Personal Prophecy Abuse     False Prophets

Hurt & Confused by Fake Personal Prophecy
In the Church

Christians Hurt by False Prophetic Words from People Believed to have the Gift of Prophecy

Grantley Morris


My heart – and God’s – weeps for the countless thousands of Christians bewildered, devastated or even led astray by a ‘word from God’ delivered with conviction by someone revered in respected Christian circles as a prophet or at least purporting to be manifesting the spiritual gift of prophecy.

Most of us realize that preaching to multiplied thousands is a huge responsibility. James, introduces his message about the destructive power of one’s words (the tongue), by warning that teaching people significantly ramps up the severity of the divine judgment awaiting us (James 3:1). I explain in How to Comfort the Hurting, however, that offering casual advice to an individual demands even more care than preaching to crowds because it carries more weight, since the recipient knows that what is said is targeted specifically at him/her. Claiming to be delivering a message direct from God is chillingly more serious than sharing one’s opinion, and directing it towards a specific person makes it the gravest of matters. I am ashamed to say that, in blatant disregard for God and for the people he loves, many Christians today have become appallingly flippant about this practice. We see here just how alarmingly different God’s attitude is:

    Deuteronomy 18:20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say . . . must be put to death.

There are even many who turn giving personal prophecies into an opportunity to line their pockets. If they want Scriptural precedence for this, here it is:

    Micah 3:11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD among us? . . .”

Note that this equates prophesying for money with a judge taking a bribe. Bribes corrupt people. And there are far more ways of financially profiting from prophesying than blatantly demanding money before giving a personal prophecy.

As we explore this topic we will discover that today’s supposed personal prophecies rarely contain anything remotely like the proportion of rebukes and warnings of trials found in the divine record of God-given personal prophecies. This discrepancy not only calls into question the authenticity of much that today passes as being a prophetic word from God, it highlights why so much spiritual abuse can flow from supposedly edifying ‘words from God’.

So many of today’s personal prophecies are such that just hearing those given to other people can make us envious (covetous) and not only inflame a craving for our own personal prophecy but make us feel inferior or even spurned by God if we do not receive our own equally exciting supposed word from God. If today’s prophecies matched those of the Bible, far fewer people would be flocking to meetings in the hope of receiving one. Consequently, those giving prophecies would be less enticed to corrupt their gift, as it would no longer be such an easy way to increase their fame or income.

There are big names who make big bucks out of it but, sadly, sincere people who selflessly share personal prophecies away from the limelight can cause just as much damage to the recipient if they get it wrong.

Many victims of fake words from God thought they were playing safe by waiting until a prophetic word was confirmed by receiving another independent personal prophecy along the same lines. The problem with that is so many personal prophecies today say what average Christians long to hear, and there are a limited number of things fitting that category. The result is that many words from supposed prophets are similar anyhow.

Other victims believed they felt an inner witness or confirmation upon receiving a prophetic word. This sounds quite spiritual but how many people’s ‘inner witness,’ instead of being God’s Spirit confirming it to their hearts, is simply fleshly excitement about thinking they might be getting what they crave? Who wouldn’t feel excited to be told authoritatively that they will be vindicated, marry someone wonderful, have a fulfilling vocation, have the child they long for, or have what the world calls success and prosperity?

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I am not going to criticize those who believe that the New Testament’s teaching about prophetic gifting applies with as much force today as when it was penned. There is no need to delve into that controversy here, because whatever one’s take on that divisive issue, the result is the same: if we are taken by surprise by supposed Christian prophets saying wrong things, it is not through the Bible’s lack of warning.

It is astonishing how frequently the New Testament warns of the presence of false prophets in the church and that Christians must be on guard against the possibility of deception. See 44 Relevant Scriptures. Moreover, the Word of God keeps warning about the need never to take on board anything we are told in the name of God without carefully and prayerfully examining it in the light of Scripture and what God confirms to our heart.

The Bible insists that no matter how spiritually authoritative the source – even if it were an angel from heaven itself or a divinely appointed New Testament apostle – the message must be rejected unless it conforms to biblical revelation.

    Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!

    Acts 17:11 . . . they . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

    Revelation 2:2 I know . . . you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

Every supposed revelation from God needs to be carefully “weighed” and “tested” before being accepted as truth:

    1 Corinthians 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.

    1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.

    1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (Emphasis mine)

The Old Testament gives similar warnings:

    Jeremiah 29:8-9 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

    Jeremiah 23:29-31 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Therefore,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.’ ”

    Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

This warning is particularly noteworthy:

    Deuteronomy 13:1-3 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Emphasis mine)

Not even if the message receives spectacular supernatural confirmation is it to be accepted as being from God if it is contrary to Scripture. Moreover, “other gods” need not be the gods of pagan religion but a god who seems like the true one but encourages sin, such as selfishness. We must be wary not only of supposed words from God that clash with pet doctrines but ones that clash with the Bible’s emphasis on dying to self and warnings against the love of money, becoming people pleasers, and other forms of ungodliness that appeal to our sinful nature.

And how fully conversant are we with all of biblical revelation in order to spot anything that doesn’t quite gel? Our greatest protection against deception comes not from letting some trusted person read the Bible for us and tell us what it says, nor from cherry picking the Word of God so that we thoroughly know snippets of Scripture but little about certain other portions.

Although I believe our gracious Lord will compensate for those who are truly incapable of reading the entire Bible, the protection we need comes from reading every book of the Bible from cover to cover many times. Why this is so critically important is explained in the following section. I am of two minds about including it. You could lose patience, thinking I am sliding off-topic. Nevertheless, it enables me both to empower you and to expose a key reason why we stray from truth without realizing it and therefore fall prey to counterfeit personal prophecies.

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Divine Protection Against Deception

Impressive intellectual familiarity with Scripture is not a cure-all for spiritual blindness. The theologians and spiritual leaders who rejected their Messiah when he walked this planet are tragic proof of that. (When you have time I urge you to read The Spiritual Essentials for Accurate Bible Interpretation.) Nevertheless, when spiritual factors are added to the mix, extensive Bible knowledge is invaluable, God-given protection.

Our dilemma is that we want others to do the work and tell us their findings. No matter how good the teacher, the result is inevitably – and usually dangerously – selective. There is simply no substitute for reading the Bible ourselves. Even among avid Bible readers, the parts of the Bible we most need are often those we have not underlined. We have a disturbing tendency to latch on to Scriptures that give us a temporary buzz, rather than those that clash with our biases and preconceptions or those that convict us or help us become more Christlike by exposing our weaknesses.

Citing many Scriptures on a single theme can be of immense value in bringing a particular biblical truth into focus. I am passionate about this, almost to the point of addiction. Despite my obsession, however, I am duty-bound to confess that this practice carries with it the very real danger of distorting God’s revelation by neglecting other equally important truths.

Have you seen a topical Bible where people can look up any subject that interests them and read all the Scriptures related to that subject? It is a useful Bible aid but there is a vitally important reason why God’s Word was written as it is and not in that form.

I love collecting lots of Scriptures and making a strong case but that never proves I’m accurately portraying either the heart of God nor the balance he wants you to have. It might happen to be an emphasis I need but your unique mix of strengths, weaknesses and needs is likely to be quite different. Consider this Scripture, for example:

    Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

In the height of the charismatic movement, the first half of this passage was cited literally thousands of times, but the second half – still talking about sacrifices that delight the heart of God – was almost never mentioned. It is hard not to overemphasize the importance of praise but do you suppose the first half is literally a thousand times more important to God than the remainder of the passage? In this case, the needed balance is next door. Sometimes it is blocks away. Frequently, however, by the way the Bible crams diverse truths close to each other, God has done his utmost to keep us from missing vital truths and checks and balances.

