THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
The teaching surrounding the New Testament gift of prophecy is mainly concentrated in 1Corinthians 12,13 and 14. However, the Bible is full of prophetic utterances and sayings, which model to us a range of prophetic examples - from warnings, encouragements, admonishments, right through to predictions of the future. A complete study of these examples would be outside of the scope of this article.
Prophecy was a very important function in the Old Testament, and there are examples going right back to the Garden of Eden where God gave Adam and Eve a word about the seed of the woman (Jesus) bruising the serpent's (Satan's) head. This prophecy was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ some thousands of years later.
Most of the books of the Old Testament contain prophecy in some form or another, and this shows that prophecy is a significant means by which God speaks to His people.
We define prophecy is the word that comes by inspiration to a person who utters it to a person or group of people, showing God's purposes, warnings, intentions, His love and His words of encouragement and comfort to those who are committed to Him.
A great portion of Old Testament prophecy dealt with Israel's disobedience to the Lord and His responses and warnings about that. This was clearly modeled in the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the Minor Prophets.
The Book of Psalms modeled prophecy in prayer form. Many prophecies about the coming of Jesus are seen in Psalms. Isaiah is another book that contains some powerful prophecies about the ministry of Jesus and what He did on the cross for us.
New Testament prophecy, however, appeared not to deal with the affairs of nations, although one prophet predicted a famine and it came to pass. But in the main, New Testament prophecy contained comfort, exhortation, admonishment, encouragement and spiritual direction. Prediction did not feature prominently although there were prophecies over Paul, predicting the sufferings and imprisonment he was going to go through when he reached Jerusalem. Paul was prepared in his heart to cope with them through the prophecies given to him. This shows that prophecy can prepare us for the future, and to help us to know that what happens to us is God's will.
One of the Nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Prophecy is one of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1Corinthians 12. It is a resource given to the ordinary Christian when he is endued with power (called 'the baptism with the Spirit'). When a person receives the enduement of power, he has the ability to prophesy.
Paul teaches that the gift of prophecy is the best gift to us in public church meetings, because the word is given in a language that all can understand. He says that when people come into a meeting where others are prophesying, their hearts are laid bare and they fall down and worship God. Therefore it is a powerful means of showing that God knows the hearts of those in the meeting.
Prophecy can contain some of the other gifts of the Spirit as it operates. Many prophecies contain the gift of the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. In come cases it can be the vehicle for the gift of discerning of spirits. When the gift of tongues is used with an interpretation, this is equivalent to the gift of prophecy.
Prophecy can be part of ordinary preaching and teaching. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones called it preaching 'in the spirit' where a preacher can say things that have a direct impact on his hearers. Anything that makes a listener know that he or she has heard from God is prophecy.
The Voice Of God
Right from the Garden of Eden when the voice of God spoke to Adam and Eve, until the present day, God has continuously been speaking to His people. We see echoes of this in the Biblical histories. God is a significant participant in Israel's pre-history from Abraham, through to Israel's history from Moses until the time when Israel and Judah ceased to be. There is an indication that God's voice was heard during the intervening years until John the Baptist appeared. An example of this are the saints of God who were earnestly waiting for the appearance of the Messiah, and who, as old people, greeted the baby Jesus. We see the voice of God speaking to the Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem, and to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. Joseph, the husband of Mary was spoken to in a dream to not be afraid of marrying her. The voice of God, through his angel, spoke to Mary, announcing that she would give birth to Jesus. Jesus' parents were warned by the voice of God in a dream to flee to Egypt, and were told by God when it was safe to return to Nazareth.
While Jesus was ministering, he was the voice of God in human form, and when He was ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit so that God could continue to speak to His people without ceasing. This is the situation from the Day of Pentecost until the Second Coming of Christ: God is continuously speaking to us through the Holy Spirit.
All those who received Christ as Saviour have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This means that they can be receivers of the voice of God at any time, because the Holy Spirit is living in them all the time. They don't have to wait for the enduement of power, or the baptism with the Spirit to be able to hear and understand the voice of God speaking to them. The enduement of power enables them to be emitters of the voice of God, through the gifts and ministries of the Spirit, to others.
The Correct Use of Prophecy
Before we enter into the actual function and use of prophecy, we need to examine some uses that would not be recommended in fellowship gathers where people need to be encouraged and uplifted.
