Three false beliefs many Christians have about prophecy:
- Prophecy is only the ability to exhort and teach. It has nothing to do with sharing what God personally tells us.
- Hearing God is a rare gift, sharing what we’ve heard is a rare talent, and the office of prophet is a rare position.
- You don’t have this ability till God makes a special Isaiah- or Ezekiel-style appearance to you and commissions you personally. After which point you now have the infallible ability to hear God, see visions, and never make mistakes when you proclaim his word.
It’s all bunk, of course; meant to get Christians to dismiss, or even actively avoid, God’s voice.
Because these are our false expectations, it’s why we regularly ignore our own, varying abilities to hear God. It’s why, to borrow Jesus’s story of the talents,
Yeah, there are Christians who can clearly and effortlessly hear God. They’re geniuses. Genius is when you don’t need to work for an ability; you just have it. Maybe you’re one of those Mozart-like savants who can write symphonies before the age of 10. More likely you’re like everybody else: You gotta take piano lessons. You gotta learn music theory. And then you can write a symphony. What Mozart could do naturally, others have to study and learn before doing. But here’s the thing: They could do it.
Same for those geniuses who have a knack for sports, math, or music. And yes, even spiritual things like prophecy. There are prophecy geniuses, like Samuel, who can hear God so clearly, it’s the same as if anyone else talked to them. I am definitely not one of those geniuses. It takes me longer to hear God. It takes patience. But it’s far from impossible: I’ve learned to hear him whenever I listen.
And so can you.
It’s why we have the Holy Spirit.
Too many Christians—heck, too many humans—argue they can’t be one thing or another because it’s “just too hard.” The reality is they’re just not willing to make the effort. Doesn’t come quickly enough, and they lack the patience. (Like me and calculus.) So they leave the field for those who are willing, who do have the knack for it. Same for prophecy: Any Christian can be a prophet, but most Christians are willing to let other people do it.
Even when they know, deep down, God wants everyone to do it. That’s why he poured out the Holy Spirit on every Christian. In the Old Testament, only the prophets had the Holy Spirit. Well, guess what: In the Christian Era, every Christian has the Holy Spirit. And not just because he’s a neat thing to have, but because he gives us the power to hear God and share God.
“Instead, this is what was declared through the prophet Joel. ‘God says this’ll be
the casein the last days: “I’ll pour out of my Spirit onto all flesh.
- Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
- Your children will see visions.
- Your elders will dream dreams.
- In those days, I’ll pour out of my Spirit
- on my slaves, male and female, who will prophesy.”’”
Acts 2.16-18 KWL
God gave us the Spirit so we could prophesy and have visions and dreams. He wants us to pursue it. He wants listeners. He wants messengers. He wants prophets.
So how do we become prophets?
But when we don’t realize the Spirit’s speaking to us, we assume these ideas and impulses and nudges, which seemingly appear out of nowhere in our heads, are us. We think they’re our ideas. We honestly don’t know the difference between the Spirit’s ideas and our own thoughts. (For that matter, we don’t know the difference between the Spirit’s messages and devilish messages. More on that in a bit.)
Sometimes we notice there’s something odd about those ideas: “Where’d that come from?” When a God-idea is significantly different from one of our ideas, that’s when we recognize something out of the ordinary is going on. The Spirit may tell us to act against our selfish impulses, or be contrary to our common sense; or give us information we just can’t know—which turns out to be right, and perfectly timed. Those messages get our attention. But they aren’t the Spirit’s only messages. They’re just the ones which shock us into the realization: God is talking.
Problem is, devils can talk to us too. Sometimes to tempt us, sometimes to mess with us. Sometimes to play God. We’re less likely to catch the devilish messages because they tend to suit our selfishness so well: They encourage us to go ahead and do that evil thing we kinda wanted to do anyway. The only time we realize we’re being tempted is when the devils misjudge us, and try to entice us with something which doesn’t tempt us any. (“Murder her? Oh come on. I’d never do that.”) But from time to time they pretend to be the Holy Spirit, mostly ’cause it’s a great way to lead naïve Christians astray, and trick us into all sorts of barbaric behavior: “Follow me, and I’ll make you famous. I’ll give you the biggest, most successful ministry ever. Everybody will follow your teachings. I’ll make you so rich and powerful. And you’ll grow the Kingdom a lot; sure. But you’ll be successful too. So blessed.” Sound familiar? The devil tries this one a lot.
So how do we learn which ideas come from the Holy Spirit, and which don’t?
Start reading that bible.
First and foremost, we gotta compare the spiritual things we hear, with the spiritual writings we’ve been given. We read our bibles. We compare what “God” told us, with what God’s authentically told other people. We read the teachings of Jesus. We read the Prophets. We read as many direct quotes from God as we can find. We get familiar with what the Holy Spirit sounds like.
