Most Christians (assuming they believe prophecy can take place outside the bible) believe prophecy is a special God-given talent, given rarely to select Christians; that you aren’t one unless you experience a spectacular appearance from God in which He personally commissions you to be a prophet, and that after that point you have the ability to clearly, distinctly, and perfectly hear God and see visions.
Because that’s what we expect, that’s why we regularly ignore our own ability to hear God, and that’s why we never develop it into the ability to prophecy. Every Christian, without exception, can hear God. That means every Christian, without exception, can be a prophet. That includes you.
Genius is when an ability comes quickly and effortlessly to you. It varies from having a knack for something, to being one of those Mozart-like savants who can write symphonies before they’re ten. Some people are that way with writing, or sports, or mathematics, or music; some people are that way with spiritual things like prophecy. The people who quickly realize they can hear God and immediately begin to prophesy are the geniuses. But just because a genius can sit down at a piano and bang out an opera does not mean that an average person—with effort and practice and time and tenacity—can’t do the same thing. It’s harder for the non-genius. Mistakes are more frequent. It takes longer. It takes patience. But it’s not impossible.
Too many people argue that they can’t be one thing or another because it takes effort: “I can’t do math; it’s too hard.” The reality is that they’re not willing to put the time in. So they leave the field for those who are willing, and of course the geniuses. And the very same thing is true of prophecy. Any Christian can be a prophet, but most Christians are willing to let someone else do it… even though they know, deep down, that God wants them to pursue prophecy. He wants listeners. He wants messengers. He wants prophets. (1Co 14.1)
So how do we become prophets?
Listen to God.
I’ve written previously on how God talks back: God is spirit, and He speaks to us spiritually. We humans are part spirit, part physical; we tend to focus so much on our physical components that we ignore our spiritual components, or think of them as psychological. There is a part of you that’s not part of your brain chemicals or motor functions; not made of atoms and molecules. This is the part of you that interacts with God. This is the part of you the Holy Spirit talks to when He pokes us in the conscience and reminds us to behave. This is “the heart” that God sees into, and listens to when we pray. This is the heart He talks to.
Because we don’t understand that it’s God talking to us, we regularly think that these ideas and impulses and nudges, that seemingly appear out of nowhere in our spirit, are us—they’re our ideas. We honestly don’t know the difference between God’s ideas and our own. We never tried to distinguish between them before. Occasionally we did notice a distinction; we reacted to that idea with, “Where did that come from? That doesn’t sound like me. I would never do that.” Some Christians are awfully quick to identify certain stray ideas as temptations from the devil; oddly, they never once get the idea that certain stray ideas are from God. (Including some of those “devilish” ones—the only reason we think they’re not God is because they’re contrary to our thinking, not His.)
So how do we know which ideas are His, and which ideas aren’t? First and foremost, we compare them with stuff He has said. We read our bibles. Particularly read Jesus and the Prophets; read as many direct quotes from God (or as direct as they can get, considering they’ve been filtered through a prophet) as you can. Get familiar with what God sounds like. The more you read your bible in order to get familiar with God’s voice, the more you’re gonna start noticing how often God is talking to you.
Naturally, if the idea is inconsistent with the scriptures, it’s probably not God. Although there are exceptions, ’cause—I’m not kidding—God will occasionally say something that’s contrary to the scriptures just to make sure you’ve been testing His stuff against the scriptures. Like when He told Ezekiel to cook bread over his own feces, and Ezekiel rightly objected, (Ek 4.12-15) or when He told Simon Peter to eat unclean animals, and Peter rightly objected. (Ac 10.9-16) He expects you to pass these tests, but if you’re a newbie, relax; He’s going to be lenient.
Now, to be honest, because of all the bible you’re absorbing, sometimes your brain is going to regurgitate God-talk; bible quotes are going to pop into your mind, and bible imagery is going to pop up in your dreams. These are not direct messages from God. They are from God; but—in the case of the Prophets—they were to the ancient Hebrews and Israelis, and need to be interpreted that way. Occasionally you get a prophet who announces, “This message to ancient Jerusalem: God is telling me that it’s for us today.” And while sometimes that’s true, sometimes what we really have is prophets who don’t know the difference between their subconscious and the Holy Spirit, and who jump the gun before they’ve sussed out which is which.
Share what you’ve heard.
Too many Christians hear God, know they’ve heard God, yet never share what they’ve heard. That’s the difference between a prophet and a non-prophet: Prophets share. They’re willing to step out on the stage and say, “God told me this,” and risk being wrong, or risk skepticism and criticism. All you have to do to be a prophet is simply share what God told you. That’s it.
Yes it is just that simple. I preached on this once: I kinda tricked people into being prophets by having them bunch into smaller groups (the church was small enough where we could get away with this) and told them to each share one thing that God had told them the previous week. I gave them several minutes, then said, “There you go. Now you’re all prophets.” The older folks’ reaction was, “Um… that’s not really a prophet. A prophet is…” followed by all the clichés of Old Testament-style hairy thunderers. Those images were deeply imbedded in their brains, and they just couldn’t get beyond them.
Step two, in learning which ideas are God’s and which aren’t, is to share those ideas. In other words, risk those ideas. You think, or are reasonably sure, or at least suspect, that those ideas are from God. Now you have to stop clinging tightly to them, and find out from other Christians whether they truly are from God.
The best first place to go will be other prophets. Seek out the mature prophets in your church. If your own church doesn’t have any, feel free to talk to prophets from other churches. Tell them, “I think God is telling me this; what do you think?” They’ll encourage you (’cause prophets encourage, 1Co 14.3) in the right direction. They’ll correct you where necessary. They’ll give you personalized advice, unlike this post. And in many cases they’ll confirm your prophecy—because God has been telling them the very same thing.
If their usual response is, “No, that’s not God,” and discouragement or dismissal, don’t quit: What’s more likely is that you picked the wrong prophets to talk to. Fake prophets, or bad prophets, are jealous of any up-and-comers who might steal the spotlight away from them. True prophets are jazzed when they meet new prophets—there’s just not enough of them!—and will do what they can to foster new colleagues. Even if you’re really confused about what’s God voice and what isn’t, and are getting just about everything wrong, a true prophet will oftentimes make a special project of you and help you get it right. So definitely go talk to a prophet.
Be prepared for criticism.
Of course, not every Christian believes that prophecy happens anymore. Some Christians may claim to believe that prophecy still takes place, but they’re so skeptical of every prophet that functionally they’re cessationists—“nobody prophesies right” is the same as saying “nobody prophesies.”
That’s not even getting to those folks who, when it gets right down to it, do not want to hear from God. They’re sinning, and know it, but don’t want to be corrected, don’t want to be encouraged to do better, don’t want to be challenged. They’re very happy with the status quo, and prophecy always disrupts the status quo. Always. Because if there’s nothing that needs improvement, God wouldn’t bother to say anything.
Anyway, the way to defuse or dismiss a prophet is to prove the prophet is wrong, or fake. Prophecy, real prophecy, has far more foes than fans. Look at all the prophets in the bible who were martyred. Lots of people would rather die (or better, have you die) than change. Especially if they’ve convinced themselves that they’re right.
But we are wrong. Jesus is right. We want to be right. The Holy Spirit will help us. Provided, of course, that we listen to Him; to confirm that we hear Him (and to share Him with those who aren’t listening), we have prophets. And you can be one too.