Is Prophecy for Today?

Phew, okay. Here we go…

Yesterday, I promised that I would tackle the issue of prophecy. Is it for today? If so, how? Many of you had a lot of good questions, some of which had consistent themes. I’ll try to address as many of those questions as I can, but remember, this is just a blog post. Any remaining questions you have, I’ve started a thread on my Facebook page to discuss this very topic–feel free to comment here or there.

As Robert Staniford pointed out in the comments yesterday, Paul exhorted the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:

Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;

Sadly, though, much of the American church has done exactly this, despising prophecy today. They’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Of course, there are instances of false prophesy. That’s why Paul encourages the church to carefully examine the words. Further, he tells us to “hold fast” to the good.

So how do we know what’s good? Firstly, we have scripture, which true prophecy should always align with, no questions asked. But Paul also gave instruction to the church of Corinth for how prophecy is to be approached in the assembly; that is, within the church. He writes:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment…For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

There is tremendous wisdom and instruction in this passage. I believe this passage paints a very different picture of prophecy than how it is often portrayed or even demonstrated in the church today. Thankfully, I participate in a body of believers who are manifesting Jesus Christ to one another and this is one such manifestation of His body.

But, without being in a community where prophecy is correctly taught and encouraged, it is unlikely that an environment for healthy and biblical testing will exist. It comes down to discernment, which is a spiritual muscle that must be flexed (which I give props to Tony Alicea for pointing out).

I  think it’s also important to make an important distinction between New Testament prophecy and Old Testament prophecy. In the Old Testament, most prophecy was for the purpose of foretelling–that is, proclaiming the future by the Spirit of God, often times in the first person (Y’know, “THY LORD GOD SAITH…” type stuff).

In the New Testament, we find that the purpose of prophecy is more often forthtelling. Forthtelling often draws individual believers back to the covenant promises and lessons of old, or reveals the personal heart of God towards that person (which has already been revealed through Jesus Christ; God just knows we need a reminder every now and then).

This forthtelling prophesying is said to be manifested by the Holy Spirit for three distinct purposes (1 Corinthians 14:3): edification, encouragement, and consolation. For some reason, this isn’t taught. And I believe this is much of the reason people find the words prophecy and prophesying so scary–they lack understanding as to its purpose. Is edification, encouragement, and consolation of the believer so frightening as to avoid it altogether?

Now, how do we know when we “hear” from God? Or, how might you hear from God? Many of you asked this question, specifically, and it’s an important one. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can wrap all that into this post, but I promise to write about this topic next week.

Last but not least, I want to leave you with the admonishment that Paul gives the Corinthians in regards to this very topic:

Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

Why have we forgotten this command and that this is a gift of the Holy Spirit available to all believers today? Prophesying is not the same as being a prophet. This could run a whole different post (maybe, if you ask nicely), but allow me to encourage you to earnestly desire this gift. Pray for it. Study it so that it’s not scary to you anymore. Find a community of believers who help encourage it in your life. It is just another aspect of the fullness of Jesus Christ, and that’s Who I’m after.

What questions didn’t I answer? Did this raise more questions? Do you want to chat more about it? Join the Facebook conversation, leave your comments below, and let’s do it. 

Update: I’ve been informed that the Old Testament is actually maybe only 15% fortelling. In this post, I do not suggest that the OT was only  fortelling, but simply that people more often associate the OT with that type of prophecy. Hope that clears up some questions.

33 thoughts on “Is Prophecy for Today?”

  1. “I think it’s also important to make an important distinction between New Testament prophecy and Old Testament prophecy. In the Old Testament, most prophecy was for the purpose of foretelling–that is, proclaiming the future by the Spirit of God, often times in the first person (Y’know–THY LORD GOD SAITH…” type stuff).

    In the New Testament, we find that the purpose of prophesy is more often forthtelling. Forthtelling often draws individual believers back to the covenant promises and lessons of old, or reveals the personal heart of God towards that person (which has already been revealed through Jesus Christ; God just knows we need a reminder every now and then).”

    Brilliant. I can hear The Spirit speaking here.

    “…back to the covenant promises…” Yes! This is where you will find me, challenging the new myths of modern-day “christianity”, (think progressive/emergent/New Age drivel), and seeking to return to the Holiness of our Father, which is translated as Him, and now us, being ‘other than’.

    “Why have we forgotten this command and that this is a gift of the Holy Spirit available to all believers today? Prophesying is not the same as being a prophet. This could run a whole different post (maybe, if you ask nicely), but allow me to encourage you to earnestly desire this gift. Pray for it. Study it so that it’s not scary to you anymore. Find a community of believers who help encourage it in your life. It is just another aspect of the fullness of Jesus Christ, and that’s what I’m after.”

