Spontaneous and Prophetic Songs

A week and a half ago I posted on some of the spontaneous songs I sang at the New Attitude conference. Aaron left this comment on another post about New Attitude:

Regarding the spontaneous song(s) – could you comment or perhaps designate a separate post explaining the “prophetic song”. I thought the song was a sweet ministry to those under affliction & I thought you set it up well & carefully. However, those of us coming from a cessationist view would be interested in hearing you talk about this in more detail.

I wrote about this in my book, Worship Matters, because it’s a gift I’ve been studying or exercising for about twenty years. This is what I wrote there:

For many years I’ve sung spontaneous songs during corporate worship that I believe are a form of prophecy. They’re similar to a spoken prophetic impression from the Lord, only they’re sung, they rhyme, and they are often sung “from God to us.” I’ve never believed for a moment that the words I sing are “word for word” from God. That’s called Scripture. But these songs seem to consistently communicate in verse the Lord’s heart for a particular individual, group, or situation.

[Footnote: When I first started singing spontaneous songs, I wrestled with the biblical basis for the gift. I learned that prophesying in the Old Testament often had musical accompaniment (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Kings 3:14–16). Ephesians 5:18–19 connects being filled with the Spirit with singing. And the effects of prophecy listed in 1 Corinthians 14:3—building up, “encouragement,” and “consolation”—were frequently the effect of this gift. So I told the Lord that if I felt I was to sing a song in a particular meeting, I would do it and let him take care of the results. I would focus on being prepared, humble, and faithful. Since that time I’ve seen God use spontaneous songs on countless occasions to encourage and speak to groups as well as individuals—including single mothers, those in the midst of suffering, young men, widows, and adopted children.]

The effect over the years has been an increased awareness of God’s care for his people. Early on I was nagged by questions that kept me from stepping out in this gift. What if I get to the middle of a line and blank out? What if people think I’m trying to draw attention to myself? What if no one is affected? Eventually I realized that my questions would keep me from ever responding to what I thought were the Spirit’s promptings. Since I decided to simply be faithful, God has given me hundreds of songs to encourage his people.

Seems to me that Christians often exaggerate or underestimate the verbal supernatural gifts. On the one hand, people can heighten their significance and/or authority, like the Corinthians did, and think that “worship” doesn’t happen unless we sing improvised songs at some point during the meeting. When it comes to prophetic songs, this perspective can lead to extended times repeating the same phrases over and over, or simply trying to be spiritually “innovative.” Other Christians find it hard to believe that the Spirit can give us impressions that we should communicate with others that could be a means of encouragement to them.

One person remarked that my spontaneous songs were more “poetic” than “prophetic.” I think it was meant as a critique, but there’s an element of truth in that. It’s like many of the spiritual gifts. God takes our natural talents (which are gifts in the first place) and empowers them by his Spirit. I’ve been writing songs for over 40 years. During that time you get a sense for what words will rhyme, and it’s not that difficult to improvise lyrics and tunes on the spot. What I can’t explain is the timing of many of these songs, why an idea for a song comes in one meeting and not another, and how people often become more aware of God’s perspective, truth, and presence. And of course, there are also times I sing words that apply in particular ways to a person’s situation that I would have no way of knowing about. In those cases I trust that God’s Spirit is reminding someone of the Father’s intimate knowledge of their situation.

Another individual asked if I should call them “improvised” songs. There’s certainly an element of improvisation to most of the songs, as I’m making them up on the spot. The spontaneous aspect has to do with the way the idea comes suddenly. But I’ve also written down prophetic songs in advance if I thought that God wanted to speak to a particular group in a meeting I was about to lead.

Prophetic, or spontaneous, or improvised, songs don’t have to be from the perspective of God to us, either. I’ve been in numerous meetings where a song or chorus was composed on the spot which the congregation learned and then sang with great faith and passion to the Lord. In fact, some of the songs I’ve written (You Have Been Given; You are Lord; Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed) began that way.

Don’t misunderstand me. You don’t have to sing spontaneous songs to be used by God. God’s Spirit is at work in a variety of ways. He might suddenly bring a thought or Scripture to mind that affects the direction of the meeting. You might be led to pause and lead in prayer for a particular category or need. We want to be listening in the midst of leading, “leaning forward” to hear what the Spirit might be directing us to do as we care for God’s people.

I should add that in no way do these impressions replace, supersede, or minimize God’s unchanging revelation in Scripture. Our hope, trust, and authority is in God’s Word, not the next experience we have. But Scripture tells us that God’s Spirit will continue to comfort, encourage, challenge, and convict through the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 14:29-32; 1 Cor. 14:24-25), as we’re reminded that God does indeed know the hairs on our heads and the thoughts of our hearts.

If you lead corporate worship, my hope is that you believe the Holy Spirit can work not only through what you’ve planned, but also through leadings and impressions that occur during the meeting. Without being dependent on them or exaggerating their importance, they’re one more way God can demonstrate the overflow of his love which was most clearly demonstrated in the substitutionary death of the Savior at Calvary.

