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When prophets get it wrong

It wasn't fruitcakes and conspiracy theorists who predicted Donald Trump would win. It was seasoned and respected prophetic leaders in the American Church, says David Stark. The co-leader of the Global Prophetic Alliance, says the prophetic movement in the USA is reeling from the outcome of the election, but there are lessons for UK Christians too

The realisation that Trump will not be re-appointed president is belatedly dawning on the millions of American evangelicals who backed him all the way.

From our vantage point on the other side of the ocean we cynical Brits are often bamboozled to see such extraordinary passion from churchgoers for contemporary politics. And yet I can’t help but have a sense of admiration for the unwavering fervency of Trump’s prayer warriors, who continue to faithfully intercede for the seemingly impossible. At least they can’t be accused of being lukewarm! I wonder, can we say that about ourselves in the UK when it comes to injustice and speaking truth to power?

It is no exaggeration to say that the prophetic movement in the USA is reeling. Over the last few years, several respected voices appeared to predict that Trump would win a second consecutive term. The national prayer efforts that followed on the back of their statements were on an unprecedented scale. Words old and new were shared, paraphrased, added to, sloganised, and campaigned on, with all the fervency of a gospel crusade. Despite this it really does seem that some prophetic voices got it spectacularly wrong. There has been no miraculous, supernatural intervention. Joe Biden will become the next president of the Untied States.

All of this raises significant questions: Why did so many Christians get it wrong? Does a false prediction make someone a false prophet? Is it wrong to prophesy at a national or international level? Is the kind of prophecy we're seeing today really comparable with biblical prophecy?

Handle with care

When we train prophets here in Glasgow, the first lesson we give them is to not mix up prayer and prophecy. You can pray the desires of your heart but you must only prophesy the desires of God’s heart – don’t mix up the two! "Believe the prophets and you will prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20) is biblical – but only if they’re actually prophesying, not if they’re merely praying according to another agenda!

Those of us who listen to prophets must be very wary not to turn their prayers into predictions, sharing them out of context on our channels with a salacious fascination that unfairly repaints our earnest prayer warriors as mere sideshow fortune-tellers. We must also guard against a modern social media obsession that focuses only on stunning predictions; words of knowledge are an amazing gift but they are only one aspect of the wonder of what the Spirit reveals.

It’s not wrong to pray and prophesy about national and governmental issues. Most scripture prophecies are directed at cities and leaders, nations and kings. Prophets are right to go after those things. But they must strip themselves of their cultural and political prejudices. And that isn't easy. They must prophecy what God says - even if it goes against their own natural inclinations or preferences. Most 'failed' words today fall at the first hurdle of prophecy - they're based on the prophet's own heart’s desire, rather than the true voice of the Lord. That's likely why so many prophets in the US got this wrong. They wanted Trump to win. They prayed for Trump to win. But they should not have prophesied that he would win, because clearly that was not God's intention.  

Processing the failure

Several well-known leaders such as Shawn Bolz and Bethel's Kris Valotton have issued statements of apology, admitting grave error. These are beautiful to see in their humility, repentance, willingness to learn and submission to be discipled, and they reveal much about the true, godly character of their authors. It’s nothing new for us imperfect pilgrims to mess up on our journey but what has caused shockwaves is that we’re not talking about anonymous Twitter commentators, hucksters or crazed conspiracists here. These are heavyweights in the church - mature believers, senior leaders, beloved prophets with proven track-records of spectacularly accurate words of knowledge, ministers with a long history of stewarding miracles, signs and wonders

How do we ever begin to process this seemingly massive prophetic fail? Before we point at the political-church alliance that’s rampant in the USA, we must acknowledge the massive blindspots that we have here at home. Have we relinquished our Christian responsibility to engage in civil justice? Has the UK Church rolled over when it comes to abortion? Have we worshipped science over God, or idolised the NHS, perhaps? Whatever way we voted, were we truly listening to God with unbiased or unprejudiced ears when it came to our prayers about Brexit, or Scottish Independence, for example? We must not mock our brothers and sisters in the USA but instead should use this as an opportunity to re-examine our own hearts and prayer motives.

