In the last decade, I have encountered a few times various churches trying to teach their congregations to prophesy by using props.
A particular favourite amongst some churches is to look at a range of photos or postcards, and either select the one that stands out to you the most, or study the one you’ve been given to find out what God is saying to you. The idea is that they’re teaching people to listen for messages from God using what’s around them.
I struggle every time with this concept because I just can’t shake off the similarity to New Age practices of card reading to get messages from the other world.
Is this method compatible with scripture to try prophesying to each other in a congregation? Has anyone seen this done well?
This is a deep issue for me that I’ve been wrestling with for a few years now. I’ve looked back at a previous conversation about ‘teaching’ the skill of prophecy to remind myself what was previously discussed. The idea of ‘teaching’ to people what should be a gift from God is covered well in that discussion. So I’m just looking for insight on using this method in church at all, even amongst those who have an established prophetic gifting. I must admit I’m always on high alert with these practices so feel free to tell me to chill about it if necessary
Hi @alison ,
Thank you for this question. As we dont see a precedent for this practice in scripture, I am curious what scriptures are being used to justify the practice of props? Also, what is their position on the requirement of truth in prophecy in the new covenant?
@alison I think you are right to be concerned about this practice. First I want to answer the question from the title of your post. I read in Ezekiel about how he used props and then in Acts 21:10-11 Agabus used Paul’s belt as a prop to demonstrate the prophecy he was speaking. In those instances The Holy Spirit moved in the prophet and the prophet obeyed and acted it out.
However, the question I read in your post is about a church teaching people to look at things and derive a prophetic message from them. I think this second approach is backward from the biblical example.
A word of prophecy is a word from God and as such is initiated by God. Jeremiah described it as fire shut up in his bones and he can’t hold it in (Jer 20:9). So, I would think that a true prophet or a true gift of prophecy given by the will of the Lord does not require any studying of an object in order to be initiated.
At least that is my understanding from scripture and even my own experience with prophecy. A prophet of God is zealous to represent the character of God accurately. I might offer that as a test for these “prophecy” practices. What does this activity say about the character of God? Is he obligated to speak because a man has focused his attention on a thing? Are just a few questions that come to mind.
Thanks @lakshmi and @chris for sharing your thoughts.
This is something I’ve not heard teaching on other than a general “it’s ok to make mistakes as you learn to practise prophecy”. Whilst I think there must be some grace for people starting out in using their prophetic gifting, I feel worried that we’re approaching prophecy with a fairly flippant attitude. I find there’s a disconnect between us acting as mouthpieces of the Living God and yet being fairly carefree when it comes to accuracy or inaccuracy. My other thoughts with this postcard practice, is that it’s fairly subjective. I suspect I could make many pictures ‘say’ something to me if I looked for a personal meaning from them.
You’re right, these props were used to demonstrate a message that God had already given the prophets. They were not being used to derive a message in and of themselves. That’s a really helpful observation, thanks.
I must admit that quite often the ‘prophecies’ from such activities deliver very nice things that usually don’t contradict what we know of God from reading scripture. They’re nearly always encouraging and upbuilding. However, they’re also quite often general and probably not anything that could not already be found in scripture. As I write this I have a growing sense that we should be encouraging people to use scripture to build one another up as they develop their prophetic giftings. Out of this will be a more secure boundary for developing the ability to really hear from God to speak into the lives of others.
I’m trying hard to see God’s heart on all this. As we know, He can speak through anything, including this postcard practice. I realise it’s a vulnerable area for me so I may be overly cynical which I hope God deals with. However, it is disconcerting for me when I sit in a meeting where this is being taught to a whole congregation and there’s no opportunity to raise questions. I appreciate the viewpoints shared here.
Hi, all! @alison, I’m very fascinated but this. But to be clear, in this ‘practice’ exercise, are they wanting you to have someone else in mind, then find an image that speaks to you, then relay how God speaks to you for the other??
I haven’t come across this in my Christian upbringing since Reformed folks tend to be highly skeptical about this kind of practice. However, I have come across what’s referred to as ‘image work’ in my counselling training. But that’s less about interpreting images for others for their own lives. It’s more of a personal engagement for yourself. There is also a strand in Celtic spirituality that works similarly with images, but, again, I believe it to be less about engaging with things for others…without daring to speak for God.
The two times I’ve been in a congregation where this has happened was that we were looking at a postcard for ourselves. We were encouraged to hear God through the image for ourselves. This is why I find it so subjective - of course we could find a message that fits some circumstance or other in our life, because we already know the circumstances!
