Nobody Ever Told Me
by Jack Deere
Did God bring me here, or did the devil bring me here – into this room to face someone I had never met, who knew my painful secrets? My façade of indifference was being assaulted secret by secret. Or was my heart being healed secret by secret? Was this torture or surgery? What good could possibly come from reading aloud the pages in a book of pain that I had closed forever? Yet it was I who had given the prophet permission to begin, and now I could not stop him.
Nobody ever told me prophets were like this. Until that day, I had never met a prophet outside the pages of the Bible. I did not believe prophets existed outside the pages of the Bible. Because we have the Bible, I could not see why we needed prophets. Besides, if we let them run loose outside the Bible, who could predict the chaos they might cause? To me, the prophets were just a temporary substitute for the real thing, the Bible.
Then something happened to change my view. But that is another story, which I tell in another book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Let me just say that I found more reasons to believe in the existence of the prophets than to believe God has set them aside. But what did I believe? I still had a mostly theoretical belief. Then I heard from a friend that there were prophets, real prophets, in Kansas City. He was going to meet them. Would I like to go with him?
From the moment I decided to go to that meeting I was doomed. Not because I was about to face an onslaught of controversy. Not because I would spend countless hours defending a ministry maligned by many church leaders. And not even because I would spend more hours binding up the wounds of prophetic abuses. I was doomed because I would never again be happy in church or ministry unless it was infused with the power of prophecy. The mind God had given me was no match for the prophetic heart.
So, on a bright sunny September afternoon, with my biblically guarded heart and skeptical mind, I met Mike Bickle, the pastor of these prophets and of the church, which then was called Kansas City Fellowship. Mike was not very tall, yet he was built like one of those halfbacks who got so sick of being told he was too small to play football that he disappeared into the weight room and when he came out he ran over a thousand bigger tacklers on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. His deep voice resonated with authority. Above all, he radiated joy. In his presence, I felt joyful, too. I could not imagine him ever having a down day. Before I knew it, I was disarmed and charmed. I wanted Mike’s joy, and his passion for God.
But the joy did not last past the next morning. When I awoke, I remembered that I had come to meet prophets, not pastors. Before breakfast, I traded my joy for a superior attitude that was determined not to be deceived. I finished my last gulp of coffee, wiped my napkin across my mouth, and was ready to meet these so-called prophets.
That morning when my wife Leesa and I arrived at the church, we were led into a dingy little room with green carpet and orange plastic chairs arranged in a circle. Five friends had come with us. They wanted to encounter God. I wanted to evaluate men. Mike and four new faces were waiting for us. The first of those new faces met me at the door.
He was a six-footer with an athletic build, dressed as if he had just walked out of an Eddie Bauer catalogue. His face, though, was the kind of face you would expect to see on someone more at home in a camel hair tunic and sandals. He had longish graying hair, a salt-and-pepper beard, and disturbing, deep-set eyes. The eyes made him look otherworldly.
At first I thought his eyes were evil. Then I couldn’t make up my mind. Then he spoke. “Oh, I didn’t expect to see you here this morning.” Pretty cocky, I thought. Already I did not like him. “What do you mean? I don’t even know you,” I said.
“Well I know you. It was eight nights ago. I had a dream. I woke up at three in the morning. I thought it was important so I wrote it down. You were in the dream. Would you like me to tell you what the Lord showed me about you?”
“Yes,” is what I said. What I thought was, Try me. Take your best shot. I’m not going to be deceived. I have been warned about you prophets. I should mention that I was in a completely different tradition of Christianity than this fellow, and he really did not know me.
We took our seats in the circle. I knew about “cold reading,” a skill used by gamblers, palm readers, and probably by false prophets as well. By careful observation of your clothing, expressions, and mannerisms skilled people can “read” you without knowing you. Cold readers are also skillful in getting you to admit the details of your life in a way that makes it look like those details have been supernaturally revealed to them. On this morning, I knew that no matter how skilled in the art of deception this guy might be, I would give him no signs to read, no tells to help him win this game. I hardened my face like stone. We stared straight into each other’s eyes. My eyes revealed nothing. Then he spoke, and revealed everything.
“You have a prayer,” he said in a soft southern accent, “but it’s more than a prayer. It’s one of the major dreams of you heart.” Then he told me the prayer I had prayed that very morning in the hotel. It was a prayer I prayed almost every morning. And he was right. It was the dream of my heart.
“God said to tell you this dream is from him and you will get what you’re asking for.”
I could tell you what the prayer was and still is, but telling it now would be, at the very least, immodest, and worse, perhaps self-serving. At the time, it was the biggest thing I could think to ask for. And here, like Daniel, is this prophet telling me my dream and that it will come true.
