So many people staying at home now. Some of you are busier than ever with your kids at home instead of school. But some people have some extra time on their hands. I’ve been wanting to start a podcast, and now seems like a good time. So if you are bored sitting at home, you’ll have something new to listen to. The first episodes will be on faith in a time of Coronavirus. I’ll let you know when it’s up. In the meantime, here is a script for what I think will be the first episode.
I want to talk to the prophets of America. I know usually in December and January, you give a word to the faithful for the coming year. I have gone back and listened to what you predicted for 2020. One minister made it pretty easy. He asked 20 prophets to make predictions for 2020 and played them all. 20 prophets. I transcribed the program. Here is a word cloud I made from it.
God is big, no surprise. Going is big, probably because you were talking about what God is “going” to do in 2020. Year is big, of course, because you were talking about the new year. I also see America is prominent, again no surprise. I see Gregorian at the bottom and Hebrew at the top to the right, because a couple of them talked about the alignment of the year 2020 on the Gregorian calendar with the year 5780 on the Hebrew calendar. Because 5+7+8+0=20. I’m sorry, but I don’t call that an alignment. 20 is not the same number as 2020.
But regardless of that, you know what I don’t see? Coronavirus, COVID-19, or pandemic. No mention of a virus at all. Nothing that would even suggest what we’re going through now. I know the Biblical writers knew nothing about viruses, but you still could have used some Biblical term, like plague, or pestilence, or disease. The word “shaken” or “shaking” should be on there. I did hear that a few times. This could be called a shaking. But even then, the rest of their message did not sound like they were anticipating this current crisis. One of them did say we would see a shaking in the first four months. That is the closest any one of them came to predicting this. And a couple of others mentioned a “shaking like nothing before.” Again, that could be a reference to what we’re experiencing now. But one of them specified “the soil will be shaken.” That sounds more like an earthquake than a pandemic.
So out of 20 prophets, who claim to hear directly from God and speak directly for God the word for today, only a couple of them even hinted at what we are going through now. And on top of that, one of them said she had just come from a conference of 42 prophets from around the world. I didn’t get the transcript of that. But if any of them saw a pandemic coming, she didn’t say so.
And you see decade is prominent? Several of them talked about not only what the year would bring, but also the decade, because this is the beginning of a new decade. Except it’s not. The decade does not begin in 2020. It begins in 2021. Even if you don’t know when the decade begins, God does. Why would God make a mistake like that?
What is this the year of? According to them, it’s the year of fire. The year of evangelism. The year of the Father. The year of the voice. The year of the mouth. In reality, it is the year of Coronavirus, the year of pandemic. Why didn’t that make it onto your list of “Year of”s? Is it possible you heard a voice or saw a vision that you thought was from God, but it wasn’t?
First Sign of a False Prophet
Back in Biblical times, this was how they detected a false prophet. This is from the English Standard Version (ESV).
… when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.(Deu 18:22 ESV)
Are you going to curse me for pointing out that your prophecies are not coming true? Go ahead. This verse says I need not be afraid of you. You prophesied miracles, healings, and the manifest glory of God in worship, where people are gathered together. They will even gather in stadiums, you said. Are people gathering together now? No, because we have to maintain social distancing. Stadiums are closed, along with businesses, and schools. Churches are closed and moving their services online. They aren’t gathering together.
You prophesied healings. Instead, people are getting sick at an alarming rate. You prophesied prosperity. Look what’s happening to the economy. People are losing jobs in record numbers. Does that sound like prosperity? You prophesied that every dream would come true this year for God’s faithful. This is not what we were dreaming.
How do we know the prophet is false? Deuteronomy 18:22 could not have summed it up any better. … if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken. You spoke words in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not speak. And since most of you were on that program because you’ve been doing this for years, I think it’s safe to guess that this is not the first time. These were not the first prophecies that did not come true, meaning, you spoke words in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not speak. You spoke presumptuously. Again, I ask, is it possible that you heard something or saw a vision that you thought was from God, but it wasn’t? It’s time to own up to that fact.
