In this brief article, I would like to address the issue of scrupulosity and the prophetic word. Let me illustrate the problem in the following true experience.
A woman we’ll call Leslie was attending a new church at the invitation of her friend. When she arrived, she discovered that the church was a tad bit more charismatic than she was used to. The church members were very active during the service, shouting praises to the Lord and uttering prophecies over one another.
One church member approached Leslie during the service. He laid hands on her, closed his eyes, and prayed. When he finished his prayer, he told her that he had “seen” a vision from the Lord for her life. He then proceeded to speak his prophecy over her.
This prophecy did not correspond at all with what she believed God was doing in her life. She was learning to step back from her overcommitments, to view God as a gentle Shepherd rather than a prodding taskmaster, and to stop burning herself in the name of religion. This man’s vision, however, was a massive reversal of all she had been learning, placing overt pressure on her to get involved in ministries that would require incredible investments of time and effort.
Leslie went home, terribly confused by the word spoken over her.
She felt obliged to follow the plan laid out for her in this stranger’s vision, even though he didn’t know her and his “vision” conflicted with the gentle growth she had previously been experiencing in her walk with the Lord. When Leslie spoke to me about this vision, she was in a terrible spiral of anxiety, feeling that if she did not obey the vision, she would be living in direct disobedience to the Lord and may lose her salvation.
Have you experienced anything similar?
This article may be for you if you have religious OCD and:
- You can’t stop watching YouTube videos containing prophetic utterances that confuse and frighten you
- You get tripped up with competing or opposing prophecies that are spoken over you
- You view the prophetic word as a type of personal horoscope for your life
- You just find prophecy in general very scary
The Purpose of Prophecy
Let’s back up first and talk about prophecy in general before we talk about scrupulosity and the prophetic word.
The gift of prophecy is as old as the Bible itself. For the past 6,000 years, God has used His servants, the prophets, to declare His word and His will to us.
Surely the Lord God does nothing,Amos 3:7
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
This verse informs us that the gift of prophecy is God’s way of preparing us for what is coming in the future. Generally, biblical prophecy deals with major, overarching events in human history or in the church at large. However, many people who struggle with scrupulosity and the prophetic word view prophecy as a direct line to heaven, where all the minor details of their lives may be confirmed or denied by the Lord. These modern-day prophetic utterances are treated like ancient Israel’s Urim and Thummim.
Lord, should I study nursing or law? Please send someone to confirm Your will for me!
Two people prayed over me and said that God wants me to move to Texas. I better do it!
I really don’t think teaching is my spiritual gift, and I’m already involved in so many other church ministries, but the pastor keeps pressuring me and told me he was praying and saw a vision of me teaching. If I don’t do it, maybe I’ll be resisting the Spirit and I’ll lose my salvation!
Is this really what biblical prophecy is all about?
Let’s zoom out to get a birds eye view of the purpose of prophecy in Scripture. There is actually a very fascinating pattern. Before God does any major act in the history of His people, He always sends a prophet.
- Before sending the flood, He sent the prophet Noah.
- Before leading His people into the promised land, He sent Moses.
- Before setting up the monarchy in Israel, He sent Samuel.
- Before Israel was carried away captive into Babylon, God sent the pre-exilic prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah.
- After bringing Israel out of Babylon, God sent the post-exilic prophets, like Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Joel, and Malachi.
- Before the Incarnation, God sent John the Baptist.
- Before the gospel was carried to the world in the time of the apostles, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, many of whom received the gift of prophecy.
- Before the second coming of Jesus, we are also told that the gift of prophecy will be powerfully manifested.
“And it shall come to pass afterwardJoel 2:28-32
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.”
So we see a pattern in Scripture that prophecy precedes major events, specifically those that will impact God’s people. For example, Daniel’s prophecies of the rise and fall of nations do not include the dynasties of the Far East or the civilizations native to the Americas. Daniel’s prophecies strictly concern the regions where God’s people were historically concentrated.
Or, for example, in the book of Acts, on prophet named Agabus rose up to declare his prophecy of the coming worldwide famine. This was given for the purpose of them being able to prepare relief funds for the church in Judea (Acts 11:27-29).
While it is true that there are some examples of very personal, private prophecies (such as Isaiah prophesying to King Hezekiah about his coming death), most prophecies have a far broader field of application–either for the world or for the church.
How does this apply to our understanding of scrupulosity and the prophetic word?
