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Have you struggled with feeling embattled, constantly harassed by the enemy of your soul? Perhaps you have even felt on the verge of losing your personal spiritual war. Many months ago, I had a dream and a vision, which I hope will encourage you.
In the dream, a very powerful bad man was trying to get me, to enslave me. His many loyal henchmen were constantly after me, and I could never outsmart them. I ran from one house or building to the next to hide. Whenever I tried to escape out in the open, sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another, my pursuers spotted me. They always seemed to know where I was and what my next move would be, so I couldn’t get away, and I always had to hide again.
The dream ended with me entering still another house to hide, and the people who lived there were willing to help me. They planned on disguising me, so that the bad guys would not recognize me. But by this time, I was pretty skeptical that even disguising myself would be successful, as nothing had worked thus far.
That’s where it ended — not a happy conclusion. What was also disturbing was that I had experienced similar dreams in the past. So, I prayed that God would reveal to me what was going on, hoping that I could then apply His truth and avoid having such a dream again.
Instead of the Lord explaining the issue to me, I entered into a vision, which was a continuation of the story. Jesus, Who bore the title, The Ultimate King, showed up at the front door of a house where I was hiding. He took me out by the front door, right into the street, in broad daylight. He wrapped the full-length cloak He was wearing around my shoulders and held me close by His side, so that we were both covered by His cloak.
All the bad guys who wanted to capture me were standing around in the street, staring at us, but they did not dare touch me, because I was with Jesus. They had to let Jesus pass right through the midst of them and down the street, because they knew He was The Ultimate King, Whom no one dared to touch.
Together, Jesus and I walked slowly and steadily through the enemy’s streets. I was safe, a “hidden one” (hidden in His cloak). I was not invisible, but I was hidden, in the sense of the bad guys not being able to harm me. Jesus and I had safe passage together. I knew that He was unafraid, and I didn’t have to be afraid either. They could not touch me, because they dared not touch The Ultimate King. They knew Jesus held the position of supreme authority through His victory on the cross, His subsequent resurrection, and because He had taken back the keys by which the devil once imprisoned mankind.
This dream addressed a particular issue I have often struggled with — shame over past events where I had not acted with the maturity I have since grown into. I tend to be quite the perfectionist when it comes to the standards I hold for myself. Sometimes the enemy reminds me of long ago failures, and if I’m not immediately vigilant to reject those thoughts, I end up kicking myself all over again, instead of remembering that Jesus bore all my shame and imperfections on the cross, and that they are mine no more.
I think that is why, in the vision, Jesus came to the front door. My inclination would have been to slink out a back door, but He boldly took me through the front door, into the sunshine, and down the street in full view, acknowledging me as His own.
Perhaps you also struggle with shame — or perhaps your issue is something quite different. Whatever it is, God wants you to know that you are not at the mercy of the enemy. It’s time for the endless game of staying one step ahead of spiritual defeat to stop. Jesus wants not only to help you escape, but to take you out unashamed, safe and secure under His protection, in full view of the enemy. He wants you to know that He is committed to you, and that you are valuable to Him. He wants to walk you through enemy lines fearless and unscathed.
The Word says, “He Who is begotten of God keeps him, and that wicked one cannot touch him” (1 John 5:18). It also says that Jesus “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
So, stop hiding in the shadows. Let Jesus cover you with His own cloak. And let Him walk you through the enemy lines unharmed, because you are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). He is your safe passage.
Sometimes prayer flows like a river. We float along on its current and let the Lord lead us where He wills. However, that’s not always the way it is. In fact, it might not even be how things go the majority of the time. Often, our prayer life is more like a battleground. I’m not even talking about actively going against the gates of hell and prevailing against them, as Matthew 16:18 puts it. I’m talking about just the battle to keep praying!
A few months ago, I went through an extended season where my prayer life seemed like a disaster. It was hard to focus, hard to keep a heavenly perspective, hard to get past a swirl of thoughts. Hard, hard, hard! I even struggled to continue praying in tongues at length, which is not at all normal for me. At times, I asked myself, “What did I just do for the last hour or two? My intent has been to pray, but I feel like I have accomplished little.”