A Democracy, Not a Theocracy
What was the penalty in ancient Israel for speaking false prophecies? According to Deuteronomy 18:20, the prophet was put to death. There are some indications in the Bible that was not practiced consistently, but still, that was supposed to be the penalty. Think about it. Speaking a word in the name of the Lord that the Lord did not speak? That is taking the Lord’s name in vain, a violation of one of the top ten commandments. We usually think of taking the Lord’s name in vain as saying like, OMG! Or Jesus Chr…! But that is a minor offense compared to false prophecies. When you speak in the name of the Lord, and God did not speak to you? You speak in the name of the Lord presumptuously? That is much more serious.
So in ancient Israel, they were supposed to put someone to death for that. We can’t do that here. Israel was a theocracy, and we are not. In a theocracy, you can put someone to death for blasphemy or speaking the Lord’s name in vain. You can’t do that in a democracy or republic. And personally, I’m glad for that. Because if we were still living by that standard, I shouldn’t be alive today.
Redemption Is Possible
Sorry for scaring you with that talk of the death penalty, but I want you to get this is serious. And I want you to know redemption is possible. We are not in the theocracy of ancient Israel, so no one is going to stone you to death or put you in front of a firing squad. But you are still accountable to God for every careless or presumptuous word you utter in God’s name (Mat 12:36-37). But redemption is possible.
I did not get on stage or broadcast prophecies to the public, but I did say things to people who came forward in church services seeking a word from God. And I spoke in the name of the Lord. But looking back, I have to admit I had no idea if it was the Lord or not. And sometimes, it was clearly not the Lord. How do I know? Because it did not come to pass, or it led me or others to do the wrong thing. I know what it is like to hear something and think it is from God and then find out it wasn’t. It’s a really tough pill to swallow. It will make you question everything you thought you knew about God. But even though it is scary as hell, it’s a good thing when you own up to it.
I Spoke Presumptuously Too
I used to belong to a church that encouraged people to flow in the gifts of the Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Part of your task as a believer, they said, was to uncover which of those gifts was yours. I felt drawn to gifts of prophecy and healing. I didn’t know if either of them was for me, but I thought if I didn’t try, I would never know. I was cautious at first, but with practice I grew bolder. One time, a young man came forward who I knew pretty well. We were both involved in the youth ministry of the church. He had just been married, and he was worried about being able to provide for both him and his wife, and potentially children down the road, and he said he wanted some security. I could hear the distress in his voice. I told him something like, “I hear the Lord saying, security does not come from your job. Security only comes from trusting God. The Lord will provide.”
Did the Lord really say that? Or was I just parroting what I had always heard in the church? “Trust God for your needs. God will provide, no matter what the circumstances. Jehovah Jireh, the LORD will provide.” To this day, I don’t know. I do know that even as I said it, I felt like a fraud. I was single. I had never had to take care of anyone other than myself, and I was barely doing that. Still, I had money coming in. I knew where it was coming from. I had security. And whenever it looked like I might lose it, did I say, “That’s okay. I trust God. God will provide. I’ll be fine.” Oh, no. I was scared spitless (as in, when you get scared, your mouth gets dry). Who was I to “prophesy” to my friend, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Trust God”? I didn’t know it for a fact, but it sure felt like I had spoken in the name of the Lord presumptuously.
I didn’t do much prophesying in the church after that. And when I did, I played it a whole lot safer. I wouldn’t tell people to do things I wasn’t doing myself.
I Wasn’t the Only One
As I saw how people in that church were pursuing the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12:1-11 for the full context), I became more and more disillusioned with the whole thing. I saw people prophesying things that did not come true. Not just church leaders, or members who believed they had the gift of prophecy. I’m including the televangelists they held up as being the most anointed people on earth, people like the ones on this “Prophecies for 2020” program. They “prophesied” things “under the anointing” that did not come true. They told people, “Your cancer is gone. Your arthritis is gone. Your MS is gone.” None of it came true. How many times did I go forward to get healed of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome? I can’t even remember. Guess what? Never healed.
Jesus himself told us, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Mat 24:11 NRS).
I know you never thought you would be one of those false prophets. Neither did I. You thought your gift of prophecy was real. So did I. But if you know deep down you are a fraud, it’s time to come clean. Look at what you prophesied for 2020 and compare that with what is really happening. It doesn’t match. One “prophet” even said on February 28, it would not become a pandemic. Did you miss the news? It became a pandemic. You said God doesn’t do anything without first telling God’s prophets. Why didn’t God give any of you a heads up?
