementation as well as to court adjudication of its interpretation for specific application.
The difference between law, regulation and adjudication is seen every day in human government. Once Congress for example (the legislative branch) passes a law, other executive departments then go into action to devise the specific rules and policies that define how the law applies in various situations, including exceptions.
The law says. This is what is to be done. Regulations say, This is where, when, how the law is to be done, and not done. On top of this, the court system provides for the testing of the validity of all those rules and regulations, and of the law itself. No one is subject to any act of Congress or state law or even a town ordinance apart from this, nor could be.
As law on its own is entirely unworkable, so is prophecy. That is why we are given the inner Voice of the Shepherd and the umpiring ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God. The Voice acts as the regulatory agency that establishes the applications and the exceptions of the prophetic law's applicability. And the indwelling Spirit acts as the internal Judge for mediating between the prophetic law and the regulatory Voice, just as it is in the world. Only by this complete tri-fold operation of the Word of God in our lives can our right response to prophetic warning be established.
Mosaic Law vs. the Urim and Thummim
In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law was subject to specially applied interpretation through the court system of the priesthood. The spiritual interpretation of the Law's application was found through what were called the Urim and Thummim. These were objects kept in the linen ephod where they were used to consult the Lord's Spirit directly on the application of the Mosaic Law. We read of David constantly enquiring of the Lord by means of the linen ephod to get specific directions in specific situations. Leland Earls prophetically explains the Urim and Thummim this way:
Inside the pouch-like enclosure of the breastplate were placed the Urim and Thummim, by means of which the High Priest secured direct answers from the Lord God concerning the affairs of the nation. The Urim and Thummim were special objects given to Moses when he was in the mount receiving the instructions for the tabernacle and the priesthood. They were received from the hand of the Lord God even as the original tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were the basic precepts-in-righteousness which were to form the foundation for the life of the nation; therefore they were engraved on specially prepared stones. The Urim and Thummim, in the possession of the High Priest, provided the means for direct guidance in the application and implementation of the basic precepts. They were therefore an important adjunct to the tablets of stone. When used by the High Priest they would emit the basic colors that form light, much the same way that a prism refracts the light of the sun and breaks it down into the seven primary colors. The very word 'Urim' means light. No natural light was needed to use the objects; the light was within them; but they had to be used together in order to produce the effect indicated by the name 'Thummim' which means perfection. The word shows the basic or primary answer received for a perfect application and implementation of the Ten Commandments. There was no excuse for uncertainty. The mind of the Lord could easily be received on any question and it would be a perfect 'break down' of the truth or light given in the Ten Commandments. (excerpted from Garments for Glory and Beauty)
In the same way, the inner Voice together with the adjudication of the Holy Spirit act as our Urim and Thummim for weighing and establishing our correct duty and response before the law of prophetic declaration.
To sum then, what we must see from all these illustrations is that prophetic warnings indeed carry the weight of divine law. They are to be taken literally and seriously. But like all law, they are subject to specific heart regulation and court interpretation for application by the priestly ministry of the Holy Spirit within the believer. No one is accountable to take action on any prophetic command or exhortation on face value without first enquiring of the Holy Spirit for its direct interpretation and applicability.
This provides us with the solution to our conundrum over prophetic warnings to flee
or store this up or move to the mountains or whatever. Such blanket exhortations from nationally recognizable ministers, while they may certainly be of the Lord, and regardless of subjection to hidden conditions, are not to be obeyed on first hearing without any type of testing for specificity of application to the believer. California
Inner Proving vs. Prophetic Track Record
This matter of inner proving trumps the superficial approach to evaluating prophecies based on observable prophetic track records. We are not to obey prophetic exhortations based on untested scientific faith in the percentage accuracy of prophets. Prophetic reliability as we judge it ultimately has nothing to do with determining what our own actions should be in a matter. In this regard, the search for such an objective standard is fruitless. There is no such standard.
It is entirely misguided to say as some do that "Prophet Joe bats three out of four for accurate predictions while Prophet Sam only bats two out of three, so I will follow Joe on this one." If it is a matter of life and death, and Prophet Joe strikes out just once, the game is over. It is imperative therefore that we come under ultimate regulation of the inner Voice and the examination of the Holy Spirit for establishing our responses to prophetic warnings. This applies to all issues involving prophetic guidance.
In 1984, a prophetic ministry that had been able to (or at least claimed to) demonstrate a pretty good track record of fulfilled predictions of natural calamities was prophesying that a massive earthquake was going to hit Los Angeles during the summer Olympics and was warning people to flee the impending catastrophe. This proved to be a great weight upon me because I had been led of the Lord to drive from the East Coast to Los Angeles at that very time to interface with certain ministries there. To my great relief, the prediction was not fulfilled. Nevertheless, putting my eyes on the track record of the ministry is what had given me my greatest source for alarm. It should not have.