Samuel, Kings and Chronicles were each artificially divided into two to keep them a convenient scroll-length size. Beyond putting the two halves next to each other, however, the order in which the books appear in the Bible is a human convention, along with chapter and verse divisions. The order in our modern Christian Old Testament even differs from that of the Jewish Bible. Other than a few possible exceptions (perhaps parts of Psalms and Proverbs, for example), however, the way material is ordered within a book is as inspired as the words themselves and deserves to be honored by reading it that way, at least some of the time.

My dilemma is that other than leaving it to you to read the entire Bible for yourself, I have no option but provide mere selections of Scripture. I might manage to point out some things in the Bible you have missed, but anything less than reading the entire Bible yourself carries with it the very real dangers I have just warned against.

Practical side note: Although it is best to read each book of the Bible from beginning to end, I don’t recommend reading the books in the order that they appear in our English Bibles because similar books are grouped together. That means, for example, that you will read all the Gospels together and not see them again until you have completed the entire Bible. Perhaps you are different but, for me, a little variety stimulates my interest. I keep track of what books I’ve read by ticking them off in the front of the Bible where the books are listed.

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The Nitty-Gritty

So what does a thorough reading of Scripture reveal about ‘words from God’ that we might miss merely by listening to and observing modern preachers and prophets?

To get this right, we must understand that as critically important as it is to know the Word of God, it is even more important to know the heart of God. It is only by knowing God’s heart that we have any chance of consistently interpreting his Word correctly, or discerning when a supposed extra-biblical word is really from God. So I believe we must start with the deep conviction that God is wonderfully tender and compassionate. Pamper yourself by soaking in this sampling from Scripture’s rich array:

    Isaiah 40:11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

    Isaiah 46:3-4 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, . . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

    Isaiah 49:15 Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

    Isaiah 63:9 In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

    Psalm 22:9-10 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

    Psalm 37:24 though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

    Psalm 145:14 The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

    Hosea 11:3-4 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

    Matthew 12:15-20 . . . Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “. . .  He will not quarrel or cry out . . . A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. . . .”

    Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed

    Luke 13:34. . . how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings . . .

Tender compassion is so basic to the nature of God that it is not just some New Testament revelation. You might have noticed that most of the above quotes are from the Old Testament. In fact, not only are eight out of eleven from the Old Testament, to lessen your reading I pruned out seven references, and even then the total of fifteen Old Testament references is nothing like exhaustive, but just my favorites.

Unmistakable gentleness is particularly important to me because I need it myself and I am called to minister primarily to people who are deeply hurting. Such people are emotionally like someone with raw, open wounds. We all know that the gentlest touch on an open wound sends even strong people reeling in pain.

Nevertheless, the advantage of reading all of Scripture is that despite our strong tendency to absorb things selectively, it is impossible to miss the fact that in his love and wisdom the Lord frequently sees the need to speak bluntly and point out error.

Before citing biblical examples of divine correction, I must stress that if we fail to grasp just how kind, gentle, patient and compassionate God is, and that this tenderness drives all that he does, we will end up seeing everything in Scripture and everything in life through an alarmingly distorted lens. And unless our hearts are filled with divine love and tenderness, we cannot hope to accurately convey a message from God:

    1 Corinthians 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries . . . but have not love, I am nothing.

Unless love rules all that we do, such Scriptures as these come into play:

    Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

    Matthew 7:22-23 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Emphasis mine)

    Mark 9:42 And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Even if we get the love part right, however, but fail to grasp the holiness of God and the eternal consequences of sin, we will still see everything in a dangerously distorted way. This is another of countless reasons for reading all of biblical revelation and not just topics that appeal to us.

What might seem like love might be nothing more than people-pleasing and trying to manipulate people for one’s selfish advantage, such as increased popularity. Little children might think it is cool to have parents who never correct them. Such parents, however, are not being loving but foolish and irresponsible.

Our dilemma is that we have never seen, let alone experienced, a perfect parent. Instead, we have both witnessed and fallen victim to a lot of mistakes, selfishness, pettiness, laziness, misjudging, miscommunication, lack of self-control and parental outbursts due to tiredness, frustration, moodiness and so on. These have, at least some of the time, left the children of even good parents feeling misunderstood, hurt, put down, neglected, frustrated and victimized. In fact, blasphemously ungodly and unloving things are frequently done in the name of love and/or God. All this confusion makes it disturbingly likely that we will misunderstand divine correction, reading into it a harshness that is not there and failing to see the tender compassion that drives it.

There is nothing so comforting as the security of knowing that the keenest mind in the universe is looking out for us and will warn us if ever we are heading for disaster or even if only slightly missing God’s best. This privilege is lost, however, if we let ourselves be so weak that God is unable to lead us out of danger because he knows that, instead of benefitting from divine direction, we would crumble into a defeated heap; feeling condemned or rejected or a hopeless failure if ever we were told we had made a mistake.

“The way to succeed is to double your failure rate,” said someone the world regards as an exceptionally successful man. Making mistakes never makes anyone a failure. What could make us a failure, however, is avoiding (rather than seeking out) someone who, by showing us any mistakes we are making, could empower us to succeed.

May this never apply to us:

    John 3:20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.


How strongly worded must a warning be for the hearer to give the appropriate pain-sparing or even life-saving or destiny-changing response? It all depends on the individual. People range from the highly sensitive to those barely moved by the most terrifyingly obvious emergency. The God who knows us intimately is more than able to perfectly tailor his message to the individual’s sensitivities or lack of them. He is stymied, however, if he knows that any indication that we need even a slight course correction will send us spiraling into a downer of discouragement.

Both to avoid unknowingly going astray and to better discern between fake, flattering ‘words from God’ and those that are truly from him, many of us need a mega shift in our attitude to correction. Ponder these words from something I wrote elsewhere:

    Even if the forgiving Lord were displeased with us, it would prove how highly he thinks of us and how important we are to him. God’s disappointment would not be cause for depression but would affirm that our Almighty Helper, who knows us better than we know ourselves, emphatically believes in us and is certain we can do better.

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The Other Reason

And there’s another factor: not only do we desperately need God’s warnings, he is so astonishingly in love with every one of us that I’m unsure how to describe it without making his infatuation with us seem foolish – which he most certainly isn’t.

The intensity of God’s love means it pains him to be reduced in our lives to some sort of alarm system reserved for emergencies. The selfless Lord passionately wants the best for us and, more than we can fathom, living somewhat aloof from him robs us of so much. There is also a very different reason why living this way hurts and disappoints God: no matter how self-sufficient the Almighty is, he pines for our companionship. He longs for us to be so close to him that we hear his faintest whisper; not so far from him or continually preoccupied with other things that he must do something dramatic to get our attention, such as have someone publically call us out in a meeting and give us a personal word. He aches for us to continually seek his face with at least a fraction of the eagerness he has to fellowship with us. This is why he pleads over and over with us to ask him for guidance. Consider this tiny selection:

    Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

    Deuteronomy 4:29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

    Psalm 50:15 . . . call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you . . .

    Psalm 91:15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;

    Luke 11:9 . . . Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

    John 16:24 . . . Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

    James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

God always takes the initiative – “he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) – but he takes the initiative by pleading with us to ask him to guide us. And guidance does not just mean ego boosts when we stumble upon the right choice, but correction when we begin to veer off course.