My granite face did not crack, not even slightly. My eyes remained placid, not a flicker of joy. He was getting no clues from me. But inside, my heart was exploding with joy. I had not cried since I was twelve years old. It took a superhuman effort not to cry now. Until that moment, I had never understood the expression “tears of joy.” Why would anyone, especially a man, want to cry when he was happy? Maybe I had never been happy enough to know until now. How could I be so special to God that he would put such a dream in my heart and then tell me he would make it happen?
“You had a father who dropped the ball on you,” he said. No! Not my father. That subject was off limits. Decent people never brought it up. How could he know about my father? My interior supports were giving way. How could he talk so calmly about the defining pain of my life? How could I hold it together any longer? If I let out what I was feeling now, I might destroy the self I had worked so long and hard to build. These fears kept me staring blankly at the prophet.
My father had dropped the ball on me, on all of us. One morning we woke up a normal middle-class family of six, ready for a normal day. I went along with my two little brothers and my baby sister to play at our grandmother’s house. Mom went to work at her insurance office. My father stayed at home. By mid-morning, the lines for my father’s last battle had formed in his soul. We never saw it coming. Sometime that afternoon, in the living room of our little three-bedroom house, my father put a gun to his head and ended the war raging within him. That night my mother went to bed alone, a thirty-four-year-old widow with an eleventh-grade education and four small children to raise. We would never be a normal family again.
I was the oldest of the kids. I had just turned twelve. Beyond some friends who brought the customary meals, there was no one to help us understand or heal.
At that moment, I had no idea what the Lord was doing. I wasn’t even sure it was the Lord. All I knew was what I could feel, the prophet assaulting me with my own secrets, bringing up something wrong that could never be made right. I wanted the conversation to end. But the soft southern voice continued.
“The Lord is going to make up the loss of your father to you. He will send you new fathers. You won’t learn from just one man. You will have the father you need for each new stage in your life.”
Bringing up my father’s death pained me, but the promise of new fathers bewildered me. How could anyone, even God, make up for the loss of a twelve-year-old boy’s father? I didn’t need new fathers. I was thirty-eight years old. I was a father myself. And I was totally happy with the spiritual mentor who was then in my life. I couldn’t imagine I would ever need anyone else. But I said none of this aloud. I just returned his words with an unflinching stare.
“When you were young, the Lord gave you athletic ability, but he allowed you to be frustrated in the use of it. This was so you would put all your effort into cultivating the intellect. You’ve done that, but it hasn’t brought you what you expected, and you’re heartsick.”
He could not have given a more accurate synopsis of the past thirty-eight years.
I was born with athletic ability. I was strong and quick. In Little League baseball I could play every position of the field and always batted in the top four. I grew up playing tackle football with no pads on. Then, when it was time to start seventh grade, the time when I could play organized sports for the school, I lost my father. Everything changed.
There was no one to take me to practices or to bring me home. My mother worked late into the evenings, selling insurance and collecting premiums to keep her four little kids fed and clothed and under one roof. Sports were not on her list of necessities. I learned how to make the evening meals, and I missed out on the next three years of sports.
And I gave in to a lifestyle of drunken recklessness. That’s when the Lord saved me, literally. It was the fall of my junior year. I started reading then, reading the Bible, C.S. Lewis, everything. And I never stopped. I found out that I could make straight A’s when I wanted to. I also found out that there was an advantage to being perceived as smart. And the older you got, the greater the advantage became.
By the time I entered seminary, I had discovered that not only did I have an ability to think theologically, but I also had a facility with languages. Greek, Hebrew, and other languages were easy for me to learn, even fun. In seminary no one knew who had played sports in high school or college, or if they did, they didn’t care. Everyone, though, knew who the “A” students were.
After the first year of my doctoral program, I finally made the team. Two of our Old Testament professors were taking leaves of absence for two years. I was picked to fill in. “Professor Deere.” That was better than batting cleanup.
I was a professor. And not just any professor, like a professor of English or chemistry. I was a professor of the most important subject of all, theology, the study of God. And not just any branch of theological studies – I was a professor of perhaps the most difficult discipline of all, Old Testament exegesis and Semitic languages. As a result, people all the way from my fellow professors to my peer group to my parishioners treated me with a new level of respect.
Nobody ever told me it was dangerous to be a theological professor, particularly a young one. And no one ever told me that if you tried to find your identity in being smart, especially theologically smart, you would wind up heartsick. No one, that is, until now.
This prophet was amazing. He was right. I was heartsick. I knew it, but I hid it. From everyone.
