Category Archives: Christian life

The Merciful Discerner

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. — Matthew 5:7

For those of us who are keen in discernment, there is a weakness we particularly struggle with: criticalness. Show me a person who is gifted in discernment, and I’ll show you a person prone to being critical.

Why is this the case? Criticalness is the soulish side of discernment. When God made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26), He made us perfect, like unto His nature. Each human being since Adam and Eve has been uniquely crafted by the Lord, with particular personality and ability strengths which reflect a small piece of Who He is. And what a wonderful variety we are, all intended to complement and balance each other.

But, due to man’s fall into sin back in the Garden of Eden, the image of God in each of us was marred. The good news for believers is, through Jesus our Redeemer, God is progressively bringing us back into His own image. Still, in the process, sometimes we exhibit the old marred nature, and thus it is with criticalness and discernment.

The difference between discernment and criticalness does not rest in what we see: it’s in what we do with it. We must learn to divide between being aware of the faults of others (which is not wrong in itself) and where our minds go with that information. A critical person tends to be frequently suspicious of the motives of others, thinking that he or she is receiving discernment from the Lord. Criticalness makes unholy assumptions and judgments, often based on one’s own faults or inner hurts.

One of the areas where criticalness often rears its head is in the realm of doctrinal beliefs. Those who are well-grounded in the Bible are the most prone to this. We may feel very solid in our understanding of certain theological points, and when we come into contact with people who have a different viewpoint, or a blind spot, we then think poorly of them, perhaps writing them off entirely.

Most of the time, what is such an important issue to us is not a core doctrine of the faith. It’s just a small piece of how we’re working out our Christian walk — but we make it into a very big deal. For instance, my husband and I have encountered a few people who had such narrow views of how healing ministry should be done that they would no longer fellowship with people who did not believe exactly as they did or who were not as strong in their faith.

The apostle Paul talked about criticalness over minor theological matters in Romans 14:1-4. He was speaking into a controversy about whether to eat meat or not, because there was a possibility it had been sacrificed to false gods before showing up in the public meat market. But the principle can be applied broadly by us today:

Accept him who is weak in the faith, but not to arguing over opinions. For one believes that he may eat all things. Another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat. And he who does not eat should not judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.

Can we trust God to work maturity in our brothers and sisters, and let Him decide when and how to work on their foibles — even their beliefs which don’t line up with ours to a tee? “Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.”

As we mature in the things of the Spirit, we should find that our discernment is increasingly coupled with compassion, mercy, and patience. That is the heart of God evidencing in us. We must guard ourselves against pride, for Paul warned, “Knowledge puffs up, but charitable love builds up. And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). He also said, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3).

We’ve all got a long journey ahead of us before we reach perfection. Let’s give each other a break.

I’ve written another article on criticalness versus discernment, which contains a list of questions to help us determine whether we are operating in discernment from the Spirit or merely criticalness of the soul. I hope you will find that post helpful.

When Distractions Ruin Prayer

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.”

 

Your Intercession Questions Answered

Adapting to God in Prayer

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

C
A
T
S

— 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.

 

The Intercessor Manual

Things I Look for in a Prophet

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.

Personal Prophecy

 

The Spirit-Filled Guide to Personal Prophecy

Guidelines for Good Prophecy (Part 3)

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.

Previous — Part 2
Next — Things I Look for in a Prophet

Personal Prophecy

 

The Spirit-Filled Guide to Personal Prophecy

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A Dream About Worship in the Church

I love how God speaks in dreams — especially symbolic dreams. They are parables which would not be understandable without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The following is a very encouraging dream about how the Lord wants to restore worship in the church back to what it is meant to be:

The Dream:

I saw a man, about forty years old, who was the owner of a music store. There were guitars positioned here and there throughout his shop. The front side of the building had no wall, so that it was completely open to the sidewalk.

Behind the store, on the other side of the back wall, was the municipal waterworks building. I saw open water there, like a river, contained in a canal-like structure.

There was a small opening in the wall between the music store and the waterworks, at floor level. It was about 6 inches wide and 4 inches high. The owner of the shop temporarily removed a metal device from the hole, which in some way opened and closed access between the two buildings. He set it aside in a box.

