Labeling a Word from the Lord

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:6-10

I was talking to a friend the other day about hearing God speak to us. This person asked me, “What is the purpose of labeling what we hear from God with names that come from the charismatic stream like “word of knowledge” or “prophetic word,” etc.? Can’t we ditch the labels?” It’s an important question that I want to unpack here.

First, Jesus is clear that God does speak to us and that we can hear Him (we’re not talking about audible voice here). We see this throughout the Bible.

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 

John 10:2-4, 27

God can communicate with us through scripture, mental or emotional impressions, thoughts that are not our own (still, small voice), mental images, dreams, visions, patterns, life-circumstances, etc. And He most often does this through the Holy Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26

Of course everything the Spirit says to us will align with the principles and truths of scripture. Anything outside of that is not from God. But in order to grow as a disciple of Jesus, we have to grow in our ability to hear and obey.

Traditions of the church that are not from the charismatic stream of Christianity hesitate to call this kind of direction communication from the Lord “revelation” because they don’t want to put it on par with scripture. And this is a good impulse. Even the charismatic stream makes a strong distinction between the authoritative revelation of scripture and the personal communication that comes from the Lord speaking directly to us. Scripture is what holds ultimate authority. Everything else from the Lord is more personal, subjective communication and must submit to scripture.

Traditions of the church that are not from the charismatic stream are also more comfortable with phrases like, “I got an impression from the Lord,” or “I felt prompted by the Lord,” or “I felt led by the Lord to…“, rather than saying things like, “I got a prophetic word,” or “I felt like I got a word of knowledge.” These terms that are often seen as “charismatic labels” simply come from language that the apostle Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 as he lists what are sometimes called the “supernatural gifts of the Spirit.”

But, as to our original question, why use these labels anyway if they can sometimes cause people to be skeptical or wary? There are a few reasons:

  1. First, sometimes it is best not to use these labels. If we can get our point across by saying “promptings of the Spirit” or “impression from the Lord” then we should do that. No need to overcomplicate things.
  2. The labels exist because they speak to the reality that prophecy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and discerning the spirits all serve different functions. While they are all direct communication from the Lord, they accomplish different purposes. Mixing them up can be harmful. Let’s be clear about definitions:
    • A word of knowledge is when the Lord downloads a small bit of information about a person or situation to us through the Spirit. This gift is often a “door-opener” that can lead into physical healing, a prophetic word, or evangelism.
    • A word of wisdom is when the Lord downloads a small bit of His wisdom to us, usually in the form of advice or direction, about a person or situation. I believe many leaders of organizations and counselors get these and don’t know they are coming from the Lord.
    • Discerning the spirits is a diagnostic tool informing us about the human spirit (people’s motivations and desires), heavenly spirits (movements of the Holy Spirit or the angelic), and/or demonic spirits (how the enemy is attacking or manipulating a person or situation). This gift often diagnoses the problem.
    • Prophecy is hearing God’s heart for a person or situation (usually future-oriented, calling out a person’s real identity, how God sees them, or where God is taking them). Prophecy declares God’s word over a person or situation, which often has the power to bring about God’s purposes for that person or situation. If discerning the spirits diagnoses the problem, prophecy speaks to the solution.
  3. Because each of these forms of direction communication is essentially its own gift, they need to be responded to differently. Sharing information with people about themselves that we received supernaturally (a word of knowledge) can become just a parlor trick unless it has purpose (usually in the form of prayer for healing, a prophetic word, or evangelism). Discerning the spirits can help us diagnose the problem but we don’t prophesy the problem over people. We prophesy the solution. So, understanding what kind of communication we are getting from the Lord is just as important as the ability to receive that communication.

Unpacking these labels is really important for discipleship. Every follower of Jesus needs to know how to hear from the Lord and receive direction communication from the Holy Spirit. We also need to grow in our understanding of what to do with that word once we receive it.

Sometimes God’s direct communication is just for our own strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. Sometimes we get a word for someone else. Church leaders need to be training their people in knowing what to do when we get a word for someone else and how to deliver that word with care, wisdom, and love.

Words on a Plane

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort…

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…

1 Corinthians 14:3, 39

I sat down in my seat for my flight home from Texas. Missy would stay in Texas for a few extra days for a girl’s trip. The kids where already home with my parents awaiting my return. I’m not often by myself on a plane so this was a good chance to stretch my faith a little and see what God would do.

I sat in an aisle seat in a row with one guy already at the window seat. He was a young, African-American guy, maybe in his twenties. He had a durag on with a hoodie pulled over that. He had earbuds in listening to music from his phone and a mask on his face (though masks were optional on this flight). He had sweatpants on and slide-ons on his feet. His socks were some sort of cartoonish design. His posture gave the over all message, “Leave me alone.”

As more and more people filled the cabin, and seats were running low (this was a Southwest flight where you chose your own seat), a young woman decided to claim the center seat in our row. She looked to be in her twenties as well, fashionably dressed, and either Puerto Rican or mixed race. She had a lot of make up on but it was well done. Her nails too. She had one of those looks that could be confused with a number of different ethnicities.

