Just a couple of weeks ago, I shared some introductory thoughts on the gift of prophecy, a kind of Prophecy 101, as well as giving the link to our podcast with my teaching on the same topic with our local church. I shared a lot of things mainly from the New Testament, as I believe there was a shift in the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy when Jesus, the Prophet and Living Word, arrived on the scene (you can read more about this shift here).
And so here is my follow-up post on the gift of prophecy, which we could call ‘Prophecy 102’.
Different Measures of the Gift
When reading the New Testament, it is very easy to see there are varying measures of the varying gifts that God gives. I believe this is seen in passages like Rom 12:3:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
To each has been given a measure of faith. This passage does not speak of saving faith, but I believe it speaks of the faith we are given according to the gifts God has given to us. Hence why Paul would go on to say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. (Rom 12:6)
Also, real life shows that each of us are given different measures of ministry-serving gifts. My teaching gift is miniscule compared with some other teachers. Not because they are so much more studied than I, though that can play a role, but because they have insights in God that I have not come to yet and might never. So not only are there differing parts of the body, but even those parts that are very similar in gift will vary in their measure of ministry and gift.
And, so, with the gift of prophecy, I easily see three distinctive measures:
a) Prophet – (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-13; 1 Cor 12:28-29)
Yes, these people will be used frequently in prophecy. But they are also called to be foundation layers and to equip God’s people. One of the best ways they equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13) is by helping prepare God’s people to fulfil their prophetic role as a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people.
b) Gift of prophecy – (1 Cor 12:10; Rom 12:6)
Some people will be used in this gift rather frequently, but they are not functioning as foundation-laying and equipping prophets.
c) All may prophesy – (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 14:5, 31)
Because all of God’s people now have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy, we are a prophetic body and can all be used in prophecy. I am very passionate about this and, so, share more about this reality here.
Different Ways God Speaks
Of course God reveals Himself in so many ways – through creation, through art, through a whole host of things. But with regards to God speaking and revealing Himself today in the more ‘prophetic’ and ‘revelatory’ sense, I find that there are typically 5 ways in which God does so:
a) Actual words
Here God actually speaks to the person. A case and example would be God’s call to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. We see this in other places like Acts 13:1-3 where the Holy Spirit, via the prophets in Antioch, speaks that Paul and Barnabas are to be set apart for their apostolic-mission work. And, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other examples in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is not so much about hearing God speak something, but rather the times when God gives a kind of mental picture of something He wants to communicate. It’s almost like a rubber-stamp on our mind or spirit of God’s revelation. Again, God has not spoken to the person but rather gives a picture, an image of what He wants to communicate. And so, when we share the prophetic picture, we describe what we see imprinted upon our minds.
Typically, we might identify our receiving of visions when we are awake and receiving of dreams when we are asleep. Peter, when quoting Joel, said that this would be part of the fruit of the prophetic Spirit in the last days. And we’ve been in the last days for about 2000 years. And so these things would continue through this entire age. An example of a vision would be the one Peter had on the rooftop with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals (Acts 10). God repeated it 3 times to communicate that Peter needed to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. A dream might be like what we find in Gen 15:12-20 where God makes the all-important covenant with Abraham.
What I always encourage people with is that we don’t get caught up too legalistically with terms and definitions. Goodness, we love our terms and definitions. And while I hope these are helpful here, though others might approach things with different terms, there are things that fall outside these first 3 examples. And, so, I might identify as promptings and impressions. There is no spoken word from God, no mental picture, no vision or dream, but there is a stirring, a sensing, a prompting, an impression of the heart of God and what He wants to communicate to a person, within the local church body, etc. It might call for us to speak out a prophecy or act out of prophetic action. But this comes from an inner sense and prompting of God, not so much a direct word, picture, vision or dream. Here is a great example of a prompting of the Spirit over at Jesus Creed.
I shared this in the last article, but when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not ‘intended’ within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is extremely important in a life of following Jesus as Master. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’
God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal ‘more’ of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. I have plenty of other examples of this exact same experience, but that should be one sufficient example.
How To Communicate Prophecy
This is important to look at as well. When we communicate prophecy, or what we believe God has revealed to us, we must use wisdom. First off, when we do prophesy, there is nothing inherently more spiritual about speaking in King James Old English – Thus saith the Lord…
Now, I think we all pretty much know that, but there was a day when prophecy always had to come with that kind of language. But remember that God is incarnational and comes to real human beings in real life. So we can speak ‘normal’ and it still remain just as true, just as directive and just as much from God.
