We have written about the gift of prophecy fairly often, and most of that writing and training is overwhelmingly positive. We believe in prophecy. We love prophecy. We earnestly desire to prophesy, and we earnestly desire for you to prophesy. We want to see more prophecy in the church, not less. But that doesn't mean that all prophecy is right or good.
It is possible to have too much prophecy. In the North American church's zeal for prophecy, many churches and movements have encouraged prophecy so much and lowered the bar so much for what prophecy is that they have opened the door for bad prophecy. Even worse, they may have opened the door for false prophecy as well.
Prophecy can be simply defined as saying what God says by the power of the Holy Spirit. The result of prophecy is edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). The Bible is full of examples of prophecy, both true and false.
Bad Prophecy and False Prophecy
What do I mean by bad prophecy? Not all prophecy that is erroneous is false. False prophecy not only contains wrong information, but it comes from the wrong source and leads to the wrong place. False prophecy comes from evil motives and perhaps even from demonic sources. False prophecy leads people away from God, away from God's grace, and away from true faith. Check out Art Thomas's post for more about how to identify false prophecy.
I actually think that false prophecy isn't common in most churches. Of the bad prophecy and false prophecy I've heard, I can probably count the ones I thought were actually from a demonic source on one hand. Most prophecy that misses the mark isn't false prophecy as much as it is bad prophecy or erroneous prophecy.
Bad prophecy or erroneous prophecy may come from a sincere desire to speak for God and may point to God's glory, God's grace, and true faith. It simply contains wrong information and/or is not what the Lord intends to say at that time to those people. True prophecy proceeds from God and contains His word. False prophecy proceeds from evil sources or evil motives and contains a false word. Bad prophecy proceeds from a human source and does not contain what God desires to say in the specific context its given. Bad prophecy may also be called "presumptuous prophecy."
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ Deuteronomy 18:20 ESV
Three Sources of Prophecy
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. Jeremiah 23:16 ESV
Prophecy can come from three different places. Prophecy can come from God through the Holy Spirit. God can reveal a prophetic word in a number of ways, but usually, that word passes through the mind or the imagination before we proclaim it. Prophecy can come from Satan or demons (See Acts 16:16.) in order to deceive and ensnare. But prophecy can come from a third and more neutral source. Prophecy can come from a human being's own thoughts or heart. Someone who desires to prophesy could simply make something up or confuse a thought from their own mind or heart with a thought from God's heart.
This is the source of bad prophecy, erroneous prophecy, presumptuous prophecy, and sometimes false prophecy.
Even though we have been born again, filled with God's Spirit, and have a sincere desire to obey Him that doesn't mean that all of our thoughts come from God. It also doesn't mean that God will give us a prophetic word every time we ask. In some charismatic contexts, it requires courage to admit that God hasn't given you a prophetic word.
These kinds of contexts promote bad prophecy. There is an immense pressure to come up with something to prophesy. And so sincere believers make things up.
God knows our hearts. He knows our intentions. He loves us and forgives us. Just because you have made a mistake doesn't make you a false prophet or make you accursed. You don't have to fear condemnation from your Father. But God is working to correct us and bring us into alignment with His true words. He doesn't want us to presume to speak what He hasn't said.
I Have Given Bad Prophecy
I have given many prophetic words. And I have been convicted multiple times that I was wrong. I have had to receive correction from God. This is difficult to admit. I have gotten it wrong. I prophesied things that may have been generally true but weren't truly what God was saying at that moment. Even worse, I may have prophesied things that were specifically untrue.
God has convicted me, told me where and how I got it wrong and redirected me in His grace and love. Does this discourage me? Does this make me want to stop prophesying? If I'm honest, yes, I have had those thoughts. But I love God, and prophecy is for Him and His glory. He desires prophecy in His church. He desires me to prophesy, and He commands me to desire to prophesy.
Whatever mistakes we may have made, we press on. We receive correction, and we move forward in the love of God. We seek to love and serve with the prophetic gifts we have been given, and we seek to prophesy according to our faith.
How to Have More Bad Prophecy
Before I move into how God wants to correct us and move us forward in true prophecy, let me identify some trends and attitudes that foster bad prophecy in our lives.
Number 1: Subtly suggest that God is saying whatever good things we imagine. (Jeremiah 23:16, Jeremiah 23:25-26, Ezekiel 13:2)
I believe that prophecy results in edification, exhortation, and comfort, but that doesn't mean that all edification, exhortation, or comfort is prophecy. One of the most effective ways to get people to start to prophesy is to ask them what they think Jesus might be saying. In some instances, teachers openly tell believers to "make something up." And this works. People come up with good things to say. Sometimes they even give accurate words of knowledge or they give genuine prophecy. This kind of teaching pushes people to take a risk, and this is necessary. But we have to be very careful not to suggest that "making things up" or speculating on what Jesus might be saying is prophecy. We have to hold up a higher standard than that while still creating a safe environment to take risks and fail.