Over and over, Scripture records godly people doing this. “I seek you with all my heart,” prayed the psalmist, “do not let me stray from your commands,” (Psalm 119:10). And again, “Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path,” (Psalm 27:11). And yet again, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me . . .” (Psalm 143:10).

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you,” says Psalm 32:9. There are different interpretations of the words immediately prior to that but one rendition is “I will guide you with my eye.” Let’s run with that for a moment. Suppose the master hosts a feast. He’s not so uncouth as to bark orders in the midst of the festivities. Things seem chaotic; some guests are contentedly eating, one or two might need serving, some are engrossed in private conversations, some are feeling a little left out, and so on. Ignoring all the distractions, a servant focuses exclusively on the Master’s face. The master is engaged in various matters. Eventually, for a mere split second, he interrupts what he is doing, looks at the servant, then stares with a certain look at someone’s cup and quickly resumes what he had been doing. No one else detects it, but the servant knows the master so intimately and is so focused on him that he immediately realizes that, out of all the servants, he is being asked to top up that person’s cup.

That is the sort of relationship the Lord craves to have with each of us – one in which we know him this well and are so focused on him; not one where he has to ask another servant to get our attention and tell us what our Lord wants.

What would be the advantage of having the world’s greatest mentor, life coach, or personal trainer if we seldom sought his input? Anyone who values such a person would seek continual feedback. Such privileged people would want not only to know when they have finally got it right but what they should change in order to do better.

Here’s a winning attitude: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me . . .” (Psalm 139:23-24). The way to get ahead is to power through life with an enthusiastic “show me how I can improve” attitude. In contrast, losers doom themselves to failure by slithering through life with the attitude of “don’t tell me if ever I slip up; I’d be just devastated. I couldn’t handle knowing.”

The Lord guides the humble, says Psalm 25:9. The humble remain open to the possibility that they could have made a mistake. As a consequence, they actively seek God’s guidance.

To be led of God we must humbly realize that at any moment we could need God to point out to us some mistake we have unknowingly made. “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD,” (Proverbs 16:2). There are those “who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth,” (Proverbs 30:12). Even the apostle Paul said, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).

When the Lord returns, everything will be crystal clear but then it will be too late to avoid judgment. Anyone aware of this will keep seeking God’s correction ahead of time.

Proverbs 3:5,7 pleads with you and me to “. . . lean not on your own understanding . . . Do not be wise in your own eyes.” Put bluntly, “He who trusts in himself is a fool,” (Proverbs 28:26). We need to keep actively seeking God’s guidance and correction because, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death,” (Proverbs 16:25) and “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

When we seek him passionately and with pure motives, we can trust God’s silences – times when he chooses not to speak in a dramatic way – but unless we seek him with such passion and purity we have no right to presumptuously assume we have not steered off course. The deceitfulness of the human heart means, for example, that what we are convinced is a God-glorifying yearning for ministry could actually be self-serving ambition and a desire for self-exaltation and popularity. To arrogantly think it impossible that we could have slipped up, is to harden our hearts. We could not only be closing ourselves off to legitimate guidance but opening ourselves to accepting fabricated, pride-inflating words as being from God because they confirm our delusion.

We are in dangerous territory if we are only open to hearing what we want to hear. For example, who of us would want to hear that the divine ideal is to remain single for twenty or thirty years? And how many people would flock to a meeting after hearing someone receive a personal prophecy like this? If we needed such a warning, would we heed it or would we opt for doing what to our mind seems an obvious blessing – one that only God knows will end up souring into the torment of a string of relationship disasters that shatter a number of lives?

As with Peter tempting Jesus to abort going to the cross, it is not impossible for Satan to slip in and suddenly start speaking through someone who had previously been accurately hearing from God (see Astonishing Scripture). Any yearning we have that happens to be outside the perfect will of God makes us easy targets should any such thing happen.

A very common area of vulnerability stems from not understanding the nature of the body of Christ. To adapt a couple of quotes from what I have written elsewhere:

    The way we revere a few gifts and denigrate the rest, you’d think the ideal body of Christ consisted of a giant set of flapping gums, a fingernail emitting divine bolts of power, and a few emaciated odds and sods.

    We must allow the Spirit to nurture our individuality. Christians wishing they had the abilities of others are nightingales coveting a peacock’s beauty or soaring eagles envying the powerful legs of an ostrich.

    Don’t despise the unique blend of abilities bestowed on you by the keenest Mind in the universe. Stop envying the ministry of others and start clarifying your own call. If, to your thinking, that call seems insignificant, the thing to be ashamed of is not your calling but your thinking!

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I’m still not quite ready to cite Scriptural examples that could cause us to lose sight of how tender and loving God is and how this drives everything he does. Before plunging in I urge you not merely to read but to prayerfully consider the implications of these Scriptures:

    Psalm 141:5 Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.

    Proverbs 1:23-33 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But . . . since you . . . would not accept my rebuke, . . . I in turn will laugh at your disaster . . . since they . . . spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways . . . For the waywardness of the simple will kill them . . . but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

    Proverbs 3:11-12 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

    Proverbs 6:23 . . .   the corrections of discipline are the way to life

    Proverbs 9:8 . . . rebuke a wise man and he will love you.

    Proverbs 13:18 He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.

    Proverbs 15:31-32 He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.

    Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke impresses a man of discernment . . .

    Proverbs 25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

    Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted . . .

    Proverbs 28:23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

    Titus 1:13 . . . rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith

    Titus 2:15 . . . Encourage and rebuke with all authority. . . .

Similar Scriptures

Ponder this:

    Leviticus 19:17 Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

This is virtually saying that to not rebuke someone who sins is to hate that person. “Rebuke your neighbor frankly” is placed firmly in the context of what Jesus declared to be the second most important commandment: our responsibility to love our neighbor:

    Leviticus 19:16-18 Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Emphasis mine.)

In fact, this is the primary Old Testament reference to loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Love and rebukes cannot be prized apart without both of them disintegrating:

    Hebrews 12:5-6,11 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” . . . No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

    Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

“The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin,” says Lamentations 2:14 (emphasis mine). “Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations,” (Ezekiel 22:28).

Regardless of what it might take to get us there, however, God’s longing is always to build us up.

    Jeremiah 1:9-10 . . . Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. (Emphasis mine.)

In 1 Corinthians 14:3 and 4, where it says that prophecy edifies, the Greek word literally means to build up, as in constructing a building (More). We should understand that if a structure is unstable, making it look better (Ezekiel 13:9-15: 22:28 speaks of false prophets whitewashing people’s sins) will not improve it. Instead, it encourages people to keep living in a building that will one day come crashing down, injuring or killing the occupants. Moreover, adding to it by constructing a new level on top will just make it more unstable and hasten its destruction. Only a con man tries to impress by building without first demolishing parts that will not last.

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Consolidating in Order to Surge Forward

The best insurance against falling victim to the counterfeit is to thoroughly familiarize ourselves with the genuine. We would be in grave danger if we heard so many fake prophecies delivered with impunity in Christian meetings that they seem normal and we encounter authentic examples so rarely that they make us feel uncomfortable.

To counter this alarming prospect, it is vital that we keep prayerfully immersing ourselves in Scripture in the hope that every biblical example of personal prophecy will eventually begin to feel like the norm.

My goal has been to introduce you to the authentic by providing biblical examples. I have been slowly working towards this but I have felt the need to prepare you lest they rattle you. Let me highlight the problem by explaining why I have frequently wished I could hear the tone of Jesus’ voice and see his body language when reading the gospels.

