Personal Prophecy from their own heart, not God’s heart
I have a long teaching about a proper understanding of prophecy in our archives section, so in this space I want to go right to the heart of personal prophecy gone wrong, and how to tell if someone is prophesying from their own initiative or from the Holy Spirit.
Jeremiah 23:9-40 is a word from the Lord defining false personal prophets and prophecy, centering around the second half of verse 16: “…they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.”
The idea of someone speaking of their own heart may be new to some, but many of those who have been taught to give personal prophecy on demand are doing exactly that, most not realizing their error. This is the same thing that happens sometimes when people receive words on their own for themselves, and sometimes spiritual dreams, but wonder how much is God and how much is them.
I’m all for teaching people about the gifts of the Spirit, but the teaching that a person can at their discretion, of their initiative, prophesy, is error. The manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit are exactly that;
manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and as such must be initiated by Him.
A perfect example of a prophecy spoken out of a person’s own heart is found in Jeremiah 28.
The situation is that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was about to invade Judah and destroy it. He had already invaded and looted the temple treasury but allowed King Zedekiah to remain on the throne. Zedekiah was wanting a word from the Lord on what to do. Jeremiah had prophesied from the Lord that peace was possible via a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar, but if they fought him they would be defeated and Jerusalem lost.
The prophet Hananiah gave a word from his own heart, and told him God would do great and mighty things on his behalf stating in perfect ‘thus saith the Lord’ style in verses 2-5: 1) I have broken the yoke of Babylon off you. 2) Within 2 full years I will return the treasure Nebuchadnezzar looted. 3) All the captives will be returned home, including the King’s son. 4) I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar (the same yoke he said was already broken in v2, thus contradicting himself - in most translations)
By contrast, Jeremiah’s prophecy was short and to the point: Enter into a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and you will be spared. So what characteristics do we see thus far?:
Characteristics of personal prophecy from one’s own heart (Hananiah)
- Often long, flowery speech, delivered with flourish and boldly
- It appeals to the ego
- It tells a person what they want to hear, especially involving the ‘return’ of ‘captives’ from the enemy
- It involves the telling of riches and/or property restored, directly or spiritually speaking
- It contradicts itself, as Hananiah did in verses 2 and 5
- It is ‘me’ centered, what God is doing for ‘me’
Characteristics of genuine prophecy (Jeremiah)
- It is usually shorter, concise, to the point
- The speech is normal speech, no embellishments, no ‘religious’ wording
- It is focused on the person doing the right thing
- It is God centered, not ‘me’ centered
- It involves humility of heart, often having to do with requiring the person to do something not pleasant to deal with, but needed for growth in the Lord, always pointing a person towards growth and maturity
Jeremiah 23: 9-40
The Lord goes into detail in 23:9-40 about false prophets and prophecy spoken from the human heart: In v16 the Lord says: “…they make you vain” and “they speak a vision of their own heart.”
Personal prophecy that is given from someone’s own will rather than God produces vanity in a person, it appeals to their pride…that’s one reason they are often so long, dramatic, and flowery. Yet if you have known the Lord very long and ever had Him speak to you, or even read the gospels, you can see Jesus doesn’t and didn’t waste words, didn’t embellish what He said with flowery speech, but used everyday speech and was to the point…He never changes.
Compare a personal prophecy received with the clarity and conciseness of Jesus in the gospels, Acts, and his messages to the 7 churches in the Revelation – is what you received just as clear, concise, and God centered? True prophecy is to the point and directs a person towards humility and service to the Lord, false words appeal to ego and vanity and are as a result often long. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, (not our testimony). (Rev 19:10) Is what you received all about Him and doing right in Him?
In v21 He says: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran to prophesy; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” (they are eager, pushy, insist on giving you a word) They market the gift or themselves – therefore often money or power/influence/ego driven. They run to you for personal reasons to ‘bless’ you.
How they get some right
The trouble is, sometimes a person can begin in the Spirit, and then think they are pressured to ‘produce more’, so shift into speaking from their own heart, meaning the person receiving (or if received for yourself by yourself) gets a mix of God and human source words. This is how it works:
Once I had a student come to my office in tears after a missionary speaker in chapel, and she wanted to know why that speaker affected her so. She too was called to missions, and I told her that the gifts in her bore witness to the gifts in the speaker, which stirred her spirit so.
