Holy Spirit

The Secret of Becoming a Prophetic Preacher

Ever since God called me to preach, I’ve battled with deep insecurity about my delivery style. I can’t electrify a crowd like T.D. Jakes, pack an arena like Reinhard Bonnke or get audiences to turn sermons into trending topics on Twitter like Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick. Those guys hit home runs when they preach. I get base hits—or strikes.

For years I felt like the reluctant Moses, who complained to God by saying, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent” (Ex. 4:10). For years the Lord kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, urging me to surrender my fears so that I would take the microphone willingly. Once He told me: “I didn’t call you to be T.D. Jakes. I called you to be you.”

On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in? Finally I asked an older pastor if he had ever struggled with disappointment in his pulpit performance. He smiled and told me: “Son, I feel that way every Monday of my life.”

I’m learning an uncomfortable secret about preaching: Those who dare to allow God to speak through them will always squirm in holy agony. Preaching the gospel is both a glorious and a horrifying responsibility. When we speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and impart the very truths of Christ, we get so dangerously close to Him that our pride is challenged.

This truth is revealed in the story of Jericho. God told Joshua to organize a march around the walled city for seven days. The ark of the covenant was to go first, accompanied by seven priests blowing trumpets. On the last day, the walls of Jericho fell flat after the people shouted.

We charismatics have spiritualized this story in some comical ways. Some of us thought that blowing shofars during every church service would grow our churches. (In many cases those churches got smaller because the shofar blowing was so weird!) Others assumed we should march around the church every week or stage all-night shout-a-thons.

I have nothing against shouting, marching or shofars, but please don’t miss the main point of this story: It is powerful prophetic preaching that brings downs the walls of spiritual resistance. God’s Word must be proclaimed. Notice these points about the Jericho story:

1. The trumpets were rams’ horns. God uses the weak things of this world to confound the strong. The apostle Paul called the preaching of the gospel “foolishness” (see 1 Cor. 1:18). While it is OK to improve your speaking abilities, don’t become so polished that you become an orator with nothing to say. Don’t try to be sophisticated. You are just a ram’s horn.

Some American preachers today wow their crowds with dramatic stories, film clips, trendy graphics and motivational hype. It sounds good initially. But sometimes, after the applause, we realize it was just a bunch of ear candy. What we need in today’s pulpits is less scripted sparkle and more messy, raw, honest, tear-stained pleas from broken men and women who are aflame with the Holy Spirit. Rams’ horns came from animals that had been sacrificed. Only consecrated preachers who have died to self can preach a message that will bring down a spiritual wall.

2. The trumpets were blown for seven days. We love sermons that become overnight YouTube sensations—the kind of messages that get everyone waving handkerchiefs and dancing in the aisles. But the kingdom of God is not built on one-night stands. When Paul the apostle preached, the results were not always immediate … or positive. Sometimes there were riots—and jail time.

What God is looking for is not one big sensational sermon but a lifetime of faithful preaching. He wants consistency, not fireworks. It’s great when we have the exciting, handkerchief-waving moments, but we must realize that God’s Spirit is also moving on quiet days when no one shouts “Amen!” and all you hear in the audience is cell phones ringing and babies crying.

3. The trumpets were blown by unnamed men. The Bible doesn’t tell us who blew the trumpets in Joshua 6. We know these guys played an important role, but their names never appear in lights. They trudged through the dry desert around Jericho for seven monotonous days, blowing their horns until their throats were dry and their lips were sore. And in the end, when the walls of the city finally collapsed, Scripture says Joshua’s fame increased—not theirs (see Josh. 6:27).

Today we need preachers who are willing to faithfully speak God’s Word with no hope of fame or fortune. If you truly want all the credit to go to Jesus, you won’t worry about your performance or your applause. Just do your job. Preach the Word and the walls will eventually fall.

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6 Things That Block the Holy Spirit’s Power

Last weekend while I was preaching at a church in central California, a young man came to the altar to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was eager to go deeper spiritually. Someone prayed for him for a while, but nothing happened.

I walked over to the young man a few minutes later and told him I would pray for him some more after the meeting was dismissed. I’ve learned that sometimes there are blockages that can prevent people from receiving the fullness of the Spirit, so I always try to discern what must be moved out of the way.

In this guy’s case, his heart was in a great deal of pain because his father had abandoned his family. He wanted God to baptize him with the Spirit, but the pain of rejection was like a gaping wound that needed urgent attention. As soon as I began to address this problem, he began sobbing in my arms.

