I think that for many people, when they hear the word “prophecy”, one of two things comes to their mind. First, they might picture a crazy person, or a man with a really long beard wearing a toga, or someone who isn’t quite “right” in the head. Or secondly, they might picture a fortune teller. Someone who uses strange means to tell the future.
These misconceptions are widely held, particularly in the church, and so the gift of prophecy is squelched, viewed with suspicion, and even joked about. Prophecy seems a bit loopy, dangerous, and outside of the mainstream. All it takes for many Christians is one person who abuses or misuses this gift to convince them that prophecy is better off locked away where it can’t hurt anyone.
And so in the Church, and in most churches, the gift of prophecy lies dormant. The result is that we trade one extreme for another. One abuse for another. By assuring the gift is not abused, we assure the gift is not used. By assuring we don’t lose order in our worship services, we assure that we are in complete control. We gain the allusion of safety by closing our eyes to the Spirit. Why do we think this is a good option?
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy asks if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe…? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
I’m convinced that one of the top ways to ensure dead worship services is to make them safe. Of course we want to cultivate an atmosphere of grace. But when we seek to cultivate safety at every turn, we do our congregations a great disservice. To encounter more of the depths of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must sacrifice safety. Then we can see more of how good he is.
Prophecy isn’t telling the future. It’s conveying something God has shown you spontaneously (1 Corinthians 14:30).
Prophecy isn’t intended to divide. It’s intended to build up, to encourage, and to comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3, 14:31).
Prophecy isn’t meant to be hidden. It can sometimes assist in evangelism (I Corinthians 14:24-25).
Prophecy isn’t just for spiritual giants. It’s a gift God might give anyone (1 Corinthians 12:11).
So, if we are “eager for manifestations of the Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 14:12), if we want to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:5b), and if we want to obey a “command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37b), we should “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that (we) may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). It’s not always safe. But God is always good. And the Holy Spirit will help use this good gift to show the goodness of God in a way that is “done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It’s the best of both worlds.
Here are some practical ways churches and worship leaders can be more open to prophecy.
Encourage it. At the beginning of a prayer time, or a time of singing, or a whole service, encourage people to be asking the Holy Spirit to speak to them: either something just for them, or perhaps something for the broader group. It might be a single word, or an image, or a few sentences, or a bible verse, or some other impression. If you’re involved in leading a service in any way, think about how you can raise people’s antennae for the Holy Spirit.
Model it. One of my core convictions about worship leading is that “what they see is what you’ll get”. In other words, if you want to see a congregation engaged in reading the bible, you have to model it. If you want to see people comfortable lifting their hands, you have to model it. And if you want to see people comfortable exercising the gift of prophecy, you have to model it. Take a risk and articulate a prophetic impression God has given you. Even if it’s not terribly profound. Model it, model it, model it.
Leave room for it. This will look vastly different based on your kind of church, venue, size of congregation, etc. In a small group you have more safety to leave space and silence for people to speak up and share words of prophecy. In a large group, this isn’t always such a good idea. Since there might be nonbelievers in the room, and since we want to do things decently and in order, you’ll want to still leave room for it, but have a pastor or an elder assigned to “test” any words of prophecy before they’re shared with the larger group.
Remove the mystique. In your modeling of the gift of prophecy, and in your encouragement of this gift, make it obvious that nothing spooky is happening, no one is putting on a toga, and no one is going to start revealing everyone’s embarrassing sins. Keep it real. All this is is God, a good Father, giving good gifts to this children, for their good, and for the building up of his church.
I’ve recently been encouraged to not squelch this gift in my own ministry. From time to time I’ve shared prophetic songs on this blog (here, here, and here). All this is is a strong sense I have while leading worship (or sometimes before) of something God wants to convey. I then sing this impression while joining it with a melody and chord progression. I most recently did this on my church’s fall retreat and you can hear it below.
You who feel defeated
I am your victory
You who feel downcast
I am your joy
You who feel condemned
I am your righteousness
You who feel lost
I am your home
So hide your life in mine
When you are in Christ
I give you new life
And every sin is paid for
And every pain I bore
And every loss I know of
I am your Redeemer
I am your Redeemer
I am your Savior
So hide your life in mine