Giving up Too Early?
You might be thinking, “The year is not over. The good things I prophesied can still come to pass.” Maybe so. At some point, we will get control of the Coronavirus. We will be able to contain it, because of measures like shelter-in-place, social distancing, and quarantines, and hopefully, because of new medicines and vaccines. After that, we’ll see people gathering in churches and stadiums again. When people know it’s safe to go out, not only for themselves but for their elderly neighbors and relatives as well, they will start shopping and spending money again. The economy will bounce back when people get back to work. That’s not the prosperity you prophesied. That’s just the natural order of things. You don’t get any credit for that. And besides, we don’t know if the economy will be as strong as before, even after Coronavirus is gone. Some businesses closed that might never reopen.
Where are the healings you prophesied? The US now tops the world in number of Coronavirus cases. We need those healings, and we need them now. Did you claim you were anointed to heal with the same Spirit that anointed Jesus to go about healing all who were oppressed of the Devil? Are you going to do like Jesus and go into New York or California or one of the other hot spots and say, “Let all who are sick come and be healed in the name of Jesus”? The fact that you’re not doing that, that you have never done that, speaks volumes to me. If you do that and have cures medically verified, then whatever I say about false prophets and fake healers doesn’t apply to you.
The Truth Will Set You Free, But …
But if you know you have prophesied things that did not come true, redemption is possible. I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It will be painful. You know, when Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Joh 8:32 NRS), I think he should have added, “But first it will hurt a lot.” Here’s what you need to do. 1) Confess; 2) Repent; 3) Get back to basics; 4) Embrace uncertainty; 5) Focus on the Fruit rather than the Gifts.
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.(1Jo 1:9 NRS)
You will have to confess that you spoke presumptuously. You will have to admit you were wrong. Not just to God, but to the people who have been watching you in church, on YouTube, on TV, or whatever. See, I told you it would hurt. But the good news is God is faithful. If you confess, God will forgive and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. The people may or may not understand, but you have got to get right with God before you can minister to them.
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”(Mar 1:14-15 NRS)
Jesus came to announce the Good News that the kingdom of God has come near. What is the proper response? Repent. Repent means stop and turn around. Turn away from the path you are on and follow the way of the Good Shepherd. That means you must stop prophesying. In fact, you should give up your ministry entirely for a time, so you can finally unlearn the errors you’ve been preaching.
“But the Lord called me to preach and prophesy.”
Maybe. But did you or did you not prophesy falsely and presumptuously, even when you were sure it was the voice of the Lord? That shows how spiritually disoriented you’ve become. If you try to preach to people now, you are the blind leading the blind.
When I first started hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, I was thrilled. I could hear God speaking to me. But then, the truth became unavoidable. That voice that for years I thought was the Holy Spirit within me was something else entirely. Was it the Devil, or was it my own imagination? I don’t know, but either way the result was the same. My whole world crumbled to the ground. But that was when my relationship with God really began. Because I finally learned to follow the truth, wherever it led. Even if I had to let go of some of my most cherished beliefs, I made a commitment to accept the truth.
I don’t care how deeply you feel it, or how sincerely you believe it, or how many Bible verses you quote. If the facts on the ground say it’s not true, it’s not true. We don’t need false prophets speaking from their own imagination, wishful thinking, Bible verses taken out of context, the devil, or whatever they are hearing. We don’t need to hear, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. We need the truth. That is the only thing that will set us free.
I know this hurts. Being a prophet has become part of your identity. It always hurts when we find out we are not what we thought we were. I’ve been there. But how can you effectively minister in the name of the Lord when you yourself are following a voice that is not of the Lord?
I think you should take a sabbatical, so you can get reoriented to the truth. But if you won’t do that, then at least tell the people since you prophesied things that did not come true, you are clearly not qualified to be a prophet. You will preach the Gospel, but you will not be giving any more prophetic words. Furthermore, there will be no more prophetic words in your services or prayer meetings from you or anyone else. There was no judgment in the Bible for not speaking false prophecies, only for speaking them.
