This is the third blog post in this series of Refreshing the Prophetic. The first two looked at the need for love, and then the difference between prophecy in the Old and New Covenant. As we seek the Lord for his refreshing of the prophetic movement, what we are really doing is asking him to restore us to our “factory settings”, to take us back to how the prophetic was meant to function.
This is why the post on the difference between Old and New Testament prophecy is so important. If we don't have this foundation, we have little to build on. But if we do, it opens up understanding of the glorious way God designed prophecy to work in the NT and when we “taste the new” we won’t want to go back to trying to function like an OT prophet.
One of the features of the NT prophet is that their words are weighed and discerned by others. This isn’t the case in the OT, where prophets functioned as solitary voices, their only test being if the word (predictions) came true. Thus, if we confuse the Old and New, it becomes easy to assume that discernment is optional. Actually no. (Now to be clear, I’m not talking about the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits but rather, the skill of discernment that anyone can learn.)
1 Cor 14:29 “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others weigh what is said.”
1 Thes 5:19-21 “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies,
but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
The biblical instructions are clear—we are called to function more corporately in the new covenant, and the eye can not say to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21). Discernment is vital. Having prophetic words weighed and tested is the NT way that we want to return to. I wish we had worked to build this more into the culture of the prophetic movement years ago. Instead, we put our energy into activating the prophetic and creating a safe place in our churches for prophets to get launched.
How I wish we had worked just as hard at making it safe for the church, as we did for the prophets. We could have taught on discerning prophetic words, rather than merely activating them, so that people who were prophesied over with well-meaning words that weren’t from God, didn’t end up confused or misdirected. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, doing both well is biblical.
The scripture teaches: “…test everything, hold fast what is good”. Sadly, when we omitted the testing bit, we often held fast to whatever we thought was good, or what sounded good to us.
In 1 Tim 1:18, Paul encourages Timothy to use the prophecies he was given at his ordination to wage the good warfare. Paul was helping him to stand fast in his calling— which had been confirmed by prophecy— against the spiritual warfare trying to discourage and defeat him.
We’ve often extrapolated from this verse that prophecy reveals potential calling and destiny before it manifests, and we need to “war” with faith and intercession for it to come about. We might need to rethink this considering Jesus didn’t “war” to be crowned Lord of Heaven and Earth, but even with that aside, what if you are clinging to a false word, or what if what you are “warring for” is your desire rather than God’s?
DOES IT RESONATE?
Most of us have used the principle of resonance as our primary way to discern the prophetic. It goes like this: we hear a word, (or even a teaching), and we notice how our spirit responds to it. If our spirit seems to affirm or resonate with what is said, we judge the word to be from the Lord. If it falls flat, we set it aside.
As an on-the-fly rule of thumb, this works well, but the problem arises when we confuse our soul with our spirit. When it’s our soul responding with an “amen” to a word, we can easily assume it’s our spirit, and our souls are continually being pressured by the spirit of the world, to the point that sounds which come from the world, can resonate with a comfortable familiarity. Resonance can only be a trustworthy measure when we are continually reset and renewed in the gospel and this happens best in the context of Christian community, ie: the local church.
We might be surprised with how much the spirit of the world influences our souls. I remember one time, being in a NA prayer summit as one of the representatives from Canada. We were treated to a wonderful trip up Pike’s Peak, one of the highest points in the Colorado Rockies. At the top, the group of about 40 leaders gathered to pray and as we finished, one of the Americans suggested we sing “America the Beautiful”, an American hymn of patriotism.
There were nods of agreement from most of the American leaders, but the Canadians and Mexicans were aghast. We were not at all interested in extolling America, it was time to exalt Jesus over America! The spirit of patriotic nationalism had syncretistically mixed itself in with the gospel so that it wasn’t discerned by the Americans, but obvious to the Canadians and Mexicans. We need each other!
It’s not only the spirit of the world that we have a hard time distinguishing from the spirit of God at times, it is also our soul’s desires. We all have desires which we struggle to submit to God, many of which are for really good things but perhaps not God’s will for us, (at least in this season). We desire the things that our culture values: celebrity status and platform, wealth, beauty, success, personal power, even being cool has a very powerful draw. We also desire really good things like being married and having children, being significant, even being used to bring revival.
However, all unyielded desires can lead us to asserting our will and deceiving ourselves into believe that it’s God’s. So prophecy that touches these desires can be very hard to distinguish by the measure of simply: “does it resonate?”. This is why we need to be trained by scripture in how to discern and we need the safety of others, likewise trained, to help us.
Equally powerful to unyielded desires are our fears. Fear of rejection, of failure, fear for our children, fearful distrust of church leadership, fear of ungodly government, all these and more can skew our discernment if we are basing it solely on resonance.
Resonance is helpful, but it isn’t enough and isn’t always reliable.
THE STATURE OF A PROPHETIC VOICE
Another way we discern is by the stature of the prophet. The words of those who are higher profile often go untested, because we are generally intimidated by them and not confident in our basis of discerning. It stands to reason, if all we are going on is our sense of resonance, that we would have little confidence to question a word brought by one who has an international stature and impressive track record. But if we can learn from scripture to discern, and if we build the practice of discernment protocol in our prophetic communities, then we’ll be confident in weighing the words from even the most high profile prophets.
What many may not realize, is the level of demand and expectation that itinerant prophets live under. Many have said to me how they struggle with being treated like a prophetic vending machine. They are continually called upon to “bring the word”, to prophecy into every church and city that they visit, to prophecy to every pastor, youth worker, worship leader, business leader, and politician. The expectations are ridiculously high and people can get very nasty if you don’t produce. In many situations, it’s not just a word that people want, but it’s a certain kind of word —a “destiny” word— a word that will promise them what their hearts desire.
Here’s a scenario that prophetic people will all identify with: I was ministering in a large church and praying for people afterwards. A leader had travelled many miles to attend this service because he felt he needed a prophetic word of direction. He made a beeline for me and asked for a word. I waited on God and sensed the Lord was leading him into deeper trust, a step-by-step season without long-term clarity so he would grow in dependance. I prayed and shared this with him. He was visibly annoyed as he walked away, clearly feeling ripped off. It was obvious what kind of word that would have pleased him, but I couldn’t cross that line and alter what I sensed God was saying. With this kind of pressure on prophets, is it wise to hold fast to every word, even from high profile prophets, without weighing them?
DISCERNING EMERGING VOICES
If you are a prophet who has not arrived at that level of stature where your words are regularly received, there is a real temptation to amp up the importance and weight of your word with intensity, exaggerated language, or passion. If we had discernment protocols, throwing in those extra trappings wouldn’t be such a temptation because even a word coming from a nervous new prophet, which is a true word from God, would be recognized and honoured.
You see, discernment doesn’t just sift out the words that are off,
it affirms and endorses the words that are from the Lord, no matter who delivers them.
Discernment makes prophecy safe for the prophet and for the church. It disciples, as words that contain mixture or which shift our eyes away from Jesus are pastored. It makes sure no one gets entrenched in dysfunctional ways. It builds humility, mutual submission, and unity into the fabric of the church, all of which attract the presence of God. And most of all, it keeps us hearing rightly and clearly the voice of the Spirit as he speaks! Let’s make room for discernment.
by Sara Maynard
If you are a pastor or a leader or just want to dig deeper into the principles of discernment, I’ve been teaching a mini-course on this in Come Aside, our new publication, hosted on Substack. I’d highly recommend you sign up and get this as a resource for your church or group.