Questions and Answers
Regarding Prayer





Sender:  Nicole, Northglenn, Colorado, USA

"What's the difference between prayer and divination?"

The book of Acts refers to a servant girl in Philippi with a "spirit of divination" who "brought her masters much gain by soothsaying."  (See Acts 16:16 in KJV.)  The New International Version of that passage translates "divination" as "predicting the future" and renders "soothsaying" as "fortunetelling."   It is noteworthy that the word used in this passage for "divination" is a Greek word literally translated "Python."  So, this servant girl was possessed by a "spirit of the python."  It is clearly a reference to a demon spirit.

There are numerous passages in the Old Testament referring to divination -- from books like Numbers, Deuteronomy, II Kings, Jeremiah, and especially Ezekiel.  In every case, it is clear that God does not approve of divination as the spirit and purpose behind divination is opposing the Spirit and purposes of God.  

References to divination in the Old Testament do not contrast divination to prayer but rather to prophecy.  The context usually emphasizes the fact that God has a plan and purpose for His people, and we are only to look to Him to reveal that plan and purpose to us.  In New Testament theology, God may confirm His plan to us through those who have a genuine gift of prophecy, i.e. one of the charismata or "gifts" of the Holy Spirit.  However, genuine prophecy from the Spirit of God should only confirm what the Lord has already spoken directly into the hearts of His people.  If it does not confirm what God has said to us, we are only to "test" it but not to put our trust in it.  

God's people should always recognize the difference between genuine prophecy that comes through God's Spirit and divination.  Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."  (John 10:27)  Every believer in Jesus will have spiritual discernment to recognize when a so-called "prophecy" is not from the Spirit of God.  Jesus also said of His sheep, "But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."  (John 10:5)

Focusing back to the question, biblical prayer has a few qualifying characteristics that set it apart from divination:

  • We pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done rather than our will or the will of the person we are praying for.  (See Matthew 6:10.)

  • We never experience divine faith for answered prayer unless we have an inward assurance from the Spirit of God that what we are praying for is God's will.  (See 1 John 5:14-15.)

  • Our prayers should reflect our identity as ambassadors for Christ whose goal in prayer and in ministry is to see others reconciled to God, delivered from a life of sin, and blessed with divine favor.  We do not pray curses upon people nor material or earthly blessings apart from being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.   (See 2 Corinthians 5:20.)

  • We pray "in the Name of Jesus" which means in accordance with His character and saving purposes.  This is not a formula or incantation but a reminder to us not to pray anything that is not in line with the Spirit and character of Jesus who came not to "condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."  (See John 3:17.)

  • The Holy Spirit, who "helps us" in prayer, will actually at times pray through us with "groans that words cannot express."  (Romans 8:26)  While we do not in such instances understand what is being communicated, we recognize the work of the Spirit of God in praying through us as He "intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."  (Romans 8:27.)

  • One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is that "he will show you things to come."  (See John 16:13.)  This obviously means that spiritual gifts like prophecy (see 1 Corinthians 12:10) can accompany prayer to encourage the person we are praying for.  But, as mentioned above, every born-again believer in whom the Holy Spirit resides is equipped to recognize the source of a prophetic word since the Holy Spirit within the believer will confirm if it is from Him.  It should be added that the "discerning of spirits" is listed as one of the charismata, or "gifts of the Spirit," and it is a companion gift to prophecy.  This means it is the ability to discern whether a prophecy came from the Spirit of God, from the spirit of the individual giving it, or from a deceiving "evil" spirit.  This is why the gift called the "discerning of spirits" is listed right after the gift of "prophecy."  (See 1 Corinthians 12:10.) 

In Scripture, a person functioning in divination is characterized as dabbling in the occult.  They are using spiritual power to get their way or the way of the person(s) they are serving.  Sometimes, they may actually be seeking to procure or foretell good things for people when in reality God is seeking to call those people to recognize their sins and repent to avert judgment. 

Prayer proceeds from the Spirit of God when it is truly offered in line with the Spirit and character of Jesus.  Divination is prompted by an evil spirit sometimes masquerading as a good spirit -- an "angel of light."  Scripture makes a clear distinction between the work of evil or "deceiving" spirits and that of the Spirit of God, and believers are to "watch and pray" so that they are alert to the battle lines at all times.  The good news is that God is omnipotent and Satan and his demonic following are not.  So, while we are called to be vigilant in prayer, we can rest assured that we're on the winning team -- and winning others to Christ for their own salvation and benefit is what we're about.


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