Lesson 8 - Prophecy and Prophets - Part 1:
This has set the scene for an understanding how even you might be able to prophesy. Yes, prophets still speak today, and sometimes they even speak about the future. More often, though, God, unhindered by time, uses prophecy to speak into peoples' present day situations, and sometimes into their pasts.
Just as many people hear God's voice without realising it, so too do many prophesy without knowing that is what they do. It may appear as good advice, or just something unusual they could not have thought of themselves which proves to be true later. Some will attribute this to coincidence, and co-incidences do happen, but God-incidences are far more common.
Co-incidence = 'happens at the same time'
God-incidence = 'happens when God says it'
Clearly then, Christians have an ability to prophesy. They also have a responsibility to learn to use it effectively.
Beginning to Intentionally Prophesy
In Lesson 4 - Ways We Can Hear God's Voice, we looked at what prophecy is, and what a prophet is. Now we will look at how you might begin intentionally to exercise the gift of prophecy. This is important for all Christians - as Paul said: "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." (1 Corinthians 14:1)
The first question to settle is what should it feel like to prophesy? This may seem an odd question, but many people seem to expect something ecstatic to happen when they prophesy. Respected scholar Wayne Grudem, describes New Testament (and therefore today's) prophecy as "speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind." (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, p67). He then demonstrates that if 'ecstatic' means either: being forced to speak against your will; losing self-control and beginning to rave violently or in a disorderly, disruptive way; speaking things which make no sense to them; or being for a time unaware of their surroundings, then prophecy is not ecstatic (pp124-129).
Learning to prophesy is not difficult. You have been practicing hearing God's voice by a number of means. To begin to prophesy all you do is ask God to speak to you about a situation, or person as appropriate, hear what he says, hear what he says to do with it, and do it.
He may say to pass on what you have heard to the person or people concerned - this is commonly called 'prophesying'. He may tell you to carry out some other action - called a 'prophetic act'. He may tell you to pray into what you have heard - this is 'prophetic intercession'. He may tell you to sit on it and do nothing - this is called 'sitting on it and doing nothing'.
The prophecy may come as an idea or word in your mind, a Bible reference or passage, a picture, a dream, a vision, an impression or feeling in your body or emotions - called a 'physical word' of knowledge, a desire to do something unusual such as stand on your head or bark like a dog (I'm not kidding), a song or poem, as a journal entry, or a message in tongues with an interpretation.
One common way for beginners to start prophesying is when they might be praying aloud and what they are saying starts to come from the Lord instead of themselves.
Another way is that someone may speak aloud in tongues and they or someone else thinks they have an interpretation, but instead it is a prophecy triggered by the faith which increased in them due to the edifying effect of tongues.
You may already have noticed that God was speaking to you in a meeting. You thought of something, but weren't sure about it. Then shortly after this one or more people said similar things to what you heard. It could have been you bringing a word from the Lord if you had spoken first. This gives a great feeling, not because you are the great prophet, but because then you know that God speaks to you and trusts you to do what he wants with his word.
One thing is pretty constant, however. The first time you think you might have a prophecy is terrifying. You know you just HAVE to speak it out, but you are sure you will appear foolish. I still remember my pounding heart as I tried to speak out something that I just KNEW was from God, but I also KNEW it had nothing to do with anything else that was happening in the meeting! But if I didn't speak soon two things could happen: either the service would end first, and I would have missed my chance; or my heart would explode out of my chest and I would die! I spoke! And then two people preached on what I said. What a relief!
You don't have to do it the hard way as I did. Take advantage of the opportunity of the exercises in this course to learn in a safe place with others who are not going to ridicule you.
Most importantly, while you are learning, don't take what you hear too seriously. If God says something important to you, and needs you to act on it, he is capable of impressing that importance on you. Otherwise, be easy on yourself, practice often, and test everything with someone you trust.
The purpose of prophecy
The gift closely related to prophecy - speaking in tongues - is intended for the edification of the one who speaks (1 Corinthians 14:4). The gift of prophecy is provided for the edification of the church (also 1 Corinthians 14:4).
What does 'edify' mean? It means to strengthen, encourage and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3,4), to Instruct and encourage (1 Corinthians 14:31). The Macquarie Dictionary definition includes to build up or increase in faith or morality, and to instruct or benefit, especially morally.
The purpose of a prophet is given in Ephesians. Along with the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers, a prophet is a gift from God to the church to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, till they reach unity in the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, and maturity, with the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11).
Graham Cooke lists the following purposes (Developing your prophetic gifting, pp30-46):
- Prophecy restores people's dignity and self-respect.
- Prophecy edifies, encourages and comforts the church.
- Prophecy can bring correction and warning.
- Prophecy can provide direction and enhance vision.
- Prophecy provides an agenda for prayer.
- Prophecy opens up the Word and confirms preaching.
- Prophecy can provide evangelistic breakthroughs.
- Prophecy can release the church into new doctrine or practices.
- Prophecy provides insight into counselling situations.
- Prophecy provides a spirit of thanksgiving and praise.
- Prophecy provides a faith injection.
- Prophecy is vital to spiritual warfare.
The role of the prophet
A prophet is a servant of God. I am especially conscious of this when I read what the angel said in the book of Revelation when John fell down to worship him:
"Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (revelation 22:9)
Many times mention is made of the Kingdom being built on the blood of the saints and of the prophets, and I do not believe this was only the Old Testament prophets.
The task of a prophet is to pass on the word of the Lord, just like anyone else who prophesies. However, one in the office of prophet may also be trusted with words that are much harder for the hearers to receive. This may include words of discipline, warning or rebuke.
Please note, however, that the intention of even these words is to build up, strengthen and encourage, not to condemn or destroy. There are times when people get into situations of great danger to themselves or others, and the loving thing for God to do is to warn them. It may be hard to hear, and may hurt their feelings and prick their consciences, but if the word is truly from the Lord, then it will come at the time they need to hear it.
This does not mean they will necessarily respond well to the prophet. In fact, if they do not consider the word to be from God, they will likely criticize or even attack the prophet who brings the word. A true prophet is equipped by God to withstand such attack without being unduly disturbed, and to not succumb to the need to counterattack or defend themselves. They learn to not be overly concerned for their own reputation, and to pass the pain on to Jesus. Such lessons are hard won through experience, and are a major reason why not everyone who prophesies is a prophet.
It is unusual for a pastor to also be a prophet. There is too great a temptation for such a pastor to justify his leadership actions with "God told me to do it!" People will soon lose confidence in his or her leadership. Also, people will not be encouraged to exercise their own prophetic gifts if the pastor always does it.
It is better for prophets to be accountable to pastors, and for pastors to be advised by prophets. I believe that both should be in some sense accountable to (or take notice of) apostles, a role that is less easy to identify in today's church. God's intention is for his church to be built on the foundation of apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as its chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), and for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to build up the church on that foundation (Ephesians 4:11-13).