by Nathan Shaw
Prophesy is a gift given to the Body of Christ. If God gives us a gift it is our responsibility to understand why He has given it and how we are to use it. Prophetic words can be powerful. They can impart hope, healing, guidance, direction, vision, strength and many other positive things. They can also protect us from wasting time going in wrong directions, or warn us of demonic assignments designed to take us off course. I am truly grateful for the prophetic words I have received. Some of them have been fulfilled already and others are yet to be fulfilled.
Prophetic words that have been fulfilled strengthen us to trust God in greater ways.
Prophetic words that have not yet been fulfilled invite us to trust God in greater ways.
As always the enemy tries to use the gifts God has given us to bring evil rather than good. Many Christians end up in great discouragement because a prophesy didn't come to pass within a predicted time frame. It's a clever plan of the enemy to use the prophetic words given to encourage us to discourage us instead. How should we respond to prophetic words that don't happen within a predicted time frame?
God's Got A Plan
Many years ago God touched me with His heart for the United States. I was attending a week long conference which had a host of Christian speakers and artists from all over the world. One of the artists was Australian singer songwriter Steve Grace. He sung a beautiful song about the United States of America. I can still remember a couple of lines of the lyric so distinctly.
God's got a plan for America.
I only pray America will see.
God used that song to birth in me a desire to minister in the United States.
Fast forward over ten years. A prophet who knew nothing about me told me I would visit the United States within four years. It is now over six years since I received that word. In this time frame I have been to a number of new nations but I still haven't been to the States. Was the word correct? I believe so. Was the timing correct? Obviously not. I have heard many similar stories.
Unfortunately this sort of thing causes some people to get discouraged and even abandon their God ordained destinies. It can cause people to question prophetic ministry and seriously affect their trust in God. Discouragement and mistrust are strategies of the enemy to get us off course. We need to expose these demonic strategies and get back on course.
Stone the Prophet
A common way to respond when a prophesy doesn't come to pass is to "stone the prophet." In Deuteronomy 18 it says that if a prophet declares something and it doesn't come to pass they should be stoned to death! Many have misunderstood this chapter. It is speaking about a prophet having a mediatorial role like Moses and speaking on God's behalf to the whole nation of Israel. That is quite different to the gift of prophecy given to the body of Christ and described in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul talks extensively about prophecy in these chapters. Prophecies are to be discerned by other prophets but there is no expectation of 100 percent accuracy. Rather the gift of prophecy is to be governed and administered by love (1 Corinthians 13).
Right Word, Wrong Timing
There is an increasing level of accuracy and authority in the prophetic ministry across the body of Christ. Only occasionally have I heard a prophetic word spoken to someone and felt it was wrong. More commonly I have heard prophetic words that I sensed were accurate but the timing turned out to be incorrect. The area that prophets most consistently get wrong is timing. They get confused as to whether something is past, present or future, or they get confused as to whether it is in the distant or near past, or distant or near future. I have even known mature and accurate prophets to sometimes get the timing wrong. Does this mean that the prophetic word should be abandoned and forgotten about? Even when the timing is wrong, prophetic words often convey something from God that we really need to hear and notice. When I receive a prophetic word, rather than get overly focused on the details, I ask myself the question, "God, what is it You are wanting me to hear from this word?"
"Even when the timing is wrong, prophetic words often convey something from God that we really need to hear and notice."
Prophesy is spiritual. A person tunes in to the spirit realm and conveys what they are sensing in words. The difficulty is this - there is no time, space or distance in the spirit realm. Even when you read Bible prophecies it can be really hard to discern the time of fulfilment. Bible prophets spoke about events hundreds, and even thousands, of years in the future, as though they were imminent. When a prophet discerns something in the spirit realm it can be so real it's like it's happening right now. It's like going to a movie and getting so caught up in the story that you forget your own time and place. This sense of imminence can cause a prophet to speak a word and give a wrong timing for its fulfilment.
It is also important to remember the following:
- The fulfilment of some prophetic words are dependent on our obedience. If we are disobedient the fulfilment could be delayed or permanently stopped (for example Isaiah 1:19).
- Demonic assignments can also delay or stop the fulfilment of a prophetic word.
- Prophets only see in part. "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9). The caution is this: Don't interpret something that is only a part of the picture as if it is the whole picture.
- Sometimes prophetic words are wrong. If the prophetic word is wrong you have two choices: "Stone the prophet" or forgive them. Learning to deal with wrong prophecy is part of our training and curriculum.
"Prophets only see in part."
We should be cautious about overreacting if a prophecy seems wrong. Prophecy is not an exact science. There have been times when I didn't agree with a prophetic word over someone, but later found it was an accurate and true word. Only occasionally have I had to break the power of a prophetic word. In one instance a prophecy came with such authority it shifted a pastor I knew out of their God ordained position. I had to break the power of the prophecy to get the person back into position.
Revelation, Interpretation, Application
There are three parts to prophetic revelation.
A good example can be found in Acts 16. Paul and his ministry team attempted to visit Asia and Bithynia but the Holy Spirit stopped them. Through a vision they were then led to visit Macedonia instead.
"Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:6-10).
