Testing the spirits at prophetic prayer meetings
God declared that He would pour out His Spirit in the last days, so that those who are His followers would prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams. Therefore, it is not surprising to witness the increase in prophetic prayer meetings, conferences, and self-professed prophets. At the same time, we are warned to test the spirits to see whether whatever is being prophesised or taught is indeed from God. What are some warning signs that a different spirit may have infiltrated into our prophetic gatherings and corrupted our worship?
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 试验在预言祷告会中的灵 | 繁體中文 > 試驗在預言禱告會中的靈)
Acts 2:16-18 ESV But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
1 John 4:1-6 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Understanding the gift of prophecy
How our human spirit can corrupt our prophetic gifts
Wisdom in recognising false prophets
Being good stewards of prophetic dreams
7 ways to test if your church has become your idol
In 1 John 4:1-6, John explicitly named two possible spirits at work within prophetic Christian circles; the spirit of the antichrist and the spirit of error, although there may also be other spirits at work too.
The spirit of the antichrist blinds people from a simple, wholehearted, childlike faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This can come in the form of religiosity, self-righteousness, worship of angels or saints, and so forth.
The spirit of error twists God’s Word so convincingly that we “put up with it readily.” Sometimes, it can lead to a distorted understanding about spiritual things. Other times, it can be a subtle twist of biblical truths. The error need not be an outright lie. For instance, it can be a “curated” version of the gospel to suit the world’s desires. The spirit of error knows that it is most effective when it presents 95% truth and 5% error.
2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
2 Timothy 4:3 NIV For the time will come when people 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.
The aim of evil spirits that are at work in prophetic gathering is to “led us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Just as it only takes a drop of poison to contaminate a fountain, it doesn’t take much to pollute our pure devotion to God. Therefore, we need not hesitate to expose any other spirit that is not from God out into the open, so it can be dealt with. Just as Satan was present when Jesus was fasting in the desert and when He was teaching His disciples at the Last Supper, evil spirits can also be actively at work during our prayer meetings.
Proverbs 25:26 ESV Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
Fulfilling the greatest commandments at our meetings
When believers gather together, it is an opportunity to fulfill the two most important commandments: to practice loving God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and loving one another as ourselves, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 22:36-40 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The Bible provides a lot of guidance on what it looks it looks like to love one another and “stir up one another to love and good works.”
Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Love one another
- Love one another | John 13:34, John 15:12, John 15:17, Romans 13:8, Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 Peter 4:8, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 5
- Honor one another above yourselves | Romans 12:10
- Accept one another | Romans 15:7
- Be kind and compassionate to one another | Ephesians 4:32
- Be patient with one another | Ephesians 4:2
- Forgive one another | Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13
Build one another up, do not tear down
- Have equal concern for one another | 1 Corinthians 12:25
- Be humble toward one another | Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 5:5
- Encourage one another | 1 Thessalonians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25
- Spur one another on toward love and good deeds | Hebrews 10:24
- Build one another up | 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Submit to one another | Ephesians 5:21
- Confess your sins to one another | James 5:16
- Carry one another’s burdens | Galatians 6:2
- Serve one another in love | Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling | 1 Peter 4:9
- Pray for one another | James 5:16
- Teach one another | Colossians 3:16
- Instruct one another | Romans 15:14
- Admonish one another | Colossians 3:16
- Do not lie to one another | Colossians 3:9
- Bear with one another | Colossians 3:13
- Be at peace with one another | Mark 9:50
- Live in harmony with one another | Romans 12:16, 1 Peter 3:8
- Stop passing judgment on one another | Romans 14:13
- Do not slander one another | James 4:11
- Don’t grumble against one another | James 5:9
As believers, this is how we demonstrate we are Jesus’ disciples – when we demonstrate genuine and deep love for one another.
John 13:35 ESV By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Sometimes, our focus can get lost and we can forget that this is the primary reason why we meet in Jesus’ name in the first place. This may not be for malicious reasons per se but simply be the result of a gradual drift away from our original intention. Along the way, we may slowly make human personalities, spiritual gifts, or revelations from God the actual focus of our gatherings. When we do so, there is the grave danger of setting up idols inside God’s church.
5 warning signs of a different spirit in our meetings
Here are a few things we can look out for and lovingly address if we see them arise in our gatherings.
