Some influential Christians have said that prophetic people need to be 100% accurate, or they should be considered a “false prophet.” This “all or nothing” attitude comes from an interpretation of certain verses in the Old Testament, in which the Israelites were instructed to stone a prophet who prophesied in the Name of the Lord things that failed to come to pass. Under the Old Covenant, God only spoke through a few anointed leaders and prophets, so falsely claiming to speak the word of the Lord was a grave error.
Under the New Covenant, however, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all of God’s people. Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel that “your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. On both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.” Peter made it clear that the New Covenant Spirit of prophecy was not limited to the original 120 at Pentecost, but for “you and your children and all who are far off – all whom the Lord our God will call.”
In this situation, every true born again believer can prophesy, at least on some level. Paul tells the Corinthians that “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” He also instructs the Thessalonians, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” The implication is that prophecy is a valuable gift to the church, and that not all prophecies will be accurate. As long as a prophet is exalting Jesus and speaking by the Holy Spirit, not by another spirit, they are not a false prophet. But they may be a mistaken prophet.
This then leads us to ask, if they are speaking by the Holy Spirit, how can prophets miss sometimes? Below, I cover some common reasons that prophetic people can sometimes miss. I go into more detail on how to avoid these pitfalls in my book School of the Spirit.
Common reasons that prophetic people can sometimes miss:
Weak Relationship with God. In discussing prophecy, Paul makes a helpful statement in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see through a glass darkly.” If you are born of the Spirit, you are able to see into the Spirit realm to some degree. You may see to a great dimension, or you may see very dimly. When you are looking through a glass dimly, sometimes you may misperceive things. You see a shadowy figure in the glass… is that your mom, or is it your son? It’s hard to tell, so you have to polish the glass more.
Working on your relationship with God is one way to polish the glass. If you turn off every input from the world, get into the Word, and meditate on His love for you and for others – for hours, days, weeks, etc.– as you do more of this, your prophetic insight will likely increase noticeably. Find a trusted friend or a loved one you can practice praying over as you get into this love flow with God. They can tell you when your revelation increases, and they will not mind when you need to tune-up a bit.
Idols. Another reason why prophetic ministers may miss the mark is being fooled by someone’s idol. An idol is a self-deception — something false that the person genuinely believes. It is like a mask in the Spirit. When a minister prophesies, they can be tempted or even fooled into prophesying in accordance with what the person believes about themselves–the mask, instead of the reality. For example, a prophetic person may perceive the receiver’s desire to be a pastor with a big ministry and prophesy this over them, when in fact this dream is coming from the receiver’s own heart, not from the Lord. To be prophetic, you must have the courage to see past and confront idols. Prophetic ministers may also have an idol of their own that can trip them up when praying. One common example is if you enjoy the feeling of playing matchmaker! This can lead you to see a match that does not exist.
Assumptions. Another reason why you can miss, is that you connect too many dots with your own mind. As the Lord begins to show us things, we have to piece that together into something coherent to tell the person. Sometimes we make assumptions about the person, and start to leap ahead of the revelation. For example, if you assume they are married, or poor, etc, that might influence what you think a revelation means. The end result is a true revelation is all gummed up by what you assumed to be true about the person. I have learned to slow down and either ask the Lord for clarity, or if necessary I will even ask the person a specific question before I continue. For example, recently I saw a woman with a daughter. I knew she had recently had a baby. So I asked if she had had a boy or a girl. When she said it was a boy, then I knew the picture I saw was about a baby that was coming, so I spoke to that, it was exactly on target. I could easily have given a wrong prophesy had I rushed it.
Bad Theology. Another reason why a prophet may miss, is that they have bad theology. Just because you are prophetic doesn’t mean you automatically have correct theology. Whatever you receive from God is going to be filtered through what you believe about Him. This is super common with words about the fate of the nation. People’s views of the end times and politics inevitably shade what they prophesy. They have failed to discern the times, so whatever God shows them gets siphoned into their pre-arranged and incorrect ideas about what he is doing. On the level of personal prophecy, someone with a theology of “God is in total control” may see what is, and interpret the situation as what God wills to happen. This may lead the receiver to remain passive in a situation that the Lord is actually trying to lead them out of or help them to change.
Moving beyond your faith. In Romans 12:6, Paul instructs the believers to “prophesy in accordance with your faith.” Each of us has a different degree of current gifting and faith, and it is important to respect our current levels when delivering a prophecy. For example, a young prophet may be inspired by Shawn Bolz and try to rattle off telephone numbers to a complete stranger, when that is beyond her current ability. At the same time, it is good to stretch your faith for prophecy; otherwise you will never grow! Most people, after they have been prophesying for a while, get a sense of which prophecies they are confident about, which ones they are hesitant about but might be accurate, and which ones are honestly just a stab in the dark. I encourage people to deliver the information they are confident about, then stretch by prefacing the information they are less sure about with something like, “This might be wrong, and it’s lower on the discern-o-meter… What do you think?” If the gray area information is accurate, presenting it with hesitation won’t lessen the impact of your prophecy. And if it’s off, the recipient won’t feel obligated to treat it with the same weight as your earlier word. Either way, you are stretching into less familiar – but not totally random – territory, and will get valuable feedback on whether your intuition was correct or not. Over time, this helps you to develop into a more accurate and powerful prophet.
So those are the big ones: weak relationship with God, idols, assumptions, bad theology, and moving beyond your level of gift. These are all ways that true prophets — and every true born again believer can prophesy at some level — can be wrong. So don’t get discouraged when you miss as if you are not hearing from the Lord, ask the Lord to help you tune up. There are also many good resources on growing in the prophetic. If you would like a resource that is friendly to both personal development and group ministry, you may want to check out my book School of the Spirit.