I’m interested in what you said about Celtic Christianity doing something like this. Can you share any more on this?
@alison, I wonder if I used the right word when is said “character”. My intent behind the proposed “test” included the idea that God is not subservient to man’s imagination. I don’t know what the best word would be, but maybe person would be better. Making the test, “What does this activity say about the person of God? ” Include in that question about his personhood God’s character and God’s lordship along with other attributes that the Spirit brings to mind.
I think that’s also the point. Trust the Spirit that’s in you. He’s is able to keep you and guide you. I’ve been in services where it got weird and I could tell the Spirit was troubled within me, even though I couldn’t articulate what was causing the troubling until I had time to pray and study, or ask questions like you did.
Coincidentally enough though is I listened to Alisa Childers interview with Holly Pivec and Dr Doug Geivett about the NAR this past weekend and I think it speaks a little to your question. Maybe not directly though. Bethel Redding & Modern Apostles: A Biblical Analysis - YouTube
Hi @chris , yes I listened to that podcast episode last week too and was able to share it with a couple of people. I think it is a helpful way to help others see the bigger NAR picture so that they can understand why some practices are concerning. Most people around me are completely unaware it seems. That episode was a good overview of some of the worrying aspects of the movement.
Ah yes this is a helpful way to look at things and check to see if our expectations are in line with scripture. Thanks, I’ll bear that in mind if I experience anything like this again, or if conversations with friends at church arise on this topic.
So, I needed to go back and find the article on Celtic Christianity that prompted my thoughts in my previous post. Turns out, I think I was mistaken. The author of the article is working on his PhD on the psychotherapeutic role of Celtic Christian spirituality, and, at one point, he had written a separate about the value of collage work for bringing out soul imagery for interaction in psychotherapy. So perhaps I am mistaken in asserting that there is a set process for using images in Celtic Christianity.
That’s not to say that images are not important! They can be incredibly informative and allow for engagement on a deeper level than mere words. My thought is that if images are ‘speaking’ to you, then the voice is meant to be dialoged with. It needn’t be conflated with the Holy Spirit. Though, of course, the Triune God can communicate with us.
Can I actually ask for a clarification on what ‘prophecy’ means in your particular context? It it a mere speaking for/on behalf of God? Or is it learning to listen to God? Coming from a cessationist strand of Christianity, I don’t have much concept of prophecy in today’s world.
Thanks for looking into the Celtic art anyway!
This is how my church would define it: the ability God gives to an individual to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through divinely anointed words. It can be communicated directly from God, through thoughts, impressions, pictures, dreams, circumstances, words & phrases, scripture, music and art. I think my church would exhort the study of scripture in the first place. Then they would ensure people know how to weigh up prophecy as the Bible directs us. It must always align with scripture, it will encourage, strengthen, edify and comfort the receiver, it will not undermine faith or bring bondage to fear, and it must be verifiable and specific. In this case, prophecy is rarely predictive which would need to be confirmed by multiple sources.
I get a bit confused, because the gift of ‘words of knowledge’ is also talked about. I get the impression that this is different to prophecy but the description I’ve given above would fit many words of knowledge too. Perhaps someone else can weigh on this?
Anyway, does this help illustrate the context a bit?
It does help tremendously, thank you! It also helps me understand a bit more of the Reformed approach to preaching. If I’m recalling correctly, I believe I have heard it said that the office of minister/preacher is the only ‘prophetic’ office the church has left after the cessation of certain spiritual gifts. I don’t agree, but it makes sense in light of your definition.
But, back to your original postings, the use of props in this feels forced but not necessarily wrong. Though, perhaps, it’s the forced nature that feels wrong more so than the use of props. (As you originally posted this 3 weeks ago, you’ve probably already come to this conclusion and moved on!)
To go to a prop in order to receive a message via it does feel rather New Age-ish. But to engage with images or music or movement in certain contexts (like reflective retreats, psychotherapy, process groups, etc.) can give our various “voices” – and even the Holy Spirit – space to breathe and speak. But, in my logic, the message has to be for the receiver first. If they are going to pass it along, there are elements that must also sink into their own hearts.
All this to say, I share a discomfort with you in this. Have you been able to dive more into this with church leadership? Would be curious to hear of some of the fruits of your discussion!
New Age practices have crept into the church over recent decades. The church has become all inclusive. Using cards or any tools to tell the future is akin to spiritism. Are the prophetic images one recieves the result of spiritual influences ?. I wonder. Spiritism, divination and necromancy are strictly forbidden by the Bible. I am deeply suspicious of any prophetic practice that relies on tools and devices.