After we prayed about his father issues, and he got the healing he needed, he quickly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A fresh joy filled his heart. And a new heavenly language began pouring out of his mouth. I encouraged him to pray in tongues for a while as he received the Spirit’s anointing.

This next Sunday, May 24, is the official day of Pentecost—when Christians all over the world celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. But Pentecost should also be a very personal experience for you. Have you, or someone you know, struggled to receive this supernatural infilling?

Here are some reasons why there might be a blockage:

1. Doubt or intellectual pride. In the 1960s a journalist named John Sherrill decided to write a book discrediting the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. But after he interviewed countless people about this experience, his doubts were shattered and he was baptized in the Holy Spirit himself. His book, They Speak With Other Tongues, became a Christian classic. Spiritual experiences cannot be figured out with the mind. To receive the Spirit’s infilling you must let go of your intellectual arguments and display childlike faith (see Matt. 18:2-4).

2. Religious tradition. I knew an Episcopal priest who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the 1970s in New York City. He was excited about the new vitality he felt in his faith—and thrilled that his wife had experienced a physical healing. But when he shared his testimony with his bishop, he was told he was crazy! And the bishop referred him to a psychiatrist! Religious people who are locked into “the way we’ve always done it” find it hard to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. You must be willing to break free from tradition.

3. Fear of the supernatural. Some Christians grew up in denominations that taught against the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They were told that Pentecostals are all fanatics who go into trances, speak mindless gibberish and swing from chandeliers. Actually, the first disciples in the New Testament spoke in tongues and experienced miracles—yet their faith was not strange. It should be the norm! People who are afraid of God’s supernatural power will struggle to receive it.

4. Unconfessed sin. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit can be “quenched” as well as “grieved” (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). Because He is so holy, our sinful habits and attitudes can cause Him to withdraw. This is why it’s so important for us to walk in constant communion with God, and to be willing to repent quickly when we know we have sinned. Some people “stuff” their secret sins in the closets of their hearts. If you want to be filled with the Spirit, you must be willing to open those closets and invite the light of God’s holiness into every dark corner of your life.

5. Emotional wounds. Like the young man I prayed for last weekend, some people are just too burdened with emotional baggage to be filled with the Spirit. Some have been abused, others weighted down by anxiety, others grieved or depressed. They need healing first. Like Lazarus on the day he was raised from the dead, they are bound by the grave clothes of the past, and they need to be unwrapped before they can experience God’s full anointing (see John 11:44). Healing is often needed before a person can receive the blessing of Holy Spirit baptism.

6. An unyielded spirit. You cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit if you are full of yourself. Some people are too willful. They have not surrendered their plans, finances, relationships or time to God. They have their lives planned out and they don’t want God interrupting their agendas. Yet God is looking to fill hearts that have been emptied and surrendered. Only the fully yielded can experience the fullness of His power.

If you have not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or if the flow of the Spirit has been blocked in your life, empty your heart today and prepare for your own personal Pentecost.

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Don’t Ignore the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

My friend Rafael invited me to preach in his church in Humacao, Puerto Rico, last June. It was Pentecost Sunday, so I brought a message about the Holy Spirit’s power. Then I asked God to use me in a supernatural way because I figure we shouldn’t talk about the Spirit’s gifts if we’re not willing to demonstrate them.

After I finished my sermon I noticed a young man sitting in the fourth row. I’d never met him, but I could sense God’s love for him. I pointed to him and began to give a word of prophecy about how God wanted to use him. I then prophesied over other people and prayed for many others, and then I left Humacao.

Last week I returned to Puerto Rico to speak at a men’s retreat. Guess who showed up? The young man to whom I gave the prophecy came to the event. His name is John, and I learned that he had never visited the church in Humacao until the day I met him there. Because John felt God speaking to him in such a very personal way that Sunday, he has been attending that church ever since—and he has been growing spiritually.

One simple word of supernatural encouragement changed John’s life. But what would have happened if I had decided to “behave myself” that day and not step out in faith to prophesy? What if I had let fear stop me from flowing in the miraculous? What if I had just decided to stick to my notes, preach a nice sermon and play it safe?

I’m afraid that’s what a lot of us are doing today in churches that claim to be Spirit-filled.

We say we believe the Bible, but when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we’ve become cowards. In trying to be trendy and relevant, we’ve replaced spiritual anointing with cool music, graphics, sermons and programs that look and sound great but lack a spiritual punch.