In the midst of being concerned about this, the Lord spoke encouragingly to me: “Persevere, My child. Just persevere.” It is in the persevering that we take ground, even when we don’t think we are getting anywhere.
Prayer is not always as perfect as we could wish. The enemy distracts us in various ways. Our own soul distracts us. Sometimes, even good and noble thoughts or causes distract us.
We know what we’re supposed to do: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But it gets exhausting when we have to do it a couple of dozen (or more) times in any given prayer session, just so we can carry on a coherent, consistent communication with the Lord!
When we run into a battle such as this, we don’t need to get down on ourselves for being weak in prayer. God encourages us to keep pressing on in spite of the struggle. Even when our prayer efforts are imperfect, puny, and even downright messy, all He asks is that we get up and do it again … and again … and again, until we get through the season of distraction. As we do that, we really do continue to make progress, even though we can’t always see it.
The process of persevering through embattlement against our thoughts is something God allows, so that we become stronger. Psalm 18:34 says it this way: “He teaches my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by my arms.” Perseverance through the warfare of distractions is a tool God uses to make seasoned warriors of us.
If you are struggling to stay at prayer in a focused way, I encourage you to keep at it. You are not a prayer dud. It’s just another form of spiritual warfare. In persevering, you will be doing what the Lord said in Ephesians 6:13 — “Having done all, stand.”
Many years ago, I was taught an expected form of how my personal prayer time was supposed to unfold:
A — Adoration
C — Contrition
T — Thanksgiving
S — Supplication
In other words, we had to worship first, then repent of every sin we could remember committing since the last prayer time, then spend some time thanking, and finally, ask God for all the things we wanted. We were encouraged to spend an allotted amount of time on each — fifteen minutes apiece, for example, to achieve an hour of prayer. We were supposed to worship (adoration) first, so that God would be willing to listen when we asked for His forgiveness.
But then, a different prayer expert came along and said, “No, no! You must repent first, so that God will receive your worship!” — which left us with
— not ACTS.
It all sounds so silly now, yet this was how many people were taught thirty-plus years ago. No wonder prayer was a drudge which few people stayed with!
Fortunately, some of us quietly rebelled, and learned to connect with God through the heart, rather than in a dry form. We worshiped often, because Jesus made our hearts continually glad, repented as the Lord revealed our issues, gave thanks throughout the day, and presented our petitions somewhere in between all the rest. AND, we communed with the Lord for Who He is.
Even when we have not conformed ourselves to somebody else’s plan for how prayer ought to be done, many of us still unconsciously settle into our own little rut. We get comfortable with an idea of how prayer must go, and if we don’t live up to it, we tend to feel guilty, as if we have not really prayed. However, from time to time, the Holy Spirit Himself may wish to lead us into a different mode of prayer. We need to listen to Him, and let Him lead. It is all right if we don’t keep doing it the way we have always done.
For instance, maybe you have a habit of starting prayer with a time of worship. From there, you might meditate on a portion of Scripture, then listen a little for the Lord’s leading, then intercede for the needs on your mind. But what if the Spirit were to put a desire in you to spend your whole prayer time in worship? Or conversation with the Lord? Or tongues? Or thinking about one Bible verse? Or (gasp!) just sitting with Him — while He doesn’t even say anything! Would you feel guilty for not interceding that day? Would you think you were not doing your job as a prayer warrior?
Frankly, I have struggled (sometimes still struggle) with these things. I like to accomplish receiving many answers through intercession. I like to feel I have “done” something, because I see the needs around me, and they are great. However, I am learning that if the Holy Spirit wants to disrupt my routine and focus exclusively on a certain aspect of prayer for a while, it’s OK. If He wants to make my entire prayer time into a conversational session, or a listening time, He’ll take care of the intercession part somehow — perhaps through one- or two-sentence petitions while I’m doing other tasks during the day. Maybe He will have someone else intercede for those concerns. It’s not all up to me anyway.
I’ve tried persevering through and doing prayer the way I’ve always done (because I don’t always “get it” immediately, or because I can be a little mule-headed), and I can tell you, if what I am trying to achieve in prayer is not Spirit-powered, it does not work.