Regarding prophecy, Paul tells us to "prove all things, hold fast that which is good." This is not just about discerning what is true from what is false, but testing what is applicable from what is inapplicable within what may be true. Paul is here saying that no prophecy is to be obeyed as if it were an unalterable Mosaic Law, regardless of the accuracy level of the prophet.
Paul himself had to deal with this reality. En route to
Jerusalemfor the last time, Paul was met with prophet after prophet telling him that if he went up to he would be taken prisoner. And on that basis everyone including the prophets was exhorting him that he should not go to Jerusalem . Jerusalem
But while the prophecies were indeed law from the Lord, and in fact were accurate, they were finally proven not applicable to him. The tested Spirit Voice within Paul was directing him to go to
despite what the prophecies said. And that was that. (For another excellent biblical example of the testing of prophecy against the Voice of the Lord, study the encounter of prophet Jeremiah with the Rechabites and the voice of Jonadab in Jeremiah 35.) Jerusalem
Will the Spirit Ever Lead Me to Fruitless Actions?
One troubling question regarding destructive warning prophecies that still needs more light involves our actions in response to them. Many warnings have not come to pass, yet many believers have committed great time and resources to obediently respond to them. Often times this has resulted in costly irreversible decisions such as selling homes and giving up jobs to move to other locations.
Most of this response has been based in immature or simply fearful, untested scientific faith in prophecies due to misplaced trust in prophetic track records. And we have now established that we are under no obligation to respond to any warning on such a basis.
The comforting conclusion we want to draw from this is that if we just abide in the Spirit and the Voice of the Shepherd, we will never be duped into taking such unwise actions. We will only be led to make the right moves at the right time in regards to warnings, and none of our efforts and resources will be wasted over what is not going to come to pass.
Well, it is absolutely true that this will be the case. We will not be duped, and we will only make the right moves and expenditures at the right time in response to warnings if we live in complete obedience only to the indwelling Word and Spirit. We will indeed be preserved from making many enormously foolish decisions.
But and I do mean but–none of this is to say that the Spirit will not lead us into what to us still appears to be fruitless effort in response to a prophetic warning.
Again we are dealing with our own rational thinking. We believe that the right kind of obedience will produce only what we consider to be beneficial results. But this is not the case at all. In proving and maturing us into sensitive obedience to prophetic warnings, the Spirit may yet easily lead us into what appears to be a wasted effort. We can still be led to take costly actions in response to warnings wherein the predicted disaster does not come to pass.
The key here is in remembering that in the walk of discipleship, the Spirit is renowned for leading His People into all manners of enterprises and courses of direction that in their infancy do not logically appear to be wise. Yet from His viewpoint, such leadings do not yield squandered efforts and resources. Its just that we cannot appreciate the higher wisdom behind what He has directed us to do at the time. And it may take a long time, even years and decades, before we are given to know why we were specifically led into what first seemed a nonproductive act of obedience.
Prophetic Fire Drills
The world has some idea of the truth behind the concept of emergency preparedness. Emergency management agencies understand that preparedness must take place in advance while there is no emergency. They also understand that not all preparation can be achieved in a single act, but that some preparedness requires stages of implementation necessitating time and practice.
To this end, the world conducts many practice drills. And depending on the type of disaster planned for, it may carry out those drills in stages. (How many of us remember fire drills in school? On a grander scale,
recently conducted a 5-day series of emergency drills in advance of possible war.) Israel
Similarly, the Holy Spirit uses prophetic warnings as practice drills for the body of Christ. The body of Christ is massive and the nature of future attacks will come on many fronts. Therefore many practice drills are required over many stages over a lot of time. These drills must occur before disaster actually strikes. And enough drills must occur over time to ready the Body for the various types of situations it will face.
As in the world, so too in the church. When a drill alert is initially issued such as in a school fire drill, one cannot tell if it is a drill or if it is the real deal. And if it is only an alert, nothing ultimately is changed after the drill is finished. The sun is still shining. There is no fire, or earthquake, or nuclear blast. Nevertheless, the drill is still costly in time and resources. A fire drill takes away from productive school time. A 5-day national war drill such as
s costs many dollars to a nation's economy in lost work. Israel'
So it is with prophetic fire drills. The Spirit may indeed lead His people to conduct exercises of obedience to prophetic warnings which at first cannot be distinguished as a mere exercise. As the Lord did not state the conditionality of Jonah's prophecy, neither does He tell us, "This is a test. This is only a test." Afterward, we look around. Nothing happened. The sun is still shining. Life goes on. It was only an exercise.