The same words can have a very different impact if delivered sternly or even angrily than if the speaker had a loving smile on his face or a compassionate gentleness in his voice. For example, if I am terrified, the words, “Oh you of little faith,” could be a stinging rebuke that fills me with resentment towards anyone who delivers those words a certain way but, if uttered very differently, those same words could be highly comforting; reassuring me that I am safe and making me feel so grateful to the speaker.

We cannot rely on the impact that reading Jesus’ words has on us, because not only were we not present when those words were originally uttered, our personality and emotional state could be very different from that of the original recipients of those words. Although at times the way Scripture’s words impact us could be Spirit-led, the practical reality is that at other times the Spirit’s influence could be smothered by other factors, such as raging hormones, our personal sensitivities, upbringing, and so on.

The devil is the deceiver. He cannot change the heart of God but he can mess with our feelings, and so he is forced to make our feelings a primary focus of his attack. Yes, the Almighty could continually override all of the natural and supernatural things that can make our feelings go haywire. But that is not how God operates. He has ordained that we live by faith, not feelings.

We might not have such cues as body language and reliable feelings to discern Jesus’ heart as he uttered the words preserved in the Bible but to counter all this uncertainty we have the Bible’s revelation of the heart of God, and the more we immerse ourselves in this, the more sure will be our interpretation not only of Jesus’ words but of everything that touches us.

As important as it is to read, study and meditate on God’s Word (Many Scriptures), however, it will not suffice. Receiving spiritual revelation and knowing God’s heart is more than an intellectual exercise. Our own hearts must be right with God, through repentance, faith in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice and total surrender to God, plus getting to know God through daily seeking his face.

I have highlighted one aspect of biblical revelation, affirming how everything God does is driven by tender love, but we each need to keep prayerfully looking to God and his Word to keep deepening our understanding of God’s heart, as this is our greatest protection against deception.

There is one final point I feel I should reinforce before finally giving you biblical examples of personal prophecy. As previously mentioned, God knows precisely how strongly worded a message must be to have the desired impact on any specific individual. The biblical examples I am about to cite are not proof that God would put things so strongly if you were ever to go as far astray as the original recipients of these prophetic messages. The frequency of the examples I cite, however, is proof that many people need messages worded this way and that, regardless of wording, a significant proportion of genuine personal prophecies will be rebukes and that these will end up furthering one’s spiritual well-being infinitely more than pride-inflating, greed-promoting, flesh-indulging messages purporting to be from God.

How genuine love and rebuke go hand in glove is a difficult concept for the many of us who have only seen one or both of these abused. If you still only barely fathom it, I understand, and urge you to take a prayer break before proceeding.

* * *

The Plunge

If you are ready, let’s collect a few samples of personal prophecy in Scripture:

    1 Samuel 13:13-14 “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

    1 Samuel 15:26,28 But Samuel said to him, “. . . You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel! . . . The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors – to one better than you.”

    2 Samuel 12:7,9-12 Then Nathan said to David, . . . “Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”

    2 Kings 20:1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

    Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

    John 5:14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

    John 8:11 . . . “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    Mark 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

    Mark 16:14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

    John 21:17-22 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

To be publicly told “Woman, you have great faith!” (Matthew 15:28) might be quite an ego boost but to get there, Jesus had to elicit great faith by publicly telling her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. . . . It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” (Matthew 15:24,26).

Here’s some more biblical examples of personal words from God:

    Matthew 16:8,11 . . . You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? . . . How is it you don’t understand . . ?

    Matthew 15:12-13 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. . . .”

    Luke 22:31-34 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. . . . I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

    Luke 24:25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

    Acts 5:3-10 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. . . . Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.

    Acts 9:15-16 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Acts 20:22-25 And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. . . . I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.

    Acts 21:4 Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

    Acts 21:10-11 . . . a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ”

    Galatians 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

Ephesians 5:11-14 affirms that God’s purpose for the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, and so on is that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 5:11,14). The role of true prophets is not to pamper, nor to keep people spiritual babes who remain dependent on them, nor inspire them to keep coveting things the heathen crave, but to bring God’s people to maturity and thereby keep them from falling into deception.

In Ezekiel 14 the Lord says what will happen when anyone “separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet to inquire of me . . .” (verse 7). He says, “I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people” (verse 8). The Lord goes on to say that if a prophet is deceived (that’s the word most Bible versions use) and gives a message to such people it is because God himself has deceived the prophet.

Why would God be party to such deception? Because neither the prophet nor the recipients were seeking God with whole-hearted devotion. They did not want truth. They preferred to be deceived, so he let it happen.

Those who seek God with impure motives are unlikely to hear from him. The same applies to prayer:

    Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

For twenty-one other Scriptures along this line, see Deliberate Sin Renders Prayer Useless. On the other hand, a genuine prayer of repentance moves God as profoundly as the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20-32).

I believe being dangerously vulnerable to receiving a deceptive word from God applies to any deliberate sin dominating one’s affections but we have been looking at Ezekiel 14 and it specifically mentions the person who “sets up idols in his heart.” It is perhaps significant that greed is synonymous with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). Philippians 3:19 speaks of those whose “destiny is destruction” whose “god is their stomach.” Their “mind is on earthly things.” Lusting after material or fleshly things makes our hearts particularly liable to deceive us by leaping in agreement whenever we receive a purported word from God along those lines.

It is alarmingly easy to deceive ourselves into supposing we are seeking divine guidance when we are really only seeking to be told we can have what we lust after. We are in dangerous territory if we are only open to hearing what we want to hear.

The Lord deliberately allowed four hundred prophets to prophesy falsely to a king who was not passionate about serving God (2 Chronicles 18:3-19:3). That’s right: four hundred. How’s that for confirmation of a prophetic word! If we are unwilling to submit to words from God that we don’t like, we are exposing ourselves to full-on deception.

* * *

Over and over, the New Testament warns of false prophets infiltrating the church; vicious wolves masquerading as innocent sheep; deceivers with the potential to wreak spiritual havoc on unsuspecting believers. These imposters could be church leaders but lay people are also capable of tearing sheep apart. John Bevere makes the interesting point that Jesus spoke of wolves in sheep’s clothing, not shepherd’s clothing. He cites horrifying accounts of people with highly regarded prophetic ministries who said things in the name of God that sounded like innocent guidance but ended up harming people’s lives.

A dear friend has been so astonishingly hurt by spiritual abuse that I have been truly staggered by how deep and difficult to heal her wounds are. Much of it stemmed from a mother who was narcissistic (I use that term very precisely) and, despite regularly engaging in secret adultery, claimed to be a prophet of God and was accepted as such by her church. Recently, while trying yet again to help my friend, I recalled John Bevere’s book Thus Saith the Lord? How to Know When God is Speaking to You Through Another, Creation House, 1999. Thinking it would be good for her to read, I dug out the book, but before handing it to her I glanced at it, after not having read it for many years. I was hooked. If you have read much of my extensive writings you will know it is most rare for me to quote well known Christians. But although I add some of my own insights, I am amazed and somewhat embarrassed by how often I mention the book in this webpage. In fact, the book is so good that, as helpful as I pray this webpage is, it is no substitute for reading the book and I urge you to read it.

