In Old Testament times, the word of the Lord was heard by only a few, who then duly proclaimed it to the general congregation. But since the setting in place of the New Covenant through the shedding of Jesus’ blood on our behalf, and since the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church, we can all hear Him speak to us. You don’t have to be a prophet to prophesy. In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul tells us,
- “Follow after charitable love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (v. 1).
- “For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted” (v. 31).
- “Wherefore, brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (v. 39).
Furthermore, Jesus commented, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:47). You can hear God, and you can prophesy.
The prophet Joel said, “It shall come to pass afterward, [Peter quotes ‘afterward’ as ‘in the last days,’ in Acts 2:17] that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit” (Joel 2:28, 29).
The Bible is full of guidelines for how prophecy is supposed to happen. In this post and the next, I’m going to focus on an anchor passage: Jeremiah 23:9-36. Although it was written in Old Testament times, it is loaded with basic, common sense advice which still applies to New Testament prophesying and discerning of prophecy. We can learn a lot from it about how to discern prophetic words and those who speak them. We can also apply a lot of this passage to ourselves, so that we do better at prophesying accurately. Let’s break it down, by focusing on some of the key points:
Verses 9-15: In these verses, God expresses through Jeremiah His heartbrokenness over the sins of many of those who called themselves prophets. Some were actually out-and-out prophets of false gods, while others were involved in deep sin, such as adultery, lying, and other unspecified forms of wickedness. In addition, he said “They strengthen also the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness” (v. 14). In other words, they condoned continuing in sin, and exalted and supported those who were evil. That sounds pretty relevant to what goes on today, doesn’t it?
Verse 16: Do not pay heed to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.
Don’t speak “prophecies” which come from your own desire to flatter or please the people you are speaking to. Don’t speak what you would like to see happen, but have not actually heard God say will happen.
Speaking from one’s own heart may come from a misplaced desire to encourage. Encouragement is a major component of prophecy. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But he who prophesies speaks to men for edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” But it is important to be sure we are really hearing from the Lord, not just trying to make people feel good. “Feel good” words which do not ever materialize ultimately end up disappointing people and can cause them to doubt the gift of prophecy altogether.
If you are not sure if it’s from God, weigh it in your spirit for a bit, and if you still aren’t sure, keep it to yourself.
Verse 17: They say to those who despise Me, “The LORD has said, ‘You shall have peace.'” And they say to everyone who walks after the imagination of his own heart, “No evil shall come upon you.”
Again, such “words” can come from a heart of people-pleasing, fear of man, and desiring of approval, whether for personal gain or not. To tell those who are in sin that they are just fine and that no consequences will come is lying. It lacks love, because it shows an utter disregard for where they will spend eternity if they do not repent.
Verse 18: For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, and has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word, and heard it?
I would answer those questions, “The one who spends plenty of time in the Lord’s Presence in intimate listening prayer, and who immerses himself in the Scriptures.” There is no shortcut to standing in God’s counsel, having His understanding, and hearing accurately from Him. It comes through spending much time with Him, both in prayer itself and in prayerful reading of His Word.
Verse 21: I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
Don’t be too hasty to release what you think you have from God. Premature telling of your revelation is often fraught with lots of adding on to / exaggerating / fleshly interpretation of what it means. Sit on what you have for a while. See if it stays with you. See if God expands your understanding. Those who are too eager to “run” to tell everyone what they are hearing often have a heart motivation of wanting to be recognized and admired. Crucify that temptation by hanging onto your word and letting God verify it and hone it within you.
To be continued …