“So, what do you do with ‘Big Words’?”
I began formulating an answer and said, “Well first…,”
“You put it on the shelf,” he interrupted.
Ah. There it was. A phrase so common to those familiar with the prophetic that it has become a part of that language known as Christianese. This phrase embodies a deeply ingrained attitude towards the prophetic word that assumes an appearance of wisdom. But what is this wisdom? And is it wise?
A prophetic word, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:3, is given to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. A prophetic word can bring counsel, wisdom, clarity, instruction, discipline, and direction as well. Paul also warns us in 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. In 1 Corinthians 13:9 Paul also tells us that we now know in part and we prophecy in part. We should understand that there are limitations to the prophetic that we must live with. Prophetic words are often partial and require further unfolding, revelation, and time to play out.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned about prophetic words is something that Murray Dueck, teacher and founder of the Samuel’s Mantle Prophetic School, once taught me:
The prophetic is not as much about revelation as it is about invitation.
The Holy Spirit gives prophetic words to us in order to cause us to seek God. They are meant to draw us into deeper relationship with our Father, for no prophetic word can be walked out in its fullness without walking its journey with Jesus. If prophecy is given in part how will we discover the part(s) that we need yet to discover? The invitation contained in each prophetic word is to discover more of what Jesus is saying to us by connecting with the very giver and source of the word. As Revelation 19:10 tells us …Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
The common response to prophetic words is to hear and receive them in the following manner: Amen. Put it on the shelf.
Let’s translate that response so that it is a little clearer.
Amen: We know and have experienced enough of the prophetic to believe that the gift is real, so we accept that something prophetic has been said to us.
Put it on the shelf: We have also learned that the fulfillment of prophetic words cannot be accomplished by our own efforts. They cannot be rushed or forced to come to pass before God accomplishes their fulfillment according to his will.
By setting words on the ‘shelf’ we believe that we are avoiding this pitfall, which leads to frustration and disappointment. So, on the surface there seems to be something wise in loading up the shelf with our prophetic words. But, underlying this wisdom are some problems.
First, is that it is rooted in the fear that we will be disappointed, that the word will go unfulfilled. We use the shelf as a way to insulate ourselves from this outcome and to protect ourselves. This fear reveals that in our hearts we do not trust that Jesus is both able and committed to accomplishing the promises he makes to us. We fear that either the words we have received are inaccurate or that we will not live up to some standard we feel is required in order to have such prophetic words fulfilled.
Second, the shelf is a place of unbelief. If we genuinely believe in the gift of prophecy we must approach it with faith, as well as wisdom and discernment. To simply put it aside and ignore it requires no response on our part, and thus no faith.
Third, the shelf is where we put things and forget them. As time passes, words stored on the shelf fade from memory. They become something that sits in the background of our spiritual lives having little or no effect on our faith, our lives, or our relationship with Jesus.
Underlying the shelf is the stark reality that we do not value the prophetic words we are given. We risk treating prophetic words with contempt by ultimately disregarding them, that which Paul has warned us against not doing. We also risk not testing the words and holding on to that which is good. Instead, we store them away and let them gather dust. How sobering is it that Paul equates such contempt for the prophetic with quenching the Spirit’s fire!
One potential consequence of using the shelf can be seen in Proverbs 13:12: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. With each prophetic word comes a seed of hope; a hope in the word of Jesus to us; a hope that the good things that he has spoken to us by revelation will be fulfilled. All seeds must be cared for in order to grow into what they are meant to be. They must be watered, planted in good soil, get enough sunlight etc… Too often we treat prophetic words as inevitable events, and we do not respond to the invitation they imply. Because we tend to put them into storage on a spiritual shelf, we ourselves create the potential condition described in the first part of the above verse. If there is a seed of hope in the words we are given, we delay its growth and fulfillment by using the shelf. Our hearts become sick with disappointment, frustration, and even worse, bitterness. We begin to see that the shelf is not a wise place at all to put our prophetic words. There they sit unheeded, devalued, and gathering dust, instead of becoming trees that give life when they are fulfilled.
Let us return to the conversation between my friend and I, and let me suggest what I feel is a better response.
“You put it on the shelf,” he interrupted.
“No!” I replied, pounding my fist on the coffee shop table.
“Well, what do you do then?”
“First, burn your shelf,” I told him.
“Burn it until it is nothing but ashes,” I affirmed.
This is the first step. We need to turn away from this response and change the way we receive prophetic words. Prophetic words are immensely valuable and ought to be treated as treasures. They are powerful, for they can avert disasters in our lives, they can give us the wisdom necessary to deal with difficult situations, they can be the counsel that helps us to make right decisions, they can confirm what we have felt the Lord already might be saying to us, they can even change lives entirely and convince those who do not know Jesus that he is alive and loves them. They are given to us because God loves us and they are gifts from his very heart. They do not belong on a shelf.
I was once given a prophetic word, some years ago now, by a trusted friend who is one of the most gifted prophetic men that I know. It was a ‘Big Word’ that I would have most likely discounted if it had not come from him. I share it here hesitantly, but I want to show that I am familiar with the issues at hand, there are reasons why I have thought about this particular subject. My friend began to pray for me and said “Eric, the Lord has given you a significant anointing. He says that you will be like C.S Lewis. You are a deep thinker and you will write things like he did, both stories and teachings that will effect the church and the world.”
Big Words? You bet. My initial response was, of course, Are you crazy? What do you say to something like that? How do you even begin to respond? Well, I responded in my spirit in the only way that I knew how at that time. I took it to the shelf. What else could I do? But before I could put it down, and feel safely relieved, I felt Holy Spirit say “Don’t you dare do that!” So I froze, and I asked,
“Okay. What do I do with this then?”
“You treasure it,” he whispered back.
So, after some pondering I decided to do as he said and I asked if he would give me a treasure chest in heaven to put the word in. He did, and this changed the way I responded to the prophetic from that day forward.
Step two then, after ridding yourself of the shelf, is to ask Jesus for a treasure chest, or some other symbol that for you means treasure, and begin keeping your words there. I have many treasures there now. I keep a record in my journal of words given to me, so that I will not only avoid forgetting them, but also so I can revisit them. When I do, I open my treasure chest and I invite Jesus to look at them with me; to speak to me about them. How are they coming along? What is the good in them? Are there any that need clarification? Even, are there any that don’t belong?
In this way we are not only valuing and treasuring what he has spoken, but we answer the invitation to be with him in walking the journey of these words out. We experience more freely the hope words are meant to impart to us. We move to a place where we will see the tree of life that will arise as words, both ‘Big’ and small, are fulfilled. By treasuring Jesus’ words to us we act in faith and we express our belief that he is absolutely trustworthy. The result of such trust is described in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
I hope you are convinced to some degree that prophetic words are not shelf ornaments, but are great treasures.
Eric H Janzen
Next week- New article from Murray Dueck