So, if the way you have done prayer for quite some time just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, or if you don’t feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit on it like you once did, step back and ask Him how He would like to change it for a while. “Father, how would You like to do prayer today? Do You have a favorite song You would like me to sing to You? What’s on Your heart?” You might be surprised at where He will take you. And it will be good.
A concept I love and teach is that intercessors should endeavor to be sharpshooters in prayer. That’s why Annie Oakley graces the cover of my book, The Intercessor Manual.
The idea is that, rather than forging ahead in prayer according to our own limited thinking, we should listen to the Holy Spirit for how to pray. We pray from the details He gives us, rather than plowing ahead without His counsel and dancing all around and over a prayer topic, without a clue as to what God’s take is on the situation. Specific prayers inspired by the Spirit hit the target and get specific answers.
Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but what happens when we wait upon the Lord, and He still doesn’t seem to give us any light on the subject? You know, that happens to me a lot. A lot!
I’d like to share a few thoughts with you on how to handle praying when the light is dim or nonexistent.
Be faithful in waiting upon God and inquiring of Him. God honors our sincere attempts to hear Him. If He’s not speaking, it’s not necessarily your fault. People have sometimes chastised me for not hearing God on given subjects. The accusation is that, if you’re not hearing and other people are (or supposedly are), that means you are just not listening, or are refusing what God is surely saying. Maybe … maybe not!
We don’t all have the same realm of prayer influence. God shares one secret with a few, and still another secret with a different set of people. That is the way He works.
Don’t let anybody guilt you for not hearing from God on any given subject. It’s good to ask the Lord, “Am I resisting what You want to speak? If so, please reveal to me where my attitude is wrong.” But if you are truly seeking Him, that’s all you can or need to do. You can’t make God speak.
Keep on waiting upon the Lord with the questions you have. It takes time to hear Him. He may not be ready to speak. He may want to see how badly you want His counsel. He may simply treasure your diligent waiting upon Him.
Take tentative prayer steps and then expect Him to lead. Sometimes I have to confess to the Lord, “I don’t have the foggiest idea how to pray into this. It is too big for me! Please lead me as I go.” Then I take the first step in prayer, often in my prayer language. Many times, within moments, He takes over and leads me into prayer paths I never would have expected to go down. It doesn’t always happen that quickly. I could spend weeks or even months feeling my way along, praying in tongues a lot, and praying in English only tiny tidbits of understanding I receive.
Don’t try to sharpshoot based on your opinions. A lot of folks are doing this, and they are not praying God’s will. Don’t assume that your strong opinion must be God’s perspective too. It might not even be close. If it’s not from Him, it’s not going to hit the target, no matter how hard you try, and you will end up disappointed because the Lord didn’t come through for you.
If you desire to pray God’s counsel, He will get you there. Have confidence that, if you are doing your best to hear Him, He will adjust your understanding along the way. Stay sensitive for any uneasy checks in your spirit about how you are praying. If you do, He will steer any mistaken prayers back on course.
At times we have to pray immediately, because there is no time to wait. Just do it, calling on the name of Jesus, having faith that He will assist you and make up for any inadequacies in your understanding. God is not fussy about whether we use the right words. He sees the intent of the heart, and He has compassion on our limitations.
Don’t be surprised if the Spirit leads you down a side trail. This is common for me. I start out praying into a specific topic, and the Lord shows me side issues — still connected with the original matter — that are important to Him (but definitely not the same focus I started out praying into). It’s OK, if that happens to you. Have faith that these tangents are important to the Lord, and that’s why you end up praying about them.
Prayer in tongues will always get you through. You can have confidence that you are breaking things open and changing circumstances, even if you aren’t completely sure how to pray or what the outcome should be. The Holy Spirit knows what is needed.
Don’t use tongues, however, as your lazy man’s way out of hearing the Lord. We should still ask for understanding and expect to receive it. The same Paul who said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18) also said, “If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also …” (1 Corinthians 14:14, 15).
There is a time for sharpshooting and a time to throw grenade-like prayers. Different situations require different kinds of prayer volleys. This type of intercession won’t be nearly as specific in details as the sharpshooting prayer. We still want to make sure we aim it in the right direction, though! Both types of prayer should involve using Scripture as the firepower. This one may utilize larger doses of that firepower.
