THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 8

Bible Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16; 5:1-2

Yesterday we looked at two important ways of testing whether a prophetic word is from God or not. Firstly, we must be sure that the word is in agreement with and not contradictory to God’s Word. Secondly, in giving a prophetic word there is safety in submitting it to be tested by other prophetic people. There is no place for a “loner” who does not submit to other believers.

The motive people have for giving prophetic words is important. Sometimes people do give words in order to manipulate or control a situation. That was certainly the case with Jezebel when she spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-2. I have often wondered why a man of the calibre of Elijah was almost destroyed by Jezebel’s “prophecy.” It is so clear that Jezebel’s words were not from the heart of God, and manipulative words are often much more subtle. We must be careful to watch that insecure people do not use the giving of prophetic words as a form of attention seeking. I know of a situation where a man sadly gives prophetic words because it gives him a sense of spiritual superiority. Perhaps more sad is the fact that no one has sought to correct him, although it is highly likely that he would not accept correction.

There are other important questions to ask when weighing a prophecy. Does it build up or condemn? Does it glorify Jesus? The Holy Spirit always points to and glorifies Jesus. Does the prophecy promote obedience to God? Does it bring freedom and peace? Bondage, confusion and fear are not the work of the Holy Spirit. Is the word couched in religious language or is it in language that people can easily understand? Does the prophetic word make the hearers feel uncomfortable and wary? We have an anointing that teaches us the truth and warns us of that which is false [see 1 John 2:27].

I remember years ago reading a book entitled “To Corinth with Love,” by Michael Green in which he tackled issues of prophecy. One of his comments concerned the length of a prophecy. He suggested that even if it began in the Spirit, the longer the prophecy is, the more possibility there is that it continues in the flesh.

“The human factors involved in interpretation and application of personal prophecies can be sifted and tested through agreement. If several responsible people are receiving the same or similar words, the accuracy is more probable” [Peter Wagner, Blazing the Way, page 205].

It is vital that we test prophetic words but do not let that make you nervous or afraid to give words that you believe the Lord is giving to you. A healthy local church will give people room to develop their gifts in an atmosphere of love. Even where correction is necessary it will be given in such a way that does not discourage but strengthens, encourages and helps that person to grow. As our Bible reading says to day, we should maintain the unity of the Spirit [Ephesians 4:3], honour Christ’s body, and grow together in love.

Tomorrow we will begin to look at the gift of different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 7

Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

“Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good” [1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 NLT]

We know that the purpose of prophecy is to edify, exhort and comfort people, and primarily believers. The apostle John says, “… the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” [Revelation 19:10]. In the New Living Translation this verse reads as, “For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.” Prophecy is the revelation of Jesus’ heart for His people.

We must recognise that not all prophetic words are from God. They might come from the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit. A word might also be given that is partially from God and partially human thinking! Although it is possible to speak 100% accurate words from God, it is more often the case that prophecy is a mixture. Some people think that God can only speak through mature people, but this is not true. The manifestations of the Spirit can come through people who have significant unresolved issues in their lives. Paul called the Corinthian Church carnal. They misused the gifts of the Spirit, had wrong doctrines and lacked godly character. There is no suggestion in 1 Corinthians that the misuse of the gifts makes then invalid.

How do you know that a prophetic word is genuinely from God? How can a prophetic word be tested?

In God’s Word the Bible, we have a “more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:19 KJV].

If something is spoken that is in contradiction to God’s Word then we can be sure that it is wrong.

The Bible teaches that there is safety in numbers “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” [Proverbs 11:14]. The Old Testament speaks of “schools” or “companies” of prophets [see 1 Samuel 10:10; 2 Kings 4:1; 5:22]. Paul writes about this when he writes “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” [1 Corinthians 14:29]. If you believe that God has given you a word then it is a good thing to check it with mature believers who also move in the prophetic realm. There is no room here for the “loner” who refuses to submit to other believers. In actual fact more mature Christians can help those with less experience to sharpen their listening and discerning skills when prophetic ministry is being developed among believers.

Questions:

How does the thought that prophecy is a revelation of Jesus’ heart for people based on Revelation 19:10 help you to better understand the meaning of prophecy?

Why do you think that prophets operated in “schools” or “companies” in the Old Testament? What would be the equivalent today?

