The Gift of Prophecy
Harriet, a movie about the life of the famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman, was recently released in theaters, giving many a chance to know this remarkable woman for the first time. The movie highlights not only her sacrificial heroism and her Christian faith, but her dependence on God for the supernatural, helping her to evade capture and lead slaves to freedom. Many times in her life, God gave her supernatural, or prophetic revelation, to guide her to her destination.
MATT BENNETT (CORNELL ’88, MBA ’89) IS THE FOUNDER AND CEO OF CHRISTIAN UNION.
The gift of prophecy is available to Christians today, as it was in Harriet’s day and as evidenced in the first century. God supernaturally provides revelation to His servants, sometimes in sentence form, and sometimes through visual images to help them in their walks with Him and to edify others. The primary purpose of prophetic revelation is stated in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”
Prophecy is receiving divine revelation and sharing it with others, so as to strengthen them in the faith. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of helping many learn to operate in this gift and work through biblical questions so that they can operate in confidence. Two of the most common concerns for those learning about the gift are as follows:
Not Correlated with Spiritual Maturity
It’s often assumed that anyone who has such revelatory experiences would be strong in the faith and have solid character and strong theological doctrine. After all, wouldn’t God give such a spectacular gift to the true saints among us? Yet, because of God’s amazing grace, He’s willing to give prophetic gifting to Christians of all different maturity levels and theological soundness. He loves to show how merciful He is, and that He can give gifts to whomever He chooses.
After all, it’s seen in the Old Testament: Samson had incredible strength, but questionable character; King Saul had prophetic abilities at one time, yet disobeyed God, and had to give up the kingdom. In the New Testament, Christians in the city of Corinth have all kinds of prophetic gifts (see chapters 12-14), yet they are also called “infants in Christ” and “of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:1). It’s also noteworthy that in the listings of the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9), nothing is said about miraculous or prophetic giftings. A person can be very mature in Christ, yet have very limited revelatory abilities, and, of course, the opposite can also be true. An immature Christian or one with distorted theological views can have very powerful revelatory gifts.
Always Needs to Be Weighed and Tested
Another common problem for Christians new to the gift is the lack of understanding that prophecies are always to be weighed and tested. A person may feel like they have a word from God, but quite possibly, it’s from their own desire or emotions. Additionally, they might receive a vision from God, but may not correctly interpret it, and, therefore, make mistakes when speaking to others. The Scriptures teach that Christians are to test (1 John 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21) and weigh (1 Corinthians 14:29) all prophecies. Some have been hurt and disappointed because they took a prophecy as completely true and never tested it. Every Christian who receives a prophetic word should take it to the Lord, wait on Him, and see if the word is confirmed in some way before it’s taken to heart.
In the fall of 2018, I had emergency appendectomy surgery. After an MRI scan, the radiologist told me that I had the largest swollen appendix he had seen in twenty-five years of medical practice. He called the emergency room at Mt. Sinai Hospital and sent me straight there from my MRI imaging session. I praise God for this because it had already ruptured, and if I had not had surgery quickly, it could have been life-threatening. My doctor told me that I was the talk of the imaging lab because of the enormous size of the burst appendix. He asked me why I had come in since I had obviously been fine living with periodic abdominal pain for one to two years.
Honestly, it never even occurred to me to go to the doctor. I had thought that I was periodically not eating well, or just experiencing a bug. What I told him surprised him, and I knew it would; so, before I answered him, I asked if he had a Christian or religious background of any kind. He said that he had grown up Catholic, but was not currently practicing. I asked him if he had ever heard about people getting prophetic words, and he said he had heard a little about it. Well, just a week prior, I had received a voicemail from a friend in Delaware with a strong prophetic gift.
In the voicemail, this friend said God told him that I was not “listening to my body” and that it was possibly putting in jeopardy His plans for me. When I listened to the voicemail it made me wonder if there was any connection to the periodic abdominal pain. I went to the doctor to check it out, which is how I ended up getting my appendix removed. The doctor was indeed astonished and said that there would now be two reasons why I would be the talk of the lab. One, because of the enormous size of the appendix; and two, because of how I decided to get it checked out.
The prophetic word was just the encouragement I needed to take action to get my appendix examined. It was easy to test this word because there would certainly be no harm in going to the doctor to get my abdominal pain examined. There was almost no downside and significant upside potential. I praise God for His grace to me!
If the gift of prophecy is new to you, I encourage you to begin learning about it with the two caveats mentioned earlier in mind. It will add an additional dimension to your walk with God and could be used in providing significant encouragement and strengthening to others.