I accused my wife of infidelity a few years ago. There was no evidence. There was no change in our relationship. No, it is not characteristic of her in the slightest. However, I had my reasons . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.
What many of you already know is that I am not charismatic. This means that I don’t believe in the continuation of gifts such as the ability to bring about miracles, healings, or prophecy. I want to. I really do. For years I have called myself the most want-to-be charismatic you will ever meet. Unfortunately, I am not. More on that some other time (or just search through the history in this blog.) Out of all the so-called charismatic gifts, I believe prophecy and healings are the most important for people to really think deeply about. Concerning healing: with so much disease and sickness in the church today, we don’t want to be flippant with any ideas like, “God wants to heal you, but you lack _______.” This can be utterly destructive to people’s faith and hope in the Lord.
Just as difficult is the gift of prophecy. To say that God wants to speak directly into your life through a prophetic encounter is no small statement. It can redirect the entire course of a person’s life. It can send them on witch hunts, cause them to start churches, or even make them drown their kids and blame it on the Lord. I even had a guy at the old Credo House coffee shop many years ago say that his lifelong mission was to take down Nike. Why? Well, according to him, God told him to do so.
However, the reality of the danger of false prophecy hit home for me a few years ago more than any other time in my life. I had been discussing this issue with a charismatic friend whom I respect a great deal. Throughout our discussion, I promised him I would keep a prayerful, open mind about the issue. And, to the best of my ability, I was doing just that. I certainly didn’t want to “quench” any movement of the Spirit in my life or my ministry. We happened to be talking about the gift of prophecy for my Theology Unplugged Podcast (you can find it by searching through the history of this podcast on iTunes or another podcast browser). While I believe that God moves sovereignly and definitively in our lives, I have never believed that I should seek or expect any direct encounter from him. Whether through a dream, a vision, an audible encounter, a visit from a prophet, or a donkey talking, I have never heard from God in such a way. I would love to, but I simply have not and have not ever really expected to. Yet, I want to be open.
One evening after discussing prophecy with my charismatic friend, who believes that I should live with more expectation to hear from God prophetically, including through dreams, I prayed earnestly before bed that the Lord would take me in the right direction. It was late at night. It was one of those prayers you pray just before you go to sleep. That night, I had a dream. (I am incredibly hesitant to include this for many reasons that will become evident, but I think it is necessary for you to understand the spirit of my writing here.)
The next morning was like any other. Most of the time all dreams of the previous night are never brought to memory. Scientists tell us that during REM sleep, dreams are forgotten as quickly as they occur. Normally, you can only remember the dream you had just before you woke up. All others fade quickly. But even then, the last dream is only remembered with some effort as your memory system processes things differently during the dream state. However, this time was different.
That morning, as the events of the last dream casually moved through my mind, just as I was about to discard this dream without a second thought, I remembered my plea before the Lord, “Lord, if you have something to say to me through prophecy or through a prophet, please help me to know and accept it.” Was this something that the Lord wanted me to know? Was this dream a word from the Lord? Surely not. But, if I am serious about what I prayed, I needed to consider this. It was an unusually clear dream (or was it?). It was an unusual dream (aren’t that all?). I dwelt upon it all morning. It was not really a good dream to dwell upon. I wanted to forget it. But the moment I would discard it as ridiculous, it would resurface. It was as if I was supposed to remember this dream. Before I left for work, I thought about talking to my wife about it, but then I changed my mind. I need to leave this one alone, I kept thinking.
By midday, I was consumed by the dream. Finally, I got on my wife’s account on Facebook and queried “Lewis Johnson.”
My dream was about my wife. In the dream, she was having an affair with a man named Lewis Johnson (those of you who are theological gurus, quit laughing!). The main thing I remember from the dream was what I was supposed to do. Indeed, it was what I felt compelled to do. I was to search my wife’s account on Facebook for “Lewis Johnson,” the man with whom she was having an affair. After wrestling with this all morning, I finally did. I went to her account, signed in as her, and typed “Lewis Johnson” in her Friends query. Result? No Lewis Johnson found.
