Ask prophets follow-up questions.

Hypothetical situation here. Let’s say you’re having lunch with a friend, and the friend gets a phone call mid-lunch, and has to take it; it’s someone important. So you eat while your friend gabs on the phone a bit. Then your friend hangs up. “Sorry about that,” she says. “By the way he says hi, and wanted to tell you something.”

“Okay,” you say, “let’s hear it.”

“He says he knows you have a presentation coming up, and it’s gonna go really well, but he wants you to make sure you don’t wear something that’ll offend the client.”

“Like what?” you say. You already know better than to wear your “It’s not drinking alone if your dog is with you” T-shirt to such meetings.

“I dunno. Something offensive, I guess.”

“Can you call or text him back and get specifics?”

Now let’s change this story ever so slightly. ’Cause duh, it’s a parable. The friend is a prophet, and the important guy on the phone is the Holy Spirit. (You’re still you.) Unlike a phone, you never hang up; the Spirit’s still there, in the room, listening to this conversation, and knows what your question is. He can answer it, y’know. In my experience he usually will.

Yet what do we Christians usually do? Well, for whatever weird reason, we don’t ask follow-up questions. We just sit there and muddle through what the Spirit meant, confused. As if the Holy Spirit is the author of confusion.

Um… you can ask follow-up questions, y’know. God’s okay with questions. In many cases he’s trying to provoke questions. He wants a relationship with us, and relationships involve a little give-and-take. Not just him giving, us taking, and us figuring our relationship is unidirectional—in either direction.

Instead we treat God’s opening statement as if it’s a decree handed down, and the heavens have closed back up behind it. We figure, “Well I’m not entirely sure what to do with that; I guess I’ll pray on it…” and let it bug us for the next day or so, and generate anxiety instead of peace. Or, more commonly, we forget all about it, because vague statements don’t really make an impact on us… plus we’re not so sure it’s even God anyway.

Of course I’m saying we should stop doing this.

Not open for discussion?

Part of the reason Christians let these half-prophecies go, is we presume the Spirit’s not interested in giving us any more revelation than that. He’s said his piece; he’s done; he’s moved on. Trust his word and follow him. Or don’t, and see where that gets you.

Sometimes it’s because we were raised with bad examples, and presume the Spirit’s the same way. My dad would order me to do things. I’d try to talk him out of it. He’d punish me for daring to question him. He wanted no challenges, no talkback, no “sassing”; he wanted blind obedience. If I made the mistake of confusing Dad’s parenting skills with the Holy Spirit’s, man alive would I have a dysfunctional relationship with God. Yet that’s kinda what we have all over Christendom: People who don’t realize the Spirit is patient, kind, and gracious, because none of their other authority figures exhibit this behavior.

So it’s how we see his messages. They’re not discussions God wants to have with us; they’re decrees. Orders. Commands. Laws. “Thus saith the LORD,” saith the LORD, and because God has spoken, we need to put our hand over our mouth Job-style Jb 40.4 and do as he says. We need to accept his decree without question. ’Cause questions challenge his authority, and you remember how God used to smite rebels in the Old Testament? Don’t want that to happen, do we?

Hence the popular Christian saying, “God said it, I believe it; that settles it.” And Christians’ll apply it to prophecy as well. God said it, so we’d better accept or do it. Don’t ask questions. Don’t talk back. Just say “Yes sir!” and obey.

Contrary, of course, to the scriptures.

When the LORD informed Moses he was gonna smite the Hebrews over their calf-worship, Moses didn’t respond, “Yes sir; they totally deserve it.” Moses actually talked him out of it. Ex 32.10-14 When the LORD showed Amos he was gonna destroy Israeli crops with locusts, or set the land on fire, Amos actually talked him out of both plagues. Am 7.1-6 When the LORD instructed Ezekiel to eat “Ezekiel bread” cooked over his own feces, Ezekiel objected—it’s not just disgusting, but ritually unclean—so God relented. Ek 4.12-15

These are hardly the only instances of people talking God out of things in the bible. These are, as overly strict parents would describe it, “challenges to authority,” never to be countenanced with them. But God not only takes it, he wants it. I would argue he deliberately said something extreme just to get his prophets to respond, “Hey, waitaminnit!”