“But people will leave the church. We will lose money.”
Do you remember Jesus saying, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mar 8:36 NIV)? God does not call ministers to scratch itching ears by telling them what they want to hear. God calls ministers to feed his sheep by making the truth of the Gospel known to them. I was so disoriented I didn’t even know what the Gospel was anymore, which brings me to the next step.
Get Back to Basics
Remember this verse?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.(Joh 3:16 NRS)
Martin Luther called this the Gospel in a nutshell. God loved the world so much that God gave God’s only[-begotten] Son for us. Through Christ, we have eternal life.
And notice, it’s not about health, wealth, success, and making every dream come true. Nothing about prophecies, healings, miracles, signs, or wonders. It’s about receiving the gift of eternal life, which means life in relationship with God. God loves us. That is the Gospel, and Gospel literally means “good news.”
Are we worthy of that love? Absolutely not. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). That is the reason God gave his only Son. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 NRS).
Our relationship with God is broken because of sin. But Christ died so our sins could be forgiven, and our relationship with God restored. That is eternal life. And because our relationship with God has been restored, the kingdom of God has come near.
And eternal life does not just mean we go to heaven when we die, though that is also part of the good news. Your relationship with God begins in this life and will continue even after you die.
Paul told it this way to the Corinthians.
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”(1Co 15:3-4 NRS)
Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He was raised on the third day. All in accordance with the scriptures. God promised in the scriptures to send a Messiah, who would bring righteousness and the kingdom of God to this earth. Jesus Christ was that Messiah, who fulfilled God’s will according to the scriptures. How do we know? He rose from the dead in accordance with the scriptures. Death did not end his life, and it will not end ours. Nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38-39).
Those are the basics. When was the last time you preached a good sermon on that? You don’t need any supernatural gifts of the Spirit to share the basics. Get to know them again before you even think about taking the stage, the microphone, or the pulpit again.
When I first had to face up to the fact that the brand of Christianity I was following was wrong, I mean, not just wrong but egregiously wrong, I didn’t know what to do. This scripture came to mind.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?(Mic 6:8 NRS)
The gifts were not working for me, so I thought I had fallen out of favor with God. I thought God was going to require some great sacrifice, and I didn’t think I could go through with it. Praise God, I didn’t have to. Just as the angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, the Lord stayed my hand from making one of the worst mistakes of my life.
God wasn’t looking for any great sacrifice to prove how much I loved him. God didn’t require me to obey every voice that said it was God without testing it first. God wasn’t blocking gifts or blessings from me because I didn’t instantly obey the voice I once thought was God but was beginning to question. God did not want me inventing new doctrines that cause division based on a Bible verse here or there that I or someone else took out of context.
What does God require of me and you? Do justice. Treat others with love and kindness. Walk humbly with your God. That’s all.
Now, if you are used to thinking of yourself as a prophet, that last one will be the most difficult. When you thought you were one of the chosen few mouthpieces of God on earth, you walked with God but not humbly. After my great humbling, I had to rebuild my faith starting from zero. Certainty was no longer a virtue. It was a sin. If I was to continue walking with God, I had to completely redefine the most basic terms for a life of faith, like faith, Gospel, discipleship, obedience, the Holy Spirit, sin, holiness, the Word of God, salvation, healing, redemption, the truth, etc. I had to admit I didn’t know what any of those terms meant anymore, and I was going to have to learn from scratch. My walk with God was now a limp. I could not even stand in faith without leaning on Jesus. That may sound scary. You may think you want to avoid that at all costs. Truth is, if it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have chosen to go through that. But I’m telling you, that is where I learned what it means to walk humbly with God.
Some people think faith means being certain about whatever you say. “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Or, “The Lord told me this.” “God told me that.” “This is the word of the Lord for 2020.” And all the while, God is saying, “Leave me out of this!”
Faith is confidence or assurance, but it is not certainty. There is no humility in certainty. You can’t learn and you can’t listen when you are certain of everything. There is no way we as mortals can know everything, so embrace uncertainty. Try walking humbly with God for a change.
Focus on the Fruit Rather Than the Gifts
I can’t blame anyone for wanting the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10. Gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, they must have been spectacular to see. What must it have been like not only to see them, but to wield these gifts like Peter or Paul? I can only imagine what it would be like to actually have and use these gifts. The key phrase there is, “I can only imagine.”