I hope the ideas I have shared here will encourage you and help you persevere in going after the answers you seek.
Deception is certainly on the rise — not only in the secular world, but in the Church. Truly, we need the discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10) more than ever. I am personally asking the Lord to increase this essential gift in me.
While ultimately it is by the Holy Spirit that we discern prophecy and those who claim to be prophets, there are practical steps we can take in our discernment process. Living by the direction of the Spirit does not mean we never use common sense. The Lord is the Giver of sense in the first place!
So, from a practical standpoint, I got to thinking about what I personally look for in prophets who are publicly releasing their words, dreams, and visions. Here’s my list:
1.) Is their focus primarily on Jesus, or is it only on giving spectacular words about future events?
Seeing into the future is part of the prophetic function for some prophets, but not for all. The main purpose of all prophecy is to point to Jesus. Revelation 19:10 tells us, “… The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” That might include a call to repentance or prayer; strengthening, comfort, and encouragement (see 1 Corinthians 14:3); or seeing into the future. But the underlying focus is always Jesus.
2.) If they have a website with a statement of faith, does it line up with the core beliefs of Christianity?
This is one of the first things I check, if their “word” seems to be OK. Then I look through their list of articles to see if there is anything odd showing up.
One man, whose teaching on prophecy initially seemed to be very good, had written an article encouraging people to pursue being possessed by angels. Say what? Is being indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit not enough? I didn’t look into his teachings any further.
3.) Are their prophetic words or visions in agreement with God’s Word?
If not, no further discernment is needed: just throw the revelation out. We all make some theological mistakes while we’re maturing, but if there is gross or continuous error, I wouldn’t bother paying attention to that prophet anymore.
4.) Do they urge people to seek the Lord, or to put confidence in man?
Psalm 146:3 tells us, “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”
Every time we have a presidential election, there are prophets who are so enamored with a particular candidate that you would think by their prophecies that their man is the savior of the nation. God doesn’t give saviorhood to anyone but Jesus. He can use an elected official hugely, but He still wants our trust solidly and completely placed in Him. Anything else is idolatry.
Pay attention to the emphasis of the words being released. Even if the prophet is correct about the candidate winning, if he or she is encouraging you to put your hope in a human being, the message is off-kilter. Don’t swallow that hook.
5.) Do they accept the discerning of their words by others?
God has set up safety factors for the Church. The discerning of prophetic words is not left up to the prophets who give them. (See 1 Corinthians 14:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21.)
6.) Do they have connections with (accountability to) honorable men and women of faith? Or are they out there on their own?
7.) Do they love and honor people who differ with them, or do they get angry, lash out, or accuse those who disagree with them?
This is pride, and a really red flag that all is not well in prophet-land.
8.) Do they lead the sheep, or do they drive them? Do they treat God’s people kindly, or threaten and browbeat them?
“You have to believe what I’m telling you. It’s the word of the Lord! If it doesn’t witness to you, you are just not listening to God!” Seriously?
9.) Are they accurate? Are they consistent over time?
Genuine prophets can make mistakes, but what if their prophecies were measured in percentage points? Would they get a passing grade, or an F?
10.) Are they humble? Is it about their reputation and recognition, or is it about God receiving glory?
11.) Do they admit their mistakes and ask the Church’s forgiveness? Or do they make excuses and blame others for their words not coming true?
The prophet who can humble himself to repent and take responsibility for his errors can be trusted in the long run. God can work with a flawed, yet humble, prophet. Sadly, admitting publicly to error is rare in the prophetic arena.
12.) Do they demand allegiance to their revelation, or do they leave the results to Jesus?
Years ago, a young prophetic person told those of us who were under his leadership that we must pray diligently for his “word” to come to pass. He said if it didn’t happen, it would be our fault. Ahem.
13.) Does my spirit feel uneasy while I’m listening to the prophet?
Uneasiness is an important tool by which the Holy Spirit helps us discern. It can mean something is off. Take a little time to weigh your lack of peace, in case it is simply your flesh resisting. But most likely your sense is correct.
Even if you can’t put your finger on it, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you discern this. There have been times I have sensed the spirit of fear attached to the words of certain prophets. At other times, the sense was indefinable, and yet I knew something was wrong.