We all settled in and I decided to tilt my head back onto the headrest, close my eyes, and begin to pray. I began with some prayers of gratitude and praise. Then I shifted into asking the Lord what I have asked Him a hundred different times when praying for people, “Lord, how do you see him/her?”

In my estimation, if this question works in church environments it should work everywhere. Meaning, if I can practice hearing what the Lord says about fellow Christians that I pray for in church, then I should also be able to hear what He says about the people around me in daily life. For some reason, the latter seems to demand more faith from me than the former.

As I began listening, I started with the African-American guy in the widow seat. The first thing I heard (“heard” meaning: a conversational thought that came to my mind that seemed not to be my own) was, “His IQ is very high, much higher than the people around him.” I don’t know what I was expecting God to say about him, but that definitely wasn’t it. Then I saw a picture in my mind’s eye of him at a computer. It seemed like he was playing video games on his computer but based on the first word, it could have been him doing programing or something. I wasn’t sure.

Feeling bolstered by what I heard for the guy by the window, I asked about the girl next to me in the center seat. I got a picture of her with children. She was helping them in some way. Then I heard, “She is good with kids. She helps kids who are forgotten and on the margins. She’s good with kids because she wasn’t allowed to have much of a childhood.”

This was all going so well, but I wasn’t sure any of it was accurate and I wasn’t sure when or how I would share these words with these people. I prayed for an opportunity to share and the courage to step out in faith.

I also asked about the lady across the center aisle from me who was sitting in the aisle seat directly next to mine. She was a heavyset hispanic lady that looked closer to my age. In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of her cooking tons of food for a big family. Nothing about her necessarily signaled that she was a mother, but it was as if she brought her family joy and connection through her cooking. Maybe a grandmother? I didn’t know.

The final word came for the lady sitting diagonally across the aisle from me in the seat in front of the hispanic lady. She was a well put together white lady in a business suit. I wondered if she had flown somewhere for business. The only thing I heard for her was, “The business deal will go through. It will work.” I had no idea what this meant or even if she was a business person. She could have been a teacher for all I knew. It’s just what I felt like I heard from the Lord.

I held on to these words waiting for opportunities to share them. After an hour, I was still waiting. It wasn’t until the girl next to me needed to get up and go to the bathroom that I felt like there was an opening.

After she left, I mustered up the courage to tap the guy in the window seat on the arm. He looked up surprised and took one of his earbuds out. I greeted him and explained that sometimes I’ll pray for people around me and ask God how He sees them. Then I asked, “Do you want to know what I heard Him say about you?” Still a little confused, he said that he did.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that your IQ is really high and that it is higher than the people around you. Then I saw a picture of you on a computer either programming or playing video games. Are you a computer programer or something?” He said, “No. But I do play a lot of video games.” I nodded, “Oh, okay, I must have mixed that up a little. Can I ask what you do?” He replied, “I’m going to be a doctor. I’m finishing up med school to be a radiologist.” Laughing I said, “Oh wow, that must be the whole thing with your IQ. I just want you to know that God has given you your intelligence as a gift and he wants you to use it for good. And it sounds like you already are!”

He thanked me for praying for him and asked about me. I shared that I was a pastor. He asked a few questions about my church just as the girl from our row returned from the bathroom. That seemed to go well and gave me a little more courage to try out the other words.

The plane landed and parked at the jetway. I stood up to stretch my legs as people prepared to leave the plane. I didn’t want the girl next to me to leave before giving her the word. So I decided just to jump in and explain to her that sometimes I pray and ask God how He sees the people around me. I asked her if she wanted to know what I heard God say about her. She looked very skeptical. And with more than a little attitude she said, “Sure.”

Unexpectedly, the guy next to the window chimed in and said, “He did the same for me. And he was right. Trust me, it will be good.” Now I was the one a little shocked. This guy who I just met was helping me out. So cool. The girl confirmed again that she wanted to hear what I had to say.

I said, “I heard the Lord say that you’re really good with kids. I saw a picture of you helping kids who had been forgotten and on the margins. He said you are good with kids because you weren’t given the chance to have much of a childhood.” Still looking skeptical, she nodded and said, “Okay?” She seemed to be processing it all and not knowing what to do with it.

I asked, “Can I ask you what you do?” She said, “I’m a nurse.” Pointing to the guy next to the window I said, “Oh great, he’s a doctor.” Surprised, she turned and had a short conversation with him about what he was doing in medicine. She then turned back to me and said, “Yeah, I’m a travel nurse but I used to work in pediatrics.”

This was a gracious lifeline to me. She could have left that detail out, but she decided to throw me a bone. I was so encouraged by this little detail because it meant that I wasn’t totally off in hearing the Lord. I said, “Oh wow, so you are good with kids, and probably some of those kids were really struggling.” She nodded in agreement. I said, “Well, maybe God will give you an opportunity to return to pediatrics. Clearly, you are really good with kids and God loves that about you.” She was still reserved in her response and didn’t seem totally convinced, but I considered that conversation a win.