If we are full of the Spirit, the nine charismata, or spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, should be manifested regularly. But few Christians today have even heard of these gifts; fewer have seen them in operation. We need a refresher course in the ways the Holy Spirit works. And we need these nine gifts in our churches today:

1. The word of wisdom. God can give us a supernatural solution to a problem that cannot be solved by man’s ideas. The American church desperately needs this gift so we can shift from man’s carnal ways to heaven’s wisdom.

2. The word of knowledge. The Holy Spirit will sometimes reveal information that could not have been known by man. Last week in our men’s retreat, the Lord showed me there was a man there who had never told anyone about the sexual abuse he had experienced. That prompted the man to come to the altar for prayer. He probably would never have asked for help without the nudge of the Spirit.

3. The gift of faith. This is not the normal kind of faith we need daily. The gift of faith is a special ability to believe for big things. A person operating in supernatural faith will motivate others to pray until the answer comes.

4. The gift of healing. Paul told the Corinthians that there are actually gifts (plural) of healing. I have met people who have a special gift to pray for infertile couples; others have faith to pray for those with cancer; in my own ministry I have seen people healed from depression and the effects of abuse. The exciting part is that God is still in the business of healing bodies, minds and broken hearts.

5. The gift of miracles. The book of Acts is a series of miracles—so why would we ever assume God pulled the plug on that power? He still opens prison doors, breaks chains, releases angels, opens blind eyes, changes weather patterns and delivers people of demons. If we remove the miraculous from our Christianity we portray a puny God to the world. He is still a miracle worker!

6. Prophecy. This is a special gift because God loves to speak to His people. And He wants to use us to relay His message. I consider the gift of prophecy “supernatural encouragement” because it always edifies the person who receives a word from the Lord—even if it is corrective. Will you allow God to use you to speak His direct message to others?

7. Discernment (or “discerning of spirits”). I am grateful that when the Holy Spirit gave His gifts of power, He also provided a way for us to tell the difference between God’s work and a demonic counterfeit. Not all that is supernatural is from God, so we need discernment to protect us from false prophecy and occultic fakery. We also need this gift to set people free from demonic bondage.

8. Speaking in tongues. There are “various kinds of tongues” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10. Believers can have their own private prayer language, but some people are also gifted to speak in tongues in a church meeting. I know of situations where Christians received a special ability to speak in a foreign language so they could communicate the gospel.

9. Interpretation of tongues. Similar to prophecy, this gift can relay a message from God that was spoken in a foreign or angelic tongue. I love the fact that linguistic barriers don’t limit our God; He loves the entire world!

The apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1a). God wants His gifts flowing through us, but He never forces us to use them. He is looking for availability, courage and surrender. Please allow the Holy Spirit to jumpstart His power in your life.

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Don’t Misuse the Gift of Personal Prophecy

Twelve years ago, when I was preaching at a Brazilian congregation in Florida, the Lord directed my attention to a young teenager sitting in the back of the church. He was leaning his head against the wall and looking very bored. But God gave me a prophetic message for this curly-headed guy, so I asked him to stand; then I spoke to him about his spiritual calling.

“God says you are going to be a spiritual warrior,” I told him.

The boy’s name was Felipe, and we became good friends after I gave him that word of encouragement. Today, at age 27, he’s a passionate follower of Christ and the youth pastor of his church.

I love the gift of prophecy because I’ve seen countless people like Felipe transformed by it. One prophetic message from God can break the power of discouragement. It can also launch a person into ministry or confirm God’s divine direction. As Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” A personal prophetic word is like a priceless piece of heirloom jewelry. You will treasure it for life.

Some people question whether personal prophecy is biblical. Yet prophets often delivered detailed messages to people in Old Testament times. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged believers to “earnestly desire” prophecy above all other gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:1). He also told the Corinthians that true prophetic ministry can expose the secrets of men’s hearts and bring them to repentance (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

In Colossians 4:17, Paul issued a word of prophetic encouragement to an individual on his ministry team. He wrote: “Tell Archippus, ‘Make sure that you fulfill the ministry which you have received in the Lord.'” Paul delivered this short but powerful message to Archippus to strengthen his friend. I am sure Archippus never forgot Paul’s very personal words.