    Prophets, prophecy, and prophesying are like the Sarah Palin of New Covenant Christianity. Either you hate them or you love them. If you want to see someone’s maturity level, mention the spiritual gift of prophecy and watch what happens. There seems to be no middle ground, here. People are scared of it all, since along with healing, prophecy is by far the most supernatural manifestation going. With healing, one can see the effects, and praise our God for His greatness. With prophecy, one can feel the immediate impact, (Thank You, Father for Your words!), and then it settles into their spirit like a crouching lion, ready to pounce only when The Spirit tells it to do so. If a person had doubts upon first hearing The Lord speak to them, (Okay, I receive Your words, Father…but I don’t understand them right at this moment…are You sure this is You speaking to me?), these doubts are quickly torn apart.

    Nicole, this topic is going to be your wedding feast in Cana. You have broken through.

  2. Stopping in for my ever-so-occasional comment.

    Obviously, you know we’re on the same page about everything you’ve written here. I feel like adding one more passage from 1 Corinthians 14:23-25:

    “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

    I don’t know about everyone else here, but I know that you and I want to be part of community in which people “declare that God is certainly among” us.

    Again, prophecy is not important than love, nor is it to be sought above and before the person of Jesus Christ–but I do believe it should be a healthy expression of Jesus Christ when following the instruction you’ve laid out in this post.

    Looking forward to reading the other comments.

    1. Jonathan,

      And your comments above are the only reasons I am glad I know of you, even though we are physically separated by miles of the American landscape. The heart given to you by our Father’s Spirit because of Jesus is such a great balancing element.

  3. Nicole,

    I’d disagree with your statement that OT prophecy was primarily about future telling. The books that we call prophetic books were nearly wholly about the same sort of exhortation you name “forthtelling” in NT prophecy.

    First, this only strengthens your overall point. Prophecy is prophecy is forthtelling in the Scriptures.

    Second, we’ve done a huge disservice to the prophetic books by painting them as basically a collection of paint-by-numbers clues about who Jesus was going to be (You definitely did not do this in your post. The Left Behind books are a particularly insidious and clear representation of this).

    OT Prophets were an institution God raised up against the monarchy (a counter-institution, if you will). Their role was to call Israel back to is covenant, again much like the forthtelling you describe in the NT. What future-predicting that did happen in the OT was either 1) confirmational (i.e., “This will happen tomorrow/next week so that you know my prophecy is true), warning (i.e., “This will happen if you don’t shape up”, like Jonah’s prophecy against Nineveh, which DIDN’T come true!) or encouragement (i.e., Don’t worry, God’ wins in the end., (2nd) Isaiah’s Lion and Lamb prophecy, Ezekiel’s vision of the restored Temple).

    Anyway, great post. I think the Church desperately needs to recover its prophetic role in the culture, and that can only happen if we open our hearts to prophecy in our own midst.

    Curious: What do you think we should do with false prophets these days?

    1. Jr.,
      All fair critiques. In fact, I agree with you. But, it felt impossible to place percentages on the amount of fortelling versus forthtelling prophecies in the OT and the NT. So I tried to say “most” or “mostly” so as not to discount that both the OT and NT give examples of both kinds of prophecy.

      Great assessment of OT prophecies too! I agree to that the OT is filled with the “repent” message, which is prophets being prophets–harkening people back to the heart of God and His original intent. I think many people think of the OT, though, as having more (at least more identifiable and “famous”) examples of fortelling so I sort of landed there.

      Not that this is any excuse for clarity either, but in a blog post, I just couldn’t get into all of the types of examples of prophecy in the both the Old and New Testament–not without causing people’s eyes to glaze over. Ha!

      As for you final question, I’m going to respond, but a little later. I’ve got to go clothe and feed some children and then I’ll be back. :)

      Thanks for adding such great points to the discussion!

  4. The gift of prophecy is for the church. Prophecy does not come from the will or man or the assumptions of the human heart but by the very Spirit of God. It’s so sickening that we have quieted the mouths of our prophets for the voice of sensationalism and prosperity. Prophets were never loved and still are not.

    As for prophesy, it is such a beautiful gift that we exercise. In my own experience I have been a witness of the beauty that it is to see prophecies move withing a body of believers. We would do well to receive the gift of prophecy today. We would also do well in not believing every spirit, but we should test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because as the scriptures declare, many false prophets are out here in the world.

    If you ask me, what the body needs today is to embrace prophecies, but to also practice spiritual discernment. Something that I rarely see in practice.