1. Beware: Elevation of certain personalities
Evil spirits do not “gatecrash” prophetic meetings by force like gangsters. They operate through people who come in looking upright and knowledgeable. Just as Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, such people will come across as “servants of righteousness.”
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ESV For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
It is important to note that they will also be able to prophesize accurately and/or perform miracles. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to gather a following and deceive many – which is Satan’s aim. The prophet Balaam (Numbers 22-24), for instance, was able to deliver accurate prophecies, but he used his God-given spiritual gift of prophecy for evil purposes.
Matthew 24:24 ESV For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
The Bible shows us some of their behavioural patterns. For instance, they will tend to set themselves up an authority on their own, rely solely on what they believe to be prophetic (e.g. dreams), follow their own sinful desires, understand revelations instinctively based on their own understanding, boast unabashedly, and show favoritism to gain an advantage. They will also have innate teaching or speaking talents and charisma that people find appealing. Some may give themselves important-sounding titles, willingly accept praise or financial gifts, and not stop anyone from disparaging other church groups and pastors. They may be people whom the Holy Spirit has intended to, and may still use, but who have not fully “crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.” Therefore, their service for Christ becomes tainted.
Jude 1:4,8,10,16 ESV For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ… Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
Galatians 5:24 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Contrast this with the apostle Paul, through whom God did extraordinary miracles. Paul declared himself to be “the very least of all the saints” and corrected believers in the Corinthian church who tried to elevate him more highly than Apollos or vice versa, reminding them to fix their eyes on Jesus Christ instead. As Paul declared, “let no one boast in men.”
Acts 19:11 NIV God did extraordinary miracles through Paul
Ephesians 3:8 ESV To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
1 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:21-23 ESV So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
No human teacher is infallible, for “everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.” Every leader needs to be held accountable to God and other believers. Anytime a leader allows himself or herself to be elevated, we can be sure a different spirit is at work, and the leader is in danger of departing from Jesus. Jesus Himself is “gentle and humble in heart” and His true followers will be the same.
Romans 3:23 NLT For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Matthew 11:29-30 NLT Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
2. Beware: Proclamations of a special anointing and extra-biblical knowledge
God’s Spirit is omnipresent; He is everywhere simultaneously. Evil spirits do not have that ability and will find a way to get us to keep returning to wherever they operate.
Jeremiah 23:24 ESV Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.
When a different spirit is at work in a meeting, the subtle message is that “you will meet God’s Spirit here – more than anywhere else” because of a “special anointing.” It enslaves us to keep going back to seek out a particular place or person, in order to be in God’s presence. It causes us to become anxious or feel less “spiritually alive” when we are apart from them. This is the work of a spirit of slavery that keeps us yoked to people, rather than to Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:15 ESV For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Acts 17:24 NIV “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
Matthew 11:29-30 ESV Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Another sign that a different spirit may be at work is the claim that certain people or groups have extra-biblical “knowledge” that has been shown to no one else except themselves. Such an illusion of superior knowledge “puffs up”. There is the idea that they have been favoured by God and given “insider information” on His power and His plans. There is a thin veneer of elitism. The subtle message is that “you need to be part of this group if you want to know what God has on His mind or have access to Him or His power.”
1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
The name of Jesus Christ is frequently used in prayer but Jesus Himself becomes a secondary figure. The one that is revered and honoured the most is usually the prophetically gifted leader or teacher.
There may be talk about a direct access to heaven, calling upon angels, opening doors in the spiritual realm, closing the gates of hell, and so forth – all of which are akin to witchcraft. Mediums and witchdoctors do such things, not Christ-followers. The Bible never encourages such activities. In fact, it forbids it. When we pray, we are to seek God alone, in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. We need to be careful not to “swerve from the faith.”
Leviticus 20:6 ESV “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 ESV … Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith…
3. Beware: Subtle sensualities
When the Holy Spirit moves His people, we will experience His love, joy, and peace.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
When a different spirit moves in prophetic meetings, it can offer counterfeit “feel good” sensations that appeal to our flesh. People become “intoxicated” and enter a trance-like state as a result of the music, meditation, and “soaking”. Some call it a “spiritual high” or “spiritual encounter” that they keep going back for. They may believe they are speaking in tongues from God, when in reality, they could be led by a different spirit.