1. Prophecy is not used to reveal sin in believers. Although it is the Holy Spirit's function to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgement to come, He does not usually use the gift of prophecy through other believers to do that. Conviction of sin is something that happens in a person's heart and usually the Holy Spirit speaks directly to the person, instead of through anyone else. A major misuse of prophecy in the church is the use of it to conduct witch hunts for sin, and then to announce a person's sin to all and sundry. Because so many good people have been grievously wounded through this sort of thing, we recognise that the fruit of using prophecy for revealing sin in others is bad, and therefore not acceptable to God.
2. The flow of good prophecy can be seriously hindered by critical people in the group. A critical or judgemental attitude can kill the operation of the gifts of the Spirit stone dead. This is because most people lose their confidence and faith if they think that someone is going to put them down in some way if they launch out and say things they believe that are in the Spirit. Many times, the word will be clear and strong, and it will be easy to give, knowing that the Lord is behind it; but most times, the word is quiet and almost indistinguishable from our own natural thoughts. We ask ourselves "Is is the Spirit, or is it just me?" Therefore it takes more courage and faith to speak the words when this is the case. If the person thinks that there will be people there who might accuse him of being a false prophet if he makes a mistake, he will keep quiet and take the attitude that the impression he has is just his own natural mind.
3. Over dramatisation can hinder the effectiveness of prophecy. Some people think that speaking in a spooky or dramatic manner, perhaps in King James English will make the prophecy more authoritative. Actually, it has the opposite effect. Someone getting up in a meeting and giving a dramatic speech, calling it a 'prophecy' will have his word forgotten as soon as the next hymn is sung. Most people endure prophecies like this. I have heard very long and dramatic prophecies where I have forgotten the things that were said before the word was even finished. The authority of a prophecy is in the words themselves, and not in the way they are given. A person can get up and speak a word in a normal tone with easy listening language, and because he speaks with a heart of love and grace, the prophecy enters the hearts of people and is remembered.
4. Prophecy is not limited to senior leaders or elders in the church. Anyone can prophesy. Many people never launch out with a God-given word or impression because they think that they don't have the right or authority to share it with the rest of the meeting or group. Leaders who specify who can prophesy, are in bondage to power and authority, and do not realise that God's power and authority is quite different from that of man. God can use the youngest, weakest Christian in the meeting to give the most powerful word - as long as we have an environment where anyone is free to exercise the gift.
5. Three things are not recommended when using the prophetic gift. Hatching, Matching, or Despatching. In other words, predicting babies, marriage partners, or the time of death for a person are very risky areas for giving words, and should be avoided where possible unless the word has come very clearly and with some strong confirmations. I remember two situations where I broke this rule, but God was in it. The first episode was where I was praying for a young lady, and I got a clear word that she was afraid of men. I prayed this, and she broke down and sobbed her heart out. What I didn't know was that just that afternoon, she was counselled by a lady leader for that very same problem. The second episode was when I was praying for a very old but saintly woman, and I got an impression that she was not long for this world. This word was given in front of about 30 people. Six months later she died, and many people in that place knew I had given that prophecy. But these are exceptions to the rule, and I only gave those words because they were strong and insistent and I had to give them even though I was nervous and apprehensive about saying those things.
How We Use The Gift of Prophecy Correctly
Now that we have dealt with the introductory material and the traps that can hinder the operation of the gift, we can move on to the more positive aspects of how to prophesy in a way that others will be comforted, encouraged and uplifted. I think that this is what any sincere Christian who is wanting to exercise the gift of prophecy wants to happen.
To put yourself in a position where you can be sensitive enough to hear the voice of God, and to know that the impressions you are getting are consistent with God's plans and purposes, you need to spend as much time as you can in prayer and Bible study. You need to know the message of the Bible, the teaching of Jesus, and the principles outlined in the Apostle's teaching. The more you involve yourself in these things, the more sensitive you will become to know that what you are hearing is really the voice of God.
Now, God is always speaking to us, whether we are praying or not; whether we are studying His Word or not. Praying or studying does not enable God to speak to you; rather, it enables you to hear and distinguish His voice from the other voices of the world, flesh and the devil that also can come to you.
Also, if you love the Lord with a sincere heart, the voices of the world, flesh and the devil will be obvious to you, and you will be able to ignore them without a further thought. You will be able to recognise the distinctiveness of the voice of God when it comes.
