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Understanding the gift of prophecy

Practice / Spiritual Gifts
In spite of all the scientific and technological advances man has made, we can only explain a tiny fraction of how things work in this universe. God has set everything in place for eternity, according to His will and timing, and has given us the privilege of understanding as much as our limited human minds can grasp.This is similar to how prophecies work. 

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 了解先知的恩赐 | 繁體中文 > 了解先知的恩赐)

Ecclesiastes 3:14-15 ESV  I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. 

God uses prophecies to supernaturally:

  1. show us a glimpse of His plans (divine revelation of future events),
  2. reveal what we ought to do (divine instruction), and
  3. build up our spiritual strength for His work (divine exhortation).

We won’t be able to get a grip on all of His intricate universal plans, but God graciously allows us to understand just enough to take the next small step, as shown by the testimony at the end of this post.

Prophecies from God

The Bible warns us that we will encounter many false prophets.

1 John 4:1 ESV  … many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

False prophets don’t necessarily arise because they maliciously intend to mislead people, but because people can be too presumptuous, conceited or misled. Such attitudes are a form of rebellion against God.

Psalm 19:13 ESV  Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

We must be careful not to fall for false prophecies, because Satan will use the supernatural to mislead God’s children when we foolishly rely on our own human understanding and don’t check with the Holy Spirit first in order to “test the spirits”.

1 John 4:1 ESV  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… 

2 Corinthians 11:14 ESV  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Proverbs 3:5,7 ESV  … do not lean on your own understanding. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

1. Only a partial revelation of God’s plans

Every prophecy “reveals only part of the whole picture”. Because we don’t have all the facts, it is very dangerous to try to interpret a prophecy, unless the Holy Spirit provides the interpretation as well. Anyone who claims that God has revealed “everything” to them is likely to have fallen for false revelations. God’s Word warns that prophets who misuse the Lord’s name will be judged harshly.

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.

Deuteronomy 18:20 ESV  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’

2. Glorifies God

God uses prophecies to reveal His intention for all the social, political, economic and global plans in this world. Every true prophecy glorifies God’s wisdom and not the individuals who prophesy.

Isaiah 40:5 ESV  And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

3. Inspired, not controlled or initiated  

Every true prophecy is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit in His timing and at His will. Anyone who desires to ask for revelations just because “it would be a good thing for me” is likely to be frustrated.

Any prophecy that is based on human initiative for personal gain is not from God – it is tantamount to practising witchcraft and fortune telling. Make no mistake, we do not go to God seeking to know our future and fortune, we are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first.

2 Peter 1:21 ESV  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.

Jeremiah 10:2 NLT  This is what the LORD says: “Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.

Matthew 6:33 ESV  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

4. Draws God’s children closer to Him

When the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, brings a prophecy, it is so that we may know:

  1. God,
  2. the hope we have in Christ,
  3. the glorious inheritance we have in Christ, and
  4. His incomparably great power.

Ephesians 1:17-19 NIV  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…

As a result, God’s people will be built up, encouraged and consoled in their times of need. God’s prophecies draw His children close to Him. His revelations will bring joy, peace, hope, repentance, healing and strength – not fear, anxiety, confusion or division.

1 Corinthians 14:3-4 ESV  … the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation … the one who prophesies builds up the church.

The correct use of prophetic gifts

When the King of the universe reveals anything about His plans to us, it is a privilege that we should accept submissively and carefully.

Proverbs 25:2 NLT  It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them.

1. Welcome the Holy Spirit to prophesy through us 

Every believer has the ability to prophesy and bless others with God’s revelation. Before Jesus came to earth, there were specific people who were officially appointed as prophets. Now, God’s Spirit has been poured into every believer, and all of us should desire to be His “mouthpiece” to bless others.

1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV  Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

We should not however, be tempted to give ourselves some elevated label of “prophet”, because the gift of prophecy is for all.

2. Ask “Holy Spirit, is this from You?”

God provides prophetic revelations through words, visions and even dreams. These are not perceived by the physical senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch or smell.

Acts 2:17 ESV  “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

God is Spirit and all His prophecies are revealed spiritually – often this will come across as a certain “knowing”, like our intuition or instinct. It can also be described as a “gut feeling”.

John 4:24 ESV  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Job 38:36 NLT  Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?

Many people hesitate to speak about a prophetic revelation from God because they worry it might be from their own human understanding. Here is where we should “test the spirits” and simply ask, “Holy Spirit, is this from you, my Lord?” He will always answer us with either a deep sense of peace or even word answers.

James 1:5 NIV  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

3. Humbly share as the Holy Spirit leads 

Once we confirm a prophetic revelation, instruction or exhortation for someone with the Holy Spirit, we must consider how we can share it with them in the most respectful, gentle and loving way. We are always to put other peoples’ interest before our own.

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.

Instead of saying, “I have a word from God for you and you must listen to me”, We should instead humbly say, “I seem to have received something from the Holy Spirit for you. May I share it with you  for your consideration please?”

Never try to explain or say more than what the Holy Spirit has given us, even if it does not make any sense to us. It is never about our human understanding but God’s small glimpse into His plan or His instruction. We must keep in mind that any messenger for a King is liable to be punished if he delivers more or less than what the King wants him or her to say.

4. Test the spirits behind prophecies received

False prophets can bring revelations accurately and sound powerful, spiritual and religious, but their words will ultimately draw us away from God.

Jeremiah 23:16 ESV Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.

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.