My first point is that we need to be careful not to view prophecy as our own personal horoscope. It is possible to over-rely on other people’s visions for our lives, assuming that their vision is actually God’s vision. (See my video below on one of the most common phrases that overspiritualizers in your life might use to convince you to follow their “vision” for you.)
It’s also possible to be so insecure in your own ability to discern God’s will for your life that you hungrily search for prophetic utterances that will help you be sure.
One thing we know in any discussion of scrupulosity and the prophetic word–people with OCD are always looking for something that will make us 100% sure. And prophecy, a direct line to heaven, promises to do just that. But is everyone who claims to have the gift of prophecy legit?
True and False Prophets
The second point I would like to make for those individuals who struggle with scrupulosity and the prophetic word: most people today who claim to have the prophetic gift………probably don’t.
And that means you shouldn’t start obsessing every time someone speaks a word over you that feels urgent, confusing, and conflicting. You shouldn’t worry about the political predictions you hear the “YouTube prophets” declaring, which sound convincing but never actually come true. There are lots of people in the world today who are going around declaring the so-called “word of the Lord” over other people, when in fact it is their own word.
Maybe there’s someone who needs to read that sentence again.
There are lots of people in the world today who are going around declaring the so-called “word of the Lord” over other people, when in fact it is their own word!
Someone who truly has the gift of prophecy:
- Makes predictions that come true (Jeremiah 28:9)
- Never speaks out of harmony with Scripture (Isaiah 8:20)
- Lives a pure life that glorifies God (Matthew 7:15-20)
- Teaches that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3)
- Speaks a message that edifies the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-4)
That’s a tall order. And that’s why I think it’s probable that most people who are supposedly having visions and making horoscope-like predictions are not speaking on God’s behalf.
Solutions for Those Who Struggle With Scrupulosity and the Prophetic Word
There’s one very simple solution the Bible provides:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1
The intersect between false prophecy and scrupulosity is an ugly one. It can lead to terrible spirals of anxiety and very weird, compulsive decisions. I hope you won’t get caught in this trap.
Test the spirits, whether they are of God. Be very suspicious of those who dogmatically claim to know God’s will, especially if you have a tendency to overspiritualize. Especially if your OCD gives you an intense, insatiable desire for certainty. Especially if there are power-hungry people in your church or your life who would like you to believe they have the gift of prophecy.
“Do not despise prophecies,” (1 Thessalonians 5:20), but also “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
People with scrupulosity are much more vulnerable to being manipulated by false prophecy than those who are not as scrupulous. We are also more likely to rely on prophecy as a type of personal horoscope, simply because we are so desperate to achieve a sense of certainty about very important matters.
This tends to be more of an issue amongst charismatic-leaning Christians, but I have seen this issue even in those who would not necessarily call themselves charismatics. My guess is that the critical moving piece of this issue is the scrupulous person’s chronic uncertainties. Because religious OCD never really allows us to “land the plane” in feeling certain about anything, we look for fail-proof ways of knowing God’s will–and the prophetic word promises to do just that for us.
I’ve had a few of my own situations where other Christians have said, “I was praying for you and I felt strongly that God wanted me to tell you _______.” These Christians wouldn’t overtly claim to have the prophetic gift, but that’s what prophets do, isn’t it? They bring unique messages from God to His church.
In many of these cases where people came to me with messages “from God,” I had to eventually categorize their word as their own opinion, not God’s voice. However, I first went through some anxiety about whether or not I was ignoring God and sinning by disregarding these messages.
I hope to spare you the same trial.
Scrupulosity and the prophetic word don’t mix well. Be very sure that you are not falling for false prophecies, which are rampant in today’s world. Don’t guilt trip yourself for being skeptical of all that is called “a message from the Lord” when it comes from any source outside the pages of Scripture. Yes, BE SKEPTICAL! Squeeze that messenger to the wall and make sure he or she lines up with the biblical definition of someone with the gift of prophecy.
Remember that the prophetic word is a good thing, and it is biblical, and we do not despise it. But the complications that arise between scrupulosity and the prophetic word mean that you and I need to be extra, extra, super-duper careful about any word spoken over us.
As with many other scrupulous problems, we have to come back to the Word and rest our case on what God has clearly revealed. Our feelings, our culture, our anxieties, our magical experiences, our physical sensations, and even the “prophecies” spoken over us can never take the place of a plain reading of Scripture.
May God bless you as you seek to discern His gentle will and ways, and as you work through the challenges of scrupulosity as it relates to the prophetic word.
Best wishes on the journey,