It was initially with reluctance that Bevere commenced this particular book, because his support base is in circles where the very abuses he addresses are commonplace. I honor his courage. He remains convinced that the gifts of the Spirit, as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, and the office of prophet (Ephesians 5) are for today. He warns, however, that serious abuses occur in the name of this gift, even by some highly respected Christian leaders. He is so gentle and respectful that he does not even name any of those in the examples he cites who, despite having a “nationally known prophetic ministry,” gave ‘prophetic’ words that proved wrong and caused great harm in the lives of individuals. (6)

This best seller is so highly regarded from a Pentecostal/Charismatic perspective that it is endorsed by Stephen Strang, the publisher of Charisma magazine – a leading voice for Charismatics and Pentecostals for over thirty years. In fact, he wrote the forward to the book. “While I have been personally blessed by prophetic ministry,” wrote Strang, “and believe it is a valid ministry to the church, I am increasingly alarmed by abuses that are occurring.” (viii)

Those that we must be wary of might not necessarily have bizarre doctrines. They are far more likely to slip under our defenses by having conservative beliefs and widespread acceptance among Christians.

And it is not only those with evil intent who can harm us. Although there is a prophetic ministry “born of the will of the Father” and another “born of flesh and of man” says Bevere, “both are conceived through a genuine desire to fulfill God’s plan and promise.” (4)

2 Timothy 3:13 speaks of people who were not only deceiving others but were themselves being deceived. Although, in this context, the inspired apostle was referring to “evil men and impostors,” good, very spiritual people are capable of being deceived and can hence be convinced they are furthering God’s purposes when they are not.

Consider Simon Peter. As previously alluded to, immediately after saying how highly he had been praised for the spiritual revelation he had received, Scripture records how Peter, moved by the highest motives – love for his Lord – protested at the thought of Jesus suffering. This was so satanically inspired, and seems to have been such a temptation to the one who agonized in Gethsemane, that Jesus retorted, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me . . .” (Matthew 16:23).

Many false prophecies are uttered by good, sincere Christians who are simply a little overconfident in their ability to distinguish between their own feelings/desires/imagination and a revelation from God. Others get a little overzealous and confuse faith with presumption. Good motives and honest mistakes do not protect us from making dangerous mistakes. Some could have a track record of being right 98% of the time but their success is likely to make those on the receiving end of the 2% even more vulnerable to believing their mistakes must truly be from God.

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Cruel Kindness

Some who mishear the heartbeat of God might tear us down not by criticizing us by flattering us.

    Proverbs 26:28  . .   a flattering mouth works ruin.

    Ezekiel 12:24 For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel.

    Jude 16-19 . . . they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Emphasis mine.)

The second half of the previous Scripture might, at least in part, have had this Scripture in focus:

    2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Has that time come?

This Scripture strongly suggests that we get the leadership we deserve. Consider also these Scriptures:

    Isaiah 30:10 They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.”

    Jeremiah 5:31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?

    Jeremiah 29:8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. . . .”

    Micah 2:11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people!(Emphasis mine)

And ponder these:

    2 Peter 2:18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.

    Romans 16:18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

Too many of us have as our life goal not to be good, but to feel good; not to deny ourselves and follow in the steps of the one who embraced pain and sacrificed his all, but to indulge ourselves and follow our lusts.

Are we willing to endure ridicule as we slave away in obscurity for our Lord or are fame, fortune and ease more alluring? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness or do we crave divine approval of us feeding baser desires?

There are those who seek God only because they hope he will be a combination of a sugar daddy, fairy godmother and celestial drug pusher who keeps us on an endless high. Anyone seeking such a counterfeit God might just end up with the counterfeit.

To be itching to hear what we want to hear makes us dangerously vulnerable to deception. If we want an excuse to sin, the Tempter will be only too eager to provide one. Our sole protection is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. Variously referred to as becoming a slave to righteousness, losing or hating your life, being crucified with Christ, dying to self, and so on (Examples), it is what it takes to do any of the following: to obey the most critical commandment (to love God with everything within you), to seek first the kingdom of God, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to make Jesus your Lord, to be a follower or disciple of Jesus, to truly repent. This liberating experience of total surrender involves committing ourselves to doing the will of God no matter how horrifically it might hurt, just like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Put that way, it sounds dreary to the point of insanity, but I’m talking about being willing to trade earth’s plastic for heaven’s gold; of the ecstasy of living a life that is truly worthwhile by devoting yourself to the highest good in the universe and achieving things of eternal significance. This is about being wildly in love with the most astonishing, most beautiful, most important, most intelligent, most exciting and fascinating person in the universe; the one who is always right and always good; the perfect companion; the one you were born for and have always yearned for; the one who believes in you and is sacrificially devoted to maximizing your eternal happiness and is more in love with you than you dare dream.

Emptying ourselves of self creates a vacuum within us that God will fill with himself. Put another way: if we obey the foremost commandment, our heart, soul and mind will be filled with love for God. If so, there is no room left for anything inferior. Just as filling a vessel with water displaces all the air, so loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind displaces all of self. We will rejoice in the Lord always. We will delight to do God’s will. The lure of money, comfort, human companionship, human approval, or anything else will be displaced by a longing to delight our Lord, the one who means everything to us. Whether, like the Apostle Paul, we are slandered, jailed, starved, tortured, or whatever, pleasing the love of our life, not pain-avoidance, will remain our greatest passion. People with such devotion to God – people for whom God is truly their God – are almost impervious to attempts at conning them with phony promises.

* * *

Another matter making us vulnerable to the false, is the tendency of many of us to lose faith in God wanting a personal relationship with us and to revert to seeking human intermediaries. This happened not only in the Roman Catholic church with people praying for saints to intercede for them and believing that only priests could understand the Bible, but among too many of today’s Protestants. Not only do some seek prophets as if God were too snobbish to be their friend and will not speak to them except through a third party, but consider how many people seek other people’s prayers – especially from those who seem to have a healing gift or to be good intercessors – as if their own prayers carry little weight with Almighty God. There is a huge difference between letting others contribute to one’s life and losing faith in one’s own value in God’s eyes and in one’s power to move his heart and hear his whispers. Tragically often, however, this is precisely what seeking the help of others sometimes degenerates into.

The Bible’s teaching on the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) is crystal clear that we should support each other and that we are stronger together. This is not an excuse for spiritual laziness, however, nor for surrendering to deceptive feelings of inferiority. To lose confidence in your own ability to touch God’s heart through prayer and to hear directly from him would be disastrous.

Feeling dependent upon intermediaries between you and God is as tragic and ridiculous as asking someone to eat for you, to go on vacation for you or to marry your sweetheart for you. Your intimacy with God is far too precious to him, and too critical for your own well-being, to try substituting human intermediaries. You thrill God. No one in the universe is more loved of God or more important to him than you. For most of us, this astonishing truth clashes so strongly with our self-image that it keeps slipping from our grasp, and we need constant reminders as to how special we are to God. To help you with this I have poured enormous effort into How Much Does God love Me? Receiving your Personal Revelation of God’s Love for You and all the links there.

Our desperation for spiritual reassurance, encouragement and direction, especially if coupled with lack of confidence in our own ability to hear from God (or, more accurately, doubting the ability/willingness of the Infinite Lord to get through to us) makes us targets not just for profiteering pretenders consciously using cold-reading techniques but victims of sincere Christians with good hearts who are over-zealous in claiming to have a message direct from God.

