Practical tips on delivering prophecies wisely
Of all the spiritual gifts that God gives to His followers, we are told to especially desire the gift of prophecy. Put simply, a prophecy is a message from God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort His people, the church. Every spiritual gift is meant to build God’s people up and bring Him glory. At the same time, we are told to test every prophecy and only hold onto what is good and not what is “evil”. How can we test prophecies and convey God’s messages wisely?
1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 ESV Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
After all, anyone who falsely claims to speak prophetic words in God’s name will not go unpunished. In the past, this would have led to immediate death. The consequences for false prophecies are severe because they often mislead or confuse God’s people, and may even have eternal consequences. Conveying God’s prophetic messages is certainly a responsibility that one should not take lightly.
Exodus 20:7 NLT “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
Deuteronomy 18:18,20 NLT I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him… But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’
NOTE: Kindly first refer to the post, Understanding the gift of prophecy, for a basic introduction of the gift of prophecy. This post focuses on how to use this spiritual giftl.
How prophecies work
As a start, it is helpful to first understand how prophecies work.
- All prophecies are given for the sake of believers | 1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV … prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
- Prophecies will give a clear witness for the presence of God in our midst | Revelation 19:10 NLT Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”
- Prophecies will expose hidden truths | 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 NLT But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.”
- Prophecies will convict us of our sins, God’s righteousness, and the coming judgment | John 16:7-8 NLT But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.
- Prophecies will correct, encourage, and strengthen God’s people, His church | 1 Corinthians 14:4 NIV … the one who prophesies edifies the church.
- Prophecies can come in the form of words (thoughts), visions, or dreams | Numbers 12:6 ESV And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.
- Genuine prophecies cannot be generated by our will, but are inspired by the Holy Spirit | 2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- Genuine prophecies cannot be imagined or comprehended by human understanding alone | 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 ESV But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
- Genuine prophecies will only reveal a part of the full picture | 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 NLT Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
- Prophecies need to be spiritually discerned. They will seem foolish to people who rely only on their natural fleshly abilities to comprehend. Only God can give us the fuller meaning of His prophetic messages. | 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 ESV Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Hence, when God gives us a message to deliver to others, it may not make much sense to us.
Delivering a prophetic word, vision, or dream requires us to trust the Holy Spirit to “carry us along” as we allow Him to speak His message through us (Deuteronomy 18:22). Similar to the gift of tongues, we become His mouthpiece, so to speak. This requires faith, obedience, and submission to God, because it can sometimes require us to deliver messages that may sound very unpalatable and risky to us. We will need to be willing to consider the interests of others before our own, if we wish to exercise this gift faithfully, because the prophetic message may be exactly what they need to save their souls.
Philippians 2:3-4 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
James 5:19-20 ESV My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Praise God that in His grace, He will not nudge us to exercise our gifts beyond our level of faith. As we begin to prophecise, He will usually start with words for the people we know and slowly give us more revelations for even strangers, as long as we are willing to obey the Holy Spirit and deliver His messages.
Romans 12:6 ESV Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
What counts as false prophecies
At the same time, we need to be careful not to fall for the temptation to “fill in the gaps” and add to or remove any part of any prophetic message in order to create a “more logical” narrative based on our own understanding. That would be considered evil in God’s eyes. God takes this so seriously that in the book of Revelation, He warns that we can be subject to severe judgment.
Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Revelation 22:18-19 NLT And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.
If God chooses to reveal an “abstract” or incomprehensible revelation to us, we need to respect His will and deliver whatever He has given us in its exact form, just as it is, because the message is intended for the recipient, not for us. The person/s the message is for will understand God’s message. If we change any part of God’s message, it is akin to conveying a false prophecy based on our human interpretation.
2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible also gives us some other indications of false prophecies.
