I’m an equal-opportunity coffee drinker and pretty much enjoy all things coffee, so I’m often found working in coffee shops. I love the culture found in coffee shops. There always seems to be a nice buzz, and you can easily watch people if that happens to be one of your hobbies. And yes, that does include me, but don’t tell anyone.
I was once sitting in a coffee shop when another customer noticed that I had my Bible with me and asked what I was doing. “I’m actually preparing for a sermon,” I replied. After he asked a bit more about the Vineyard church I served as a pastor for and his excitement grew, and he made sure to introduce himself. “Well my name is Steve, and I’m a prophet.” Of course, in a coffee shop there’s no such thing as “private conversation,” so I noticed three or four of the people around raise their eyebrows in curiosity and shock!
When you hear the word “prophet” or “prophecy,” what comes to mind? Do you imagine someone standing on the corner with a bullhorn shouting at people? Perhaps you think of John the Baptist? Or do you automatically assume that prophets and prophecy are concerned with foretelling the future? In my experience, people have a lot of opinions and assumptions about what those words mean, but the natural question for a follower of Jesus is this: what does Scripture have to say about that topic? So just what does the Bible provide us regarding prophets and prophecy?
THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET
In the Old Testament, prophets were used by God to communicate to Israel and other nations. The greatest prophet in the Old Testament was Moses, as Deuteronomy 34:10 states, “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” Other well-known prophets in the Old Testament were Abraham, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and a host of others.
These prophets spoke the words of God to both Israel and other nations as representatives of God’s kingdom. They informed people about what God wanted and reminded people of what God had already done. In the Book of Exodus, we read about how God spoke through Moses to the Pharaoh of Egypt in order to free the Jewish people from slavery (cf. Exodus 3-12). We also read about the commandments that God gave to Israel through the prophet Moses (cf. Exodus 19-24). 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles all tell of the stories and relationships between Israel and her kings, priests, and prophets, the three “offices” of Israel’s leadership.
Some of the Old Testament prophets spent time telling Israel what to do while others tell Israel what they shouldn’t do. Some of those prophets spent their lives speaking of how God would one day deliver and restore God’s people, and others reminded Israel that God was a just God who would not overlook their sin. The ministry of the prophets was complex and multifaceted, but it’s safe to say that those Old Testament prophets were unique and that not everyone who was part of God’s people were prophets. To be a prophet in the Old Testament times was to be called by God to represent him and to speak his very words. To reject an Old Testament prophet was to reject God. When the prophets spoke, they often said, “Thus says the Lord,” in order to contrast their words with the words of prophets of false gods.
And while Moses is considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, he was aware that there would one day be an even greater prophet than himself. He told Israel:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” (Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT)
In the New Testament, we actually find out just who this great prophet is – Jesus! As the author of Hebrews writes:
“But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God. Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house…” (Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT)
With the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, something changed between the Old Testament’s context of having only a handful of God’s people serving as prophets to something breathtakingly different – the coming of the Holy Spirit!
YOUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS WILL ALL BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
One of the things I love most about the community of churches that I serve in is the emphasis that “everyone gets to play.” Rather than encouraging only a select few to share the words and works of Jesus, we believe that everyone can participate in what God’s doing around us.
But why do we believe this? Because in the New Testament we read that after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all people, including men and women as well as the young and the old (Acts 2:17-18). The Holy Spirit was no longer reserved for the select few as in the Old Testament, but was given to all of God’s people, those who have placed their faith in Jesus. God’s Spirit no longer simply dwelled with his people, as with Israel in the Old Testament, but could now dwell within God’s people, both Jews and non-Jews who now collectively make up the Body of Christ, the Church! All of God’s people have now been baptized into God’s community by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and have the Spirit living in them (Romans 8:9).
This is why I regularly hear stories within our community about how regular people get to share in what God is doing around them. I hear of stories where stay-at-home moms offer to pray for people who are sick, and those people are healed. People tell me of teenagers having opportunities to study the Bible with their friends and help them experience God’s love as the Holy Spirit works. It’s because we all who call Jesus Lord have Jesus’ Spirit in us and with us!
