Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12.10), but is often misunderstood or even avoided in conversations – “mysterious”, “supernatural”, “too charismatic” and “too abstract” are some of the adjectives that I have heard when some people describe their impression of prophecy. However, a lot of these impressions may stem from oversight of what prophecy means and what purposes prophecy serves according to the Bible. Let’s look at the 5 most frequently asked questions about prophecy.
1. Is prophecy fortune-telling?
No, the purpose of a prophecy is not just to foretell the future.
In the Old Testament, God would send prophets to advise or warn a king and his people about possible future events or consequences to their action/inaction. The prophecies, the human action (or inaction), and the consequences then become testimonies of God’s power, authority, and mercy. Gideon, Saul, David, and so many more Old Testament leaders were prime recipients of God’s prophecy, and their stories are powerful testimonies that we still read and learn from today.
In our present-day, prophecies can still exist, but they are not limited to advice or warnings given by specifically appointed prophets as in the Old Testament. God wants to strengthen, encourage and comfort His people, and He may do so by speaking through the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul encourages the Corinthian church to “pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14.1). Then Paul explains the main purposes of prophecy:
… the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Cor. 14.3) [emphasis added]
The original Greek for “upbuildling” is “οἰκοδομὴν”, which means building a home. Prophecies should lift up, strengthen a person, and ultimately build up the body of Christ. It is not a grand display of knowledge or foresight, not a tool to impress people, and definitely should not be used to hurt or discourage others. Based on Paul’s teachings in 1 Cor. 14:1-3, prophecies are not so much about foretelling the future but are for the purposes of strengthening, encouraging, and comforting God’s people.
2. Can I prophesize?
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists out a number of spiritual gifts, and prophecy is one of them:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor. 12.4-11) [emphasis added]
The gift of prophecy could be given to any of us, but we are all dependent on the Holy Spirit for it. If you want the gift of prophecy, you can ask God for it. As with other prayer requests, we will not know whether God will grant it to us nor when, but we should not quickly jump to the conclusion that “I am not qualified or made for this” for any gift that comes from the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is God who designs and decides who receives such gifts.
(Continue reading here.)