We were all getting off the plane before I could deliver the other two words to the other two ladies. But then I noticed that the heavyset hispanic lady was walking right beside me as we entered the airport terminal. I tried my best to give a quick, 30-second summary of how I listen to the Lord and that, for her, I got a word about her cooking for her family. She looked a little freaked out and nodded in a way that said, “Please leave me alone.” Ha! She quickly darted in the the women’s restroom before any conversation could happen, and I was off to baggage claim. I never caught up with the lady in the business suit.

Two out of four ain’t bad. But it confirmed to me that God has thoughts about every person on the planet (read Psalm 139:17-18). He knows us intimately and in the most detailed ways. His heart posture toward us is love, not condemnation.

As followers of Jesus, not only is God willing to share his thoughts through the Holy Spirit (read 1 Corinthians 2:9-13), but He is willing to share his feelings as well. When God gives me words about people, I find that I can’t help but love them in that moment. It’s like God’s love is so big that the residue of His love sticks to every prophetic word He gives. Each word is just a fragment of all the thoughts He has for that person, and each one carries a tiny fragment of His love with it. As His word for them flows through me, the residue of His love for them rubs off on me and changes my heart for them.

Prophetic words weren’t designed to come as raw data. They were meant to come wrapped in His love. They are a kind of incarnation. The word becomes flesh, even on a plane.

A Word for A Stylist

When I pray for people at church, I often ask the Lord how He sees the person I’m praying for, I listen, then I share what I hear the Spirit put on my heart or an image that comes to mind. But these kind of prophetic words aren’t just meant for inside the walls of the church. So I do this same exercise in listening when I interact with people throughout the day.

For instance, I’ve made it a practice to ask the Lord how He sees the person who is about to cut my hair. I go to one of those places where I have a new hairstylist just about every time. Here’s what I heard the Lord say yesterday when I got my hair cut.

Usually, my stylist is a woman. Yesterday it was a heavily-tatooed African-American man. I asked the Lord, “How do you see him?” Here’s what I heard, “He’s an artist but he grew up in an environment that didn’t appreciate art. He’s creative like me.” (When I say, “Here’s what I heard…”, I don’t mean the audible voice of God. I mean a conversational thought goes through my mind–a still, small voice–that I recognize as not my own.)

A few seconds later I mustered up the courage to start a conversation with him by saying, “So what other kinds of art do you do?” He looked shocked and said, “What makes you think I do art? How do you know I do art?” Instead of telling him the real answer just yet, I told him I assumed because of his tatoos that he was an artist. He told me he paints and draws and wishes he could do more with his art. We then had a conversation about art and artists. I said to him (based on the other part of the word from the Lord), “You probably didn’t have people around you who really appreciated art, did you?” He confirmed.

Later, when he was shampooing my hair, I heard the Lord say, “His mom is a praying woman.” When the Lord speaks to you, He often wants you to do something with it. Since I heard the first word correctly, I knew the Lord was asking me to step out and take another risk with this second word. After I mustered up the courage, I asked, “Is your mom a praying woman?” He said, “Ohhh yeah. She definitely is.” Then I said, “She’s a church lady, huh?” He opened up a little, “She very much is. But I’m not fully convinced.”

That’s when I decided to let the cat out of the bag. I told him I was a pastor and that I usually prayed for whomever cut my hair. I told him how I would ask God how he saw the person and then try to listen.

He asked, “What did He say about me?” I told him, “God said you were an artist but you didn’t grow up in an environment that appreciates art. That’s why I originally asked you about your art. God also told me your mom was a praying woman. I want you to know that God gave you that creativity. He loves that about you. You’re creative like He’s creative.”

After that we exchanged some small talk about my church and about his vacation coming up. But I hope that he has a better picture of how God sees him. God loves him and is for him. God created him uniquely and with purpose. I hope that he got a glimpse of how God sees him through the gift of prophecy. Prophetic words aren’t about “thus saith the Lord.” They are about revealing the heart of the Father to a world who needs to know how much they are loved.

Intensive Prayer Sessions

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-24

At our church we have an intensive prayer ministry where one can schedule a 2-3 hour prayer session with our prayer team members. These sessions are all about a person taking the next step in being sanctified “through and through” in their “spirit, soul and body.” We use an integrated approach because we try to address the whole person. It’s also an integrated approach because we as prayer ministers try to use every spiritual gift and tool available to us in order to help the person we are praying for. Our goal is: 1) that they feel loved (by us and by the Father) and, 2) that they walk away more free than they walked in. If we do those two things, we’ve been successful.

In order for a person to feel loved by us, we have to operate with care and compassion. We employ the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (listed in 1 Corinthians 12) and we do so in ways that are careful and kind.

In order for a person to feel loved by the Father, we must facilitate an encounter with the tangible Presence of God. Just knowing, in one’s head, that God loves you is a good first step but is often insufficient in bringing life-change and freedom. As prayer ministers we are responsible for ushering the person into God’s tangible Presence. This means that we move beyond a mere head-knowledge of God’s love into a place where the person actually experiences God’s love. This can show up emotionally as the Spirit touches a person’s heart. It can also show up physically, as they tangibly experience God’s Presence in their body.