    1. Prophecy demands spiritual discernment. Absolutely! Without discernment, and without embracing discernment as walking hand-in-hand with prophecies, we are behaving irresponsibly in our treatment and measurement of this amazing spiritual gift. Like with tongues, there is a second part, meaning interpretation. Prophecy’s second part is indeed discernment. The spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

  5. I agree. Many churches have thrown the entire thing out the window, leaving no room for people to exercise this gift. I’ve mentioned Chip Ingram’s YOUR DIVINE DESIGN series on here before, but it gave an excellent breakdown on what modern prophecy is and is not. The key with ANY gift is using it in LOVE. And with prophecy in particular, you have to pray a LOT before you exercise it (should with every gift, but the gift of helps is maybe easier–you just DO and serve).

    Having taken tons of “spiritual gift” tests and falling into no other category than discernment, the gift of prophecy seems to be the one I have. Let me tell you, it’s not the “funnest” gift around. No one likes getting exhorted, no matter how sweet you are about it. This is why it must ALWAYS be covered in prayer. I can tell you that I rarely ever feel the burden to talk w/people I barely know about things like this. This is a gift that often shows up when interacting to those closest to you–family and friends. You know them, you see them falling into sin, and you want to help.

    OOOH, but I love that you included encouragement. I’ve often had people tell me this is my gift, and so I’m glad to know it fits right into the prophecy thing.

    We’re not exactly like the prophets in the OT, but you can surely learn a lot from the way they addressed their people with God’s message. Jeremiah cried his eyeballs out every day over God’s coming judgement. BUT he still had that obligation to tell them about it.


    1. Love your thoughts Heather! And as a fellow believer gifted with prophecy, i totally agree that it’s so encouraging to know that encouragement and comfort fall under prophecy too!!

  6. Great post! I agree with the others though on the OT “foretelling”… by many accounts, only 15% of OT prophecy was “foretelling”. I would have to go back to my notes to dig up the sources for that but it is pretty commonly accepted. Most of the OT prophecies were more along the line of calling Israel (or surrounding nations as the case may be) back to God and His ways or declaring who God is. When you go and mark all the passages that actual foretell a future event… we surprisingly realize that there are not as many as we thought! I agree, though, that prophecy in both OT and today can be foretelling as well as forthtelling.

    Good thoughts and good job diving into a hot issue.

  7. I agree and believe that there are 2 different kinds of prophecy. 1 is predicting, and 2 which is mostly teaching or telling forth the truth. I have had prophetic dreams on rare occasions showing me the future with 100% accuracy, yet I would reiterate that it has been very rare. Most of my experience has been teaching, conversational teaching, and telling forth things that God has shown me.

  8. Scripture is the absolute bedrock–the wisdom–that must undergird our lives. With it as our basis, we are able to discern the voice of God. Yes, He still speaks, and delights in revealing Himself to His children. Thus I conclude that the Christian walk is one of wisdom and revelation.

    As for prophecy, look at Rev. 19:10 “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

    The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

  9. The article presents a good, balanced view. I find it disturbing that the subject should be considered controversial. It’s never been a problem with Pentecostal assemblies and was a major element of the Charismatic renewal that began in the 1960s. Many churches have returned to front led teaching, rather than body ministry, over the last few years. In my opinion they’ve suffered as a result. The point is that we are all called to that “Royal Priesthood” and body ministry in the church encourages all to move in that awareness.

    This is a good, and much needed, message. Thanks for it.

  10. Nicole, you really nailed it in this post. The majority of “mainstream” churches get this wrong one of two ways: either the spiritual gifts were for another time, and no longer function today; or that prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, take your pick…are the exclusive domain of “the Chosen Ones” – those holy or pure enough (within their system) to be blessed with these “affirmations of righteousness” (I actually heard those words used to rebuke a layperson at a church I was visiting, because that person was not “privileged” to experience such, they had not been “spiritually prepared” by the elders yet. I got out quick after that.) You are to be commended for bravery in taking on this topic -kudos to you, and I will keep on reading and recommending you!

  11. I agree, Nicole, that you’re bringing forth here what the Holy Spirit desires. Blessed be His name.

    I think the only thing that wasn’t discussed here per questions on the last post is what the difference is between a “prophet” and the “gift of prophecy.” I imagine it has something to do with all being able to operate in the “gift of prophecy” whereas a “prophet” has a motivational factor of upholding God’s reputation that influences his/her character/behavior/heart.

  12. One thing I’ve experienced in community WITHOUT the prophetic voice is a kind of entropy, a kind of settling in…but with it there’s an advancing, a moving forward; and its first sound (before we try to contain it or box it in) is of premium value. We ride that voice, the one with His life on it. You can’t help but recognize Him in it…your heart resonates (John 6:63). The prophetic keeps the body from getting stagnant; it’s God’s jumper cables.

  13. I chuckle to myself because I know the hesitance to discuss prophecy. Half of my friends would look at me like I lost my mind, the other half look at me wondering why I don’t go further.