WHAT’S UP WITH THE GIFT OF PROPHECY?
In the New Testament, the emphasis appears to move away from that of the (P)rophet to that of the gift of prophecy. The gift of prophecy is mentioned specifically in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Romans 12:6-8, and 1 Corinthians 14. One theologian defines the spiritual gift of prophecy as “the human report of a divine revelation” and another states that prophecy is “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” The Apostle Paul indicates that the “one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
About seven years ago, as our church was singing songs of worship, I noticed two women I had never seen before. As I saw them, into my mind and heart popped a number of spontaneous ideas about them. I felt like God wanted them to know how much he loved them and how he was not overlooking them and knew exactly where they were. He knew their life situations and challenges and that he really wanted them to know how deeply he loved them. As I stood there trying to figure out if that was something I should share with them, I finally surrendered and walked over to the two ladies, Kathy and Darcy, to share with them what I sensed God was telling me. Since I had never seen them before, I was a little nervous and wasn’t sure if they would think I was weird, causing them to get up and leave. Yet when I shared with them what I felt like God was wanting them to hear, they both started crying and laughing! That’s kind of a weird combination, right? Well it turns out that on their drive to the church, they had been talking about this very topic and were wondering if God even knew they existed! Both became disciples of Jesus and have been following him ever since, actively involved in the kingdom of God!
I think this is an example of the gift of prophecy. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians the following:
“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25 ESV)
It would seem that the “secrets” of Kathy and Darcy’s heart were known by God and I was honored to be a part of his Spirit reaching them and drawing them to know Jesus. I can tell you of countless stories where God has worked in these amazing ways in my life and the lives of people around me.
YOU SHOULD SEEK THE GIFT OF PROPHECY,,, YES, YOU!
In 1 Corinthians 13:2 the Apostle Paul indicates that love should be the defining way that Christians live and minister when he says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Later he writes the following:
“Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives– especially the ability to prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1 NLT)
I think a lot of us, both those who follow Jesus and those who are not yet disciples, might be weirded out by “prophecy” because we have a lot of misinformation or have had some really weird experiences. I think back to when I met “Prophet” Steve. Do we have to be so awkward in order to function with spiritual gifts? And what about all of the people who seem to “speak for God” who are clearly more concerned with manipulating people and using God for personal gain? Is that how it’s supposed to be?
I don’t believe so.
If our desires for the gifts of the Spirit are grounded in love and our expressions of the spiritual gifts are framed by love, I think we’ll avoid a lot of the nonsense that seems to surround some of these spiritual gifts. It’s because of love that we should do all that we can to help disarm people and be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. So not only should we work hard to express things in loving ways, we need to ground our lives and activities and ways of doing things in solid biblical-theology. We do not need to tell people we are Prophets because all of God’s people now have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and can function in the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit sovereignly determines to give us (1 Corinthians 12:11). Plus, we have a great grid to filter what we sense God wants us to share with people – it has to strengthen, encourage, and comfort!
Lastly, and something I believe we have a responsibility to always remind people of, we should always encourage people to discern whether what we think God wants them to hear is actually from God. We should push them to search Scripture to determine whether or not what we have shared is biblical or not. We should push them to Jesus in order to see if what we speak lines up with the character and qualities of our Lord. And we should encourage them to consider whether what we share lines up with how Christians have acted over the course of church history.
I’m passionate about the work of the Holy Spirit because I believe that the only way that we’ll be able to carry out Jesus’ command of making disciples of all the nations is if we operate in the presence, power, and purposes of the Spirit. Therefore, I heartily pray “Come Holy Spirit” and hope that the gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy, begin to function in your life more and more!
For further study, I recommend Sam Storms’ The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts and Practicing the Power (entry level), Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (intermediate level), Max Turner’s The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (advanced level), and D. A. Carson’s Showing the Spirit (advanced level).