Y’see, the reason parents and bosses refuse to accept any “backtalk” and questions, is because they don’t actually have very much power. Like we learned in our political science classes, rulers govern only by the consent of the governed. Despots don’t want us to ever realize this, so they clamp down hard. Strictness and mercilessness is a sign of insecurity. The more strict, the less secure; the more terrified the authority is we’ll see right through them, and their authority will crumble to dust.

But God’s sovereignty has nothing whatsoever to do with consent. He’s almighty whether we agree with him or not. He’s Lord, and every knee will bow to him, whether we obey him or not. Hence our human challenges to an omnipotent deity are laughable. They’re like an ant defying an elephant. We’re no threat to God’s authority in the slightest. He doesn’t fear us; he loves us.

And like I said, God encourages our responses. He loves the give-and-take when his kids feel free to talk with him. He regularly allows us to talk him into things—through our prayer requests. And yes, this also means he’ll let us talk him out of things. Don’t like a prophecy you got from him? Tell him so. Try to make him see things your way. (Although 999,999,999 times out of a billion, he’s gonna wind up changing your mind.)

So when we’re given a prophecy we struggle to understand, or think is too much, or too hard, God is totally fine with us trying to negotiate. If he’s not gonna change his mind, he’ll say so. If he might change his mind, he’ll say so. He’s all right with it.

And he’s fine with us relaying these questions and concerns through his prophets. Thing is, the prophets might not be fine with it. Particularly when they’re fakes.

Questioning prophets and catching fakes.

A true, legitimate prophet is like that friend on the phone with an important person: They might not do the best job of forwarding a message, but they did hear a message, ’cause there was someone on the phone. Whereas a fake prophet is like a friend pretending there’s someone on the phone, but they’re talking to no one, and just messing with you. Sometimes for fun. Sometimes to con you out of something.

When someone’s faking a phone call, we can usually find this out by asking a few basic, natural questions. Most of the time, all we need to do is ask for details. What specifically did he say, word for word? What’d he sound like? Where’s he calling from? What’d he tell you the last time he called? How often did he call? Some con artists have gone to the time and trouble to create elaborate backstories and can lie convincingly… but they haven’t covered every potential random question we can come up with, and that’s how professional investigators tend to catch ’em.

Our problem is the average Christian does no such thing. We sit there and accept the message. The prophets, both real and fake, declare what they’re gonna declare, then move along, and we never follow up. We don’t ask for details. We never ask for explanations.

You realize we’re supposed to test prophecies. 1Th 5.20-21 But we don’t wanna be disruptive, or rude, or sound like we’re accusing them of anything, or sound like we don’t trust them—even when we totally don’t! So we let things slide, and never find out whether there’s anything to these prophecies or these prophets.

Don’t do that. If you have questions, now’s the time to ask them. If the prophet has God on the line, speak up!

If this is a real prophet, they have no problem with taking questions. Like I said, they may stumble over the answers. But they’ll get answers.

Whereas a fake prophet has to make up answers as fast as possible. And not many of ’em are used to doing that. Most of the time their “prophecies” are Barnum statements which are true of just about everyone, but in order to work they gotta be vague, and you’re asking them to get specific—which right there proves they’re frauds. Often they’ll give some excuse as to why they can’t follow up: “I’m sorry; I have lots of people to prophesy over, and can’t spend all my time on you.” Or, “That’s all God has to say; he wants you to figure out the rest yourself.” Something dismissive—something not loving and kind and patient, as a fruitful Christian ought to be.

Certain con artists are wise to this sort of thing, and announce in advance they won’t take questions about their prophecies. So question ’em anyway. Their bad reactions will just expose their fruitlessness.

And if you have no questions—the message was clear, and you’re pretty sure it was God—that’s fine! You don’t have to come up with questions every single time. Leave the questions for other Christians who aren’t so sure about the messages they’ve been given. And if prophets try to dismiss their questions, stand up for your fellow Christians: “No, I think you can stop prophesying for a second and answer this question.” Don’t let ’em weasel out of it.