What two safeguards that help us to recognize the correctness of a prophetic word, have you learned from today’s devotional word?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 6

Bible Reading: Acts 21:1-14

We continue today with more simple Biblical truths about the gift of prophecy.

Firstly, we must recognise that personal prophecy is always partial. Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” [1 Corinthians 13:9,12]. Each prophecy touches only a small segment of our lives. Prophecy is not only partial, but also progressive in the sense that it unfolds gradually over the years with each word adding new information and revelation. It is also conditional – the fulfilment of a prophecy requires the participation and co-operation of the one receiving the prophetic word.

Secondly, a person who has received a word of prophecy must ultimately make their own decision about what they should do, based on what they sense that the Holy Spirit is saying to them and not what He may be saying to others. One of the most remarkable stories in the Book of Acts concerns a prophecy given to Paul. Paul had been advised by the disciples in Tyre not to go up to Jerusalem [Acts 21:4]. Paul then travelled to Caesarea and stayed there for many days [Acts 21:8-10]. Agabus, a prophet from Judea met with Paul in Caesarea and performed a prophetic act. He took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet with the belt, and then pronounced, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’” [Acts 21:10-11]. After Paul had received this word the disciples in Caesarea, including Luke, tried to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem [Acts 21:12]. Despite all these voices Paul had to make his own decision. It is important that when a person receives a word of prophecy they weigh it up and test it, and then make their own decisions based on what the Holy Spirit has been saying to them.

In our Bible reading Agabus is called “a prophet.” The office of a prophet was an appointment by the risen Christ [Ephesians 4:11] whereas the gift of prophecy is given by the Holy Spirit and available for all believers to exercise.

A prophet functions as a divinely appointed preacher, predicts future events, and is watchman over the affairs of God’s people. In this sense it is correct to say that a man like Dr. A.W.Tozer was a prophet in his generation.

Over the next two days I want to take a careful look at how a prophetic word should be tested. It is vital that prophetic words are weighed and tested.

Questions:

Why is it important that we make our own decisions concerning guidance?

What might be the dangers for a person making a decision based on a word of prophecy that someone has given them, if they themselves are not in tune with what the Holy Spirit is saying to them personally?

It is clearly Biblical that God intends people to give words of prophecy. What dangers must people who do this avoid in order to keep their hearts pure?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 5

Bible Reading: Acts 11:19-30

Over the next few days we will look at some simple Biblical facts about prophecy.

Firstly, there are different levels of prophecy. It might be a simple word of encouragement or communicating Scripture. It could be a picture that God has given you for someone. It may foretell the future as in the case of a man named Agabus, who by the Spirit said that there was going to be a great famine throughout the whole world [Acts 11:27-28]. The effect of that prophecy was to motivate the disciples to give and send relief to the Christians in Judea.

Many years ago Robert Fergusson and I were at a Bible College in Central Java. We had been asked to help activate prophetic ministry among the students. After an hour of teaching on the subject, Robert got the students into pairs, and told them to ask God for words for each other. At the end of the exercise he asked how many had heard something from God that was really meaningful and had strengthened or encouraged them. Most of the students acknowledged that God had spoken to them. This is prophecy in its simplest form.

Secondly, to prophesy requires faith. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith” [Romans 12:6]. It is one thing to hear from God, but another to speak it out to either an individual or group. In my own experience I have often hesitated when I have felt that I had prophetic word, because of my concern not to make a mistake. That may have protected me. If the word that I have felt God spoke to me does not diminish, but rather grows stronger within me, then I become more confident to share it, but it does require launching out in faith to speak. I have sometimes prefixed a word that I have shared with a statement such as, “I believe God is saying….” recognising that all prophetic words have to be tested [see 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21]. It was right for the Old Testament prophets to say, “Thus says the Lord,” but that may not be helpful for us as we share from God’s heart today. Prophecy does not have to sound religious!

Finally, the ministry of prophecy is for both men and woman. Sometimes the church has made it difficult for a woman to minister, but it is clear from God’s Word that women may prophesy. Anna was a prophetess [Luke 2:36], and the four daughters of Philip all prophesied [see Acts 21:8-9].

Questions:

What is it that would hinder you from waiting on God for a word of prophecy and then speaking it out?