In order to facilitate a divine encounter, we must utilize every heavenly resource and every spiritual gift available to us. Practically speaking, this means moving through five major avenues of encounter. These are the five main ways that God puts His love on display and makes His love real for the person receiving prayer.

  1. Prophetic Words: In the morning before we pray for an individual, we ask the Lord, “How do you see this person?” Then we wait and listen to what the Spirit has to say. We write down thoughts and images that come to mind that we sense are not our own. These are words from the Lord or sometimes called “prophetic words.” Listening to the Spirit like this takes practice. But the more you do it, the more accurate you become (as is the case with nearly every other spiritual gift). After a brief orientation, we deliver these words to the person and tell them to “eat the meat; spit out the bones.” In other words, we’ve done our part in listening and telling, now you do your part and discern what is truly from the Lord.
  2. Inner Healing: After we give the prophetic words, we usually move into a time of praying for inner healing. This is when we address things like heart wounds, unforgiveness, harsh words spoken over a person’s life (especially by those in authority), generational sin and curses, fears, sexual brokenness, addictions, etc. These are areas where the enemy likes to attack people. If these are not addressed, they function like open doors and windows in a person’s life allowing the enemy easy access to wreak havoc. Most of our prayer time is spent on these. People experience tremendous release and healing as we pray through these issues.
  3. Deliverance: While inner healing must come first, sometimes we recognize (either through demonic physical manifestations in a person’s body or just through the gift of discerning the spirits) that the enemy has not only attacked a particular part of a person’s life but has actually infiltrated it. Deliverance ministry is when, in the authority of Jesus, we function as police officers commanding demonic spirits “off of” or “out of” a person’s life. If a spirit is simply “attached” to a person (picture a vulture with its talons dug in someone’s back), we command it to get “off” in Jesus’s name. If a spirit has gotten “into” a person (picture a thief hiding out in one room of a person’s house), then we command it to get “out” in Jesus’s name. If a person is heavily demonized, we often see strong physical manifestations occur at this point as the demon never wants to leave. So in its attempts to stay, it causes bodily sensations, bodily pain, or bodily movements. In extreme cases, it will try to take over a person’s face and voice. But, in many cases, demonization is only at the level of “attachment,” and these things simply lift off a person at the name of Jesus.
  4. Physical Healing: We also like to address people’s physical needs during these prayer sessions. There are two kinds of physical ailments that we address. The first is simply a physical illness or injury caused by something natural. In these cases, we pray for Jesus to come and physically heal what is broken. We’ve seen the incredible healing of the Lord get poured out as we prayed and people could feel the sensation of heat while Jesus was healing them.
    The second kind of physical ailment is when the physical illness or injury is caused (or prolonged) by a “spirit of affliction.” These little demonic spirits are assigned to cause people bodily pain or sickness. Once they are cast out, the pain or sickness ends. It’s fairly easy to determine if it is a spirit of affliction causing the problem because, as soon as you start praying for healing, the issue worsens or suddenly moves. I’ve seen neck pain “move” to the shoulder as we prayed and then to the arm. This indicated that it was not a physical cause but a spirit causing the issue. As we commanded it to leave, it went down the arm and out the finger tips.
  5. Impartation: We sometimes (not always) conclude our prayer sessions with impartation. Impartation prayer is when we recognize that the Lord either wants to give this person a brand new gift of the Holy Spirit or He wants to fan into flame what is already there. So as we pray we ask the Lord to freely do in them and give to them what He has freely done in us and given to us. We essentially ask the Holy Spirit to fill this person to overflow, ignite the gifts that exist in them already, and pour out new gifts to them. If this concept is new to you, here are some scripture verses to check out (Matthew 10:8; Numbers 11:16-7, 24-25; Deut 34:9; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).

By the end of these prayer sessions, I’ve seen people radically transformed by an encounter with God. Usually, at least two of the above avenues of encounter end up being really profound for the person to experience. Occasionally, we have people who get profoundly impacted by all five avenues of encounter. Those prayer sessions are really memorable. The person is never the same after that. When we have a tangible encounter with the Lord, it’s nearly impossible to ever be the same again.

Residential and Occasional Gifts

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

There is some confusion in the church about the gifts of the Spirit and how they operate. One point of misunderstanding revolves around gifts of the Spirit like healing and miracles. The comment usually goes like this, “If someone has the gift of healing, why don’t they just walk around and go into hospitals and just heal everyone.” The logic is that if they have the gift, they should be able to use it whenever and wherever they want. People often think of “gifts” as no more than supercharged abilities that we can control at will.

But this shows a lack of understanding of how many of the gifts of the Spirit work. All spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit are not always fully controlled by the will of the person who has them. It is true that some gifts are “residential” in nature in that they are always able to be accessed and used by the person who has that gift. Examples of a residential gift would be the gift of mercy, gift of hospitality, or gift of teaching. In nearly every setting, a person is able to access this gift and use it for the glory of God. The gift seems to “reside” in the person in a way that doesn’t depend on a special request of God. The person is a kind of reservoir for the gift.

