Prophetic ministry is like walking a tightrope: it doesn’t work if we get in the habit of making mistakes.
No other ministry demands so much attention to accuracy. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 sets a standard for true prophecy:
And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall 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 happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
My wife and I have been doing a lot of heart searching after a string of prophecies in 2008 that have not come to pass.
The first was about an earthquake in California – it was supposed to be the big one, and somehow it got attached to 8-8-08. It didn’t happen.
The second was about the Lakeland Outpouring: many of the prophecies were aborted when Todd Bentley’s issues came to light.
The third was about the presidential election. I knew a lot of people who were hanging on to words that did not come to pass.
But prophetic people have something else in common with high-wire artists: a safety net.
The safety net: prophecy is conditional.
Scripture itself reveals that a prophecy can be the word of God without coming to pass. Jonah’s story is an example. God sent him to Nineveh and Jonah took the long way around to get there, but eventually he arrived and proclaimed: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.”
It was God’s word, but it didn’t come to pass. The king proclaimed three days of fasting and prayer and led the nation in repentance. God turned away His judgment and the city was spared for more than a century.
Jeremiah’s trip to the potter’s house — see Jeremiah 18 — explains what happened to Jonah’s word in Nineveh. Jeremiah watched as the potter took a malformed vessel, reworked the clay, and made a new vessel. Then God spoke:
“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it…”
God went on to say that a nation that turns from righteousness can forfeit a promised blessing. In other words, prophecy is almost always conditional, even if the prophet does not bother to explain the conditions. God will turn away from judgment if we turn away from sin; He will withhold blessings if we turn away from righteousness.
Ezekiel 18 says God uses the same pattern with individuals. His promise of blessing or warning of judgment can change if we turn towards Him in repentance or if we turn away.
For those of us who prophesy, this principle is a safety net if our words don’t come to pass. God is the one who set the net there; if anything, more scriptures say prophecy is conditional than require that every word must come to pass.
Because of this principle, many prophetic people are saying prophecy is an invitation, not a prediction. But others look on and wonder if there’s any point in prophecy – if the words are unlikely to come to pass anyway.
We’ve fallen into the net so many times that they’re starting to wonder if anyone knows how to walk on the high-wire.
God is giving us a hunger to see prophecy come to pass.
Frankly, the principles of the potter’s house easily explain the earthquake that didn’t happen, the glory that never quite got released in Lakeland, and the election that did not unfold as many had prophesied. I don’t feel at all comfortable throwing stones at any of the people who gave these words or prayed over them.
But neither do I feel comfortable with our suave habit of falling into the net. Granted, God put it there; it’s biblical to use it; it’s impossible to judge prophecy rightly without considering the unspoken conditions that go with it.
What ever became of the idea that God would simply speak, and the word would come to pass? Do we have to expect that every word God speaks is negotiable? Will He ever speak a word we can count on?
I Corinthians 12:4-6 implies that God will give us both kinds of words:
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
Sometimes God will give a word like the one Jonah gave Nineveh. It will be conditional, and it may or may not come to pass. But sometimes He will give words that surely happen, even if it looks impossible: they will be like Jesus’ word to Peter that he was to catch a fish and would find a coin in its mouth. We can expect both kinds of prophecy because Paul made it clear that the God who gives prophecy (or any other gift) will give it in a variety of ways.
We’ve been experiencing one kind of word, and it’s biblical. But we’re hungry for another kind of word as well. We want to see someone cross the high-wire without falling into the net.
Jesus doesn’t just speak prophecy – He fulfills it.
“The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.” We’ve focused on one aspect of this – that Jesus will speak prophetic words through us. But we may have been overlooking another side of Jesus: He carefully fulfills prophetic words.
We find this in all four gospels, but especially in Matthew. Matthew often said, “This was done to fulfill what is written…” In other words, Jesus didn’t just prophesy; He made prophecies come to pass. He hasn’t changed. He’s still interested in fulfilling prophecy, whether it be the written words of scripture or the living words spoken by believers today.
After He multiplied the loaves and fishes, He went around and gathered the leftovers so they would not go to waste. Today He is gathering the leftover fragments of prophecy that others may have tossed aside. He will not let the word of God return void. He watches over it, to make sure it comes to pass.
I’m taking time for heart searching these days. It can be biblical for prophecy to go unfulfilled if man does not do his part, but I see Jesus wanting to bring the word of God to pass. Are our prophecies the kind of words He wants to fulfill? Are they what God plans to do, or are they wishful thinking?
I’m not interested in criticizing everyone else’s ministry. Satan is the one who accuses the brethren; I don’t want to help him with his work. But I’m asking God to fill my mouth with words that He can be glad to watch over and bring to pass. I’m asking Him to help me make it clear that a word is conditional, if it is; and that people will understand what the conditions are.
But I’m also trusting Him to know whether man will meet the conditions or not, and to take that into account when He speaks. I sense that He would like to demonstrate that it is possible to get from one end of the high-wire to the other without falling into the net.
Are you hungry for something clearer in the prophetic? If so, it’s a God-given hunger, and He wants to satisfy it. “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”