What is prophecy? Prophecy is much more than telling the future, but at its heart there is only one message.
When most people think of the word prophecy, they probably think about revealing or foretelling the future. While biblical prophecy proclaims future events, particularly the coming of Christ, that describes only one aspect of prophecy.
Prophecy speaks to diverse subjects, such as the past and the present, God’s ways and our response to Him. However, there is a thread that binds them all together. Prophecy may involve words, pictures or actions, but at its heart there is really only one message.
If I try to define what prophecy is, I would say that it’s a message from God, given through a person, to a group of people or an individual. But that definition feels a little cold to me.
Prophecy is a rich experience, both for the person sharing it and the recipient. Even when prophecy speaks of the future, it also communicates in other ways that add to or enhance the core message, or invoke a higher purpose.
Words form the body of a typical prophecy, but there is something woven into and around the message itself, an extra dimension, if you will.
I have often experienced this extra dimension, in giving and receiving prophetic words. Here’s one way in which that can happen.
There are times when I pray about a troubling issue, but it seems like I’m getting nowhere with it. The situation may not change for a while and I may find myself struggling with emotions that feel overwhelming.
Then someone else prays for me and they tell me something about the situation they couldn’t possibly have known. That knowledge instantly cuts through the atmosphere of my mind and reminds me of several things:
At that moment, a connection is made between heaven and earth which wasn’t there before.
“Prophecy makes a connection between heaven and earth.”
There are different kinds of prophetic message, each with its own purpose or application.
As I see it, I can think of at least ten ways in which prophecy works in the lives of those who hear it:
I don’t have space here to do justice to every item above, but I’ll try to cover them in more detail elsewhere. For now, I want to draw your attention to the first application, which I believe to be at the heart of prophecy: to point people to God.
Regardless of the actual words of a specific prophetic utterance, the core message is always to point people to God.
“The core message of any prophecy is to point people to God.”
This core message is illustrated in chapter 21 of John’s gospel. The disciples were out fishing not long after the risen Jesus had first appeared to them. They saw a man starting a barbecue on the shore and became curious when he called out to them, asking if they had any fish.
They said they had none and he told them to put their nets down into the water one more time. They obeyed, resulting in a supernatural catch of fish and John soon realised who the man was. When John shouted “it’s the Lord!”, Simon Peter immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to the shore.
When we read this passage, we may chuckle to ourselves about the impulsive nature of Peter, but in reality what John had done was a prophetic act that drew everyone’s attention to God.
John’s words had an electrifying effect, causing Peter to focus the full attention of his heart, mind and body towards Jesus. This led Peter into an encounter with his Lord, one which changed the course of his life.
Prophecy is a statement of God’s character and desires, expressed through a human being.
Whatever the message, all good prophecy needs to communicate something about God to the recipient: His presence, knowledge, understanding, kindness, peace, mercy, or His love.
When learning to prophesy, I suggest we seek to do the same. It doesn’t have to be complicated. We just need to point people to God.
If we can do that, if we can set up a connection between heaven and earth and lead people into an encounter with Jesus, then we have done our job.
Discussion Question: What does prophecy mean to you?
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