In addition to understanding interpretative principles, we must also have “clean hearts” to accurately interpret prophetic revelation. Interpretations are often derived through an interplay between our understanding of interpretative principles, our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and our heart attitude. To accurately interpret God’s mind, we must also possess His heart. There are two basic “heart problems” that can cause misinterpretations even when we understand prophetic symbolism. The first is when our hearts are not right with God. Heart issues such as pride and “unteachableness” often cause wrong interpretations. The second problem is when our hearts are not right toward the people to whom we are ministering. These heart problems come in the form of offenses, bitterness, or prejudices. We must have our heart right toward God and people in order to accurately interpret prophetic revelation.
Seeing the Signs, but Missing the Boat
While praying one morning during the summer of 1995, I received a vivid vision of a polar bear. My immediate interpretation was that “a bear market in the U.S. stock exchange was coming the next winter.” Later that day, I talked with Bob Jones and shared my vision with him. He immediately interpreted it as a warning of severe weather systems during the upcoming winter. Not seeing the logic of Bob’s interpretation, I disagreed and published my vision and interpretation in a newsletter.
There was no “bear market” that winter, but the majority of the United States experienced the worst winter storm systems in almost one hundred years. Although I had received an accurate revelation from the Lord, I nullified any benefit it could have provided through my wrong interpretation. How could I have misinterpreted this vision so badly?
In the eighteen months previous to receiving this vision, I had begun investing in the stock market and had found myself devoting increasing amounts of my time to it. Pretty soon, I was thinking about the stock market almost constantly. When this vision came, I quickly interpreted it in light of what had become so important to me. Being so focused on the stock market, I unconsciously believed that God was focused on it as well. What appeared to me as a logical interpretation was not from God but was instead my own opinion. I was also prideful, rejecting the interpretation from a seasoned prophetic man, and instead choosing my own path.
Preparation for Interpretation
While uninterpreted revelation is often useless, misinterpreted revelation is even more disconcerting. When misinterpreted, prophetic revelation will become a stumbling stone instead of a building block. As such, we must grow in our understanding of symbolism and have our hearts purified as we grow closer to the Lord.
Knowing God is the single most important element in interpreting dreams, visions, and revelation – not just knowing about God or about prophetic symbolism, but knowing Him personally. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, so knowing Him is a key to knowing His testimony. In other words, knowing God is foundational to knowing what He is saying to us.
Joseph and Daniel were used by God to interpret dreams and visions beyond anyone else in Scripture. Although vastly different in their personalities, both knew that the foundational stone to interpretation was knowing God. While unjustly imprisoned, Joseph encountered men who were troubled by their dreams and makes this statement:
And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you (Genesis 40:8 KJV).
Joseph’s attitude at this point in his life was in stark contrast to his earlier arrogance with his family (see Genesis 37). Years of servitude and imprisonment had wrought a depth of humility in his life. His humility went even deeper after two more years of unrighteous imprisonment waiting to be remembered by Pharaoh. When Pharaoh finally called for Joseph to interpret his own dream, we find this exchange between them:
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it. And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace (Genesis 4 1:15-16 KJV).
Joseph knew that he was unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Just as Jesus could perform miracles because He knew that it was not in Himself to do it (see John 5:19), Joseph could interpret because he knew he could not. This humility positioned him to receive the interpretation from God.
Daniel also possessed this same humility. However, he was not prepared through the years of servitude, trials, and persecution that Joseph experienced. Daniel appears to have been one of those unique individuals who was able to choose humility rather than learn it through difficulty. He demonstrates this when told that the king of Babylon was troubled over a dream he had received.
Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would show the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven (Daniel 2:16-19 KJV).
When Daniel sought God, God revealed the secret. Seeking God is humility and humility is the opposite of pride. Pride entails living life independent of God, while humility is recognizing our dependence and drawing close to Him (see James 4:6-8). The most important element of our foundation for interpretation is humility or dependence on God.
The Pure in Heart Shall See
In addition to humility toward God, we must also possess pure hearts toward people in order to accurately interpret prophetic revelation. Jesus said the pure in heart would see God (see Matthew 5:8) which includes accurately seeing His will. If our hearts are not pure, we will be hindered in seeing His purposes prophetically.
We must allow the Lord to root out the encumbrances which can taint our hearts. We all have some of these problems residing in our hearts, but we must strive according to His working to overcome them. If we will allow the Lord to correct us, He will continually purify us as we seek Him.
Listed below are four different heart hindrances that, in addition to pride, will hinder our ability to accurately interpret revelation.