Personal prophetic ministry is vital today. People need to know that God is not a dry doctrine; He wants to know us intimately, and He wants to speak to us in a personal way. Yet we must be careful to avoid the abuses that have given personal prophecy a bad name. Here are some helpful guidelines that will keep it healthy.

  1. Don’t chase prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a conference to get a word from God, yet they haven’t read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the gift of prophecy like fortune-telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver the message to you at the exact time you need it. Meanwhile, soak your mind in Scripture—and never elevate personal prophecy above God’s Word.
  1. Never give prophets elite status. Nowhere in the New Testament are prophets exalted to a privileged class. Paul himself said all members of the body need each other, and in his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he warns against ranking spirituality by gifting. He wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:21).Some people are mesmerized by prophets who claim to know people’s phone numbers, addresses or Social Security numbers. Be sure to test the validity of a prophet’s gift if he attempts to impress people with his exotic prophetic abilities. True prophecy does not have to be spooky; its main purpose is to encourage the hearer, not to draw attention to the messenger.
  1. Never give harsh prophetic words. New Testament prophecy should encourage, comfort and exhort believers (see 1 Cor. 14:3). That rules out condemnation and harsh criticism disguised as a word from God. Our heavenly Father does not speak to His children in a hateful, scolding tone. He is an encourager, even when He brings needed correction. Remember: Paul said that if you use the gift of prophecy without love, it is useless (see 1 Cor. 13:2).I know of a church where a lady routinely gave personal words to people warning of calamities or judgments. She even claimed God wanted to kill them! Usually angry “prophets” like this woman claim to know all the unconfessed sins in a person’s life; the truth is they struggle to understand God’s love themselves, and they are seeking attention. Stay away from weird, abusive people who claim to be prophets but don’t show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  1. Soak in God’s Word. Prophecy will never, ever contradict the Bible. So if you want to speak God’s prophetic message to others, you must hide the Scriptures in your heart. If you fill your well with the Word, it will spill over and refresh many when you speak under the anointing of the Spirit. I often meditate on Proverbs 10:32a, which promises: “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable.”

If you feel called to prophesy, that’s great! God wants to speak through you to others. But don’t assume you know everything. Don’t be so eager to go until you grow to maturity. Find a mentor and learn how to minister with grace, love and biblical balance.

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The Most Dangerous Prayer in the Bible

More than 19 years ago, I found myself at a church altar in Orlando, Florida. God had been dealing with me about leaving my comfort zone. I had a great job with nice benefits, yet I felt spiritually unfulfilled. I knew there was an amazing adventure in front of me, but I had placed serious limitations on my obedience.

As I buried my head in the carpet in that church, I realized God was requiring unconditional surrender. He wanted me to wave a white flag. I knew what I had to say, but it was difficult to form the words. Finally, I coughed them up. I said the same thing the prophet Isaiah prayed long ago: “Here I am, send me!” (Is. 6:8b).

This is what I call a dangerous prayer. It should include a warning label!

I believe when you utter these simple words, heaven takes a Polaroid picture of you with your hands up—and an amazing process begins. God closes in on us in order to crush our fears and demolish our selfishness. Then He gives us the holy boldness to speak what we were afraid to say.

When I prayed this prayer in 1998, I immediately had a vision while I was still on the floor. I saw a sea of African faces. I knew I’d be going to Africa, and I was scared to death. I had no idea how I would get there, what I would say or who would pay for the trip. So I swallowed hard and prayed again: Here I am, send me!

Less than two years later, I found myself standing on a huge stage in a sports arena in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, speaking to 7,000 pastors. I did not enjoy the bumpy flight across the Sahara, and my knees were knocking when I preached. I felt as if I had been pushed way out on a limb.

But even though I was terrified, my fear was mixed with incredible joy. The Lord had overcome my resistance, and He was using me. Since that trip, I have ministered in more than 30 countries. This week, I have been in Malaysia and Singapore, all because I prayed a dangerous prayer.

Grace is so amazing. God not only gives us the power to serve Him; He plants in us the desire to surrender to His will even if we are scared of the consequences. This is what the apostle Paul described when he said: “For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

God has an uncanny way of wooing us into obedience and submission. Our flesh may protest; our fears may paralyze us. But in the end, if we will simply lift our hands in surrender, grace takes over. He gives us power, strength and a willing heart. And the results are supernatural because it is God at work in us.