While a lot of Christians do read their bibles, we often make the mistake of only reading the New Testament. We skip the Old Testament. When we do read the OT, we read Psalms and Proverbs and the stories. We set the prophetic books aside. We don’t know the difference between Zephaniah and Zechariah. We don’t care about the difference between Haggai and Habakkuk. (Heck, half of us don’t know how to say those names. It’s
Read the Prophets. Read what the LORD told Moses. Read his commands in the Law; they’re prophecy too. Read everything Jesus said in the New Testament. Doesn’t matter which person of the Trinity you’re reading: They sound alike. They repeat one another. Get familiar with what God sounds like.
The more you read your bible in order to get familiar with the Spirit’s voice, the more you’ll notice how often he talks to you.
Naturally, if your “God-idea” is inconsistent with what God’s said in the past, it’s likely not God. Although sometimes it is God. Y’see, sometimes God deliberately contradicts himself, just to see whether you’ve been paying attention. Like when he told Ezekiel to cook bread over his own crap. Ezekiel rightly objected: Not only is that nasty and unsanitary, it’s ritually unclean, and violates God’s own Law.
Now, thanks to all that bible you’re absorbing, sometimes your brain is gonna regurgitate it: Bible quotes are gonna pop into your mind. Bible imagery is gonna spit up into your dreams. Bear in mind this is not necessarily God doing this. That’s your brain. Don’t confuse bible quotes with God’s present-day messages. Immature prophets make that mistake all the time: “This message is from Obadiah, and yes it’s to ancient Edom, but I feel God telling me this message is for us today…” Well, it’s not necessarily so. Yeah, often history repeats itself; often what God told the Hebrews or Egyptians or Babylonians or Greeks sounds just as relevant to Americans. But a mature prophet is gonna know the difference between their subconscious and the Holy Spirit.
Share what you’ve heard.
Too many of us hear God, know we’ve heard God, yet never share what we’ve heard. That’s the difference between a prophet and a non-prophet: Prophets share. Prophets are willing to step out on the stage and say, “God told me this.” And risk being wrong. Or risk skepticism and criticism. That’s just part of the job. But a lot of us never do the job.
Still, it is just that simple: All you gotta do to be a prophet is share what God told you. That’s it. Nothing more.
I preached on this once. At the end of the sermon, I pulled a bit of a stunt: I had the church bunch into smaller groups of two or three, and told them to share one thing from the previous week which God had told or shown them. I gave them several minutes to do so. Then I said, “There you go. Now you’re all prophets: You shared what God told you.”
A few of the older folks responded, “Um… that’s not really a prophet. A prophet is…” followed by the usual clichés about Old Testament-style hairy thunderers like Elijah and John. These images are deeply embedded in our culture. The older folks just couldn’t get beyond them.
But that’s all you gotta do. Share those ideas. Risk those ideas. Stop clinging so tightly to them, as if they’re divine secrets. They’re not. In fact one of the things you’ll discover as you share them—one of the things that’ll shock you about ’em—is how often God didn’t only tell you these things. He told darn near everybody these things. He talks to everybody. Yet only you had the nerve to share.
Talk to other prophets.
A lot of Christians have told me, “I don’t know who the prophets are in my church.” Well, once you start sharing, they’re gonna come out of the woodwork. Not because they were hiding. They were never hiding. (Well, unless you go to an anti-supernatural church, where they’re kinda obligated to hide. But you’re gonna find them there too.) Once you find the other people who share God with others, get to know them. Support one another.
Bounce God-ideas off one another. “I think God is telling me this; what do you think?” They’ll either encourage you or discourage you, (’cause exhortation comes with the job
Some of them are gunshy: They’ve been discouraged so often, judged so harshly, they’re afraid to recognize anything as a God-idea. If that’s the case, find better prophets to hang out with. Maybe talk to Christians from another church; a church which encourages prophecy. Encourage those prophets to get help.
Some of them are jealous. Which usually means they’re bad prophets, or fake ones. True prophets are jazzed when they meet new prophets: “Yes! Here’s another one!” There just aren’t enough prophets out there, and so much work to be done. True prophets try to foster new colleagues. Fakes try to be the only prophet in their church. Or they insist upon their rank as the senior prophet, and use it to shut other prophets down. Real prophets encourage you: Even if you’re getting everything wrong, they’ll put the time and effort into you, and make a special project of you to help you get it right.
So definitely seek out other prophets. Get that support group.
Be prepared for criticism.
As you know, not every Christian believes prophecy happens anymore. And not every Christian even wants prophecy: They’re quite happy with the status quo, and God has this habit of throwing monkey wrenches into it. They really enjoy their sinful lifestyles, and don’t want anyone, not even God, to tell them to stop it. They think they have God all figured out, and the last thing they want to hear is we’re wrong. Prophecy has always had more foes than fans; people who would rather die (or have you die) than change. So when you share God’s messages with other people, be prepared for pushback.
Again, it comes with the job. But never let it stop you from doing the job. Those of us with ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to his churches.