Prophecy (Part 3): Discerning Between the Literal and Symbolic

Last time we talked about “the presumption of assumption” — jumping to conclusions and extrapolating about what God has actually said.

Another problem we can run into is not knowing the difference between symbolic and literal language and visions.  If God says, “I am about to shake this city,”  or if we have a vision of an earthquake, does God mean He is going to literally send an earthquake, or does He mean He is going to shake things up in a spiritual sense – perhaps dealing with attitudes, removing people in power who are corrupt, or releasing revival?  Which is it?  We’d better find out before we start making a lot of noise about it.

Many dreams, visions, and phrases that the Lord uses were never meant to be taken literally.  Sometimes this is obvious, but at other times it is not.  We need to ask God for further light on what He is talking about before we release sensational prophetic words.  We had better know if God is really saying an earthquake is coming before we tell everyone that’s what is going to happen.

Let’s say you have a vision of a church in your town being engulfed in flames.  You have heard from several sources that there are integrity issues within that fellowship.  (This is gossip, by the way, whether it is true or not.)  Because of what you think you know in the natural, you assume that God is literally going to judge them by burning their building to the ground.  But, what if God was speaking symbolically, and what He really intends to do is set the people of that church ablaze for Him?  What if, in His mercy, He sends revival to them, and they become a consuming fire for Him?  What if you have already told everyone in your acquaintance that God is going to judge that fellowship by burning their worship center to the ground?  Ugly, isn’t it?

When we aren’t sure whether a word, vision, or dream is literal or symbolic, it is important to weigh it before the Lord and give Him time to pass more information our way.  We ask Him for more understanding.  We ask Him for wisdom about whether to share the word with a few trusted leaders, or whether to sit on it until we have more light.

Paying attention to minute details of visions, words, and dreams will help us to distinguish between literal and symbolic meanings, so that we can avoid misinterpreting what God is saying.  A friend of ours once had a vision of my husband and me on a ship in a heavy storm.  He said there was a lot of sickness around us.  He was troubled by his own vision, and I immediately began to feel afraid, since both my husband and I had been through very serious sickness in the past.  But, in asking into the details of what our friend saw, an entirely different picture began to unfold.  We were standing firmly on the tossing ship, while others around us were afraid and some were getting seasick.  We were skillfully navigating the waves, and were even smiling!  The vision was entirely symbolic, and was about our pastoral tendencies and our strong gift of encouragement.  We were people who could ride the seas of difficult circumstances without fear and help others in the church get safely through the storms as well.  Through the years, we have seen the fulfillment of this vision many times over.

Next time we’ll talk more about using discretion in delivering prophetic words.

Previous — Prophecy (Part 2): The Presumption of Assumption
Next — Prophecy (Part 4): Discretion — Keeping it to Ourselves


Excerpted from Lee Ann’s book, The Intercessor Manual

Out of the Fire Ministries

3 responses to “Prophecy (Part 3): Discerning Between the Literal and Symbolic

  1. Pingback: Prophecy (Part 2): The Presumption of Assumption « Out of the Fire

  2. Pingback: Prophecy (Part 4): Discretion — Keeping it to Ourselves « Out of the Fire

  3. Pingback: Questions and Answers « Out of the Fire

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