Friday, July 21, 2006

On the Prophetic Gift

Under the New Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ has given His Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This is so, even though we now have the Holy Spirit resident within us. The gifts and the Spirit are not in conflict with each other, nor does the possession of one mean that we have no need for the other. They work together. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who gives power and anointing to the gifts.

These ministry gifts were given “for the equipping of the saint for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). That He gave these gifts to the Church “till we come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” is evidence that they have not passed away from the Church, for we have not yet reached that fullness.

The prophetic office and the prophetic gift are very often thought of as being primarily predictive in nature, that is, of foretelling the future. But that is a minor part. Though it may often be predictive, prophecy is much more about revealing the heart of God to His people.

The prophetic role is often also thought of as being primarily individual in nature. Many Christians want a prophet they can run to each week for a personal word. But the prophetic office is more for the Church than for the individual. As individuals, we already have the Holy Spirit in us. We already have an anointing so that we can know whatever we need to know (1 John 2:20). If we hear from the prophet something we have not already heard from the Holy Spirit, we should be very careful about it. Rather, the prophetic role is to confirm what we are already hearing from the Holy Spirit in our own spirit.

At the congregational level, not everybody is on the same page about what the Spirit is saying, so the prophetic role is more about recognizing and announcing, for the edification of the body, what the Spirit is saying and doing in the body.

Is the prophetic ministry a ministry of guidance? Yes. But let us be careful not to equate “guidance” with “prediction.” Though they may overlap, they are not the same; prediction is at the service of guidance. The guidance the prophetic offers us, generally, is in helping us understand the trajectory of what God wants to do in us and through us. It is generally not seeing into the future, but understanding the present moment. When we understand how God is working and what He wants to do in us, it helps us understand, in practical terms, how we should proceed. In that sense, it gives us guidance.

Paul talked about the gifts of the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8). Your mileage may vary, but I understand them in this way: The word of knowledge is about what has happened or is happening right now; the word of wisdom is about how we should proceed — what we should do about what has happened or is happening right now.

Prophecy is not about condemnation. God is not in the condemning business. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18 ). Those who do not believe are already condemned by their unbelief. It is not something God has done to them, but something they have done, or rather, failed to do. “For without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Paul describes the nature of the prophetic gift as being for edification, exhortation and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). It may even be a convicting word, but it will not be a condemning word. A convicting word leaves room for repentance, while a condemning word leaves no hope. The prophetic word will be a word that builds up both the individual and the body.

Prophetic ministry has a specificity to it. For example, out of the many words and promises God has for us in Scripture, how should one believer know which is the particular word needed for another believer in a specific situation? We should all be studying and meditating on the Book, of course, but it’s a pretty big Book, with a lot of things to say. Should we simply rely on our study habits and memory skills, we would soon come up short.

Here is where the prophetic ministry can help. Out of the many logos words of Scripture (the entire body of the Word of God), prophetic ministry can bring forth a rhema word. A rhema word is one that acutely and accurately applies the Word of God to the present need, whether that need is hidden or out in the open. In this way, the prophetic word often reveals what is going on the spiritual realm as well as in the natural. Because of its ability to address the present need with precision, the prophetic word is often called a now word.

Often when I minister to a group or an individual, and a situation comes up where I don’t know how to proceed, I ask the Lord, “What should I do here? What should I say?” The Holy Spirit starts bringing things to mind, especially various Scriptures. He often then shows me, not only what to present, but how to present it and what to emphasize about it.

As a Bible teacher and worship leader, I look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I make my preparations. As I present, I look for Him to take what I have prepared and direct it however He desires. Sometimes He will direct it in a way I had never even contemplated. Sometimes He ignores my preparations altogether and brings forth something that is as much a surprise to me as it is to everyone else — bless His name!. I consider that to be a prophetic element. The end result is that people get ministered to in a deeper, more on-target way than if it were just up to me.

Every believer can manifest the gift of prophecy at one time or another — to receive from God the right word to say to the right people at the right time. It will never contradict Scripture, and in fact, it may often be no more than a Scripture we present to another. In other instances, the Scripture that comes forth may open a flood of words that minister and heal. Or there may be a picture, an image, a vision that comes to mind and addresses the situation in some way, with the result that a congregation or an individual is encouraged, exhorted or comforted in some way.