There are two levels of intensity that the word comes to you:
Sometimes you will get a word that is clear, strong and insistent. It may be accompanied by a quickening in your spirit - that sense that is similar to how a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs feels. It is a sense of anticipation; of being at 'yellow alert', along with a strong desire to share it with the person it is meant for. This is clear cut and it is easy to use your faith to give a word like that. It is so certain.
Most times the word will come very quietly; so quietly that you might think it is just coming from your own mind. You may ask, "Is this just me?" There seems to be no certainty about it. It is just a quiet impression and can be easily ignored - but there is a certain sense of dissatisfaction if you do not exercise it, and you go away wondering whether you should have given that word after all. This is the time where you need to exercise your faith more strongly. It takes courage to start speaking when you are not quite certain, but the effects of it on others can be quite significant and strong.
You see, it is not important how you feel as you give the word. As I said before, it is the words that carry the authority and power, not how you feel emotionally when you give them. I offered my gift of prophesy on the internet forum that I subscribe to. I got up on Monday morning to find six people asking for prophetic words of encouragement. Well, you know what most of us feel like on Monday mornings when we are trying to prepare for work. I looked at the first request and felt absolutely nothing. My mind was empty as well. I asked the Lord to give me the inspiration for the person, and I waited. Then a small seed thought came into my mind. As I typed that thought, a flow of thought started and I was away. I felt quite normal through all the six words that I typed for the people, but I was struck by what I had said. When I had finished the prophecies, I read back through them and knew that what I had written had to have come from the Spirit, because I was not thinking those things when I started, and each prophecy was quite different from the one before.
Faith is believing that the impression you have is the word that you are meant to share with the group or the person. If you wait for a certain feeling of spirituality before you give a prophesy, you will never do it.
It is also important that you prophesy only as long as there is a flow. A common mistake is to try to carry on the prophecy after the inspiration has stopped and you are trying to sort of round it off so it makes sense to you. No. That is not the way to go about it. Stop as soon as the flow of inspiration stops. God has reasons for short prophecies as well as long ones. One of my six prophecies was only two sentences. I wanted to give this person more, but the inspiration stopped abruptly and there was no more. That was the prophecy. Starting a prophecy in the Spirit and trying to finish it in the flesh can diminish the effectiveness of it.
Might I say here that a group of people giving prophecies to a subject person can show more of the prophetic power of God, because one word might be a blessing to the person, but six or eight people giving words can nearly overwhelm the person with the love and grace of God, and each prophecy dovetailing together can compile a very powerful composite word. The power of it is seen through six or eight individuals using their faith and the result being a very powerful word for the subject person.
Another important principle in giving prophetic words is that you need to love and respect the person to whom you are giving the word, otherwise it will not work the way you want it to work. God shows His love more powerfully through people who love and honour each other. Love is possibly the most important principle of God there is. Paul said that even though he gave tremendous prophecies, if he did not have love, they were nothing. If we love each other, then our motivation will be good and God will honour us.
Actually Giving the Prophecy
Let's place you in a gathering of Spirit filled people where there is an opportunity to give a word of prophecy. This is a prophecy workshop, and the hot seat is placed at the front of the room and one of the group is asked to sit on the chair. This person is not conscripted, because everyone who attends is equally desiring to move in the Holy Spirit and is a willing participant.
The person is sitting there, and the leader asks that if anyone has a word of prophecy for this person, they may come up to the front and speak it to him. A number of people are going up to the front and are sharing words, or prophetic images.
Then while you are waiting, a thought comes into your mind that you were not thinking a minute ago. Let's say it is "This poor man cried and the Lord heard him." It is not accompanied by any sort of feeling that would encourage you to go up and join the queue. You are sitting there wondering whether it is just the thoughts of your own mind. But the thought is insistent, and as the session comes to an end, you decide to go up and give your word anyway. Either it is going to be of the Spirit and be a blessing to the subject person, or it is just going to be from your mind. But everyone is supportive and no-one is going to accuse you of being a false prophet or otherwise put you down if you are mistaken. So you are in a supportive atmosphere with other doing what you are now about to do. Perhaps they feel the same way as you do. They are not quite sure, but they are going to give their words anyway.
But you recognise that their words are uplifting and encouraging, and you know that what they are saying is from the Spirit. Why? Because you know the Word of God well enough to know that what they are saying is consistent with God's ways, plans and purposes.