* * *

Here’s an interesting quote from Brad Jersak:

    I have observed too many ‘prophets’ who act as psychics. They are in the habit of attempting to access others’ minds or other realms independently of God’s leadership. The Christian prophet who tries to scan other people and ‘read their mail’ rather than hearing God’s diagnosis is out of line. The Christian use of psychic power is not prophetic. It is a horizontal version of discernment, complete with the distorted lenses that come from reading man’s heart rather than God’s. These ways are fleshly. . . . A simple test that keeps me honest is the question, ‘Right now, am I reading this person’s heart or am I reading God’s heart?’ This helps me point my spiritual satellite dish in the right direction. (Emphasis Brad’s)

Bevere seems to believe that people can misuse a God-given spiritual gift of being able to discern people’s longings and circumstances. I’m not so sure about a misused gift still being from God but I have no difficulty in believing demons could know things about people that strangers do not. Moreover, I can well imagine someone having a genuine gift from God and demons temporarily or permanently replacing it if the person starts seeking to use it for some form of personal gain. We have already seen how Satan was somehow able to momentarily speak through the apostle Peter even though I see no hint that Peter was sliding into greed or people-pleasing.

In addition to the purely spiritual, however, there are natural abilities that can amaze. Surely the supernatural must be involved when, for example, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 says “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. . . .” Nevertheless, the Word of God does not cram every instance of false prophecy into the same basket.

In Jeremiah 23:30-31, God speaks of “ prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me,” and he adds, “I am against the prophets who wag their own (emphasis mine) tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.’ ” This suggests human efforts to contrive prophetic words. In Jeremiah 23:36 the Lord complains that “every man’s own word becomes his oracle.” Elsewhere, Jeremiah goes as far as calling the words of false prophets “the delusions of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14 and also 23:26). Ezekiel 13:3 speaks of “foolish prophets who follow their own spirit” (emphasis mine). Similarly, Jeremiah 23:16 refers to those who “speak visions from their own minds,” and both Ezekiel 13:2 and 13:17 speak of those who “prophesy out of their own imagination”.

It is unquestionably possible to underrate the role of spiritual factors but it must surely be possible at some point to edge over to the opposite extreme and underrate the role of the natural. Does it matter? Perhaps.

Deliberate deceit is certainly possible and is mentioned in Scripture. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit,” (Jeremiah 6:13, repeated in Jeremiah 8:10, emphasis mine). Zephaniah 3:4 speaks of “arrogant” and “treacherous” prophets.

To impress people with their ‘supernatural’ ability, tricksters have done such things as have a co-conspirator feed them information via a concealed earpiece, hired someone to glean information about people by searching their trash, and so on. It appalls me almost to the point of vomiting that anyone calling himself an evangelist, or whatever, could get so hooked on popularity as to stoop so low as to resort to such blatant deceit to pretend to have a spiritual gift. I have not verified it, so it remains hearsay as far as I’m concerned, but I have heard claims of it happening. I’m more alarmed, however, about natural skills that are so subtle that they deceive not only the recipients of false prophecies but the people who deliver them.

A highly relevant natural ability is often called cold reading. This refers to acting like a Sherlock Holmes in making guesses about strangers based on their appearance, body language, subtle responses to what is said to them, and so on. To this, we can add the skill of speaking in a vague way and saying things that have a high probability of being true. It might be worth your while reading a little about cold reading.

If it is not realized that cold reading is possible, some people might sincerely believe they are growing in faith and developing a spiritual gift when they could, without realizing it, simply be learning a natural skill and getting better and better at it. Today, it has become so commonly believed among Christians that prophesying is learned (by trial and error), along with so little awareness of the destructive power of false prophecies, that mistakes are widely tolerated and, in fact, expected by those in the know.

Some groups conduct seminars, open to everyone, in which paying delegates are taught how to give personal prophecies to each other and are given practice sessions. In an advanced course some actually practice prophesying blindfolded, thus eliminating visual cues. (Why, by the way, should it be regarded as advanced? If the gift is solely about spiritual revelation, why not start blindfolded?)

Does a blindfold eliminate cold reading or merely eliminate visual cues, thus giving people practice in tuning in to non-visual cues and wording things in a way likely to appeal and impress, so that when they are no longer blindfolded they have an increased range of natural skills? I don’t believe such seminars are deliberately trying to con anyone, but could thinking everything must be spiritual make us gullible?

    Side Note: Since I myself have only a vague understanding of cold reading, after writing the above I decided to do five minutes Internet research on the subject. I discovered that Wikipedia’s article on cold reading has a section on what it calls subconscious cold reading. It tells of a former New Ager who confessed to eventually discovering she had developed cold reading skills without intending to or even realizing it. The article goes on to say there are people who have very deliberately learned cold reading skills but after prolonged practice they became so proficient at it as to surprise themselves and to begin to wonder if they really were psychic.

* * *

Your situation is probably far more dramatic, justifiable and devastating than mine – so much as to move you to despise my stupidity regarding the mistake I’m about to confess. I risk this, however, to demonstrate just how vulnerable some of us are.

I’m embarrassed to admit that even without the glitz typically accompanying supposed personal prophecies, I was once sent hurtling into depression when my over-active imagination joined forces with my desperation and an innocent comment by a dear friend that she had an inkling that God was going to do “something special” on my birthday. Not only did my false hopes end up pulverized by the end of that birthday but because my need continued year after year, the damage kept compounding for many more years because I kept thinking maybe it would happen on my next birthday. As I look back, I shake my head at how over-the-top my reaction was, but no matter how false my hopes and how ridiculous all of it was, the pain and disappointment were very real – all because I thought someone might possibly have heard from God over something that to them was inconsequential.

My greatest ever source of pain – and it dragged on for decades – revolved around my not being married. It fueled the above incident and it nearly got me into big trouble on another occasion. Let me explain.

For years, feeling inferior to those who seem to regularly dramatically hear from God, I eagerly sought out every meeting I knew of where famous visiting ministries, in addition to a sermon, might give words from God to several people in the congregation. (The fact that many other people are like I was back then makes it very tempting for ministries to increase their popularity by doing this, even if not led of God to do so.)

I was always overlooked in such meetings. Should I act so out of character as to choose to be rational, me being overlooked is hardly surprising, since there were usually hundreds, or even thousands, of people present, and few personal prophecies were given. Should I choose to be spiritual and add the benefit of hindsight I might conclude that by not being singled out for a personal prophecy (which could easily have been fake) it was the grace of God. Nevertheless, repeatedly missing out kept making me feel more inferior and neglected by God than ever, thus fueling a vicious circle.

My mounting frustration kept escalating to explosive levels. It kept taking more and more effort to fight the temptation to get furious with God for his silence or even to give up on God. But now, looking back, I see the problem was of my own making and I’m reminded of those who tested Jesus’ patience by asking him for a sign (Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:12). Although I had no idea I was doing it, by continually seeking a personal prophecy I was virtually telling my Lord that I refuse to accept biblical revelation about his love unless he confirm it with a supernatural sign. I was calling into question both God’s love and his integrity. Eventually – through re-reading my own writings about God’s love, would you believe – I finally realized what I was doing, stopped looking for extra-biblical confirmation, and found peace.

Anyhow, while in the midst of this, in one such church service I happened to be sitting next to a woman friend who liked me (a rarity, indeed). The visiting pastor with an internationally esteemed prophetic ministry gave a word to just two people: this woman and me. Wow! It had finally happened. He asked us both to stand up and prefaced his prophecy (which I don’t even recall) by saying, “I speak to you as a couple.” My mind seized those words and sped off with them like a starving dog with a bone. Thankfully, I sought him out immediately after the service, or who knows what sort of mess I could have gotten myself into. He said he simply meant he was speaking to both of us, with no hint that God had plans for us as a couple.