Do you find it encouraging that there are different levels of prophecy, and that as with all gifts we can grow in the use of prophecy?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 4

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 5:17-25

It is important to recognise that prophecy by itself is not intended for guidance. It might be the beginning of guidance but it needs to be supported by other confirmations. It might also be the final part of a whole series of events that are a part of guidance, but prophecy on its own must not be taken for guidance. Many people, including my wife and I, have made this mistake.

Our first five and a half years in Indonesia were traumatic, hot and painful, and when we returned home for a furlough we did not want to go back to Indonesia. A very trustworthy person spoke a prophecy over us in a meeting a few weeks after our return to England. It spoke of returning to a different place. It would be in the mountains and a cool climate. Everything within us shouted out Hallelujah!

A few weeks later we were approached by our missionary agency to move to Northern Pakistan in order to re-open our missions work in that nation. They asked us to consider moving to the mountain region between Pakistan and China. What excitement! Mountains… a cool climate… a new ministry – everything fitted in with the prophetic word that we had been given.

Then came a problem. The Indonesian Java Field did not want to release us and demanded that we return to Indonesia and not move to Pakistan. We recognised the importance of submitting to our leaders and chose to honour them by returning to Indonesia. On our return to Indonesia we were asked not to return to the place of our first assignment. We had put in place a pastor at the church and he was doing really well. We were asked to move instead to minister in a town called Lawang. Lawang is situated at 1400 metres above sea level in the foothills of Mount Arjuno and has a cool climate.

We learned so much from this experience. The original prophecy was genuine, but we almost made a serious mistake and could so easily have moved out of the will of God. We had to learn that when a word of prophecy is given we should not assume that the first opportunity that seems to be fitting with the prophecy is necessarily right. It is best to wait on prophecy – more haste less speed! Allow God to work it out and do not try to work it out with your own mind. The prophecy might be genuine but there is a due spiritual process that must be followed.

Questions:

In our Bible reading today we read that David was successful in his battle against the Philistines. What was the main key found in verses 19 and 23 to David’s success?

What lessons have you learned about prophecy from today’s word?

Why is it important that we do not try and work out with our minds how a prophecy might be fulfilled but instead wait on God and give Him time and the right to work it out?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 3

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Yesterday we saw that the purpose of prophecy is to edify and to exhort[1 Corinthians 14:3]. From that same verse we find a third purpose.

The third purpose of prophecy is to comfort. The Greek word translated as comfort is ‘paramuthia’. The verb of this word is ‘paramutheomai’ = to speak tenderly [John 11:19], to console.

In 1969 I was preparing to go as a missionary to Indonesia, and longed that my Mum would be saved. I often attended a small meeting of Christians in Ayrshire who regularly met to pray. One evening a member of that group came across to me and said, “When you go to the place that God is sending you to, your mother will give you her blessing.” I had never spoken of my mother to this man or to anyone else in that prayer group. What he had spoken was a prophetic word of comfort, but it seemed impossible. Four years later my mother stayed with us for ten days following the death of my stepfather. Two days before we left for Indonesia she said to me, “I don’t know why you must go to Indonesia. I don’t want you to go, but go with my blessing! Eight years later she gave her life to Christ!

Yesterday I mentioned George Stormont who had spoken prophetically to me when I had been rejected by the missionary society that we felt God had called us to serve under. Many years later I was preaching at the Gospel Tabernacle in Duluth, Minnesota, and discovered that the previous minister of the church was an Englishman named George Stormont. They told me that he was desperately ill in a local hospital. We immediately felt that we should go to the hospital and pray for him. When I saw him I felt a tremendous sense of compassion and of gratitude for the way that this man had prophesied over me so many years early. I laid my hands on him and commanded him to be healed in Jesus’ Name. Remarkably, he sat up and thanked me and then prophesied about our adopted children. He said, “Great shall the peace be of your adopted children and your adopted children will never make you ashamed.” There was no way that he could have known that we had adopted children. This was prophetic and comforting, and for years that word remained firm in our hearts. Incidentally, George Stormont went on to live for twelve more years, and in that time wrote a biography of his dear friend Smith-Wigglesworth.

Questions:

Can you see from these two stories how prophecy can bring comfort to the heart of a believer? Why is the comfort that prophecy gives so vital in the life of a local church?

Why is a prophecy more powerful when given by someone who has no knowledge of your circumstances?