If we want more bad prophecy, we should call every encouraging statement a "prophetic word."
Number 2: Don't judge or test prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, 1 John 4:1-3)
All prophecy must be tested and judged. This can be a quick process or a lengthy one depending on the message, but we must make this part of our church cultures as much as giving prophecy. Many teachers mention testing or judging prophecy but spend little time teaching how to test or judge prophecy. Even fewer demonstrate this process. In most church cultures the outside appearance is that every single prophecy is good and accepted without going through any process.
We hate to admit that bad prophecy happens in our ministries or in our churches. Testing and judging prophecy forces us to admit that. If we want more genuine prophecy we must take the time and make the effort to test and judge every word.
If we want more bad prophecy, we should discourage judging and testing prophecy.
Number 3: Don't hold those prophesying accountable for what they say. (1 Kings 22:28)
Those who prophesy must be accountable for what they say. They should be open and available for correction. In some cases, they should be aware that they may have gotten something wrong. In other cases, they should apologize and release people from their words.
If those who prophesy are not held accountable by the body of Christ they may continue to give bad prophecy and not be aware. They may continue to veer further and further off course. Those who prophesy inaccurately need help to restore and calibrate their gift so it can be edifying for all.
If we want more bad prophecy, we should never hold anyone accountable for what they prophesy.
Number 4: Don't hold those receiving prophecy accountable for what they hear. (1 Timothy 1:18)
This may be the most common issue in prophetic cultures. Some people receive many prophetic words per year and never do anything with them. They love the encouragement. They love the thrill. But they walk away forgetting much of what they've heard and never doing anything with what God has told them. We must process prophetic words. We must test and judge them. We must apply them to our lives. We must obey what God tells us to do.
If we do nothing with the prophetic words we receive, then bad prophecy doesn't matter much because no prophecy matters much. It is just in one ear and out the other, providing an emotional surge and little more. If we want more genuine prophecy, we must treat the words that are given as if they actually are the words of God and we must be accountable to them. We must work them out. We must obey them, and we must help our brothers and sisters obey what the Lord has told them.
If we want more bad prophecy, we should treat every prophetic word as if it needs no action and keep no one accountable for what they hear.
Number 5: Only allow prophecy that everyone likes.
While prophecy results in edification, exhortation, and comfort; not all prophecy makes us comfortable. In many churches prophetic words that seem "negative" are banned. Every prophetic word has to be positive and encouraging. If we applied this ban to the Bible we would lose more prophetic words than we kept. If we applied this ban to the ministry to Jesus's ministry we would lose a number of prophetic words. If we applied this to the book of Acts and the epistles we would lose prophecies as well.
I understand that only permitting encouragement creates a safe environment, but it also creates a limited environment. What if God desperately wants to correct, align, or adjust? What if that is what He truly wants to say to a certain individual or church? Do we make up something positive instead? I agree that God can and does correct in love and encouragement, but the New Testament displays that often God corrects and rebukes directly.
What's more, many people are able to provide prophetic words out of their intuition and their ability to read other people's desires. Rather than hearing from God, they simply parrot people's desires back to them. Everyone goes home encouraged, but no one has heard from the Lord.
If we want more bad prophecy, we should limit prophecy to things we want to hear.
Number 6: Don't correct erroneous prophecy.
This may be obvious from the previous points, but we must address erroneous and bad prophecy. We cannot pretend that every prophecy is true. We cannot constantly reward every prophecy and never move on to maturity. There is no condemnation in Christ, but it is not good to prophesy something God is not saying. It is wrong. We have to do something about it.
If we want more bad prophecy in our churches, we should do nothing to correct incorrect prophecy.
I don't want this post to be negative. I write it because I am passionate about prophecy and want to hear from God more. I want more genuine words. I want more genuine prophecy for the church.
We should create safe environments for prophecy and reward risk. We should emphasize God's encouragement through prophecy rather than judgment. We should encourage people to "go for it," and make mistakes. But we should never lose our grip on the truth or throw discernment away.
If we want to receive more genuine words from God we must address bad prophecy. We need to:
Have a solid of prophecy and where it comes from.
Judge and test every prophetic word
Hold those who prophesy accountable
Hold those who receive prophecy accountable
Be open to whatever the Lord will say
Be cautious of prophecy that always confirms our desires.
Correct erroneous prophecy.
May you grow in grace and faith as you grow in the gift of prophecy.