Yes, there are people who are even saner than me and it is to these that I dedicate this webpage. Later, however, I will reveal the source of my insanity. It will shock many but will be enlightening, even liberating, to some.

I was not going to mention this, but before moving on I guess I should say that, especially when combined with not having a ministry, my yearning for marriage sometimes left me longing for death. This combination left me almost insanely eager to receive a personal prophecy. And this, in turn, made me far too vulnerable, should a claimed word from God end up not being from God. Thankfully, I had one smidgeon of sanity that kept me from disaster: no matter how ridiculously strong my yearning for marriage was, I remained adamant year after agonizing year that I would rather be tortured to death by that harrowing trial than choose any path that would bring God less glory.

Dying to self truly is important.

* * *

The Core of Prophecy

Some people might be disappointed to hear this, but a true prophet is not primarily a foreteller but God’s mouthpiece:

    Exodus 7:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. . . .”

    Exodus 4: 15-16 You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put words in his mouth . . . He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.

The role of prophets is not to molly-coddle nor to pander to people’s self-interest nor to perpetuate people’s spiritual weaknesses. Their role is to expose and tear out everything displeasing to God; everything contrary to his holiness:

    Jeremiah 1:9-10 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

    Jeremiah 5:14 . . . I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.

    Jeremiah 23:14 And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: . . . They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. . . .

    Isaiah 49:2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword . . .

    Isaiah 58:1 Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.

    Hosea 6:5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.

    Revelation 11:3,5 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy . . . fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. . . .

By briefly quoting most of the Old Testament prophets (including Moses and Samuel) Bevere makes a strong case for concluding that their divine mission was to prick the hearts of their hearers so that they might return to God. He later confirmed this by briefly examining Revelation’s letters to the seven churches, and the ministry of John the Baptist. In the case of the latter, he alluded to the Baptist denouncing materialism (Luke 3:11-14) – not a popular message today!) and to this:

    Luke 3:7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

I don’t, however, recall Bevere mentioning why this prophet was imprisoned and beheaded: he denounced Herod’s sexual impropriety (Matthew 14:3-4; Luke 3:19) – again rarely heard coming from the lips of today’s supposed prophets).

From those who encourage personal prophecies I’ve heard much emphasis on “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Bevere tries hard to convince that this does not mean New Testament prophecy is as wishy washy as those words suggest, but perhaps we should take this next Scripture more seriously than I’ve heard anyone take it:

    1 Corinthians 14:24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all . . . (Emphasis mine)

The Word of God specifically calls Jonah a prophet (2 Kings 14:25) and here’s the most important prophecy of his life: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” (Jonah 3:4). Forty days later, Nineveh was thriving and continued to do so for years! Did this make Jonah a false prophet, or have most of us failed to understand the purpose of genuine prophecy? In The Mysterious Nature of Prophecy I show from Scripture after Scripture that prophetic words from God do not make future events inevitable and were never intended to do so. The Lord gives prophecies with a view to eliciting a response, and whether the events mentioned actually happen hinges on how the recipient responds.

Although at times the Bible’s prophets spoke of future events or declared words to individuals, Bevere concludes that these are but minor components of a prophet’s ministry. Today, he believes, many have slipped to majoring on the minor and some have reduced the sacred gift to fortune telling and, to use my harsher words, even a sideshow to attract an audience of thrill seekers rather than people who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God.

Bevere says that “though the words of flesh may be pleasant to our ears, they will lead us to defilement, destruction, or possibly death. Words of the Spirit, even if initially unpleasant, lead you to the heart of God.” (4) He says that despite him receiving numerous ‘prophetic words,’ only a handful proved to be truly from God and had he heeded many of the others he would have ended up confused and “most likely detoured from the will of God.” (4)

He says that although it is wrong “to be so overly cautious and critical that we reject” messages that are truly from God, “At present I believe we err in Spirit-led circles to the loose acceptance of every word.” (5)

* * *

Safeguards?

Whereas some prophecies are intended for an entire congregation, personal prophecies are meant for an individual. We have been almost exclusively discussing the personal type, and I have a suggestion for the delivery of such prophecies. I ask no one to accept my suggestion but merely to consider whether it might cool the temperature enough to lessen some of the excesses and introduce some safeguards.

Today’s personal prophecies are rarely kept personal but are turned into a public spectacle for people to flout their gift and for recipients to feel publically exalted. Making a show of personal prophecies increases the dangers of onlookers becoming envious and of feeding the egos of both prophet and recipient. On the other extreme, it does not seem ideal for personal prophecies to usually be one-on-one. A degree of accountability and the presence of two or three discerning people is desirable.

If, during a meeting, words for individuals are received, it seems to me safest not to deliver them in the meeting but to ask the individuals to remain after the end of the service and then be taken, one at a time somewhere private where the message is delivered in the presence of the church’s spiritual leader and a few discerning people who are humble but not overawed by anyone renowned for being a prophet. Those evaluating the prophecy should be encouraged to voice any concerns, provisos, clarifications, and so on. If a prophet considers himself too big for such scrutiny, it would make me question both his humility and his confidence that God would confirm the accuracy of his message.

* * *

My Experience

It was only while writing this webpage that I have finally realized what used to drive me to keep seeking a ‘personal’ (not technically personal but via an intermediary) message from God through anyone who seemed to hear from him better than me. I recalled how driven I used to be in seeking this and today I marvel with relief at how that yearning is no longer nagging away within me like a junkie’s craving for a fix. Upon reflection, I felt there must have been something amiss within me during that time of my life and I decided I had better seek God as to what it was, since identifying the source might help others.

It turns out that it only applies to about one percent of Christians, so if you don’t feel led to read the following, that’s fine, provided you are not one of those it applies to.

The answer came, but to explain it I must mention what had until now seemed an unrelated insight I gained years ago. In response to my webpages about coping with guilt feelings, I have had literally hundreds of Christians e-mailing me, obsessing over whether they are really saved/forgiven. They were seeking reassurance from me – some wanted a prophetic word – and although my earnest efforts in citing Scriptures and providing teaching and spiritual counsel could bring them peace for a day or so, nothing would satisfy them for long and they would soon be back seeking still more reassurance. Many were so beside themselves with distress that they felt so suicidal over it that only their fear of hell was keeping them alive. Deep compassion for the obvious agony they were in moved me to keep praying and pouring years into writing more and more and more webpages on the subject. If those webpages were made into a book it would be quite a large one.

It took me years to finally learn what peculiar phenomenon was firing these people’s never-ending need for a supernatural sign from God and reassurance from a respected Christian ministry to confirm that all the Scriptures I cited actually applied to them and they truly were forgiven.

Since I’ve never entertained the slightest doubt about the power of the cross to cleanse from any sin every person who puts their faith in Jesus, I saw no connection with my longing to receive personal prophecies. In my case, my weakness was feeling very insecure when it comes to believing I am special to God and it was this that kept driving me to seek out people who might give me some special confirmation that I was more than one of millions to God. For me, such confirmation was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – a rainbow that forever receded if ever I got closer to it.

Prepare to be shocked as I explain the rarely-understood reason why some people, no matter how much they pray, study the Word and seek God, never find the reassurance they crave and are solely tempted to forever seek a supernatural word from God, like a dog chasing its tail.