What four gifts of the Holy Spirit can you see functioning in the story of George Stormont speaking about our adopted children?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 2

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40

“But [on the other hand] the one who prophesies, speaks to people for edification [to promote their spiritual growth] and [speaks words of] encouragement [to uphold and advise them concerning the matters of God] and [speaks words of] consolation [to compassionately comfort them]” [1 Corinthians 14:3 Amplified Bible]

The purpose of prophecy is to edify, exhort and comfort [1 Corinthians 14:3].

It is specifically directed to believers [1 Corinthians 14:22], although sometimes it will convict an unbeliever of sin and lead them to fall on their face and worship God [1 Corinthians 14:24-25]

The first purpose of prophecy is to edify. The word ‘edify’ comes from the Greek word ‘oikodomi’ = “building”. Prophecy is “to build up,” “to strengthen,” and to make people more effective as members of the body of Christ.

The first prophecy that I remember being given to me was on the night I was first filled with the Holy Spirit. I only remember one sentence of the prophetic word spoken to me that night. It was this: “You will walk in the midst of terrible darkness but you will be light in the Lord.” That word lived with me for those early years as we ministered in a fanatical Muslim area and as I look back over many years it continues to bless me. It was a word in season from the heart of God that strengthened me.

The second purpose of prophecy is to exhort. The word ‘exhort’ comes from the Greek word ‘parakaleo’, ‘para’ = alongside, and ‘kaleo’ = to call, to beckon. These two words combined depict someone who is right alongside a person, “to stimulate,” “to encourage,” “to admonish,” and “to stir up.” It can include a severe warning or rebuke, but is never condemnatory! It does not discourage or condemn! If it does then it is not prophecy and its source must be questioned.

Esther and I knew that God had called us to Indonesia. He had spoken to both of us individually and separately, and yet I had been rejected by the missionary agency that we believed God had called us to serve under. We were late going into a meeting one night at a church in the East End of London. The only places left to sit were on the front row of the church. The preacher was speaking but suddenly stopped and looked at me. His name was George Stormont. We had never met before. He pointed at me and said, “Young man, you shall go to all the people that I will send you to. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”  This was a powerful prophetic exhortation that stirred my faith and encouraged me to press forward.

Question:

Why do you think that prophesy is such a powerful gift? Why do you think that Paul encourages everyone to prophesy? What does that mean to you personally?

THE GIFT OF PROPHECY – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

We now come to the third group of the gifts of the Spirit. There were the gifts to know [revelation], the gifts to do [power], and now the gifts to speak [utterance]. These gifts to speak are prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. God’s word says, “to another [is given] prophecy” [1 Cor.12:10].

Prophecy is the ability to speak in a language understood by others, using words that are given and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is communicating a revealed message from the heart of God into a given situation. It is more than just inspired preaching, although the preacher may speak prophetically.  Prophecy does not come from human reasoning, education or Bible school training but from the heart of God. Wayne Grudem defines the gift of prophecy as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”

Paul needed to correct some misunderstandings about both speaking in tongues and prophecy in the church at Corinth, and so 1 Corinthians chapter 14  is given entirely to these subjects. In this chapter Paul gives several important guidelines concerning prophecy:

Firstly, Prophecy is a gift that we should desire.

We should “Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” [1 Corinthians 14:1]. The word desire is the Greek word ‘zeloo’ which means “to be zealous for,” “to pursue ardently,” and “to desire earnestly or intensely.”

Secondly, Prophecy edifies the church.

When a person speaks in a tongue they speak to God and he edifies himself, but when a person prophesies he edifies the church [1 Corinthians 14:2-4].

Thirdly, Prophecy is a gift for every believer.

Paul desired that everyone spoke in tongues, but even more that all should prophesy. There are two purposes for the gift of tongues. The personal/private use is for personal edification. The public use of tongues (with interpretation), together with prophecy, edifies the church.

What a challenge! Every believer desiring to prophesy, in order to edify the church! Sadly many of our church meetings do not make room for this much needed prophetic ministry, but it is a great necessity. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the purpose of prophecy.

Questions:

Try to form a mental picture of the church’s worship in  the church at Corinth. In what ways did it differ from the church’s worship today? Did it include any features, no longer familiar, which it would be good to see restored?

In our Bible reading today we saw how God worked for the Israelites as they faced a powerful enemy. What was the prophetic word given through Jahaziel and how did it impact God’s people?