We learnt from our study of Habakkuk that listening is a key feature of a prophetic ministry. Without the speaker listening carefully, there is no word to share. Without the hearer listening carefully, there is no action on the word.
1. WHAT PROPHECY IS NOT
1. Not preaching (1 Tim 3; Tit 1; 1 Cor 11:5)
The Reformers and Puritans thought of “prophesying” as being Bible exposition. And there is some truth in this. The gift of prophecy often accompanies Spirit-filled preaching. But preaching and teaching are the explanation and and application of Scripture.
In prophecy, there is the always the element of “immediate, existential, revelation”. God has shown the speaker something for “now”!, Preaching conveys the eternal truth, distilling from from careful study, research and reflection on the biblical text. Prophecy brings something that is true, relevant and of immediate concern to the life of the hearers but it may not be directly connected to Scripture. Good preaching will always have an element of relevant application. Good prophecy will be in tune with the Scriptures as we will see later. So it is not surprising that preaching and prophecy may and frequently do overlap.
But they are distinct gifts (Eph 4:11). So, for example, teaching is one of the listed and required qualification for church leaders (1 Tim 3). The ability to prophecy is not required for church leadership. It’s a different kind of gifting. Prophecy is to be receive and practises by all. Teaching is a different. Church leader can be expected to teach (although that may range from whole church preaching and one-to-one conversations depending on the leader).
2. Not mischievous public rebuke
“Prophecy” is not prophecy when we already know about situations and people by natural observation. Remember Habakkuk who went up higher to get God’s perspective. Prophecy deals with supernatural revelation disclosed by the Spirit of God and directly to us for an outcome of positive change.
3. Not the same as Scripture (2 Tim 3:16; Rev 22:18-19)
OT prophets spoke and wrote words of absolute divine authority: “Thus says the Lord”. Their words were completely infallible and beyond question. Their words were recorded, preserved, and included in the Scriptures. They were relevant for all the people of God. In their own time and for all time. The same applies to the NT letters which were written to specific situations but become acknowledged as having lasting significance. We are to remember that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). It is as if they are God’s own spoken Word. What Scripture says, God says.
Scripture is now a completed canon. We must not add to it (Rev 22:18-19). Today’s prophetic ministry simply cannot carry the same degree of inspiration as the prophetic and apostolic words of the Scriptures despite being, at its best, an authentic, relevant and helpful communication from God. Prophecy today is “inspired” only in a looser and less authoritative sense than within the Bible. The Holy Spirit still gives knowledge, information, ideas and truth, but these are to be tested by the higher authority of the content of Scripture.
As we will find many times there is a parallel with preaching. We would never dare regard a sermon as infallible wisdom that shares the same level of inspiration as Scripture. But we should say that within preaching the Holy Spirit takes the human words and uses them to breath life and fresh insight into the written Word.
2. WHAT PROPHECY IS
1. The agent for healing (1 Cor 12:4; Ps 107:20)
… That is radical and lasting (Is 55:11; Eph 4.11ff; Heb 12:25-29)
2. The truth which demolishes deception (1 Cor 14:24-25)
3. The power to penetrate (Heb 4:12)
… And break through the hardest places (Jer 23:29)
4. Makes Jesus known (Rev 19:10)
… and builds his church (Eph 4:12)
3. PROPHETS and PROPHECY
As we grow in the prophetic, we learn to speak and hear God’s word more clearly and filter out our own. Therefore, we will give and weigh the words accordingly.
Prophecy, like other gifts, can become more established in a individual as the person grows in their experience and others confirm the accuracy of their words. So we can say that someone exercising prophet gifts regularly and accurately may have a prophetic ministry or office. This also suggests an increasingly wider recognition than the local church. We do exactly this with pastors and evangelists.