I spoke earlier in this article of the different measures of the gift of prophecy. And, so, for the prophet and those regularly used in this gift, I would expect statements to possibly start out with, ‘This is what the Lord says…‘ Of course, it does not have to begin that way. One can begin to speak the prophecy without such a prelude statement. But, to bring a focus, especially in a larger church gathering, it can be helpful at times to begin with such.
But, a word of wisdom to those who are not prophets and not regularly used in this gift of prophecy, or for those who are wanting to learn to hear and discern God’s voice. It is best to begin a prophecy with a less directed statement such as, ‘I believe this is what the Lord is saying…’ or ‘I sense the Lord is saying…’
While I do believe God speaks clearly and directly today, having heard such prophets and those gifted in prophecy speak such powerful things in my almost 14 years in Christ, for those still growing in hearing God and in prophecy, let’s be wise how we communicate such things.
Finally, I end with some thoughts on weighing prophecy. This is biblical and a very good practise. Of course, we don’t only want to weigh prophecy, but we want to be wise discerners and evaluaters of all things in our life in God. Now, at the same time, I highly discourage against what I might call agnostic Christianity where we always question every word, action and motive, laying aside any child-like faith of trust. But, when the body speaks forth prophecy, we are to be responsible to weigh it.
One passage to focus in on is found here:
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor 14:29-33)
Who are the ‘others’ in vs29 that are encouraged to weight the prophecy? Some would argue it is the other prophets in the congregation. But, noting the whole thrust of chapter 14 – Paul’s instruction to the whole church, not simply prophets – I believe it is asking the whole congregation to be responsible in weighing things.
Also, to go along with some things I said earlier, it is worth noting that, in vs31, the word all is used 3 times. This, I believe is another pointer that all of God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit of prophecy, can prophesy. We can all prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.
Now, a quick word about what it means to weigh prophecy, though I am sure more could be said. When it comes to weighing, here are 4 questions that I find helpful:
- Is it in line with the principles and teaching of Scripture?
- What do our wise and experienced leaders have to say about the prophecy?
- Does it resonate well in our hearts as men and women of the Spirit?
- Does it bring clarity rather than confusion?
If, for some reason we believe the prophecy or revelation shared is not of the Lord, it does not necessarily mean we kick the person out of the church. That is not the norm, at least in my experience. But, suffice it to say, each case will call for its own wisdom. It could be that the leaders speak a personal word to the person who shared the off-base prophecy. Or it could be a public correction right then and there following the so-called prophecy. Or it could be a correction in the next church gathering. Again, it will call for the leaders to have God’s wisdom.
Now, if the person continues to share wrong things, then we would probably need to put a stop to their sharing, if not forever, at least for a time. Again, that might call for a personal word with the person or a public sharing with the congregation. With these things we always need the Lord’s wisdom.
Of course, when it comes to false prophets (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1), false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), and even false super apostles like what Paul dealt with (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11), these people are immediately seen outside of the fold. The fruit of their lives, what they speak and how they act, will mean that we guard the people from such deceivers and not give any room to them, warning the congregation to stay away from such people. So, though we do not stone people today, we do exclude them from the fold.
But, for the most part, those who are truly in the body of Christ and are looking to hear the voice of God and be faithful to speak what He prompts and reveals, we must allow for the church to be a safe place where we can learn to practice the gifts of the Spirit. I believe this calls for us to allow the people to take steps of faith, even if they might miss something. Some will disagree, but I believe this is part of helping the people of God learn to hear God and speak correctly what He reveals.
Now, 95% of the time, it is my experience that no bomb will be dropped that will devastate people. But it does happen, and when it does, we must deal with it with wisdom. And so, this is why I believe it can be helpful to utilise the leadership of the church as a kind of ‘screening process’ first, asking the people to share with the leadership before stepping forward and utilisng a microphone to share any prophecy. I have found this to be extremely helpful in guarding against unhelpful things spoken to the congregation. We want to steer clear of a controlling spirit as well. But we must consider how to maintain a good balance.
Well, this should suffice for now – a Prophecy 101 and 102 – for getting an introduction into the gift of prophecy, especially noting the changes that Christ and the new covenant have brought about to this all-important gift. We cannot centre out theology in the Old Testament. We can obviously build on it and learn from it, but we must now see Christ and the New Testament as the great teacher on all things of our faith, including prophecy. Of course, this does not mean we have a 7-step instruction manual process to help us through in every instance. Such would take away from the reality that this is part of walking out a life of faith. But I do believe these are some helpful insights into this gift as understood from the fuller, new covenant perspective.