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One of the big problems in the prophetic community is a trend that I (Jim) call "subjectivism." Subjectivism is where we elevate our own internal feelings, senses, and impressions to the same level as God's written word, the bible. This is a dangerous error that, unfortunately, is often done under the guise of being "led by the spirit," and it is wrongly labeled prophetic ministry. And it has lead many people into serious error.
In order to "unpack" this topic, we need to understand some of the dynamics of prophetic ministry. Then we can show the difference between "subjective hearing" verses "prophesying."
In its simplest form, prophetic ministry has two components:
To put it simply: prophetic ministry is God talking to somebody, through somebody. Prophecy is not the act of receiving communications from God for yourself. One of the quickest paths to error is when a person begins giving themselves 'prophetic words' as from God.
That is not to say we do not, or cannot, hear from God. That is not so say that we cannot be be lead by the Spirit of God. In fact, we were made to hear God's voice. Jesus said "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).
We receive those communications by both subjective and objective means. But whether such communications come to us subjectively or objectively should dictate how we manage them.
For example, an employee who is an honest follower of Jesus would hear His voice through His Word that objectively states that he should not steal from his employer. "For the commandments, 'you shall not commit adultery,' 'you shall not murder,' 'you shall not steal,' 'you shall not bear false witness,' 'you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Romans 13:9). At the same time, assuming the follower of Jesus is operating with an undefiled conscience, the subjective communication he would perceive in his heart from the Spirit would also tell him not to steal from his employer. In that case, there is corresponding objective and subjective leading from God.
The obvious error would be if that employee "felt lead" to take money from his employer so he could put more money into his favorite charity organization.
Let me share some real-life examples of where the error of subjectivism has led people into overt sin: It provided an excuse for a man to divorce his wife and marry another. There was the minister who "felt lead" to have several concubines in addition to his wife. There was the counselor who "felt lead" to "minister to" the sexual urges of a counselee because she was lonely. In addition, I have seen ministries use the excuse of "feeling lead" to misappropriate designated funds and divert them to other purposes. I've seen upright and righteous saints have their lives and reputations destroyed when some well intended intercessor "sensed" there was sin in a life when there was not even a shred of hard evidence.
On a less damaging level, but still in error, are the friends who prophesy over one another what they want to hear instead of a pure objective word from the Lord. Or the minister "wanna-be" who prophesies over himself that he is called to preach to the multitudes and so, refuses to find a job and pay his bills.
We should not question the fact that we can hear God's voice, and that we do strive to be lead by the Spirit. But when that leading comes on a subjective level, it is necessary to recognize the need for objective external balances and witnesses. Wisdom would tell us that the more personal gain or loss involved in the situation, or the more "personal opinion" we have on a matter, and the less we should trust our own personal "subjective hearing."
I call it a "healthy mistrust" of my own heart, even as Scripture says in Jeremiah 17:9; "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"
This even applies to our "hearing" when we prophesy. Let me explain how that works. The less I know by natural knowledge; the less I have of any kind of personal opinion or personal agenda. That means I am "safer" (or less likely to interject my own ideas into the message) and I can hear more accurately on behalf of the other person.
Again, I am not saying that we don't hear through internal feelings, senses and impressions. But our subjectivity should be submitted to the objectivity of external counsel and the final authority of the written Word. "Where there is no counsel, purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Prov 15:22).
Of course, I also need to say that any external counsel or prophetic ministry will need to have the balance of an internal witness. We have the right and responsibility to judge prophetic words or directive counsel according to our internal witness. The safest place of hearing is when we receive the balance of both an objective and subjective witness.
I once heard a very helpful anology that applies to our pursuit for guidance and direction, and I'd like to conclude this lesson by sharing it with you. Picture a ship finding its way into the safety of a harbor. The captain knows that he is at the right depth, angle and position to move forward at the point where the harbor lights become aligned from the view of his ship. "Objective" and "subjective" witness are two very important "harbor lights" to guide us into the safe harbor of accurately hearing God speak. Together, they will save us from the error of "subjectivism." But in order to preserve the integrity of prophetic ministry, we do need to understand the difference bewteen them and use both of these "harbor lights" correctly.