4. LISTENING TO GOD: DISCERNING TRUTH
1. Prophecy is normal but not infallible (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1-2; 21:8-9; 1 Tim 1:18; 1 Thess 5:19-20)
2. Prophecy is to be tested (Matt 16:13-23)
Character of speaker (Matt 7:15-20)
World | Flesh | Devil
Content of word
- Scriptural in content and drift (Is 8:19-20)
- Glorify Christ (John 16:13-14)
- Come by revelation (1 Cor 14:30)
- Endorsed by church leaders (1 Cor 14:29)
- Has it weight!
Conclusion of hearers (1 Cor 14:3)
A spirit of discernment is not the same as a spirit of suspicion or a critical spirit. We are not to treat prophecies with contempt (1 Thess 5:19-20). But we are to test prophecy with sincerity, love and grace. Testing with sincerity mean that we truly want to know if this is genuinely a word from God or not. It means that we already accept that God speaks today through prophecy! Haslam gives a very helpful list of “tests”:
a) Did it “strengthen, encourage and comfort”? (1 Cor 14:3)
Some so-called prophecy has the effect of figuratively demolishing people. It only leaves us feeling condemned and hopeless. The Holy Spirit always seeks to build, even when the prophetic word exposes error or sin. He always holds out hope, pointing the way forward and out. “If my people ….”
b) Do people feel condemned, controlled or manipulated — or convicted and challenged to change?
This is the flipside (a). It indicates the work of an unholy spirit in the speaker. An unholy spirit will leave us feeling oppressed and guilty, with little or no clue as to what the problem specifically is or what can best be done about it. What has been unmasked by the prophecy may be accurate and true, but an unholy spirit will offer no hope along with that exposure, so that we just feel abandoned by God.
Prophecies that are all “must” and “ought”, and spoken in a legalistic or accusatory tone, may be the result of anger or deep malice on the part of the speaker, and even prove to be demonic in origin. Satan is called the “accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10) and he is often the true source of much t
hat is manipulative, critical, condemnatory and controlling in our lives.
c) Was it “in the flow” of the way the Lord had led the meeting so far?
Or did it have the “gear-crunching” effect. Did it jar. Did it leaving everybody asking, “Where did that come from?”
d) Do you feel loved by God as you listen to it? (1 Cor 13)
Even when God tells us things we don’t want to hear, uncovering secret sins, challenging character, signalling the need radical change in our lives, or revealing ways in which he is displeased, we will still aware that he is speaking lovingly to us. He is telling you the truth in love. That’s the love of God to guide us from danger and set up aright. So, when I hear a prophetic word I ask, “Do I feel loved?” is our guide here.
e) Does it provoke cynicism and criticism in otherwise positive people?
When cynicism is the first response from normally positive people there is something wrong. This may be a clue: its content, tone and spirit are off key.
f) If it was a predictive prophecy, did it come to pass?
If it does, then the speaker got it right! If a specific date was given and the event doesn’t happen, then the prophet needs to admit honestly, “I got it wrong”, asking for everybody’s forgiveness – which should be readily granted!
g) Do you feel closer to God as a result of this?
Where the Spirit of prophecy is genuinely operating, the congregation (as individuals and as a corporate whole) senses the Lord’s presence drawing near and will move closer to the Lord in its walk with him, over time: “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (Prov 10:22).
h) Does the prophecy “put a dampener” on the meeting?
A fog descends and a real “dampener” falls on the people. Heads hang low, nobody wants to sing any more, some sit down despondently and the leader cannot pick up the lost momentum. The reason may be that both the content of the prophecy and the person who said it were simply not right. The effects on the people bear witness to that. This should be publicly and clearly addressed by a leader and not ignored as if nothing happened. Learn to be real about such things. It brings release and security to the people.
i) Is there a witness in all of our spirits that we have heard the “burden of the word of the Lord”?
The same Holy Spirit is at work in both the speaker and hearers alike. They will know that God was in this. We all have an anointing of God’s Spirit to enable us to discern truth accurately (1 John 2:20).