The southern accent, now almost soothing, started again on the same theme. “All of that frustration was necessary to prepare you to fulfill the call that God has on your life.”
So, there was a purpose behind the heartsickness. It was the mercy of God inviting me to travel a new road. There was a call on my life, but I had not yet entered into that call. Everything so far was just preparation. God would not let me succeed on an athletic field, but neither would he let me die drunk in a car wreck. He let me succeed in academics, but he would not let me remain intoxicated by that success. He sent my heartsickness to warn me of the danger of building my identity on such shaky foundations as athletics and academics.
“You’re in a conflict right now, and you think there are only three people on your side. The Lord says to tell you that there are five more on your side.”
I was in a conflict, and I did think only three people stood by me. Besides me, the only one in the room who knew about this was Leesa. There was no way the prophet could know about the conflict. Yet he did. How did he know this? How did he know any of these things?
I was astounded. He was a real prophet. And God was a real God. Of course he is; we all know that. But sometimes he seems so distant and so removed from our troubles. Sometimes it seems that all we have to lead us into battle is a textbook on war, when what we really need is a wise and courageous captain. I heard the voice of my Captain in those prophetic words. He was telling me not to worry, that he would lead me through the minefields of this conflict.
By now, I should have dropped my guard. Instead, I continued to hold back the tears and look unimpressed by the Lord’s loving omniscience.
The future. The prophet left the subject of my past and went to my future. These predictions, I think, were meant for me to ponder, not to publish. Since these words were exclusively about the future, they, of course, could not be verified. But because he had gotten four key facts about my past correct and given them a meaningful interpretation, I believed his predictions.
I should have fallen on my knees like the psalmist, crying out to the nations to give glory to God, but I couldn’t. My façade of indifference remained intact. Maybe it was stubbornness. Maybe it was pride. Or maybe it was some sickness in me that rendered a public display of emotion impossible. But maybe I was just making sure of the prophecy by not giving the prophet any last-minute clues. That way, when it was all over, I would know it was all God, and that I had not influenced any of it.
Now the prophet was finished with me.
There was no longer a reason for me to maintain the façade. It was over. The prophet had told me the secrets of my heart. The secret prayer of my ministry. The secret pain of my childhood. The secret frustration of my adolescence. The secret heartsickness of my adulthood. The secret conflict of my present life. With each secret came a promise that gave me freedom from the past and hope for the future. The prophet was real. I wanted to shout for joy to the Lord, but I didn’t know how. Instead, I simply said, “Thanks.”
When we were walking out of the room, Mike asked me, “Was any of that accurate or meaningful to you?”
“All of it was right on the money. Couldn’t have been more correct,” I said.
“You’ve got to be kidding. I was watching your face the whole time. I was sure you thought it was all just a bunch of bull!”
I walked out of that drab room into a colorful fall day. I was elated with the discovery that prophets were indeed alive and well. I was in love with prophetic ministry. I was ready to articulate its virtues to anyone who would listen.
I made a more profound discovery that morning, one I could not articulate then. I had worked so hard to overcome the pain of my past, to become somebody special. Others thought I was special, but I felt sick at heart. Then, through the words of the prophet, God’s healing love came to me, reinterpreting my past, present, and future. God told the prophet all about my pain because God wanted me to know that he had always been there. Always. Watching over the little boy robbed of his father, watching over the frustrated athlete, watching over the drunken rebel, and watching over the heartsick scholar. Why? Because I was special to him. That was my discovery. I had preached that truth to others many times. But you can preach a truth without feeling the truth for yourself. Now I felt that I had always been special to him, and feeling this made me love God all the more. Through the prophet God was removing the burden of trying to be special, and he was telling me that I had never needed to look beyond his love to find my significance. Divine romance had just sneaked back into my life, and its calling card was happiness that I felt but could not, at that moment, explain.
I did not know it then, but now I know that mystery, wonder, and awe had all blissfully returned to my life through that prophetic encounter.
Along with that blissful return came a frightful suspicion – a suspicion that I had crossed some threshold and that my life would never be as predictable or as comfortable as before. After a long, prodigal absence, adventure had finally returned to my life.
Dr. Jack Deere is an author and lecturer who speaks throughout the world on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
(Taken from The Beginner’s Guide to the Gift of Prophecy c. 2001. Used by permission of Vine Books; PO Box 8617; Ann Arbor, MI 48107.)
A Tale of Three Countries
by Paul Anderson
My wife Karen and I just returned from a nine-day ministry trip to Europe. We sensed God’s hand on our time with our European brothers and sisters.