In this example the revelation is very simple - a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with Paul to come and help them. The next step after receiving revelation is interpreting it. They interpreted the vision to mean that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. Finally there was an application - they immediately sought to go to Macedonia. Although this example seems obvious it is amazing how often we can get this process wrong. Rather than assume the meaning of a revelation or impression from God it is wise to seek Him for the interpretation and the application. Sometimes prophets get an accurate revelation from God but then interpret it wrongly. If they interpret it wrongly it is then very easy to go on and give a wrong application. No matter what is prophesied, you need to ask the question, "What was God impressing on the prophet's heart?"
Many prophecies come from general impressions, rather than exact details. In delivering the word prophets can easily add details to the impressions they are receiving from God. If this is the case it can be helpful to interpret the details in a more general manner. It might be more accurate to take four weeks, four months or four years as speaking of a period of weeks, months or years. Focus on the general impression of weeks, months or years rather than the specific detail of four. Reinterpreted like this "four weeks" may mean "very soon," "four months" may mean "not too long away," and "four years" may mean "still some time away." Remember, with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter 3:8). Jesus said, "I am coming soon" (Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 12, 20). That was almost two thousand years ago!
Mostly the Bible is literal and the meaning is obvious. Sometimes, however, the Bible uses symbolic language. This is also true of prophecies. Mostly prophecies are literal but you should also consider that the language used may be symbolic. Here are two examples.
Recently I received a prophetic word about three concentric circles falling over my head. The prophecy went on to describe these three circles as extending 30 miles, 300 miles and 3000 miles. Obviously these circles speak of a sphere of influence. It is likely that 30 miles, 300 miles and 3000 miles is literal, but in this case the high concentration of the number 3 also suggests a symbolic element. Three is the number of resurrection. It can also speak of apostolic mandate. There were three sphere's of influence Jesus prophesied over the Apostles in Acts 1:8 – Citywide (Jerusalem), Regional (Judea and Samaria) and International (To the ends of the earth).
"Mostly prophecies are literal but you should also consider that the language used may be symbolic."
I know a person who is a business man. God told him he would have five income streams. Whenever he tells me this I am captured by the number five. Five is often the number of grace. It is likely that five has a literal meaning but I believe God is also saying, "I will accomplish this by my grace, not by your ability as a business man."
The Place of Prophecy
It is important to understand the place of prophecy. Any gift given by God should be esteemed. He has ordained that one of the ways we hear His voice is through the gift of prophecy. However prophecy is never to take the place of hearing the voice of God through our personal relationship with Him. Jesus said it plainly, "My sheep hear My voice" (John 10:27). Every born again Christian has direct access to God. But more than just direct access we can have personal audience with Him twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. That's more awesome than receiving a prophetic word! God speaks directly to us through our personal relationship with Him, but He also speaks to us through other members of His body, the church.
"Prophecy is never to take the place of hearing the voice of God through our personal relationship with Him."
It is easy to have wrong expectations about prophecy. The Christian journey is about relationship and adventure. It's not supposed to be predictable. In fact putting an over-emphasis on hearing God's voice through the prophetic word can border on divination and fortune telling. If every detail of our lives was told to us ahead of time there would be no need for trust. The prophetic voice is one of many ways that God speaks to us. When it is important for us to hear a specific revelation from God but it doesn't come through a prophet, it could be that God wants to speak to us in another way.
It is no difficulty for God to speak everything directly to us. He doesn't need to use prophecies or prophets, but He does. It is no difficulty for God to tell us every detail of our lives in advance, but He doesn't. Prophecy isn't given to make life predictable. Rather, the prediction of prophecy is to add to the adventure of discovery. It's like piecing together a puzzle or figuring out a riddle. God speaks to us in many ways. One of those ways is through the prophetic word. Each time He speaks to us it's like a piece of the puzzle. We piece it together with other things He has spoken and then continue searching for the complete answer.
In this process God lets us know what we need to know, not always what we want to know. Our priorities for our lives, and God's priorities for our lives, can often be quite different. If we were to make a list of the top ten things we would like to hear about from God that list may be quite different from God's priorities for our lives. That which we consider number one could be further down the list from God's perspective.
Relationship and the Adventure of Discovery
Prophecy is strategically important. It is a gift from God. But it isn't relationship with God. We are not to put prophecy above relationship with God. No matter what happens in our lives the most important thing is our relationship with God. Once we have the priority of relationship in place we then step into the adventure of discovery.
"Prophecy is strategically important. It is a gift from God. But it isn't relationship with God."
No matter what you have been through, or what you are presently going through, God has a destiny for you! Your destiny is not only future. It is not just something you are yet to step into. You are living your destiny right now! Your prayers, your righteous decisions, your righteous acts have a huge impact in the spirit. Don't let your future destiny or your "ultimate" destiny rob you of hearing God's voice for today. Remember it's about relationship and the adventure of discovery.
PROPHETIC WORDS, ACCURACY AND TIMING
Nathan Shaw helps bring individuals and churches into dynamic encounters with God's indescribable love. Nathan's passion is to equip churches so that they can move in the Spirit, access heavenly realms, encounter God's heart and release His Kingdom on the earth. Over the last twenty years he has been instrumental in ushering in significant moves of the Spirit in over ten different nations. Many have experienced life changing prophetic encounters and dramatic visitations from God. Nathan is the author of two books: Passion and Fire and Unto the Least of These and he is the senior pastor at Fire and Destiny Centre www.fireanddestiny.org, Dunedin and Celebration Church, Mosgiel www.celebrationchurch.xyz.