Yet the exercise still requires down time and expense, taking us away from what we otherwise consider to be the productive direction for our lives. And depending on its extent, our Spirit-led instruction in preparedness may occur in stages over a significant period of time. We may in fact spend an entire stage of our own lives under the atmosphere of a prophetic emergency drill environment, which is how God does use some end time prophetic communities.
Given this very real spiritual scenario for heavenly fire drills, we are not to believe that the Voice of God will never lead us to respond to what finally appear to be false alarms. Nor are we to regret the life costs we may pay in responding to them.
And now, when seen in the light of spiritual emergency preparedness, we have a very plausible way to spiritually explain and adapt our thinking to the conundrum of prophetic warnings by seasoned godly ministers that do not come to pass. We have a way to explain the legitimate side of the prophetic wolf syndrome. It is a matter of spiritual preparedness, not prophetic falsity.
Applying the Converter
Understanding the relationship of the indwelling Voice to external prophecy, and of the adjudicating role of the Holy Spirit in weighing our responsiveness between the two is what ultimately resolves the bafflement and distress we experience over end time warnings. In the end, we find that the Holy Spirit Himself is the Converter we need to translate prophecy for us.
The Spirit provides that compatible medium of interchange between the prophetic word and our natural apprehension and application of it. When we especially apprehend that the issue of prophecies, their fulfillment and our actions in response to them are a means to a greater end in our relationship with the Father, we are liberated into a much higher and restful place of being in Him relative to prophecy.
As we learn to wait on the Spirit and allow Him to perform His interpretive function within us, we become released from shame and regret over past premature actions made in good faith, from fear over future actions and considerations, from guilt, condemnation and coercion laid by others over what response ought to be made to the latest warning, from our own inner compulsive angst to act hastily on a word, from misplaced trust and idolization of prophetic ministers, from anxiety over the possibility that we may yet respond to a warning of something that is not going to happen, as well as from opposite callous disregard, cynical unbelief and condemnation toward the prophetic because of the overall frustrating limbo that prophetic warning presents us. In all this we may escape the trap of the prophetic wolf-crying syndrome.
Out of His ensuing reconciliation between the prophetic warnings that come to our ears and the inner still, small Voice, the Spirit brings us into confirmatory perfected clarity as to what our response to any particular warning ought to be. We may determine the warning is bogus. We may determine it is real, but not meant for us. We may determine that it is real and we are to respond to it, regardless of knowing whether it is conditional or not, or whether it is only an emergency preparedness drill or not.
And if we do take action, and yet for any reason the prophecy is not fulfilled and the action appears to have been wasted, we come under no regret because our obedience was not to a prophetic word, but to the Spirit Himself. We chalk this up to our obedience as overcomers, knowing that no obedience goes unrewarded, no matter how foolish it might seem at the time.
And perhaps best of all, behind all of these considerations, we can rest knowing that until confirmatory clarity comes at all, we are under no compulsion to make a determination or take any action. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. And how sweet a liberty it is.
Now there is just one remaining issue. It is this:
What is the quality of my inner ephod and of my Urim and Thummim relative to the hearing of prophecy?
The extensiveness of the rancor over prophetic wolf crying reflects the poor degree to which the prophetic body of Christ as a whole has rightly responded to the Father's ultimate purpose in the prophetic to bring us into the inner balance between prophecy, Voice and the Spirit. You see, there is a cost to come into this balance. That cost is unconditional surrender and devotion to the Father through time spent in the secret place. We have to really want Him for this, even to be desperate for it–desperate enough to lay everything else down in life until we find it in Him.
"You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart."
As long as we are consumed with cable TV, computer games, iPods, Facebook and the cares of this life, we can forget about gaining any significant deliverance out of the morass of confusion the prophetic presents our natural minds. For many, prophecy is but a side hobby and avocation of amateur interest. But that will not cut it in these times.
Under such compromised interest, the offending peculiarities of living prophecy can only become a snare to those who retain a mere scientific faith in it. If we truly want to escape the prophetic wolf syndrome to find inner prophetic perfection, Christ must become our momentary life.
The choice for this is ours. But know that as evil continues and God's judgments prepare for greater release, decisions of great weight and cost are to be made in the near future. Life itself will hang in the balance as prophetic decrees multiply in number, volume and intensity. In all this, your own life will come to depend on finding true inner prophetic balance in Him.
Will you find Him or not?
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page updated December 1, 2016