Ungodly spirits encourage “people to draw near to God with their mouth and honor Him with their lips” because they “love the worship” or the “spiritual encounters” but not truly give God their hearts. This appeals to people who want God’s blessings, but not have to do the hard work of crucifying their flesh to obey His Word. There is little or no emphasis on forgiveness, confession, repentance, dying to the flesh, and sanctification – all of which are basic tenets of following Christ.
Isaiah 29:13 ESV And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…
Philippians 2:12-13 ESV Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
The Bible warns us to remain sober-minded because the devil may “devour” us with alternative or watered-down teachings otherwise. Moreover, we are to be in control of our spiritual gift (tongues and prophecy), so that our meetings are orderly and respectful, not intoxicating or confusing.
1 Peter 5:8 ESV Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…
4. Beware: Focus on empowerment rather than submission
While it is true that God gives us a spirit of power, that power is meant to be submitted to the Holy Spirit to use at His will, not ours. This power also needs to also be coupled with love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
When there is a different spirit at work, it will seduce us into using that power to control or manipulate people or situations according to our presumptions of what is “good”. It will feed off our fears, imaginations, and mistrust in what God is doing. It uses our spiritual gift of prophecy for divination (fortune telling), simply to see into the future for the fleshly satisfaction of “knowing” and elevating ourselves above others. We think we can pray and manipulate God into bringing blessings and changing our circumstances, without reflecting on what God’s will actually is. Like Peter who tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross to be crucified because of his own fleshly motives, will Jesus turn to us and say instead, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns”?
1 Samuel 15:23 ESV For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Matthew 16:23 NIV Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
5. Beware: Spiritual greed
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to explain spiritual gifts, he advised them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and concluded by teaching them that love surpasses all spiritual gifts; because “love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is often used at church weddings to describe what love is, when Paul was actually referring to the love we are to exhibit as we exercise our spiritual gifts.)
1 Corinthians 12:28 -3:8 ESV And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
Paul also reminded Timothy, his disciple, to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him when Paul laid his hands on him.” With this, he told him to “never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord” and “be ready to suffer” for the sake of the gospel. We see that God’s spiritual gifts are altruistic in nature and meant to point people back to Him. When there is a different spirit at work in prophetic meetings, we find that the desire for the higher gifts will be focused on ourselves.
2 Timothy 1:5-9 NLT I remember your genuine faith… And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord… With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
Instead of being content with what God has decided to give us “in proportion to our faith” so that we grow in spiritual maturity, step by step, according to His will and timing, we may be prompted to keep asking God for more. There is an over-emphasis on “advanced prophetic impartations and activations” in order to accelerate one’s prophetic abilities and gain access to more “secrets” of God. The underlying message is that “the more you “practice” these activations, the more gifted you will become.” While this may sound as if we are being empowered to step into our spiritual authority, there is a danger that we end up seeking God’s gifts with the wrong motives. We fall into spiritual greed and want more prophetic gifts only to please all sorts of fleshly desires; to feel more significant, to become more powerful, to pursue our own spiritual goals, to satisfy our curiosity, and so forth.
James 4:3 NLT And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
The sorcerer, Simon, had witnessed the powerful spiritual abilities that the Holy Spirit had given Jesus’ followers and wanted them for himself. Simon then made the unfortunate mistake of offering money in exchange for God’s gifts. The apostle Peter firmly rebuked Simon and observed that he was “full of bitter jealousy and held captive by sin.” Simon’s heart was not right before God and his thoughts were, therefore, corrupted. Simon may not even have known that he was motivated by the wrong desires. We too need to check our hearts to ensure that we have not become like Simon – and repent if we have.
Acts 8:16-23 NLT The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.”
There is no doubt that God can do great and marvelous things when His Spirit moves amongst us, especially as we gather in His name and wait on the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we also need to rely on God alone, revere Him, and glorify Him with undivided hearts. As Paul reminded the Corinthian church, it is pointless to “brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.” We need to be very careful not to idolise prophetic gifts, prophetic ministers, or prophetic meetings. Otherwise, the devil can easily infiltrate our hearts and deceive us. Just as we prevent trespassers from entering our homes, we also need to protect the church of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 86:8-12 NLT Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
2 Corinthians 5:12 NLT Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.
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