It is now your turn. You say 'This poor man cried and the Lord heard him." Then you get more: "The Lord has heard your cries and your prayers. You have asked Him in faith, and He is now about to give you what you are asking for. Have faith and patience, and you will receive what God has promised you." After giving your word, you walk back to your seat with the assurance that you have said something very encouraging and uplifting.
Imagine what a blessing it would be for you if the subject person said, during his feedback, that he was facing a serious issue in his life and he was crying out to God for help and wisdom to deal with it. How would you feel about your word for him now? Would you say it was from God? I think that I would.
I remember once in a house meeting when I put my hand on a man's shoulder, and the small voice inside me said "Pray that he will receive a financial miracle." I prayed that prayer, and the room erupted with expressions of praise and joy. I was told later that this guy was facing a very serious financial situation, and everyone knew that I had no way of knowing that in the natural.
So if you are in a workshop type group made up of supportive people, and you get an impression, launch out in faith and give it. The principle is 'reckless abandonment' where you are trusting God that your word is from the Spirit. If it transpires that your word was not from the Spirit, you will trust Him anyway, and will continue to exercise the gift.
Some Other Ideas
Prophecy comes in different forms. Often it will come as a general word of encouragement and uplift for the subject person. At other times it will come as a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom. These are exercised in exactly the same way as the general prophecy. You will get an impression of something - like the young woman having a fear of men. Or you may get a picture of something that will be significant to the subject person.
For this reason it is vitally important that you give the words exactly as they come to you. There is the temptation to try to interpret things or pictures that seem strange to your natural mind, when if you just said what is there, or describe the picture as it is, it would have a greater impact on the subject person. A person might come to you for ministry, and you get a mental picture of a broken bone, yet the person looks healthy. But because you are operating in faith, you tell him that you have a picture of a broken bone which has mended back together with a big lump, because that's what you see in your mental picture. He then says "Praise God" and takes off his shoe. There you see a misshapen ankle with a big lump in the middle of it. The ankle bone had been broken and had not mended properly. Now you can go ahead and minister to the injury, knowing that the subject person will have a much stronger faith through your obedience in giving that picture as you saw it, not how you may have wanted to interpret it.
There are times when a word will come strongly to you and you give it, but there is no acknowledgment of it from the subject person, and there is no indication that it will ever come to pass. Many aspiring prophets would then say that the word came from their natural mind and discount it. But God is not limited to our time frame. Remember, the prophecy of Joel was not fulfilled for 800 years. So we need to trust God for the outcome in His time, even though we might never see it come to pass in our life time.
Concerning judging prophecy. I think that the best person qualified to judge any prophecy that is given is the subject person. I don't think that anyone else should be judging a word that is given to a particular person. Concerning the judging of a general prophecy, we must be careful of having a critical attitude based upon our own idea of what prophecy should be. God is not limited to our minds or our ways. If a prophecy has to be judged, let it be done in private and in a gracious and encouraging manner.
Here is an interesting episode. During a meeting my friend attended, there were prophecies, and one in particular was when a man got up and said "Thus saith the Lord, yea... yea... thus saith the Lord.. yea..." and then he sat down. Most people thought that it was no prophecy at all, but I am starting to think that it was prophetic. Perhaps there was someone in that meeting who had just prayed and asked God whether He would do something he was not sure of, and then that other man got up and gave that prophecy. That could have been what the unsure man needed right then. So you see, we can't always assume that something is an error just because it looks like one.
Basically, what we call 'prophetic' is just another way of saying that God is speaking to us. God can speak in many different ways, and all these can be defined as prophetic. Just as you go to prayer and get a word for yourself when you need it (and most of you do); it is just as simple to get a word for someone else in the same way.
Prophecy can be given in the course of a normal conversation. You don't have to wait for a full-on Pentecostal or Charismatic service to be able to exercise the gift. You can prophesy to a large group of people, and then quietly prophesy to just one person. You can get a scripture, a meaningful sentence, or just one word. You can get a mental picture of something significant. You may not understand what it is about, but your subject person may if you have the faith to share it.
If you want to develop the gift of prophecy, you need to exercise it as often as you can. I have found my outlet through the internet forum, where there are many people who are crying out for words of encouragement.
If you have a prophetic gift, then people will be drawn to you like moths. There are thousands of people out there in churches where the prophetic is not practiced. Therefore, no one is giving encouraging, uplifting words from the Lord to people who are hungry and crying out for it. If you demonstrate a prophetic gift which helps people, they will come to you for more.
All you need is faith and love, and you are on your way.
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