The gift of prophecy is a helpful, edifying tool for the church. When we hear God’s heart for us, expressed through another flesh & blood person, it can encourage us, inspire us, sharpen our focus and help us course-correct when necessary. We can all—or should learn to—hear God for ourselves but this doesn’t negate the benefit of prophecy shared within a community.
Tragically, the prophetic ministry is often abused. I know people who have experienced their private sins being called out in public, or being told specific, prescriptive things that they should do in order to please God. This is not how the gift is meant to be used. See my article, “What to do with prophetic words” for a good primer.
Whether God has promised you something directly or through a prophetic word from another, one thing many of us struggle with is what to believe when the promise does not come to pass. Did we hear things wrong? Did we mess something up? Has our sin blocked God’s blessing in our lives?
It can certainly be confusing and heartbreaking. In my observation there are three things to consider:
You misheard God.
It hasn’t happened yet.
Here’s a scenario you might be familiar with: Wolfric meets Diana at a party and they have a fun evening. They get to know one another over the next few weeks and he quickly becomes infatuated with her. He’d like to marry this woman, he thinks, so he seeks the Lord’s guidance and hear’s something like the following, “Wolfric, my son, I love you and am proud of you. I have brought Diana into your life. She will challenge you and bring up insecurities in your heart. I want you to work on these things, so that you can be a good husband to her.”
Wolfric is very excited and seriously pursues the relationship. After 3 months of dating, Diana decides Wolfric isn’t what she’s looking for and she breaks up with him. Heartbroken and confused, he cries out, “Lord, I thought you said we would be married?”
This sort of thing happens all the time and it’s a really common mistake people make in learning to hear God’s voice: we focus on the outcomes rather than the journey. We don’t know whether God truly did bring Diana into Wolfric’s life or not but we should know that God is always inviting us to deal with our insecurities. Wolfric had made Diana into something of an obsession, and so he heard God’s voice through the context of his obsession. When we have made someone or some situation into an idol, we often hear God filtered through that idol.
Here’s a story from the Book of Ezekiel:
Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’ - Ezekiel 14:1-5
If we have an idol in our hearts that obscures us from seeing God clearly, he doesn’t stop speaking but we often hear him through the idol. He allows this so that we might continue walking on the path towards him. Dealing with his insecurities would have been a good thing for Wolfric to do, regardless of Diana’s involvement.
Diana grew up in a small town. She sensed the prompting of God to move to the big city, so she said goodbye to her friends and family, packed up her stuff, and moved to the big smoke. In the city she tried out a bunch of things that she didn’t have access to back home. She became quite a good photographer, among other things. She met Wolfric and they dated for a while. By the end of two years in the city, with many trials and tribulations along the way, she had learned many things about herself. She was at a crossroads: she could continue living in the big city, return home, or follow her passion for photography and move abroad. She enjoyed her time with Wolfric, but felt that they were moving in different directions. She decided to return home for a short while, and then go abroad.
We are all blessed with free will. God led Diana to the big city where she discovered the beauty of her own passions and creativity (likely God’s plan all along) and she chose to pursue those away from the big city. Did that mean she had heard God wrong about going to the city? Not at all. She was free to choose to adapt to the circumstances around her. It’s quite possible that God directed Wolfric into Diana’s life to aid her in her journey of self-discovery, but even if he did, that doesn’t mean she’s stuck with him or has to follow any specific course of action.
It hasn’t happened yet
Most of us have a strong tendency towards impatience. God says something is going to happen and we want it now. But the vehicle that delivers God’s promises is very often labeled waiting and suffering. What takes place in our character while we await the fufilment of the prophetic word is usually the reward itself. Keep waiting. And while you wait, learn to keep your heart sweet and free from bitterness. I wrote a book all about the subject, it’s called You Are The Solution to Someone’s Problem: Finding Meaning and Purpose When you Feel Passed Over. It’s available for free right here.
Here’s one last story and it’s personal. I spent years holding on to a prophetic word about a specific promotion I wanted. I felt deep in my gut that this would come to pass and I had received many confirmations from other people. I was unshakeably confident. Finally, I learned that I was in the running for the job. I felt excited and ready. When I learned that I did not get the job, I was… surprisingly at peace. The role had gone to a good friend and I knew that he was a fantastic choice. As time moved on, I felt more and more relieved that I had not been chosen for the job. Eventually I left the organization and pursued an entirely different career path, one that I can now see is so much more suited to me than the job I desperately wanted.
God came to give us life and life more abundantly. Whatever stage you’re in, if you’re awaiting the fulfillment of promises in your life, I know how you feel and my heart holds compassion for you. God also knows how it feels and his heart overflows with love for you. He eagerly awaits the right time for your promises to be made real. His love towards you is not based on your behaviour but his behaviour. You are not the foundation of his love or his promises for you. Take heart. You are in the centre of his gaze and the centre of his hand and his intentions towards you are good. Find a perspective that allows you to be joyous, thankful and productive while you wait patiently and expectantly for the fulfilment of your prophetic words.