I hung my head in shame. How could I have had such a terrible and wayward thought? But, sadly, this fruitless Facebook search did not stop my wandering (prophecy-seeking?) mind. You must understand: I have never accused my wife of cheating on me. Never. I have never suspected anything. Never. In fact, in our family, it has become quite a joke about how unsuspecting I am. We have had those in our family who have battled suspicion about their spouses, but not me. I have been the go-to relative to help those who, from time to time, get caught in this trap of undue suspicion (and it is a terrible trap). Nothing has ever made me doubt my wife’s fidelity. However, this time it was different. This time, I might have had a word from the Lord, through a dream, that made my (otherwise completely unwarranted) suspicions true.
So, after my Facebook search, I imagined how bad of a turn our marriage would take if this turned out to be from the Lord. Would I forgive her? Could I forgive her? So many foreign thoughts. So many terribly dark thoughts. I wrestled with it until I got home from work. The distraction of the kids and her presence did nothing to quell my mind. That night, I did it. I got the courage to confront her. I approached her very casually and did a quick name drop to see her reaction. “Do you know a Lewis Johnson?” Upon asking, I looked intently at her, looking for any startling reaction. However, both the look on her face (or lack thereof) and her casual attitude concerning the name, confirmed my suspicions. She had no clue who he was. She was not having an affair.
Now, I don’t want to be overly dramatic with my story here. My rational mind did not ever really think she was having an affair. However, there was an emotional bug in my ear that caused me to have “what if?” thoughts of infidelity that I never would have had otherwise.
Why all of this? Because seeking an extra-biblical, personal revelation from God – right or wrong, biblical or not, continuing today or not – is a dangerous thing. I let down my guard with the Lewis Johnson Facebook thing. I lowered the standard that a prophecy must pass in order for it to have a legitimate claim to my beliefs. I actively sought prophecy and ended up accusing my wife of infidelity. Luckily, the consequences were not severe. My wife actually liked the idea that I might be jealous. Since then it has turned into a joke, as I ask my wife every once in a while if she has been talking to Lewis Johnson. But this kind of stuff can be terribly destructive and potentially life-altering. Any time people believe they could be privy to transcendent knowledge and commands, the ante is raised. Many people are controlled by prophecies they were given when they were young. Though the “prophet” of my dream gave no compelling signs that he was truly a prophet, many people hang on to dreams they have. Why? Because they are taught to expect a word from the Lord. My wife had a prophetic word given to her when she was a teen. She was told that she would die of cancer. A guy at the Credo House told me the other day that he was told he would be a great preacher. Another is told to take this job or that. I was told that I would be hurt in a car crash in a red sports car in my early thirties. When you have someone or something that you think might be God’s direct prophetic engagement with you, it is no passing thought. Yet, when God speaks, he does not do so in a casual, non-verifiable way. If he does speak to you (and I am not saying he does not), you have the obligation, from him, to test it and make sure there are some verifiable signs that make this prophecy undeniable. My dream did not pass any tests but created a lot of fear.
As an aside, when I told my charismatic buddies what happened here, most of them seemed to get defensive and attempt to explain how it could still be from God. Two told me to make sure I keep an eye on my wife (yes, seriously, they did). One came up with alternative ways to interpret the dream, believing (and I kid you not here) that Lewis Johnson (since he was a real non-charismatic theology) was my infidelity to God with cessationism (what non-charismatics are called). Conveniently, he interpreted it as God calling me to believe in prophecy!
My contention is that we must never believe these things unless there are absolutely compelling reasons for us to do so. These reasons must go well beyond emotional disposition. Casual dreams or someone coming up to you and saying, “I have a word from the Lord for you,” with nothing to back it up, are not only irresponsible for us to believe, but completely dishonoring to the name of the Lord. Doing these things can ruin your life.