Iceland: We went on a two-day retreat with one hundred members of Christ Church, an independent Lutheran church in the capitol city of Reykavik. The pastor, Fridrick Schram, is a solid, renewal-minded leader. Our connections with this congregation are growing. They are praying about affiliation with the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC) and establishing an MI (Master’s Institute).
Latvia: A one-day conference, attended by sixty pastors and spouses, also had two archbishops present, both Lutheran Latvians. After nine trips as a “single man,” Karen’s presence confirmed that my stories were true. Martins and Gunta Irbe, Latvians born and raised in the States but now living in Latvia, are key people in helping with the rebuilding of a nation. It is a privilege to have a small part in its reconstruction. Janis Vanags, the archbishop in Riga, the capitol city of the Baltic country, thanked me for our renewing work among the pastors. He expressed gratitude for those who have supported this endeavor, especially The American Association of Lutheran Churches and Lutheran Renewal.
Finland: Some Finnish pastors are looking at their options to the state church system and saw the ARC as one good possibility. As I shared about MI, they saw this as a potential for raising up a new crop of young leaders. When Finnish pastor Markku Chovisto was healed of cancer, he began to see healing take place in his church. Now it has grown into a revival movement in the city of Nokia. Thousands have visited his warehouse-like structure. The hierarchy doesn’t know how to deal with this movement. We need to pray for wisdom for Markku concerning his future. It is a key contact because of the potential of reaching into all of Scandinavia.
The Not So Perfect Storm
by Paul Anderson
All those who will be used by God will encounter storms. They threaten our physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being, because they are more powerful than we are. Storms are a fact of life; they come unannounced, and they are as sure as they are unpredictable. Life isn’t the smooth ride I thought it was going to be. So enjoy the calm weather, but anticipate storms.
Jesus had plans to use His disciples powerfully, so He gave them tests. Two of them took place on the center of the lake that many of them knew so well. One was an endurance test (Matt.14, Mk.6, Jn.6); the other was a storm of life-threatening proportion (Matt.8, Mk.4, Lk.8). Jesus was praying for them in the mountains above the lake in one and was asleep in the boat for the other.
Some storms find their source in God, some in the enemy. Some are the result of my own decisions, and others come simply from being in the human family. Regardless of the source, God can use storms to take us from security to insecurity so that we might find new security in Him. The greatest place of rest is found when our ultimate support system is God Himself. He removes secondary crutches so that we are thrown upon Him in times of weakness.
Because of the intensity of storms, they have the power to change us and to bring us to a new level of faith. But they also have the power to disrupt and defeat us. The storms the disciples encountered on the Sea of Galilee caused them first to panic, then to see the Lord in a deeper way. Storms force us into making decisions, like “Shall I trust in the Lord here?” I must decide, “Who is greater, the storm or God?”
Peter had a moment when he was walking on top of the storm. He had a glimpse at victory before he gave in to fear. When Peter looked back on the event, he could say, “Hey, I walked on water. It worked, at least for a while.” We need the courage to get out of the boat, not to play it safe. This storm was a defining event for all of the disciples but especially for Peter because of his willingness to step out. Learn to take appropriate risks in the middle of the storm. As Winston Churchill said, “Failure is not final; courage is what counts.” If we think that we can avoid storms, we will cease to lead-and eventually cease to live. We must learn to fear God more than we fear the storm. The disciples first panicked. Then when they discovered that Jesus was in control over the waves, they relocated their fear.
The greater the leader, the greater the storm. Paul wrote, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked.” He was often “in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea” (2 Cor.11:25,26). And the greater the storm, the greater the potential for influence. As is the storm, so is the grace of God to endure it and grow from it.
When confronted by a storm, we might want to ask some questions, like, “Did I bring this on?” If so, repentance would be the quickest way to dispel the storm. The reluctant prophet Jonah knew that the storm on his ship was the result of his own doing. Like Jesus years later, Jonah was asleep, but not for the same reason; he was running, not resting. Throwing cargo overboard didn’t solve the problem; tossing the prophet over did. The sad truth is that our disobedience brings storms into the lives of those who are close to us. Ask the children of an alcoholic or the parents of a teenage rebel. Jonah acknowledged, “I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you”(v.12).
Other questions: Is God sending the storm to guide me? Is He using it to change my direction? Or is He adjusting something internal, like my faith quotient? Is God answering my prayer to grow in reliance upon Him? Is He allowing me to be threatened so that I see His power in the midst of the tempest? Perhaps I won’t be able to sort out such questions in the middle of a battle, but it is always appropriate to trust in God regardless of the source.