    You nailed it when you said it’s for encouraging and edification. Some of the best times is when it’s calling out who you really are, or how God sees you. When it’s accusing or tearing down or manipulating, that’s when it’s time to pull the plug.

    1. David,

      Would you agree that tearing down is an avenue towards edification?

      What if it is that The Lord wants to remove obstacles in our lives, that we have put there, so we can see Him better, and He does it through less than what would be viewed as ‘polite means’?

      When God our Father corrects/spanks us, can He not do it through the gift of prophecy or through a prophet?

      1. I can only give you my experience. And times that have brought change into my life, true edification has been with a gentle hand from God, the loving Father’s embrace. The gentle correction. Otherwise it comes off as arrogant legalizing on the part of the prophet. I’m willing to agree to disagree with you on this point. Man-hugs!

  14. Nicole – I LOVE that you are writing about this!! Prophecy is something that has been misunderstood by almost everyone, swept under the rug by most of the church and abused for personal gain by men and women claiming to have special access to God that the average Christ follower doesn’t have. Biblically, its obvious that we follow a God who takes an active role in our lives, who longs to live in relationship with us and who speaks to us often. And thanks both to the living Word of God and to the Holy Spirit, living inside those who believe, God is not silent.

    Several years ago, the Lord began revealing to me that He has given me the gift of prophecy. I had grown up in churches that didn’t seem to acknowledge that gift, at least from the pulpit. And at the time, someone very close to me was involved with a church that was on the opposite spectrum of my experience: one of liberally practicing prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc., but it was chaotic and disorderly. It often appeared to be for self-glorification rather than edifying the Body of Christ.

    I remember mulling over Galatians 1:16 where Paul talks about his response of being called by Christ to consult the Lord before another person. I felt a strong conviction to understand what God had to say about His gift to me.

    So, for about a year, I prayed and I read the Word, searching for any wisdom that He might offer to help me understand it and know what it looks like to live it out today. (1 Corinthians 14 played a HUGE role in that). Eventually, as the year came to a close, God brought some trustworthy men and women in to my life who both affirmed the gift that God had given me and also affirmed much of what God had taught me about it.

    Here are a few of the main things that God really impressed on my heart through His word and prayer (they are certainly not exhaustive on this topic):

    -Both Old and New Testament prophecy center on Christ. They point to Him, to His kingdom, to His glory.
    -Prophecy today must center on Christ and point to Him, and the most valuable asset we have for that is His Word. Prophecy speaks the truth of the Word and the power of the gospel into another believer’s life.
    -On that note, prophecy is for the believer, However, the Body of Christ living out a life of listening to and testing prophetic statements rather than despising them can lead to unbelievers repenting and believing in Jesus when they see it.
    -Someone who thinks they speak prophetically should not assume that they are the authority on the heart of another person. Only God holds that position, and there is a reason that Paul urges that multiple people affirm what is spoken prophetically.

    Lastly, I love that you brought up 1 Cor. 14:1 and 3! Without the intent of loving, strengthening, encouraging and comforting our brothers and sisters in Christ, prophecy isn’t useful or from God.

    1. Okay, so that was a novel of a comment. Sorry for taking up so much space! I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on prophecy next week!

  15. Love these thoughts, Nicole. As someone who’s been involved in charismatic circles for some time, it came as a shock to me to discover just how widespread the fear/distrust of the prophetic is in Western Christianity.

    On the topic of how do I know I’m hearing from God… obviously a lot can be said, but I’ll throw something out there for you as you prepare. I tend to believe there are only 3 primary voices one can hear: ourselves, the enemy, and God. Learning the character of each of these voices goes a very long way to identifying the originator of anything that we hear.

    Is this word analytical, reasoned, maybe excusing, possibly self- confident, or full of self-doubt? Does it serve me or the person who’s receiving it? That might be a word from me.

    Is this word destructive, critical, dishonest, destroying, seeking to alienate or to divide… and so on, we know the enemy’s character from what Scripture says of him.

    And obviously… is this word life giving? Is it kind, generous, honouring, and so on… That’s our Heavenly Father. Tragically, so many have a skewed perspective on God’s character that it makes a simple thing more difficult than it needs to be.

    Bless you for the light you’re shining on such important topics!

  16. The distinction should not be made between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy. All Scripture is prophetic because it is all the word of God. Peter calls Scripture, “prophecy” (2 Pet 1:20), each word coming not by human will. The distinction should be made between Scriptural prophecy and the New Testament gift of prophecy. “None of Scripture’s prophecy is subject to any man’s interpretation (unraveling)…”. But if a person exercises her/his gift of prophecy, it is to examined (1 Thess 5) and judged (1 Cor 14). We are to consult with more than one as to the validity and meaning of a prophetic word.

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