Jesus taught His disciples to cultivate this willing spirit and to pray this dangerous prayer. He told them: “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

This is what I call a trick prayer. You pray it at your own risk. When we ask the Lord to send workers into His fields, we are really praying, “Here I am, Lord. Send Mike—or Chuck—or Barbara.” But the Lord of the harvest will likely tap you on the shoulder and say, “Well? What about you?”

The church has advanced throughout history because of people who surrendered to God. One of them was the brave David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to American Indians during the First Great Awakening. Although he died of tuberculosis at age 29, his legacy of total consecration lives on in his journal, published by his friend Jonathan Edwards.

Brainerd recorded this very dangerous prayer in his diary: “Here am I, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service, and to promote Thy kingdom.”

We rarely hear prayers like that today. Brainerd’s passion would be considered politically incorrect fanaticism today. We don’t promote self-sacrifice; we have a new gospel of self-fulfillment. We don’t talk about carrying a burden for lost people; we ourselves are lost in our comfortable materialism.

I wonder what would happen if all of us prayed Isaiah’s prayer with full sincerity. What if you raised your hands and left all your fears, worries, excuses, stipulations, limitations and conditions on heaven’s altar—and invited God to use your life in any way He wants.

I invite you to take the risk. Pray a dangerous prayer, and see how God will use you.

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Don’t Run If God Has Called You to Speak

This past Sunday I stood in a pulpit, looked out over a congregation of mostly strangers, cleared the lump in my throat and preached a message that the Lord had laid on my heart from the Bible.

Thousands of men and women speak publicly like this every week. It’s what preachers do. No big deal. But even though I speak often, I’ve found that preaching the gospel is one of the most frightening assignments anyone could attempt. I feel as if I die a thousand deaths right before I do it, and I die several more times after I go home and evaluate what happened.

After one discouraging experience in which an audience stared coldly at me with their arms folded, I determined that preaching surely must not be my calling. I shared my struggle with an older pastor.

“Sometimes I feel discouraged after I speak,” I said. “Does that ever happen to you?” I was sure he would counsel me to stop preaching.

His answer shocked me. “Son, I feel that way every Monday morning,” he said.

When I tell friends that I stubbornly resisted the call of God to preach because of my lack of confidence, they act surprised. They don’t know how much anguish I went through. They think most people who stand in pulpits want to be there. They can’t believe that I wrestled with God for months when I felt He was calling me to speak.

We assume God chooses certain people to preach because of their oratory skills. But true preaching is not a natural exercise—it is one of the most supernatural tasks anyone can ever be called to do. It requires an imperfect human vessel to yield himself or herself to speak the very words of God.

If we do this in the flesh, the results are miserable; if we wholly trust the power of the Holy Spirit, prophetic preaching unleashes supernatural anointing.

Most preachers in the Bible were reluctant. Moses made excuses about his stuttering, Gideon tried to disqualify himself because of his family background, and Jeremiah complained about the responsibility of carrying a prophetic burden. Jonah bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea so he wouldn’t have to give his unpopular sermon!

And the apostle Paul, who was a silver-tongued Pharisee before he met Christ, was stripped of his eloquence before he preached throughout the Roman Empire. He told the Corinthians: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:3-5).

If Paul trembled when he spoke, I have no right to complain when I feel butterflies in my stomach for the thousandth time.

Charismatic revivalist Arthur Katz wrote about the power of true preaching in his 1999 book Apostolic Foundations: “The only one qualified to preach … is the one who wants to run the other way, like Jonah. … The man who sighs and groans when called upon to speak, who does not want to be there, who feels terribly uncomfortable … is the man out of whose mouth the word of true preaching is most likely to come.”

That is certainly not the way most of us view pulpit ministry in contemporary America. We celebrate the smooth and the polished. We measure the impact of a sermon not by whether hearts are slain by conviction but by how high the people jump when the preacher tells them what they want to hear.

That kind of carnal preaching may win the accolades of men, boost TV ratings, get lots of hits on social media and even build megachurches. But the kingdom is not built on hipster style or smug self-confidence. We need God’s honest words, sent straight from the authentic heart of a broken vessel. The church will live in spiritual famine until reluctant, weak and trembling preachers allow His holy fire to come out of their mouths.

If you have a message from God, stop running. If you are wrestling with God like Jacob did, quit resisting, and let your Maker break your pride; He wants you to walk with a limp the rest of your life so you can lean on Him rather than on your own ability. Die to your fears, doubts and excuses, and drink the cup of suffering that accompanies the genuine call of God.

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