We must “test the spirits” behind every prophecy we hear and ensure we do not submit to a false prophet, because we could be “bowing” to and subjecting ourselves to a demonic spirit, instead of God’s Spirit. Deception is very subtle and we must test everything by the intended fruit (final results) of any prophecy.

Matthew 7:15-17 ESV  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits… So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

5. Learn to “file” personal prophecies for later

There will be times we may receive prophesies for ourselves, and would be well advised to hold these prophecies to ourselves until God shows us the entire picture. At the right time, He will “bring to our remembrance” the prophecy He had given us as His plan is fulfilled.

John 14:26 ESV  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Mary set a good example for us. She was given many glorious prophecies about Jesus but she did not go around telling others what God had prophesied about her son. She simply held them in her heart and watched God’s plan unfold in her life.

Luke 2:10-12,18-19 ESV  And the angel said to them, “… For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” .. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

6. Humbly receive what the Holy Spirit reveals, good or bad

After Mary received many wonderful prophecies about Jesus, she had to endure threats to her family’s lives, migration to Egypt to escape a baby genocide, ridicule and persecution for having a son who said He was the Saviour of the world, and extreme anguish as she watched Jesus get crucified on the cross.

Prophecies can be bitter or sweet, and we must be open to receive whatever God chooses to show us. Mary’s experience shows that a prophecy can give us the strength to endure difficult times. God has a purpose for both the good and the evil in our lives.

Proverbs 16:4 ESV  The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

7. Have faith in God’s timing and purpose 

The average adult attention span is approximately 8 to 20 seconds. God’s attention span is infinite – otherwise planets will start to collide with each other or gravity could stop with disastrous results, even it was for just one second. God is infinitely in control of everything and everyone at all times.

We cannot presume that our understanding of time and how things should work is the same as God’s. He has been around for eternity. A thousand years can seem like just one day to Him. What we hope to be fulfilled tomorrow, may only be fulfilled beyond our lifetimes. King David for example, wrote about Jesus’ betrayal about 1,000 years before it happened. The prophet Isaiah eloquently described Jesus’s crucifixion on the cross in Isaiah 53 about 700 years before the Lord was born. God will fulfil His prophecies with or without us in the picture.

2 Peter 3:8 ESV  But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Acts 1:16 ESV  “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

8. Rejoice!

Praise God that He will make everything beautiful in His time. We can leave all revelations in His good and faithful hands. There is no need to analyse or understand every prophecy.

It is God’s gift that we can be joyful and do good as long as we live. This is the resounding principle for every aspect of our lives, including the use of our prophetic gifts. May we rejoice in our King always!

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 ESV  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

A testimony

Since he was a toddler, my adopted son, John, had many challenges growing up. He was bright, creative and intellectually mature. But socially, he could not connect with his peers and was in trouble most of the time. John was insecure, negative, impulsive.

Teachers would often call us with complaints that he unintentionally hit or pushed his friends. Despite doing well academically, John seemed to be facing daily mental battles which affected him socially. John was facing expulsion from school but by God’s grace, that did not happen.

We did everything we could. He went for different therapies. We also went for counselling as parents. However, when he turned 10, he became more rebellious and withdrawn. Our fights escalated drastically. We were stressed out daily.

Three years ago, a childhood friend of mine suggested I meet her spiritual mentor. During dinner, she said to me, “I prayed to God and asked Him, “What do you want me to tell her? And this is what God said, I want you to let know her that I’m taking care of John. I am watching over him even when you don’t know it.” I cried when I heard that because that was exactly what I needed to hear from God. I was at my wit’s end. I had done everything I could think of at that point.

The lady knew nothing about me and my family situation prior to meeting me. She could have said anything but God knew what I needed most and He sent me a prophetic message to comfort and counsel me through a stranger.

To know that God was taking care of John changed everything. I was reminded that God was the One who led us to adopt him as a baby. That God brought us together in the first place. God has a plan and purpose for John.

That night itself even as my friend’s mentor prayed for us, a name popped up. When she first mentioned the name, it didn’t mean anything to me. When I went home and checked our adoption papers, I realised that it was the name of John’s biological mother!

I understood then that his struggle was not just a physical one but I had no idea how to even pray about it. My friend’s mentor counselled us to cut spiritual ties with the biological mother in case she was still dedicating her son to pagan idols. She led me through a prayer of deliverance, a process of spiritual cleansing and provided me the words I had felt but were unable to express in prayer.

Once my husband and I declared our spiritual authority over John, I knew then that no curse could have any legitimate hold on John.

After my conversations and prayers, even though my son and I fought a lot, I didn’t have the same dread in my heart. I was armed with a different kind of hope and confidence. I could say, “Lord, I know You are still with us and I thank you for taking care of him. Help me to help him.” And I just repeated this every single time.
My husband and I really put in effort to be close to John even when he pushed us away, and told him that we love him, no matter what.

Just a few months ago, John made a huge turnaround. He began listening better and was more engaged in class. He became motivated to exercise daily. He was less impulsive and showed better self-control. His teachers tell us he is totally transformed and doing really well in school. He no longer needs to be on the ‘special needs’ program. On top of that, he found friends in school and at church.

All this is unexpected and I feel like God just turned him around. Even though this is John’s ‘miracle’, God has been working on my faith as a mother. I don’t praise God just because He transformed my son. I can praise God even during the bad days because I know He is taking care of John according to His will and purpose.

Also see Recognising false prophets

Wisdom in recognising false prophets


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