The scene shifted, to where a pleasant-looking woman, about the same age as the man, was in the music store. She was the manager of the waterworks. Even though their workplaces were right next door, it seemed that they did not normally have contact with one another. The man conversed with her about how they had been sweethearts in their youth. He had fond memories of that time.

He asked her, hesitantly, if she had been in any relationships since they had parted company years before. She did not have time to answer him before he continued talking, but I got the impression that there had been no one else in her life. He longingly asked, “Will you marry me?” It was obvious that they both still cared very much for each other.

The scene abruptly shifted to what was happening back at the waterworks. There had been a sudden surge of flooding. The employees did not seem to know what had caused it; they just knew that it had happened. I saw a car nearly submerged in the water there. And I knew that the man in the music shop, being preoccupied with his renewed love relationship, would have forgotten to put the metal device in the hole between his shop and the waterworks, so that his shop might get flooded as a result.

In the dream, I had the feeling that what I was watching was somewhat like a soap opera, in the sense that the story was unfolding gradually, over time. Even the last scene of the flooding in the waterworks department did not have an ending — as though I would need to tune in for the next episode to find out what happened.

Interpretation:

The man in the music shop represents worship leaders, and possibly pastors, to the extent that their preferences rule how worship goes in the local church.

The front of the music shop was completely open, indicating that this is talking about public worship, not personal, private worship.

The woman who was the head of the waterworks department represents the Holy Spirit. Water represents the activity of the Spirit. (See John 7:37-39, where Jesus talks about “rivers of living water” supplied by the Holy Spirit.) Normally, the Holy Spirit would not be portrayed as a woman, but it is important to the rest of the parable, because it is a love story.

The dream is about God’s desire for our worship leaders to reunite with the Holy Spirit in their leading of worship. The man had once had a love relationship with the woman. They had enjoyed one another and done things together. But separation had taken place and had continued for a long time (as revealed by the age of the two lovers). That is what has happened over time for many worship leaders (and for the congregations they serve, as a result). What was once a free-flowing, joyous, give-and-take dance between the Lord and His people has declined, in many churches, into routine man-orchestrated events, which follow a set pattern allowing for little deviation. There is no room for the Holy Spirit to move, because there is no longer the intimate relationship with Him which was once enjoyed. And this has gone on for a long time.

The woman having had no other relationship in all those years indicates to me that the Holy Spirit has been waiting in the wings, longing for this one marriage which was always meant to be — true communion between God and His people, carried out in part through the expression of worship.

It is noteworthy that before any of the other scenes happened, the music shop owner had removed the device in the wall which governed access between his store and the waterworks. Only after that did the relationship come back together and the surging of the waters take place. It is up to worship leaders (and their pastors) to be willing to allow access to the waters of the Spirit in their worship services. They have to take this step before the rest can happen.

Even the 6″ X 4″ dimensions of the hole have significance: six is the number of man, and four represents rule. (Genesis 1:14-18 tells us that the sun and moon were created on the fourth day to rule the day and night.) So, it was the man’s responsibility to make access to his shop available.

The dream is open-ended. We don’t know whether water will seep into the music shop from the waterworks, or whether flooding might even happen there — but there is a good chance it will, because the man is preoccupied with his restored love, and has forgotten in that moment to put the device which could shut off access back in the hole. (Let’s hope he keeps forgetting, and leaves it open. What if the whole wall between the waterworks of the Spirit and the shop came down entirely?)

Summary application:

God would like to bring in the flood of Holy Spirit’s Presence upon His Church once again. This is wonderful! The Spirit’s activity and worship really belong together. There is a true love relationship between them, but they have been separated in the Church for a long time. They need to come back together. But whether they will or not is conditional on willingness.

If you are a worship leader or pastor, will you give access to the Holy Spirit in your church once again? Will you allow Him the space and time to do what He desires to do? Will you yield yourself and your congregation to experience the love relationship with the Holy Spirit which was always meant to be? You can determine how the story will end.