Even though at times I thought I might have some of these gifts, I really never did. It looked like I would almost get there, but I never quite made it. Over the years, I have come to doubt whether these gifts really are for the church today. Maybe they were just for Jesus and the first Apostles, because the foundation of the church was still being laid.
But even if you do believe in these gifts for today, remember Jesus warned us that such gifts are not in and of themselves proof that the man or woman is of God. “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mat 24:24 NRS)
When it comes to false prophets, this is what he said. “You will know them by their fruits” (Mat 7:16 NRS). We need to look for what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit before we accept any signs and omens. What kind of fruit should we look for?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.(Gal 5:22-23 NRS)
If you give up on your so-called gift of prophecy, what should you do? Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, first in yourself, then in your ministry. They used to tell me that a church without the gifts of the Spirit had no Holy Spirit and therefore was dead. Now, when I look for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a church, I don’t even think about the gifts. I look for the fruit of the Spirit. When I see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then I know the Holy Spirit is present. And where the Spirit of God is, there is life.
Eternal life, that is.
Paul’s Lesson about God’s Timing
Finally, I’d like to say again if you realize you have prophesied falsely and are willing to come clean with it, God bless you. I know it takes a lot of courage. But I want to suggest again that you step down from whatever ministry you are involved in. I’m speaking from experience. I know how disorienting this is, and you will need time to rebuild your faith from the ground up.
If you won’t listen to me, think about Saul of Tarsus. He persecuted the church because he was absolutely certain that he was right, they were wrong, and God was on his side. Then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said, “No, Saul. You’re the one who’s wrong.” I’m actually paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.
Do you get how disorienting and humbling that must have been for him? To go from thinking he was absolutely right because he was standing for God and the scriptures, to finding out he was absolutely wrong, and God and the scriptures were not on his side? I have a pretty good idea. How long do you think it took him after that to go on his first missionary journey? According to some New Testament timelines I’ve seen, it was about thirteen years. What did he do during that time? We get a hint of it in 1 Corinthians.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …(1Co 15:3-4 NRS)
So this is the Gospel he preached. That Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day, all in accordance with the scriptures. But he wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples before his death, so how did he know the Gospel? Look what he said at the beginning of verse 3. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.
He had to receive the message of the Gospel from the disciples before he could hand it over to the Corinthians, or to any of the cities he evangelized. After this verse, he goes on to explain some of the details of how he learned from them. If he had clung to his certainty that he was right in the face of overwhelming evidence he was wrong, he never could have learned the good news that would eventually turn him from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle.
Second, even though the message of the Gospel was simple, the implications for a man like Paul were staggering. I think it took him that long to come to a place where he knew again what he believed, why he believed it, and what that meant for his life. For him to try to take his place as a minister of the church before then would have been a mistake. You believe in God’s timing, right? He followed God’s timing. If he hadn’t, well, who knows? We might never have even heard of Paul the Apostle.
There are a lot of false prophets in the world today, just as Jesus warned us there would be. Some ministers have taken it upon themselves to expose them. I think that is important work. I have watched them on YouTube and learned a lot from them. Some of these false prophets are definitely wolves in sheep’s clothing, preying on people’s earnest desire to draw closer to God, taking their money in exchange for words that feel good but hide them from the truth.
However, I know it’s possible some of them honestly believe they are speaking the Rhema words of God. I’ve been there myself. One of the good things that may come out of this crisis is that it is exposing false prophecies.
You spoke only what you heard, but what you heard was not from God. You believed it was. I understand that. You don’t want to admit you were wrong, not only this time but also in times past, because that would mean the end of your prophetic ministry. I understand how scary that is. Where I might have sounded harsh, it was only because I wanted to break through that fear and stubbornness, so you could see the truth. The truth will set you free, if you accept it. It will hurt, but it will set you free.
Redemption is possible, if you follow the five steps I laid out for you: confess, repent, get back to basics, embrace uncertainty, and focus on the fruit of the Spirit. I know because I’ve been there. Even if you lose the world, you will find your soul. The false gods must be swept away before we can know the true God.