This is a form of pride. An opinion is defined by Webster as “a judgment formed in the mind about a matter.” To accurately interpret prophetic revelation, we do not need our own opinions; we need the mind of the Lord. My misinterpretation of the polar bear vision was rooted in my opinion of what was coming in the economy. Because the stock market had become so important to me, I was sure it was important to the Lord as well. Instead of seeking the Lord for an interpretation, I “logically decoded” this vision in light of my own thinking (opinions) and badly misinterpreted it.
One type of opinion that is especially troublesome is a “pet doctrine.” Pet doctrines are a danger because they are religiously motivated. A pet doctrine is a teaching that we elevate to a position of undue importance. Because it occupies an idolatrous position in our minds, our interpretations may be tainted through this idol. When we overemphasize any teaching, we stand in danger of interpreting prophetic revelation through the filter of that teaching.
2> Offenses and Bitterness
When we are wounded or offended by others and do not forgive them, an offense can become established in our hearts. It is all too easy to misinterpret revelation through offenses. An offense functions as “a fence” that obstructs our view of what God is saying.
You should consider suspect any negative revelation or interpretation you receive about someone who has offended you. This also includes people groups, not just individuals. Many are prone to receive accusations against members of the opposite sex due to unresolved offenses or wounds from the past. Others are prone to interpret prophetic revelation negatively and harshly toward leaders because of offenses toward past leadership. Regardless of who the offense is toward, we must be freed from them in order to accurately interpret revelation.
Forgiveness is fundamental to our walk with God and others. If we forego forgiving those who have offended us, we will soon be misinterpreting God’s revelation. Instead of building, encouraging, and comforting, our revelation will be destructive and discouraging. Offenses and bitterness can have no place in our hearts if we want to be used in interpretation. Joseph’s process of learning forgiveness toward unrighteous treatment is a key for us as well.
3> Sin and Spiritual Bondages
Another area that can hinder accurate interpretation is sin or spiritual bondage. Generally speaking, someone with a stronghold in a certain area of his or her life will suffer from poor discernment in that area.
Strongholds such as lust, bitterness, rebellion, or a religious spirit will pervert our discernment and cause us to offer inaccurate interpretations. We must be free from sin and spiritual bondages in order to accurately interpret prophetic revelation. Again, if our hearts are not pure we will not see purely.
4> Carnal Judgment
This is related to opinion, but is more insidious because it masquerades as discernment. This is basically judging by the outward appearance. Even Samuel, arguably one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, was deceived by considering the outward appearance. Although God spoke by revelation and instructed Samuel to anoint Saul as king, Samuel took Saul’s outward appearance as a testament to the Lord’s grace upon him.
And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24 NAS)
Seeing is not believing in the kingdom of God. If we are judging by appearances, we will miss God. So strong is this tendency that Samuel did not learn from this first episode with Saul. When he came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king and saw Jesse’s oldest son, he makes this statement:
Then it came about when they entered, that he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7 NAS).
It is very difficult to see what God sees if we are dependent on outward appearance. We need to acknowledge this as a serious temptation in our quest to accurately interpret God’s will. God’s will is seldom discerned by logic or by what appears right at first glance.
In our congregation, we often minister prophetically to individuals. When we began doing this, we would have an individual or couple stand before the rest of the group so people could see them and minister prophetically to them. We still function this way in larger groups, but we have found a way that removes some of the carnal judgments from this type of ministry.
We discovered that if the group closed their eyes and did not know or see those whom they were praying for, the ministry was purer both in revelation and interpretation. When people could not see who they were praying for, they did not form instant opinions that clouded their hearts and minds. This powerfully revealed how quickly we form carnal judgments.
The Bottom Line
An ability to interpret prophetically is not developed overnight. There is a growth and maturation process which takes time. While it is possible to pass yourself off as a prophetic expert by possessing a little knowledge of symbols and some possible meanings, we must know God, not just principles. While we need to become more proficient in all things prophetic, we must grow in the essence of being prophetic, which is dependence on God.
Study symbolism and spend time with those who can disciple you in interpreting revelation and growing in the Lord, cultivating His presence and learning to depend on Him. Understanding prophetic symbolism is imperative, but it is not a substitute for knowing Him. Likewise, many know Him, but are ignorant of the principles of interpretation. We cannot function at the level of prophetic insight we need to accomplish our mandate unless we have both operating in our lives.
Adapted from Steve Thompson’s book “You May All Prophesy! Practical Guidelines for Prophetic Ministry”