Some storms happen because we have made a series of wrong decisions and have opened the door for Satan to influence our situation. If we give the enemy room, he will take it every time. Jesus said on the evening before the crucifixion, the stormiest time in His life, that “the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me” (Jn.14:30).
Paul was caught in a storm that was the result of a bad decision by the ship’s pilot. He had misjudged a calm sea as an indication to leave port. God spoke in the middle of the storm and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar” (Acts 27:24). It is often difficult to hear from God when the waves are pounding, but when we can, it will diminish our anxiety. And the courage that came to Paul was transmitted to those traveling with him. God will sometimes allow us to go through storms so that we can bring hope to others.
The two storms the disciples encountered were not the result of disobedience. They were part of God’s training program to equip them for storms down the road. In that case, we should ask if God has spoken anything to us about the storm. Jesus had sent the disciples away in the boat. He had told them to cross over to the other side, so they were following orders. It was a test of endurance and faith, not a result of disobedience. It might help us if God said, “This is a test; this is only a test.”
Jesus had tested the disciples moments before when He fed the five thousand. He knew what He was going to do. He wanted to see if they knew, which they didn’t. They took His test and calculated how they would solve the dilemma with human resources. They discovered that they were pitifully short of supplies, but it led them to frustration, not faith. God frustrates us so we will say, “I can’t-but You can?” Often we only say, “I can’t.”
So how can we ride out a storm?
Don’t make life decisions in the midst of a storm. Some pastors decide to leave a church during a fight. They should at least stick it out and see if matters settle. Every church goes through storms. The will of God should drive us, not the weather. Some couples decide to divorce following family trials, such as the loss of a child. At a time when they need peace the most, they prolong the storm through poor decisions.
Hang on. Storms build endurance. The disciples had been rowing against the wind for most of the night. Sometimes that is all we can do-just ride out the storm with whatever strength we have-and keep on rowing. Panic causes us to change our strategy or our direction or to make presumptuous decisions or to lose our focus. Sometimes what we need is not progress but patience.
Let the storm address your inadequacy. Some people are too insecure to admit the power of the storm. Jesus told His disciples in the garden about the intensity of the battle He was facing and acknowledged, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38). They had learned to insulate themselves from the impact of conflict through positive self-talk. The purpose of some storms is simply to help us declare our inadequacy so we can turn to God in dependence and faith. Underestimating the power of a tornado may look godly, but in effect it is religious flesh at work, not true faith, and the damage of the storm will be greater because of our unwillingness to be transparent in the face of it. Vulnerability releases grace, because we acknowledge our need for one another and for God.
Jesus expects us to trust Him regardless of the storm. The disciples were experienced fishermen who knew the sea. And yet they thought they were going under. Jesus didn’t; He would have slept through it if the disciples had not awakened Him. When He got up, He first rebuked the wind; then He rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. It is possible to trust in the Lord while going through life-threatening storms, and that is God’s expectation for us and, therefore, His grace-provision to us.
Storms often cause people to lose faith rather than to grow in it. They blame God for the loss brought on by the storm rather than trusting God to make it up to them. Storms often bring loss, but even storms can help us to focus more on God Himself. And yet when the loss is someone rather than something, it is especially difficult.
When Karalee lost her husband at forty-five, it was an unexpected and unanticipated loss. He was crushed by a truck in a freak accident at work, and their solid marriage was suddenly over. And yet the peace of God swept over her moments after the loss. The loss would be horrendous, but she would go through this terrible storm with God, not without Him. And she did. Now she is training to be a chaplain. She is a courageous woman who found that God was with her in the storm.
Try picturing Jesus praying for you during your next storm as He did for the disciples from the nearby mountain. Mark writes that “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (6:48). When you are tossing and turning, not making headway, when the problem is not yielding a solution, imagine Jesus nearby in prayer. It might get you through. He knows how to pray. It might not be “the perfect storm,” but God can use it to perfect you!
Realizing that storms will come keep us from getting surprised by trials. It wouldn’t hurt to ask ourselves, “What if I lost my job? What if I failed rather than succeeded? What if my health deteriorated?” Habakkuk tried this out and decided that the sovereign was greater than all his “what ifs” (3:17-19). We don’t pray for storms-but we do prepare for them.
You might want to pray something like this: “Dear Father, I would not have chosen this storm. It is throwing me off balance. It makes me fearful and disoriented. And yet I trust You for the outcome. I know that You are powerful and that You are good. I don’t doubt Your love in the midst of this trial. I see You riding over the storm. What is threatening me is not threatening You, so I choose to believe in You. Please comfort and reassure me in my anxiety. Keep me from panicking and making wrong decisions. I would rather be insecure in Your will than secure without You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”