Some time back, I watched a video of a popular prophet. It just didn’t set well. Several months later, he was exposed for borrowing the predictions of a psychic and mouthing them as his own prophetic revelation. Ick. My sense of uneasiness bore out to be valid.
14.) Do their prophetic words come across as a curse? Do they only prophesy catastrophes?
God does speak stern warnings to His people at times, but He always has a redemptive purpose in warning us. He does not enjoy the prospect of calamity. A prophet who seems to relish prophesying destruction is not of a right spirit.
15.) What kind of fruit are they bearing?
Are their personal lives an absolute mess? Are they living in sin? Are the people they minister to ending up wounded?
Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree brings forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits you shall know them.” — Matthew 7:15-20
Asking questions such as these can help us grow in accurate discerning of what is truly from God and what is only of the flesh (or worse). If we use them as guidelines, the Holy Spirit will step in and fine-tune our discerning of spirits, so that we are not fooled by those whom God is not truly sending.
Under the New Covenant in Christ, we don’t stone prophets who prophesy inaccurately (although sometimes I see harsh comments from people who would like to!). Instead, God has given us safeguard measures to be used within the Church to protect us from false or inaccurate prophecy.
He has now made the ability to prophesy available to all believers. “For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted” (1 Corinthians 14:31). A key phrase in that verse is, “that all may learn.” In making prophecy available to every believer, the Lord has also allowed for us to learn how to do it right over a period of time. Learning to hear God accurately is a process. So is learning to prophesy accurately.
Many of the modern-day prophets who are now known for getting their words right did not start out hitting the bullseye every time. They made mistakes. But they submitted themselves to mentors who patiently taught them, picked them up and dusted them off when they fell on their noses, and then sent them back out to try again. Thank God for shepherds like that!
Each of us who wish to prophesy must be willing to submit to a mentoring process as well. Not being open to learning from others indicates pride. Most of us start out prideful to some extent, but if we are ever to be a blessing to the body of Christ, we’re going to have to be teachable and let God refine us. God shaves away our pride through correction, making embarrassing mistakes, and bearing the brunt of criticism or ridicule, as well as other forms of painful refinement. God needs broken, crucified people to speak for Him. If we’re not broken, we end up speaking only for our own egos — and, spiritually speaking, that smells really bad.
Besides mentors, God guards the body of believers, as well as the person who prophesies, from inaccurate or even utterly false prophecy through allowing corporate discernment of whatever prophetic words are given. Discerning can be done by prophetic mentors and pastors, but others in the church may also fill the discerning role. Let’s look at a couple of verses which talk about this:
Let the prophets speak, two or three, and [then] let the others judge [discern; weigh]. — 1 Corinthians 14:29
Do not despise prophesying. Prove [judge; discern; weigh] all things; hold fast that which is good. — 1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21
If we’re going to prophesy, we should already have done some weighing of what we’re about to say before we speak. But once it is said, it is out of our hands. Others in the church now have the responsibility to discern what we’ve spoken. We don’t exclusively judge our own words, because we are not a law unto ourselves. We are members of a body, and the other members assist us with their discernment — for the entire congregation’s protection as well as ours. This is really risky to our pride, but if the family of God is functioning properly, there will be grace given, and we will benefit in the long run.
What if the church family isn’t functioning well? Truthfully, this is the case a lot of the time. Too many prophetic people have ended up in the boneyard because of it. But God will use even the horrible experiences to shape us and bring us into a greater depth of accuracy in the prophetic, if we will lean into Him and let Him heal our hurts, rather than becoming angry and bitter.
If you can, find a group of Christians, whether a church congregation or a home fellowship group, where you feel safe in making mistakes as you learn. This may be a group which is in addition to your church family. If you don’t know of one, ask the Lord to lead you to one. He is very good at setting up circumstances so that we come in contact with the people we need in our lives.
And don’t give up on using the gifts which God has planted in you because of some bad experiences. God hasn’t given up on you. Besides, we’ve all had some pretty bad experiences. It goes with the territory of taking a risk and stepping out into the spiritual gifts.
Next time, I will give you some criteria I use in discerning all those prophecies we see out there on the Internet.