- False prophecies will not be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but by demonic spirits who want to mislead God’s people | 1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
- False prophecies will involve false visions made up by a person’s minds and amount to nothing more than fortune telling or witchcraft (divination) | Jeremiah 14:14 ESV And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
- False prophecies can sometimes involve great signs and wonders, in order to mislead God’s people into believing them | Matthew 24:24 ESV For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
- False prophecies can be confirmed as false when they do not come true | Deuteronomy 18:21-22 ESV And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
- False prophecies will lead us to idolise people, supernatural signs, events, spiritual power, and so forth, instead of revering and following God. False prophecies can even come true but the outcome will lead us away from God into idolatry. | Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ESV “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God…
- False prophecies will drive us to do things out of fear and self-preservation, rather than out of love and reverence for God. | 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- False prophecies will cater to the will of people, rather than God’s will. | Isaiah 30:8-10 NLT Now go and write down these words. Write them in a book. They will stand until the end of time as a witness that these people are stubborn rebels who refuse to pay attention to the Lord’s instructions. They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!” They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies.
Therefore, let’s first cleanse our hearts and tongues
The gift of prophecy is important for the church. It brings truth, clarity, hope, and comfort to God’s people. We are told not to despise prophecies and not to quench the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to “hold fast what is good and abstain from every form of evil.”
1 Thessalonians 5:20 ESV Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Therefore, we should not shy away from conveying any prophetic message that the Holy Spirit imparts to us. We simply need to be careful to “cleanse ourselves from whatever is dishonorable so that we can become vessels for honorable use, set apart as holy and ready for every good work.”
2 Timothy 2:20-21 ESV Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Therefore, there are two things we can ask ourselves as we start to exercise our prophetic gifts.
1. Our motives and attitudes: “Is there an outflow of love and humility from my heart?”
When we speak God’s truth in love, our heart’s desire should be that the body of Christ “builds itself up in love” and that “each part is working properly.” Our focus is on building up God’s Kingdom on earth. Therefore, let us ensure that we convey prophetic messages from:
- A pure heart
- A good conscience
- A sincere faith
- A focus on building God’s Kingdom
Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
1 Timothy 1:5 ESV The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
2. Our words: “Is there an outflow of love and humility through my words?”
Whether we convey prophecies of comfort and encouragement or prophecies of correction and discipline, we are to ensure that “everything we say is good and helpful, so that our words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
Ephesians 4:29 NLT Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
At the same time, we will also need to form new habits in the way we speak. We quench the Holy Spirit when we continue to curse others, slander them, or use foul or abusive language in our day-to-day. We cannot use our mouths for blessing and for cursing others. There is little credibility in a prophetic message that comes from someone who is still given over to such habits, because such speech greatly dishonours God and people.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
Colossians 3:8 ESV But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
James 3:9-10 ESV With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Some practical tips
Here are some practical ways we can deliver prophetic messages wisely.
1. Always test the spirits
Not every thought or idea that randomly pops into our minds is from God. It could be from our own fleshly influences, things we have been exposed to, or even unclean spirits.
Most times, the Holy Spirit speaks directly to our hearts because that is where He comes to dwell.
2 Corinthians 1:22 NLT and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.
Here is a quick way to test if what we are sensing is likely to be from the Holy Spirit.
- Is it in line with God’s Word? | God’s prophetic word will never contradict the Bible.
- Does it come with a sense of conviction? | God’s prophetic word will move our spirit and prompt us into action.
- Does it lead to the fruit of the Holy Spirit? | God’s prophetic word will be based on and lead to greater love, joy, and peace.
- Is it unexpected and out of our imagination? | God’s prophetic word is not something we would normally conjure up on our own.
- Could this be meant for something that is about to happen or someone I am about to see? | God’s prophetic word will be just in time, never too early or too late for the intended recipient.
2. Ask the Holy Spirit, “When should I deliver this message?”
God knows when is the best time to speak His prophetic word to His people. It could be a matter of minutes, hours, days, or even months.
When we deliver His messages in His timing, there will be praise-worthy outcomes that only God can bring about. Hence, we should be careful to not run ahead of God, nor draw our feet and procrastinate.