Be teachable

We all must be teachable. Unteachability leads to pride and pride shuts our eyes and ears to the point where we can’t accept that we might have blindspots, prejudices or agendas. These so easily deceive us and cause us to misrepresent God accidentally or deliberately. In our ministry here, where we’ve practiced and trained the prophetic gift for over twelve years, we call these ‘soulish words’ – where what comes out of our mouth is more from our own self than the Holy Spirit. If we’re not careful, the political spirit can so easily influence us so that we mis-hear, mis-interpret or mis-apply what God wants to say to us. How do we steer clear of these soulish tendencies?

We must love the Kingdom of God more than our own nation. Remember that Jesus is our Saviour; a president or prime minister is not. Political ideologies cannot and have never saved anyone. Understand that on occasions God gives us leaders that we don’t like, don’t want, or who are outside of our preference, in order to provoke the Church to be a beacon of light. Jesus is coming back for a spotless bride, rather than a spotless nation. He provokes his Church to come up higher in purity and passion and it’s a fact that the Church often grows more in persecution that when she gets her own way under the leaders who she likes.

Although we may be rocked when our prophetic heroes mess up, Jesus isn’t shaken. This is not the first time that prophets have got scored less than full marks on their report card. Scripture describes prophets who ran away (Jonah), prophets who got depressed (Elijah), prophets who mis-used their authority to cause unjustifiable destruction (Elisha – with tragic consequences in 2 Kings 2) and even 400 so-called prophets who were quite happy to prophesy whatever the king wanted to hear, even if it was utter nonsense (1 Kings 22). When the Corinthian prophets are instructed to weigh carefully what they each prophesy it suggests that not everyone in the room was hitting the bullseye.

The need to be accountable and take responsibility for what we prophesy is even greater for those of us who have been blessed with influence. Those who teach others will be judged by a higher standard (James 3:1). But even so, let’s not stone our prophets. The death sentence in Deuteronomy 13 is for false prophets who lead people into idolatrous rebellion against God. Poor, inaccurate, or wrong prophecy does not make someone a false prophet. When we go off on our own tangents, agendas and follies Jesus goes into shepherd mode, scooping us up into his arms when we’ve realised our mistake. He disciplines us, for sure, but he never stops speaking to any of us.

Don't become disillusioned 

Hard though it is, we must fight any urge to become disillusioned with prophecy. Perhaps now more than ever, when our churches are closed and we’re cut off from our communities who would usually sharpen and encourage us, we need to hear Jesus. We need to hear his voice for ourselves (John 10:27) and we need to be able to trust prophetic voices who will point to heaven amid chaos and crisis on earth. When our earthly politicians and presidents are failing us, and their human frailty is so exposed, we need our prophets to give testimony of Jesus and his glorious Kingdom.

There is nothing Satan would like more right now than to silence the prophets and have us shut our ears to the wonderful blessing of the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-11), given for our mutual benefit. Our media bombards us with constant fighting, conspiracies, despair, depravity, and a whole lot of noise. The refreshing sound of pure prophetic revelation that comes from the very throne room of God is something that our ears should crave in these desperate days.

You may not feel that this has been the contemporary prophetic movement’s finest hour but let’s heed Paul’s advice and not treat prophecy with contempt and his urge to keep on eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit – especially prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5 and 1 Corinthians 14). I believe in the recent prophetic words that there is a new breed of prophet rising, those whose character, more than their gift, will promote them in the coming years.

David Stark, together with his wife Emma, is co-leader of the Global Prophetic Alliance, home of Glasgow Prophetic Centre. They help lead the British Isles Council of Prophets and run a rapidly growing church in Glasgow. Emma, author of The Prophetic Warrior, travels internationally, prophesying, teaching and ministering. During lockdown they and their teams have broadcast almost every day on social media platforms, reaching hundreds of thousands around the world each week. Their Global Miracle Clinic, manned by over 300 volunteers around the world, offers free healing and miracle appointments by video call. Launched last autumn, this will soon be offered as a 24/7 service.

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed on our blog do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.

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