God speaks to His people (plural) through the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is always to a corporate group – a household, a family, a church, a town, a region or province, a country. His prophetic words will speak about the present and the future so as to impart vision and declare what He sees as the potential the people have and the opportunities He is offering to them. When God speaks prophetically over a single person it is because this person is a leader of a group (a church, a city, a country) and the vast majority of the prophetic word will really be dealing with the group and the work that will be accomplished or the direction taken by the group under the leadership of that leader.
The key purpose of the prophetic words is to build up, cheer up, and stir up. 1 Corinthians 14:3 states, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” In the Old Testament only the prophets could prophesy. In the New Testament Church-era everyone who is Baptized in the Holy Spirit can prophecy. We see this in Paul’s comments to the church in Corinth
2 Corinthians 14:31, 39 “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged … So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
In the Old Testament prophecy was used to bring judgment, but in the New Testament, it is to bring direction and create vision for God’s people. It speaks of the group’s potential and the opportunities God is placing before the group. It most often deals with the future such as when Agabus the prophet gave a prophetic word in the book of Acts when he predicted a famine, while at other times it can be a message of encouragement for God’s people.
God is a God of the “now.” He wants Hs people to receive a current word from Him so we know what He is saying and doing today. We describe God’s Word as both logos and rhema. Prophecy is a rhema word that sometimes clarifies and emphasizes God’s already revealed heart, mind, and His plans in His logos Word – the Bible. A rhema word will never conflict with the written Word; in fact, it often makes the Bible come alive to us.
When God says something prophetically to us, He is speaking out and releasing our potential. God is supernatural, and as Christians, we must, by definition, be supernatural as well. People today are hungry for the supernatural as we can see by the themes of many of the books people are reading and the menu of television shows we have placed before us day after day. I believe God places this desire for the supernatural in us, yet the enemy is quick to take advantage and produces a counterfeit that draws people away from God, rather than closer to Him.
True prophetic words come from God and draw us closer to Him. They are edifying words that God speaks so we can hear Him as His people. When God’s rhema word becomes a reality to us, we realize that God is taking notice and is interested in our situation and circumstances. He has heard us and spoken to us.
Dr. Bill Hamon defines prophecy as: “…simply God communicating His thoughts and intents to mankind. When a true prophecy is given, the Holy Spirit inspires someone to communicate God’s pure and exact words to a group for whom they are intended. It is delivered without any additions or subtractions by the one prophesying, including any applications or interpretations suggested by the one speaking. To be most effective, it must also be delivered in God’s timing and with the proper spirit or attitude.”
The New Testament prophets revealed Jesus through their words of encouragement and insights on coming events, and it the model for the church today. The Bible gives many examples of prophecies that were spoken to give direction to the people of God.
Agabus the prophet prophesied that if Paul went up to Jerusalem he would be bound and delivered to the Gentiles. It happened just as it was prophesied — Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts, Chapters 21 and 22). Timothy received a spiritual gift through a prophetic word when the elders laid hands on him and prayed for him (1 Timothy 4:14). Paul’s word over Timothy referenced his actions on behalf of the church he was leading.
Many times prophecies are confirmations of those things the Lord has already spoken to us in our hearts. At other times the Lord may use prophecy to give us clear direction for our lives. Either way, the prophecy must be in line with the Word of God and our spirits must affirm it.
All prophecy needs to be tested, according to the Scriptures. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 states: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We should always, of course, test the words received to the written Word of God. If it does not line up with the Bible, do not receive it.
We must especially test a prophetic word for timing. It may be for today or it may be for ten years down the road. We must be careful not to assume we know what every prophecy means immediately. Timing is always a critical part of seeing a prophetic word come to pass. Getting the wrong timing for prophetic words is the most common error made in processing prophecy.
If the prophecy received doesn’t bear witness and agreement in your heart, you often know it by a lack of peace in your spirit. Something tells you things are not quite right. There are a lot of well-meaning people who think they are hearing from God for others, but the truth is they are not. If someone prophecies something to you that is not already in your heart, then I suggest you write down the words that are spoken and wait for the Lord to reveal to you whether or not the words are from Him. If it is from God, He will clearly show you.
The Lord desires to place His words in our mouths and speak through us prophetically to others. Jesus promises to “…give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:15).
I believe God wants us to be encouraged with prophecies that help us to know Him better. We can trust that, as His sheep, we will learn to recognize His voice (see: John 10:3-4), all the while remembering that prophecy is just one of the ways God speaks to us and should not be used exclusively to hear from God. Nevertheless, let’s continue to seek Him and keep our hearts open as He speaks prophetic words that help refresh and encourage our walk with Him.