Other gifts are “non-residential” and are sometimes called “occasional” gifts by theologians. By occasional they don’t mean temporary or rare. They mean that these gifts show up in particular occasions and can’t be fully controlled by the person who has this gift. Examples of “occasional” gifts are gifts of healing, gifts of miracles, gift of prophecy, etc. Those who have operated in these “occasional” gifts usually have to request that the Lord move through them in that way for that particular situation. The gift is there, but it is not released automatically. It must be released by God through the person. Rather than a reservoir, the person is simply a conduit of the gift.

We could say that a person with one of the non-residential gifts has to wait on the Lord and has to invite the Lord to use them as a conduit in that moment. When we say they “have” the gift of healing or miracles or prophecy we don’t mean they own the gift and control it at will. We mean that we have seen the Lord regularly use them as a conduit of that gift. And as a person grows in a non-residential gift, they are used more and more often to be a conduit. It happens more regularly.

With a residential gift, a person can use it all the time. Growing in that kind of gift doesn’t mean that it happens more regularly but that, when it is used, it is used more powerfully. Meaning, the effect of the gift when it is used grows in impact.

We could use modern technology as an analogy. Having a residential gift is like having the song on your hard drive. Having a non-residential gift is like having to pull it down from the cloud. Either way, you have access to it, but it’s a different kind of access.

Knowing this distinction about the different gifts is important so that we can learn to cooperate with the Spirit in the operation of the gifts given to us. Different gifts require a different kind of cooperation. When we know this, we can wield these gifts for the sake of the Kingdom of God and for the glory of the name Jesus.

Hearing God in a Crisis

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

My family and I are in the midst of a tragedy. We are walking through grief and loss. My older brother has just died at 47. He was in a car accident. He left behind a wife and three kids. We feel like so much has been stolen from us. So much time and so many memories that were yet to happen were ripped away from us in an instant. My nieces and nephew lost their dad. I lost a brother. My parents lost a son. My sister-in-law lost her husband. My kids lost an uncle. The pain is real and intense.

During these kinds of seasons we need the presence of the Lord to be near to us and comfort us. We need Jesus to bring His peace that passes all understanding. And it is extremely helpful to hear from the Lord as He speaks to us about what is happening. Yet, many people report that during difficult times, they don’t hear from the Lord. It often feels like the Lord is silent.

I have some thoughts on this. I believe the Lord wants to speak into these situations in our lives. I don’t believe the Lord wants to be silent. But I believe we often experience a kind of silence for a couple reasons.

Have you ever been on a video conference call and someone started talking while they were still muted? You can see their mouth moving but you can’t hear anything. It’s not that they aren’t talking but the mute button is keeping you from hearing them. I believe we sometimes interact with God this way. God is speaking but we don’t hear him. We have a mute button on in our spirit.

The thing that opens communication with the Lord is trust. If we can trust him implicitly in good times or bad, no matter what happens, then the communication lines stay open. Lack of trust shuts down our ability to hear from the Lord. So if personal crisis causes us not to trust the Lord, then we are shutting down the very thing we need in that moment–the voice of the Lord.

Not only does mistrust shut down our ability to hear, but it will sometimes cause God to stop speaking. He stops speaking because He loves us. That may sound strange but just think about it for a second. Imagine you are grieving an incredible loss in your life. Now imagine someone you don’t trust starts talking to you. In that moment, do you want them to keep talking? No. It doesn’t matter what they are saying. It doesn’t matter if they are saying all the right things. If we don’t trust them, we don’t want them speaking to us while we are in the midst of deep grief. It would be better if they were just silent.

God knows this. If we don’t trust God, it doesn’t matter what He says to us in that moment of grief and pain. If we don’t trust Him, we will misconstrue whatever it is He wants to tell us. We will doubt it, question it, and misinterpret it. Our lack of trust toward God often means it is more loving for Him just to be present with us and not speak to us in that moment.

Yet, in the midst of grief and pain, we are willing to hear from people we trust. So if we trust the Lord no matter what, we are willing to hear from Him in the midst of our pain. God speaks and we listen. And when we hear the word of the Lord in the midst of our tragedy, it is so helpful, so comforting, and so clarifying.

This may sound strange to some, but here’s the truth: God has not been silent during this tragedy in my life. In fact, the only way to describe my interaction with God right now is that God has been downright talkative. In the midst of my grief, pain and loss, He has had so many things He’s wanted to say to me.

He has spoken to me directly through scripture, through prayer (His still small voice in my heart), through friends, and through prophetic words from others. When I didn’t know what to pray, the Lord gave me different themes and things to focus on that directed my prayers. When I was confused by what seemed to be missing pieces of the puzzle, God dropped a puzzle piece on me that brought understanding.

