If you have questions, email me. I don’t have all the answers, but God does, and I can tell you what I think they are. Of course, all errors are mine.
Question. There’s a woman in my church who likes to prophesy things over people. She just comes right up to them and says, “I see this image over you, and it means that God’s going to…” and then she gives her interpretation. But most of the time she’s completely wrong, or doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Is she a false prophet, or is she what you call a premature prophet? And what can I do about her? I’m worried that she’ll make some of the newer Christians in my church doubt prophecy even exists. —Ramon G.
Reply. As you should. I think that is indeed the primary thing to worry about: Will it take glory from God? It doesn’t matter if the prophet comes off as embarrassing, so long that she’s saying what God actually told her, and God’s message is doing its job. The problem is when if it has nothing to do with God, and it makes her look like a fraud, and him look like a fairy tale.
- Fake prophets, bluntly, aren’t prophets, and are pretending to be. They don’t hear God. They might have at one time, but don’t now. They “prophecy” because they want the respect, influence, money, or outright power that they assume a prophet should get. However nice they might be, what they’re doing is evil.
- Premature prophets are Christians who definitely hear God, but share what they hear immediately, without God’s permission—without any meditation, without asking him what he means by it, and in some cases without any love or wisdom. In some cases this is because they’re overeager; in other cases this is because they’re showing off the fact that God talks to them.
- Wrong prophets are Christians who don’t know the difference between their own voice, another spirit’s voice, and the Holy Spirit’s voice. They might hear God. They might not. But whatever thought they get, if it sounds good to them, they share it. They’re well-intentioned but immature.
The symptoms will all be the same: She’s wrong. The way you figure out which one she is all depends on how she reacts once you tell her she’s wrong.
Fake prophets will tell you, “No no; my message will happen later; you misunderstood me.” They’ll try to convince you that you’re wrong, and they’re right—or, in the worst cases, try to make you shut up about it. Premature prophets will say, “Whoops; what I should have said—what I meant to say—is this,” and correct themselves. And wrong prophets will stare at you like a deer caught in headlights, dumbfounded at the idea that they could be wrong.
That’ll be their initial reaction, anyway. Where they go from there depends on their personal spiritual maturity. Mature Christians will try to rectify the situation. Immature Christians or con artists will try to cover up the situation. Sometimes even by blaming you—supposedly you’re suffering from a lack of faith, or are trying to sow division, or are otherwise interfering with a move of God.
But in any event, you won’t know which is which until you confront your iffy prophet. And that’s the hard part. Most Christians do not want to confront a misbehaving fellow Christian. But you gotta. Someone’s gotta, and the process needs to start with the Christian who’s been mis-prophesied to. If she told you, “Thus says the Lord,” and the Lord said no such thing, she needs to be informed that she’s hearing the Lord wrong. If she truly wants to serve God, she’ll want to know she’s making mistakes, embarrassing though they might be, so she can correct them. So start optimistically: Assume she wants to serve God, that she’s simply mistaken, and go to her with that mindset.
Following Matthew 18.15-17.
Here we move into the steps Jesus gave us for how to deal with enemies. Arrange to meet her for a private discussion, just the two of you—no ganging up—to discuss your issue. And only yours. Do not bring up all the other instances where she prophesied over other people and was wrong. I know; you’ll want to. But you’re only legitimately able to discuss how she wronged you. Other people’s grievances are not your business unless they asked you to be their advocate—which they didn’t. (And shouldn’t have either. They need to step up.)
Do not go in there angry or emotional; go willing to listen. Go with the goal to work things out between the two of you. Explain to her what she said to you, why she was wrong, and how that makes you feel. (She needs to know that you were actually hurt by this, even if it was “only” emotionally.) Let her apologize. Or correct herself, or defend herself; allow for the possibility there’s a misunderstanding.
If she won’t work it out—if she thinks you’re making a major deal out of nothing, or if her reaction is, “Who are you to correct the Lord’s anointed?”—well, things now have to escalate. Still, follow Jesus’s instructions: Have another meeting, and bring other Christians whom you trust (don’t involve pastors yet) to judge between the two of you: Is she in the wrong, or are you?
If they take her side—they think you’re blowing her behavior out of proportion, or aren’t fairly accepting her explanation, or whatever—drop it. If they take your side, and she refuses to hear it, then get the church leadership involved. At that point the leadership will take it out of your hands, and deal with her as appropriate.
Hopefully, things will never have to go past your one-on-one discussion, and you’ll have a stronger relationship for it, and she’ll be more hesitant to blurt out things as from God when they might not be—which will be better for everyone.
If it happens again.
Now, it may happen that she apologizes to you, claims she’ll never do it again, and backslides. It may be that she has no accountability system—that you, as the only Christian willing to say anything to her, are it. That’s not good; that’s a separate issue that ought to be taken up with your church’s leadership. The other folks in your church have to be taught to speak up when necessary, and your prophets need to be provided with accountability partners.
But until those things are put into place, meet with her again, and keep her honest. Prophets, like anyone, will be tempted to take shortcuts. The problem is that giving messages that aren’t actually from God can, in extreme cases, wreck lives. So you gotta keep her honest. It’s for everyone’s good. Especially hers.