Often a person speaking of their own heart does so by perceiving another’s gifts, and then they ignorantly and through being taught error, think that is the genuine gift of prophecy or words of knowledge. That’s how they can often pinpoint a person and their gifts, but then they add to the genuine they perceive and attach a ‘thus saith the Lord’ and make it future, and just like that someone walks away with a nice personal prophecy that has little to do with God’s will.
I was one of the speakers at a conference in Colorado Springs some years ago, and as such was in the ‘green room’ before my turn came. Other speakers were there, including one who is known for personal prophecy and teaching it all over the country. He and some of his helpers insisted they prophesy over each person waiting, and I gave in and sat in the ‘hot seat’.
The first prophecy’s were right on the mark and from the Lord; short, to the point, exact. I was encouraged and blessed and started to get up, but they clearly didn’t feel they had prophesied enough or they hadn’t been long enough, or whatever, but either way they insisted I remained seated while they prayed.
The next ‘thus saith the Lord’ words were nothing more than them perceiving in their spirits what I was doing right then in ministry: I was a teacher, Director of a Bible school, leader in a mega church. Each of their words though was put into the future tense: (Thus saith the Lord) I will start to use you to teach, I will start to use you in administrative things, I will cause you to rise in position in a church.
The born again human spirit is born of the Spirit of God. As such we each have the ability to bear witness or sense another believer, like you often do in a store for example, when you come away thinking ‘I think that clerk is a believer, I just have witness inside’. That’s all they did with me, put it in future tense, and added ‘thus saith the Lord’ and thought they’d prophesied. Wrong.
Condition of their heart
In v26 the Lord says: “…they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart.” Not that they are deceitful, but ’prophets of (out of) the deceit’ – the focus is on the deceit in there, not always that they are using deceit, but that deceit is in their heart through wrong teaching and lack of understanding of the ways of the Spirit
Even though they may have a good heart and motive, erroneous teaching they received deposited deceit, so a spirit of error therefore enters in without them realizing it. So when a person submits to that, they in turn can open themselves to error if they begin to order their lives according to that false word, thinking they are following God and not realizing they are following error.
Big on dreams
There are legitimate spiritual dreams, for who can forget Joseph and Pharaoh or Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar or even New Testament examples of God-given dreams like Joseph/Mary and the Wise men? Most of us have had genuine spiritual dreams.
But not all dreams are from God with hidden meanings, and one of the marks of a person prophesying of their own imagination, is emphasis on dreams and/or vague metaphorical references so that words from God are surrounded by an air of mystery and suspense. In scripture, both Old and New Testaments, every dream from God was very soon if not immediately interpreted and understood.
Sometimes they are regular dreams that people dig for the slightest spiritual meaning when none is intended, but what happens is that people are led by dreams and cryptic coded symbols instead of the Lord Himself, as told by the Lord in Jeremiah 23: 27-28:
“By telling everyone their false dreams, they are trying to cause my people to forget me, just as their ancestors in Israel did by worshiping the idols of Baal. Let these false prophets tell their dreams, but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every Word. There is a difference between chaff and grain!”
True words from the Lord are pure and communicate clearly – it will make sense (grain easily consumed). Words from one’s own heart often mystical and ego-centric, and leave a person wondering what is really being said (chaff to be burned).
The Lord is highlighting again the inwardly directed, ego centered, ‘me’ culture of the false – it’s all about my dreams, my word, what this or that means, the flowery things God will restore to me and do for me – and nothing about what the Lord really tells people: Humble yourself, do the right thing though it is hard, be comforted by Me, be encouraged, grow in Me, I’m walking with you through your difficult time.
The focus on the false distracts people (a long time Satanic ploy), leading them on searches for meaning, when in fact Christ is in us and speaks quite plainly, just as he did in the gospels, Acts, and the Revelation.
And I love what the Lord says in v36: “Stop using this phrase, ‘prophecy from the Lord.’ For people are using it to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God the living one…”
As I’ve said, there are legitimate dreams and prophecies, but much of what I’ve seen in recent years of personal prophecy I saw back in the mid 1970′s, when so many like now, treated the gifts of the Spirit like a shiny new toy. And like any new toy or fad, the newness will wear off after awhile, and confused people with volumes of personal prophecy sitting in journals, or notebooks full of what things mean in dreams, will say, ”I can prophesy over people, I can interpret dreams, now what?”
There is the genuine, but many have been like the boy Samuel who had the Lord stand right there in his room patiently calling his name three times, yet he didn’t see Him nor recognize His voice, and he went running elsewhere to try to understand. Like Samuel, only when they realize their error will they return to His presence and be able to say, ”Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3)
New ‘fad’ teaching next week,
Please send all personal emails or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org