My wife had a prophetic dream in the middle of our crisis that brought tremendous clarity. My good friend had multiple prophetic visions that he shared with me that were hard to hear at first but brought a level of comfort and understanding. This is why the above verse of scripture says, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” If we can learn to receive and process prophetic words on our normal days, then they will become lifelines during a crisis.

Trust is what keeps those communication lines open. When God begins to speak, and He says something unexpected, trust is what allows us to receive His word without being confused or offended by it. Jesus is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met. We owe Him our unconditional, implicit, unyielding trust.

We need to stop believing the lie that God is always silent during hard times. Not true. God loves to talk us through a crisis. He loves to speak. He loves to speak words that bring clarity, understanding, comfort, and peace. If God is quiet, it may be that He knows what we need in that moment is His tangible Presence and not His words. But it also might mean that our inability to trust Him has shut down communication. Let’s make sure our trust in Him keeps those lines of communication open. Even during a crisis, He is worthy of our trust.

Years From Now

When Jehu came to Samaria, he killed all who were left there of Ahab’s family;he destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah.

2 Kings 10:17

Jehu is anointed King of Israel and goes about destroying the entire family of wicked king Ahab. Both him becoming king and his campaign to rid Israel of Ahab’s family was prophesied by Elijah. What struck me about the above passage is that Elijah had been gone for sometime. Roughly 15 years had passed from the time Elijah prophesied this to the time it actually came about. Fifteen years!

The Lord told Elijah to anoint Jehu king when Elijah had run away and was hiding on Mt. Horeb. This is also when the still, small voice came to him. It was also when Elijah was told to anoint Elisha as prophet to succeed him (1 Kings 19). A couple years after this Elijah would prophesy the total destruction of Ahab’s family. Yet, Elijah didn’t get to see any of this.

Elisha became prophet of Israel, and Elisha is the one who anoints Jehu as king. Elisha gets to see the fulfillment of a word that came to Elijah.

What did your life look like 15 years ago? For me, I had just started pastoral ministry. I was dating my wife but was not married, and I didn’t have three kids. I was a brand new pastor with no wife, no kids, no house and no idea what the next 15 years would hold. If someone had given me a prophetic word about the coronavirus during that time, would I have believed them? And even if I believed them for the first few years, would I have continued to believe it after so many years?

Jesus did something similar in His own ministry. The disciples are overwhelmingly impressed with the splendor and grandeur of the Temple. Then Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the Temple, something that wouldn’t happen for another 40 years.

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2

In our fast-food world, prophetic words like this are really difficult for us to process. It seems that in ancient cultures there was a better understanding of how things take time. Maybe personal experience with farming helps a culture understand cultivation and the nature of time. There was a generational approach to things. It was assumed that one might not see something in their lifetime but that it would be important to build toward it for the sake of children or grandchildren. Today, that idea seems so foreign. We don’t plan and build with the next few generations in mind. We want things now.

Maybe God has given you a word or a promise that hasn’t come to pass. And maybe you’re starting to doubt that it ever will. But God’s timing is very different than ours. It could be coming years from now. It could even be coming in the next generation, something you won’t see firsthand. But one thing we can trust is that God keeps His promises. He keeps His word.

Uninformed

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

1 Corinthians 12:1

Paul’s great desire for the churches that he started was that they not be uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit. And yet in so many churches today, most of the members are uninformed about these gifts.

I’ve had so many conversations in the last month where people asked me about the gifts of the Spirit. One girl came to me asking about tongues and whether she should even desire that gift. She also wondered that, because she doesn’t pray in tongues, whether she is baptized in the Spirit.

In another conversation, a pastor of another church came to me asking about the gifts. When he prays for people in the morning, he feels like the Lord gives him the ability to see them the way God sees them. He never had a label or a name for it. It was just something he noticed God enabled him to do. So we talked through the difference between a “word of knowledge,” a “prophetic word” and “discerning the spirits.” All three of these gifts of the Spirit are revelatory in nature but have slightly different functions.

In a different conversation, a woman in my church asked about impartation and its value. Impartation is when a person lays hands on another person and asks God to release a transference of anointing or gifting in the Holy Spirit. We see this sort of thing talked about in Deuteronomy 34:9, 1 Timothy 4:14, and 2 Timothy 1:6. Her question was, “Does baptism in the Spirit or new gifts of the Spirit come only through impartation?” She wondered if one could just receive more from God while praying one-on-one with Him. My answer was that those are the two main ways people receive new things from the Holy Spirit–waiting in prayer and impartation.

In another interaction, a couple in my church had some struggles with healing prayer and wanted to learn more. We dialogued back and forth about certain elements of praying for physical healing which led to them wanting to read about it on their own. So I suggested a few books for them.

In yet another conversation, a pastor of another church had a detailed dream that he felt was significant, but he couldn’t discern its meaning and wasn’t sure if it was from the Lord. So he asked for my help. As he and I discussed the dream, the meaning began to emerge. The Holy Spirit began to lay out the interpretation. When I shared the interpretation that I felt I was hearing from the Lord, he was deeply touched. The Lord had spoken to him so directly and so specifically, addressing a family situation that he had been concerned about.

