As I have written previously, I have been greatly blessed by the gift of prophecy throughout my walk with the Lord. There have been many times when God spoke to me through another person, exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. God has used prophecy to confirm aspects of my calling, encourage me, and give me and my wife needed direction. At times, I have also been used in the gift of prophecy to encourage others.
Prophecy is one of the nine manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the church. We must embrace this gift from the Lord, and see it fully restored.
All that being said, I know that some people have been confused, wounded, and misguided by prophetic words. This might be because the words they received were not really from the Lord. The Bible instructs us to test prophecy; not just to accept anything that purports to be the Lord’s word to us. We must also be aware that there are false prophets and those who use prophecy to manipulate others.
But there are other reasons why even genuine prophetic words can sometimes be confusing. If we are not aware of these factors, we can be confused and even derailed by prophecy.
1. The need for interpretation and application
It is one thing to receive a prophetic word; it is another to know how to interpret and apply it. Just as the Scriptures need to be interpreted and applied, so do prophetic words. Pharaoh received two prophetic dreams about the future; but they did not do him any good until Joseph was able to interpret and apply the dreams. (See Genesis 41 for the whole story).
Sometimes prophetic words are very straightforward, and there is not much need for interpretation. But many other times there is a need to dig into the meaning of the words and know how to personally apply them. (For more on this, check out my article 3 Things to Consider when Receiving a Prophetic Word).
2. The timing factor
This is a big one! It is too easy to get a true prophecy from the Lord, but totally miss Him on the timing of it. Prophetic words have a specific time to be fulfilled. The angel Gabriel prophesied to Zacharias the birth of his son, John the Baptist. When Zacharias heard this word, he doubted. Gabriel said, “you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time” (Luke 1:20). The word would be fulfilled in its own time.
God has an appointed time—a due season—for prophecy to come to pass. Samuel prophesied that David would be the next king of Israel, but it took many years for this to come to pass. It happened in the Lord’s time. Many other examples could be given. This tells us that we must seek the Lord for His timing, and not try to force something to happen because it has been prophesied to us.
3. Prophecy is conditional
This is perhaps the most confusing part of prophecy. Generally speaking, prophecy is conditional. This means that there are factors that can effect whether or not the word comes to pass. A prophetic word declares God’s desire over a person, but that does not mean that it will automatically come to pass. God intended for the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land, but because of their fear and unbelief they did not enter.
And what about Jonah’s prophetic word? “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Jonah was a true prophet of God and this was the word of the Lord. But this word did not come to pass. Why? Because the people of Nineveh repented. This caused the Lord to relent from bringing the judgment that He had intended to bring. (Check out Jeremiah 18:7-10 for more on this).
I believe that in some cases, our disobedience can keep true prophetic words from coming to pass in our lives. We must cooperate with the Lord in seeing the words fulfilled.
Prophecy is one of many ways that God speaks to us. We must see it not as an end-all-be-all, but as a complement to everything else that the Lord is doing in our lives. We must feed on the Scriptures, be in relationship with other believers, and use wisdom in following the Holy Spirit’s direction.
Let’s fully embrace the gift of prophecy. And let’s grow in our understanding of how this gift works. In its proper place, it will bring great blessing to the church and encouragement to many believers!