—— This is an excerpt from Anthony Hilder’s new book Hearing the Heart of Heaven: Developing a Personal Prophetic Culture. ——
Prophecy is a spiritual gift – one of many – that God gives the church. Spiritual gifts are abilities that God gives to Christians to harness His power and benefit others around them. There are a couple of lists in the Bible and some gifts seem pretty impressive. Miracles! Healings! Leadership! Others are more mundane and a lot less sexy. Helps – notice, no exclamation mark. Giving. Administration. On a side note, celibacy and martyrdom are also spiritual gifts and I can promise you that the only prayers I’ve prayed about those gifts are that God wouldn’t give them to me.
The point is, though, that God is interested in the ordinary details of life, and living life in a supernatural and loving way. So whilst the seeming boring gifts seem, well, pointless, they are in fact key in doing life well. The more spectacular gifts remind us that as Christians, we do represent a supernatural God not of this world who loves to intervene. Here is another example of truth in tension – we need to live naturally supernatural, and supernaturally natural. This isn’t just cute wordplay, but the tension of living with a foot in two worlds. We err equally if we ignore the supernatural as we do if we overlook the natural.
Coming back to the gift of prophecy, Paul lists it within 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and Romans 12:4-8. Both passages are pretty clear that it is a gift. God is the gift-giver and gives according to His choice. So no-one really can boast about something given to them for free. That’s fine, but what is this gift of prophecy? Should it enable me to know what stocks and shares I can buy ahead of time in order to become a zillionaire?
Elsewhere, we’re told that ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Revelation 19:10). In a court of law, a witness would take the stand. They are called a witness because they witnessed something. They are questioned about the incident by a lawyer, or a barrister if you prefer the British version with the cool black robes and grey wig, and the witness literally says what they saw. This account is called a testimony. So this scripture tells us that prophecy is the testimony of Jesus saying what he sees. When we prophesy, we are saying what Jesus tells us He sees about a person or a situation.
Our own view of God will certainly influence or colour this, which is why all prophetic people should be students of scripture. If we believe that God is angry and judgemental then our words will reflect that. It is equally true that if we believe God is a good God, happy and loving and full of mercy to give second chances, then our words will reflect that.
If prophecy reveals to us what Jesus sees, it goes to follow that it also shows us how He sees something. Paul told the Corinthians ‘the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding, encouragement and consolation’(1 Corinthians 14:3). This shows us the heart of Jesus: what He says to people is for the purpose of strengthening them. We can see that prophecy reveals to us the heart and mind of God – what He thinks and what He feels. This verse in 1 Corinthians 14:3 gives us a threefold purpose of prophecy.
Firstly, the Greek word translated ‘upbuilding’ (Oikodome, Strong’s 3619) is a word meaning ‘building, construction, a physical edifice.’ It is derived from two words: the first meaning ‘house’ (Oikos, Strong’s 3624) and the second meaning ‘housetop’ (Doma, Strong’s 1430). The image suggested is adding to a house by building an extension, or increasing the capacity by raising the roof. One goal of prophecy is to speak words of life and hope that build up and increase the hearer’s spiritual strength and size.
Secondly, ‘encouragement’ is a Greek word paraklesis which, at its root, includes the concepts of coming alongside a person, and calling someone by their name. Putting these two ideas together, we could say that to encourage another is to recognise who someone truly is and walk alongside them whilst ‘calling their name’ – reminding them to tell them their true identity, who they are and who they are meant to be. Interestingly, this is one of the roles of Holy Spirit, who is called the parakletos – the Helper – in John 14, 15 and 16. Encouragement is a huge deal in the Kingdom of God because it is a root of prophecy and a function of Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, ‘consolation’ (Paramuthia, Strong’s 3889) comes from a word containing the concepts of coming alongside, and speaking words of comfort and calm. It suggests elements of tenderness and support, like someone who runs up to a flagging marathon runner to reassure, bring water and bring hope to keep going.
Therefore, we see a threefold function of prophecy: firstly, prophecy should strengthen the recipient; secondly, it should fill them with courage and faith as they are reminded of how God sees them; thirdly, it should comfort them and bring hope in tough times.
As well as these three functions, the prophetic ministry reveals two things that are hidden – God’s purposes in the present, and His plans for the future. We could call the revelation of what He is doing in the here and now forthtelling, and the disclosure of the future could be termed foretelling. Because the prophetic reveals what Jesus sees, we can expect mysteries to be unveiled in the hearts of those receiving prophecy.
This is why Paul tells the Corinthian church that unbelievers should be impacted by the potency of the prophetic ministry and convicted of sin because the secrets of their hearts are revealed (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Because of the three-fold function of prophecy I mentioned earlier, I don’t take these secrets to be their private sins – I don’t believe prophecy functions like a microphone, blurting out a list of all the bad thoughts, actions and attitudes of an individual for all to hear. Public shaming by believers of another isn’t congruent with upbuilding, encouragement or consolation. Rather, I think these verses are talking about the concept of forthtelling. If a person’s hopes, dreams and passions, known only to them, are told to them by a stranger who claims to be hearing a message from God for them, I would expect some kind of reaction! At least, the possibility of an increased awareness of God being there. One such response to that increased awareness could be a repentance and conversion.
The prophetic is not just for the ‘there and then’ of the future. It is also for the ‘here and now’ of the present. It is a spiritual metal-detector, discovering the gold hidden by the Lord within the hearts of people so it can be uncovered and enjoyed by all.