I’m sure that for some readers, this post has raised more questions than it’s answered. Here are a few of the books that I’ve found helpful in studying prophecy and the spiritual gifts in general:

Showing the Spirit – D.A. Carson
The Gift of Prophecy – Wayne Grudem
God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee
The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts – Max Turner
A Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts – Sam Storms

Hope this is helpful. Let me know.

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20 Responses to Spontaneous and Prophetic Songs

  1. Ryan June 11, 2008 at 2:09 PM #

    Bob,

    As always, great thoughts and teaching! I myself am not a cessationist, but have come from pretty formal background (LCMS – well, sort of…I’m more of a mix of denominational background) and am just starting to open my eyes to how the Spirit works.

    Interestingly enough, the denomination I’m in now, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (aflc.org) actually has a mixed stance about Spiritual gifts throughout each different, individual church, but the theme verse for the association is 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    We mainly use that verse to teach that each congregation is free and living, governed by its own local body rather than a ‘synod,’ but I find it humorous that a lot of our churches are nervous and/or undertaught about the power of the Holy Spirit, especially considering what the theme verse is!

  2. Tim Wat June 11, 2008 at 3:00 PM #

    Bob:

    Thanks so very much for this entry. I appreciate your ministry so much. Coming from a reformed, cessationist theological tradition, I readily confess that I’m still thinking through a lot of what you’ve written. But to my own discredit, it’s far easier for me to analyze my theological grid on definitions and categories and so much more difficult for me to “focus on being prepared, humble and faithful.”

    I’m a jazz guy, so I get the improvisational angle on what you’re describing. But I also confess I fell like I’m only beginning to learn more of the Spirit’s role in worship leadership, and desire to grow more in my own personal life and worship leadership in that regard.

    As always, I greatly appreciate the warmth, honesty and humility that regularly pervades your insight and wisdom. Reminds me of Newton, another brother who encourages and convicts me regularly.

    Blessings,

    Tim

  3. Tim Kurtz June 12, 2008 at 7:18 PM #

    Bob – first a question:

    You write: ” … I’ve also written down prophetic songs in advance …” If you write it down, does that take away the element of the “immediate” which Grudem and others use in defining the NT gift of prophecy? BTW, I have been blessed by your prophetic songs, both in hearing them live and via mp3.

    Second, reading your blog and watching the recently posted interview you did with Tim Smith at Resurgence increases my anticipation for WG08! We have 8 people from our church registered and eager to attend.

    Third, thanks for your book recommendations on Psalms. I’ve been using a couple in preparation for WG08.

    Tim Wat – I met you when you ministered at a church that a friend attended. I think you have a review on Amazon for Peterson’s Engaging God (a book Bob recommends highly). Tim, if you are in the TriValley area and would like to fellowship over a cup of Starbucks or Peets, I’d welcome the chance. Or if you are attending WG08 it would be great to see you there.

    Grace and Peace to all!
    -tim
    Wellspring Church, San Leandro, CA

  4. Bob Kauflin June 12, 2008 at 11:19 PM #

    Tim,

    Thanks for stopping by. I think there’s still an element of the prophetic when a song comes in advance, if the idea for the song comes spontaneously. That is, the “immediate” applies to when the impression first comes. But typically the songs are written on the spot.

    Look forward to meeting you at WorshipGod08.

  5. Tim Kurtz June 13, 2008 at 1:34 AM #

    Bob -

    Thanks for your quick and helpful response.

  6. Tim Wat June 13, 2008 at 2:10 AM #

    Tim Kurtz – I’ll try to contact you via your church’s website. Would love to sit down and get (re) acquainted!

    Blessings,

    Tim

  7. Stan Smith June 13, 2008 at 6:03 AM #

    Hi Bob –

    I too have been moving in prophetic song for many years. I’ve gotten to see it work in many ways.

    Sometimes I have had God give me a prophetic song in advance of a series of meetings — something that is immediate to the event I’m participating in — and I use the song for those few days, and never again.

    I see this as a fulfillment of I Corinthians 14:26 — “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation…” This is the kind of psalm David had, the kind that flows prophetically. Or to put it another way, it is a revelation in song.

    On one occasion, I heard a new song in a dream — a classic biblical manner of prophetic inspiration. The song was in a style I could not play; a young man patiently spent about an hour with me, going over the song again and again. (I don’t know if this really took an hour or if I simply dreamed that it did.) The words were from Jeremiah 29, straight out of scripture.

    I woke up, remembered the song, and sat at the keyboard, where it took me about an hour to learn it.

    We can split hairs about the usage of the word “prophetic”, but Hebrews 2:12 makes it clear that Jesus will come into the church and sing praise to the Father. I believe this is meant to happen through us — and that because Jesus, who is God, sings through us, the song is necessarily prophetic.

    In other words, there is more to “Christ in you” than we have realized!

  8. Bob Kauflin June 13, 2008 at 7:21 AM #

    Stan,

    Thanks for stopping by. Wanted to comment on your reference to Heb. 2:12. Seems as though the primary purpose of that passage in context is not to support prophetic song, but to highlight the fact that Jesus, in his incarnation, is both God and man.