It’s no wonder it took me so long to find the underlying cause of people endlessly seeking assurance of salvation because I kept expecting the reason to be spiritual, when it is essentially not spiritual (although, of course, it can have serious spiritual implications). Yes, anti-God spiritual forces might exploit the weakness but the continual craving for assurance from a human spiritual authority and/or supernatural confirmation is typically driven by a medical/psychological abnormality.

To help overcome your understandable skepticism, let me quote (with his permission) a bewildered pastor who e-mailed me describing how deep this problem gets:

    I have been seeking to help a man. His father was a pastor and he has been in church much of his life. He thinks he has lost his salvation and that he has worn out the grace of God. He lives in constant terror, with nightmares all night long, waking and going outside to plead with God. He considers he is completely separated from the love and grace of God and that he is under God’s condemnation.

    The problem is that this keeps continuing, despite the fact that after a half hour of going over Scriptures with him he feels much better, will praise the Lord, will say, “I get it,” and has a complete change in attitude and outlook. This has been happening a few times a week for over a year.

    I have also had someone from Neil Anderson ministries work with him. [Anderson strongly believes in the demonic, so I presume this was explored.] We spent five continuous hours in deep Scriptural therapy and prayer with the man with this problem and he was an active participant throughout the whole counselling session. He has also sought help from many other avenues. All of this has ended up doing zero good. Within a half hour of any counsel and any help of any kind he is right back to where he was, and possibly even worse. Help!!!!

The primary cause of such behavior is an unnaturally high level of anxiety, due not to some spiritual deficiency but a medical condition. To take from what I have written elsewhere about this:

    Anxiety acts as an alarm that goes off within us indicating that something is seriously wrong and causing our brain to keep seeking the reason so that it can be corrected. Clinical Anxiety, however, means that the anxiety is driven not by a rational reason for concern but by a chemical imbalance.

    When, for example, a fire alarm goes off, it sounds the same regardless of whether it were triggered by an actual fire or by a technical malfunction. Since a false alarm sounds exactly the same as when it is triggered by genuine danger, it is very tempting to feel disturbed about the alarm continuing, even when you have checked and confirmed that there is no danger. So it is with anxiety. Unfortunately, for as long as someone suffers from this disorder he will just have to keep reminding himself that it is a false alarm and get used to it blaring and being unpleasant and refuse to treat it as if it were real.

    It’s easy for observers to be like a couch potato advising a sport star and glibly say, “Just keep on believing” – and this is what one must do – but this affliction hits only a tiny fraction of the population and the rest have no conception of what a stupendous battle it is to maintain faith when the inner alarm keeps blaring and everything within the person keeps incessantly screaming that there must be a serious problem.

    For those with Clinical Anxiety, living by raw faith is so much harder than for other people, but it is like a coach making his star athlete engage in much heavier training than others – it will end up making him stronger than others, even though in the midst of tough training sessions he will seem much weaker than those who are lazing around. It is like a runner lugging heavy weights on his back – it feels as if it is weakening him but it will actually end up making him stronger as he keeps struggling on.

    Here’s what I have to tell people who keep seeking assurance of salvation or keep finding new scriptures etc to worry about:

    I am desperate to help you, dear friend, but despite what one might expect, my very many years of experience with hundreds of Christians asking such questions has proved over and over that answering your questions will not end up helping you.

    Your questions will end up being literally endless. This is the nature of the tricks your mind is playing on you. You will never feel sure, no matter what experiences you have (angelic visitations or whatever) and no matter how well you know God. It is obvious from your questions that you suffer from excess anxiety – a medical condition – and this anxiety will remain no matter what I say or anyone else says. So, unfortunately, the unavoidable fact is that I would be wasting your time and mine answering your questions. You will feel sure that an answer will give you peace – and it might for a day or so – but the doubts will then start up again. So what you need is not a sign from God or answers to your questions but an understanding of the real source of your anxiety – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

    OCD is called the doubting disease and it goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths. Your OCD takes a religious form but to understand it, consider someone who checks locks over and over because of OCD. He locks the door and is sure it is locked. Then in just a couple of minutes’ time he begins wondering if he really locked it. The doubt grows until, rather than put up with the doubt, he decides to ‘put his mind at rest’ by checking. Phew! It’s locked. He is now at peace and can get on with life. But then in a couple more minutes he begins to wonder if maybe the door had not been correctly locked. He puts up with that nagging thought for a while but the worry grows stronger and stronger until he is again convinced that the only hope he has of finding peace is to check all the locks. It would only take one check and then he would be really sure and will never have to check again that night. He checks and feels so much better. Then a couple of minutes later . . .

    What feeds this ridiculous addiction to checking is that checking temporarily feels good because it relieves all the anxiety. But like all addictions, the good feeling is short lived and it just inflames the yearning for more. The only way to break this addiction – and any other addiction – is to stop feeding the habit – refusing to ease the anxiety by seeking reassurance that everything is okay.

    People whose OCD focuses on religion, rather than on locks, will keep seeking reassurance over and over but no matter how often they ask and what convincing proof they receive, doubts will quickly return.

    To reassure someone with OCD is like buying drugs for an addict when what is needed is for the addict to simply endure the craving for drugs because giving him the drug will give no more than temporary relief and it will then end up increasing the craving. You simply have to accept as a fact of life that you will be repeatedly harassed by doubts, fears, anxiety, guilt feelings, etc, and learn not to believe them, no matter how convincing they feel.

    The only permanent help is to seek medical help (in itself this will not be a complete cure but it can help) plus break the addiction to seeking assurance. Like the breaking of any addiction, this will be agonizingly tough and there will be severe withdrawal symptoms – anxiety – but every time you give in, it will strengthen the addiction. You simply have to hold out, putting up with anxiety and refusing to relieve it. Eventually – after days or weeks – the anxiety will begin to fade, but do not expect it to disappear.

I’m so pleased to be free from my previous yearning for a ‘word from God.’ I refuse to accept that I need it in order to confirm that God has good plans for me and that he is as single-mindedly devoted to me as I am to him. My anxiety disorder continues and it is unpleasant but it now focuses on largely non-spiritual things, not on craving prophetic words from God.

Why does God allow Christians to have anxiety disorders? For the same reason God does everything: because it is the wisest, most loving thing he can do. It is in both God’s interest and that of those afflicted by these trials. He allows it for the same reason that top athletic coaches and trainers of elite soldiers put the people they believe in through training so tough and arduous that in the midst of it the champions in the making look and feel pathetically weak. There is nothing more powerful in building genuine faith and spiritual strength into a person’s life. Physically, an easy life never produces champions. It leaves people weak and flabby. The same is true spiritually.

* * *

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line: toughen up. The way to spiritual greatness is to stop wanting God to keep you spiritually flabby by babying you with spiritual signs and stroking your ego with prophetic words. Instead of wanting God to assure you all the time, trust his silences to be filled with as much love and wisdom as his words.

Rather than seeking ego-boosting words that claim to be prophetic and solely for you, be truly wise and welcome divine correction.

We need to respond as favorably to rebukes as King David did to Nathan the prophet when he exposed his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-14).

“Test everything. Hold on to the good,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

* * *

Related Pages

More About Spiritual Abuse

The Mysterious Nature of Prophecy

When Everything Seems to Say God Lies & Breaks Promises

Truth: An Awesome Responsibility

Peace, Contentment, Fulfillment: The Christianity that Most Christians have Missed

Forgotten Christian Secrets of Prosperity

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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2016, 2017. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

 

 

Christians Burned by Fake Personal Prophecies

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Grantley Morris 

 

 
 

 

 



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John Bevere: Thus Saith the Lord? Book Review