The point is that many in the church are uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit but are hungry to learn more. People don’t want to stay uninformed, but many pastors are fine with them staying that way. Many pastors are themselves uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit so they can’t begin to teach on it. Or, if they do know about them, they only know enough about them to view them skeptically and suspiciously. They don’t want anyone operating in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in their church because it might mean a loss of control for them. Or maybe they’ve never seen these gifts used with maturity or within healthy boundaries, so they don’t believe healthy use of the gifts is possible. Whatever their reason, it ends up muting the Holy Spirit’s expression in the local church.

The apostle Paul had a different approach. Here’s one of the places he talks about the gifts:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishings of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NASB

If you are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and these gifts are available to you. But like most other things in the Kingdom of God, you’ll need to pursue them. And part of pursuing them is becoming informed about them, even the gifts you don’t yet have.

If you want to become more informed about these gifts, how they work, what they’re for, and how to express them in a healthy way in the church, I have an entire teaching series for you. I called it the Supernatural Christian Life. Each week has an audio teaching, slides, links to videos, and book recommendations. It’s a 7 week series where I cover every gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12 in detail. I offer it to you freely at the link below. My only request is that you hunger for more. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

https://horizontowson.com/supernatural-christian-life-study

Psychics, Mediums & Spiritists

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.

The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

1 Samuel 27:3-4

King Saul had been living in rebellion from the Lord for some time. He had been chasing David all over his kingdom trying to put him to death. Then the Philistines amassed their army against Israel and Saul was terrified. We often make really bad decisions when those decisions are rooted in fear.

Saul thought he could use the Lord like a slot machine or a Magic 8 ball. He inquired of the Lord as to what to do. Saul wanted to hear from the Lord on his terms. He hadn’t been interested in hearing the truth from the Lord in years, but he wants God to suddenly start speaking to him again now that he’s in a crisis. How many of us do this same thing?

God refuses to be a puppet for King Saul. God is quiet. The normal ways of hearing from the Lord go silent. Saul doesn’t get a word from a prophet. “Urim” was a reference to one way that the priests inquired of the Lord. And Saul doesn’t get a personal dream from the Lord. These were the standard ways that the Lord would speak to His people–through prophet, priest and king.

In desperation Saul does the unthinkable. Years ago, in obedience to the Law of God, Saul had expelled mediums and spiritists from Israel. Yet, because of his fear and because of his life of rebellion, Saul now seeks out a medium–someone who would consult the dead for him.

God was very clear about his prohibitions on mediums, spiritists, fortune-tellers, and other forms of occult practices.

“Do not practice divination or seek omens.”
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:26, 31

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-16

The Lord was clear. What God really wanted to do was to speak to each member of Israel directly. But they were terrified by His Presence, so as a people they asked NOT to hear the voice of the Lord. Still wanting to speak to His people, God honored their request and spoke to them instead through a prophet. But they were absolutely forbidden to engage in the occult practices of the surrounding nations. If they did, they would “be defiled by them.”

This prohibition still stands for us in the new covenant.

God is able to speak to each individual personally through the Holy Spirit–something God always wanted with His people. He also still speaks through people gifted with prophetic gifts. Likewise, God continues to reject all forms of the occult and witchcraft. Divination, sorcery, mediums, spiritists, witchcraft, fortune-tellers, psychics and the like are all avenues to the demonic. Any visit to these practitioners or any experimentation with ouija boards, tarot cards, crystals and the like is an invitation for demons to set up camp in your life. I’ve seen this firsthand.

That Sunday the Presence of the Lord was strong in our worship service. When I concluded my sermon by praying over the congregation, a girl in the room started to shake. The shaking continued through the final worship song, and she knew she needed to get some help. This girl knew something was happening that was beyond her control. She approached me and one of my prayer team members for prayer.

We escorted her back to the prayer room and began to pray. She admitted that she thought she knew the problem. She confessed to dabbling in a certain kind of tarot card reading. She would get fearful about the future and wanted to know how things were going to turn out (sounds a lot like Saul). The more she engaged in these cards, the more something was taking over control of her body. She confessed that she would also engage in automatic writing. This is when she would hold a pen in her hand and invite spirits to take control of her hand and write a message to her. What started by her invitation soon became an oppression she couldn’t resist.

After she shared these things, I knew she had engaged in divination and was likely heavily demonized. As we prayed against a spirit of divination, she violently convulsed, dry-heaving and coughing until this spirit left. When it left she knew. She felt the peace of the Lord come over her. In subsequent weeks, we would pray for this girl multiple times casting multiple demons out of her. Engagement with the occult is a fast-track to demonic oppression.

Some people visit psychics, palm readers, mediums, spiritists, and tarot card readers just for fun. They think it’s a game, like something you’d find at the county fair. Others are afraid of the future and believe this is the best way to alleviate their fears. Some play with crystals, tarot cards, and ouija boards at home thinking these things are harmless. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These practices are all manifestations of witchcraft. They are all forms of the kingdom of darkness trying to imitate the Kingdom of God. They are all demonic avenues into the spirit realm trying to imitate the real thing, which is prophecy and prophetic gifting (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1-4).