Ecclesiastes 3:1,3 NLT For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.
3. Check for pride or judgements in our hearts
God can use anyone to deliver a message. He has even opened the mouth of a donkey so that it could speak. If He chooses to use us, we need to ensure we fearfully and humbly receive His word and instructions.
Numbers 22:28 ESV Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
There is always a temptation to secretly exalt ourselves because we may mistakenly consider ourselves to be chosen as “special messengers sent by God.” The gift of prophecy is for anyone, not just “specially anointed” people. In fact, God prefers to work through people whom “the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise” and those who are “powerless to shame those who are powerful.” We need to be willing to “despised by the world” and “counted as nothing at all” as we carry out God’s will. This is when His power can be fully displayed for all to see. The focus is on God, not any human being.
1 Corinthians 1:26-28 NLT Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.
Other times, we may have too much “confidence in our own righteousness” like the pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. We may quietly look down on or judge others with silent contempt. This may make us feel righteous in our own eyes but it will make us un-righteous in God’s eyes. Moreover, it will put a stumbling block and hindrance before fellow believers. We must ensure we always speak in love, because God is love. The Bible states that anyone who does not love does not know God.
Luke 18:9:14 NLT Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Romans 14:10 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
1 John 4:7-8 ESV Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 Corinthians 13:8 ESV Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
4. Always speak respectfully
When we are led by the Holy Spirit as we speak, our approach and words will be respectful, kind, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no need to raise our voices or draw attention to ourselves.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
If we are sharing what we believe to be a prophetic message and feel unsure of ourselves, we can perhaps start by saying;
- “I seem to get a sense that God wants you to know …”
- “What I’m about to say is not easy for me but I feel this is something important from the Holy Spirit for you. Can I share it with you? Please know I speak out of love and care for you, as it is easier for me not to say anything at all.”
- “Can I have your permission to tell you something that I believe the Holy Spirit may want you to hear?”
The Holy Spirit is not condemning. His goal is to build the church. That should be our aim too. The outcome should always lead to love, joy, and peace.
5. Don’t shy away from delivering God’s loving correction
God’s prophetic messages can at times, involve correction or rebuke where He personally “teaches us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives”, so as to “prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” The task of delivering correction is not one we usually relish, but it is absolutely necessary for the body of Christ if we are to build and protect it.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
Therefore, if the Holy Spirit entrusts us with an important message for someone or for a group of people, it would be a sin for us to ignore or try to forget it. Let us be faithful to our fellow believers, just as God is faithful to us.
James 4:17 NLT Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
6. Encourage recipients to test the messages we deliver
Just as we are called to test all things, we ought to encourage others to test the messages we pass on to them with the Holy Spirit too. The conviction of God’s words needs to come from Him, not from us.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV but test everything; hold fast what is good.
7. Make a record
Since all prophecies only reveal part of the picture, it is a good practice to make a record of all the prophetic messages we receive and document who they were for, how it ministered to them, and when it was fulfilled.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10 NLT Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
8. Have faith, some prophecies may take years to be realised
Some prophecies speak about the future. For instance, Jesus foretold the kind of death the apostle Peter would have some 20-30 years later. If we feel convicted that we have delivered a prophetic word about the future, we should not be overly anxious if we don’t see it immediately come to pass. We can trust that whatever God says will come to pass. It may not even be within our lifetimes as was the case with the prophets in the Old Testament.
John 21:18-19 ESV Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Ezekiel 12:25 ESV For I am the LORD! If I say it, it will happen…
9. Leave the rest to God
Finally, once we have delivered a prophetic message, we should leave the outcome to God. We don’t have to try to make things happen or manipulate others.
If we believe we may have spoken unlovingly or out of turn, however, all we need to do is ask God for forgiveness and invite Him to make right our mistakes. God has the power to correct any mistake. We can be thankful that eventually, everything we do in the Lord’s name will not be in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
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