    It’s important for us to strive for biblical faithfulness in this area because the prophetic gift is so subject to misinterpretation and abuse. I’ve seen too many times where we start with Scripture, but then start reading our experiences back into the Word. I think there’s support for prophetic song in Scripture. I just wouldn’t go to Heb. 2 to find it.

    I pray God continues to use you for the Savior’s glory.

  9. JD Longmire June 16, 2008 at 8:13 AM #

    Bob, thanks so much for your thoughts and teachings on this matter. I have struggled a bit with the tension between cessationist and continuationist camps. It is good to hear a well reasoned and scripturally supported viewpoint on prophetic singing.

    I wonder – how do you understand the continuum of corporate worship as it relates to prophesy, preaching, song and prayer? Are they all integrated, is there some distinctiveness of each?

    I ask, because we, the “enlightened”, “modern” church, seem to try and categorize/segregate these elements when I am not sure that they are so easily uncoupled.

    Some are horrified to even consider the integration of these elements, considering it chaotic or confusing to the body. I am not so certain and would appreciate your insight.

  10. Aaron Wilson June 16, 2008 at 2:45 PM #

    Thank you for addressing this Bob. I’ve started reading your book, but haven’t got to the prophetic singing section yet. It and this article (and your book recommendations) will give me much to think about.

  11. Jesse S June 26, 2008 at 11:10 AM #

    Bob,
    Am I understanding right that those two songs you sang at NA were made up on the spot? I was at Na conference.

    Although the first song didn’t mean as much to me, which is no big deal, I can tell you that I was touched by the one you sang about the chronic pain. I know for a fact the person sitting next to me was very deeply touched by it as she has suffered from it more than I. Unfortunately the download link doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe there’s another way to get it?

    Either way I think you hit the nail with this post.
    Jesse

  12. Bob Kauflin June 26, 2008 at 12:10 PM #

    Jesse,

    Thanks for your comments and encouragement. Yes, those were made up on the spot.

    I have someone checking on the broken links. Not sure what happened.

  13. E. King July 12, 2009 at 9:34 PM #

    Thanks for saying all this.
    It really helped to clear up some of the questions I had in a clear, well-supported, and reasonable way. I appreciate you taking time out for those of us who are either cessationists or have cessationist background. I think you effectively bridged the gap, simply by staying true to the supremacy of Scripture and the insurpassibility of God’s power to work on earth through His children.

    So thanks again! Really appreciate it.

  14. Jay Sandifer September 15, 2010 at 11:24 PM #

    My Name is Jay Sandifer of the Worship Arts Involvment.

    so, I feel gifted and called to the ministry of the prophetic.

    I wish I could say I am ever pursuing that place of brokeness, but….. so many distractions.

    I actually think these disctractions are the blocks God desires to use to release His heart into the earth…through prophetic song.

    These distractions reek of selfishness, yet when fully peeled in cold, hard, honesty, spurn the deepest cry and longing we feel to be made complete and whole in Him…and as a result, radiate the Fathers heart and Word into the lives of those around us….through the prophetic song.

    The cry for justice spills over our wrath filled cup and yet the mercy of the lord seems to triumph….but, what about that word? …that Word which does not tickle ears? …that Word that comes straight from the Father through the mouth of the prophetic office.

    Is that word ever sung? It will be! …and to what type of music?

    (any further thoughts)?

    jay

  15. Phil Mershon December 21, 2010 at 12:25 PM #

    Bob,
    This is a very helpful exploration of this topic. Thanks for taking time to unpack this. I was reading in 1 & 2 Kings recently and noticed that Elisha requested a musician come forward so that he could prophesy.

    I’m wondering how often you already have thought about some of the things that come out in your song? It seems remarkable that the form, the rhyme and meter could come out so well spontaneously. Do you ever have song fragments that you’ve worked on that just seem appropriate in the moment?

    Also, wondering how you’ve refined your skill and sensitivity in this gifting? Can you?

    • Bob Kauflin December 21, 2010 at 12:50 PM #

      Phil, thanks for asking. I’ve been writing songs for over 40 years so I know that plays a part in the ability to come up with rhymes, meter, and melody on the spot. Sometimes I’ll have fragments in my mind prior to a meeting which I then build on when I sing the song. Sometimes I’ll get the whole song in advance and it’s more a matter of finding the right time to share it. Other times, it’s all completely spontaneous. When I sing, I’m trying to think about God’s heart for his people and what he has promised us in his Word. Hope that’s helpful.

  16. Amber Saunders June 2, 2012 at 12:23 PM #

    Ran across this by chance and it was really helpful…thanks! (Amber, Montreal, Canada)

  17. gwendolyn walker June 28, 2013 at 2:55 AM #

    Reading this entry really touched my heart. because i too have the same spontaneous singing of prophetic songs that the Lord have placed in my heart, and i share them with my congregation as the Lord leads me, there are so many gifts in the body of Christ and its wonderful how he makes room for his gift. thank you so much for this artical.

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