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. So even if you don’t have prophetic gifts or know anyone who does, you have the ability to hear from the Lord. Maybe no one taught you how to listen and hear from the Lord, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t speaking. He wants to speak to you personally, through His word and through prayer. Engaging in the occult in order to hear from God or hear about your future is like going to a drug dealer in the city to learn about the side effects of prescription drugs. You’ll end up damaged and demonized by the process. Go to the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15-17) and the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) if you need to hear from God. He wants to speak to you.

If you have engaged in these occult practices and now want no part of them, here is a prayer you can pray:

In the name of Jesus, I renounce any involvement in (name the occult or the cultic practice).
I renounce (list the practices you participated in). 

I ask you God to forgive me for my ignorance. I didn’t know how dangerous these things were. Forgive me for trusting in these things rather than in You alone. Forgive me for what amounts to worshipping false gods. I declare that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. Jesus is Lord of all, I will worship God and Him alone. 

I sever all contact I’ve ever had with the occult or with all false religion, and I commit myself to get rid of all objects associated with the occult or false religion. Now I cancel every assignment of darkness and remove every right of the demonic to afflict me because of my sin and my involvement in those occult practices. I break the power of their words over me. I break the victim spirit off of me. I rebuke the fear I have lived under. I cancel my bond to fear. I reject and renounce any unholy prediction made about my life or the life of my loved ones. 

In the name of Jesus, I break every curse against me that came from my involvement in these occult practices. In the name of Jesus, I break every curse against my loved ones that came from my involvement in these occult practices. I take every word captive that has been spoken over me, my loved ones, and that I spoke over myself. I break the power of those curses from hell. I cancel every assignment of darkness and I cast them to the ground. I call blessing to fall on me in their place. I take back every curse I have spoken against another. I cast those words down to the ground. I return a blessing on those with whom I have cursed. Jesus took my cursing so I can live in blessing. 

In the name of Jesus, I command any demonic spirit that has tried to access my life through the occult to leave me right now. In the name of Jesus, I command any demonic spirit that has tried to torment the life of my loved ones through these occult practices to stop right now. In the name of Jesus, I command any afflicting spirit to get out of my body and cause no more damage. In the name of Jesus, I command any tormenting spirit to get out of my mind, my will and my emotions. You are trespassing on the Temple of the Holy Spirit and I command you to leave now in Jesus’s name!

When the Spirit falls

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came on Saul’s men, and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah…But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. 

1 Samuel 19:19-24

Saul was out to kill David. Saul was jealous of David and at times lost his mind in fits of rage. Yet, when the Spirit of God falls, the plans of humanity fall apart. No matter how many times Saul sent men to kill David, they all ran into the thick Presence of God and started prophesying. Saul then decided to do it himself, and he too was waylaid by the Spirit of God. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry...especially when God decides to interrupt them.

One of the main promises of when the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone–prophesied by the prophet Joel and then quoted by Peter–is that everyone will be able to prophesy.

…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18

So we know that when the Spirit falls upon people (like in the Old Testament), or when the Spirit fills people (like in the New Testament), the result is often the gift of prophecy.

We also know that when the Spirit falls, our plans get interrupted and disrupted. Things get messy. King Saul found himself lying naked day and night. Neat and tidy Sunday services burst open with fervor and fire. Calm and respectable people get undignified. This has always been the case when the Spirit falls in power. It will always be the case no matter how tidy we try to force the Spirit to be.

Sometimes the Spirit falls so powerfully that we are unable to continue with our day. We are knocked to the ground or so enraptured with His Presence that we don’t want to do anything else but be with Him. Notice what happens to one of Saul’s servants when he goes to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.

Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

1 Samuel 21:7

Sometimes in our normal obedience, maybe something we’ve done a thousand times, the Lord comes and detains us in His Presence. Suddenly the ordinary worship becomes a divine encounter. When this happens, it’s best not to fight it. If the Lord wants to interrupt our routines and traditions with His beauty and power, we should be grateful. We should linger. We should surrender and allow ourselves to be detained before the Lord.

We American Christians can get so offended by the messiness that comes with the Spirit of God. We can get put off by such raw displays of divine affection. We like to be in control, and we’ll often resist the move of the Spirit to try to stay in control.

But is that what the Lord did with us?

No. The Lord saw all of our messiness, the sin and chaos of our lives, and never once flinched. He didn’t get offended by our mess or distance Himself because of it. Instead, He did the opposite. He came near. The Spirit saw all of our chaos and mess and decided to move in. He decided to take up residence inside the mess and then invite us to join Him in the great renovation of our lives.

Do we not owe God this same response to the messiness that comes with a move of the Spirit? When the fire falls and we get pushed out of our comfort zone with things like the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we do what He did for us? Shouldn’t we lean in instead of push Him away? Shouldn’t we embrace Him as He has embraced us…mess and all? Shouldn’t we put to death our inner control freak and let the Spirit lead us?

I think so.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21