PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
HOW PROPHECY IS RECEIVED
When we read in Scripture that a prophet said, “The
word of the Lord came to me” the question immediately arises, “How did
the word come to him?” Dealing with the subject of how prophecy is
received by the one who speaks it forth must of necessity be somewhat
subjective. However, Scripture does give us insight. Yet, as we shall
see, even in the examples we read in Scripture there is room for
To the prophet the word comes with a near
irresistible force. He or she cannot rest until the word is delivered.
He seems to share God's urgency and concern. Jeremiah said,
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction,
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention him
or speak any more in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot. (Jer 20:7-9
It appears that the prophet most often simply
“knows” that the Lord has spoken to him and that he must convey the
message. But how does God reveal to the prophet what he wants the
prophet to speak forth? I list five ways found in Scripture that God
uses to convey His words to the prophet.
Again and again we read “the word of the Lord came.
. . .” This phrase is used 88 times in the Prophetic books of the Old
Testament between its first use in Isaiah 38:4 and the last time it is
used in Zechariah 7:8. The implication is simply that God spoke into
the heart of the prophet. The following explanation is taken from M.
Buttenwieser's writings as contained in Abraham J. Heschel's book The
(In) Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah,
Deutero-Isaiah, every one of them, there is evidence, when he spoke of
revelation, meant the divine force or voice which he felt within his
None of them claimed anything else than the impulsion of this force,
the authority of this voice. It was so simple, so elemental, so
them, that any particular explanation or demonstration would have
seemed superfluous. They all refer to their inspiration
The great basic truths or principles of which
they were cognizant through their moral consciousness, and which
[constituted] their revelation from God, formed the center and
essence of their prophecy. 7
I believe Buttenwieser captures the essence of the
prophet's mindset. He or she simply knows that he knows that the Lord
spoke to him thus and so.
There are also scriptural instances in which the
prophet hears an audible voice. In I Samuel, chapter three, God spoke
to young Samuel in an audible voice. In Ezekiel, chapter one, Ezekiel
saw a vision and states that he heard a voice. He said, “. . . I heard
the voice of one speaking.” (Ez 1:28 NIV).
Of course, in the theophanic manifestations recorded
in Scripture the Lord appeared in physical form and spoke directly with
man. But such manifestations were confined to the Patriarchal era of
the Old Testament. There was also the brief period of time immediately
following our Lord Jesus' resurrection when He appeared to the Apostles
and spoke with them as well as to other believers who were present. But
more traditional prophetic occurrences in Scripture with an audible
voice were ones with no physical manifestation of the speaker.
There are many scriptural instances of God
communicating to His prophets by visions. I list but a few examples:
Daniel described in great detail
a prophetic vision he saw concerning the future. (Dan 10:4 through
The prophet Micaiah said, “I saw
all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd . . .”
(I Ki 22:17 NIV).
Isaiah said, “In the year King
Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted . . .”
(Is 6:1 NIV).
Amos saw “a plumb line” and “a
basket of ripe fruit . . .” (Amos 7:8, 8:2 NIV).
Another way God communicates to His prophets is by
dreams. Daniel told of his dream in this manner: In
the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and
visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote
down the substance of his dream. (Dan 7:1 NIV). 8
False prophets also have “dreams.” Here is what the
Lord told Jeremiah to say:
I have a much more through discussion on dreams in
I define revelation as a teaching, understanding, or
knowledge revealed directly to an individual from God. Webster's
Dictionary defines theological revelation as God's disclosure or
manifestation to man of Himself and His will. 9 A
revelation is much more than a word of knowledge. Generally a word of
knowledge tells the recipient a fact. It is usually very limited in
scope. A revelation as used in Scripture is much larger in scope. The
Apostle Paul tells us that he learned his doctrine by revelation
directly from the Lord Jesus Himself. (Gal 1:12). He spoke of his
revelation: “that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I
have already written briefly.” (Eph 3:3 NIV).
The Apostle John starts out the Book of Revelation
by saying, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show
his servants what must soon take place.” (Rev 1:1 NIV). Daniel received
NOTE: Let me insert a strong word of caution here.
The above means of receiving Divine inspiration are written to describe
the manner God uses to communicate with prophets and others who are
spiritually mature. Satanic/demonic forces also can use the identical
means to communicate with people. Therefore anyone who has had any of
the five prophetic experiences must continually submit what is received
to the tests described in chapter four on judging prophecy. This
continued judging of the prophetic word, however conveyed, is to insure
that it is indeed God speaking.
Also let me caution you again about seeking a
prophetic word. One should never set out to receive a “prophetic word”
from God. We should seek guidance, assurance, confirmation and so on
from God. But to willfully open ourselves up to be spoken to by a voice
from the spirit realm opens us to the demonic realm as well. If God
wants to convey His word prophetically to us, rest assured He will. We
do not need to “do” anything to make it happen.
Of course, I am not suggesting that one should never
make any effort to go anywhere to hear a proven, genuine prophet of
God, whether he or she moves primarily in personal prophecy or
corporate prophecy. It is alright to make yourself available for God to
speak to you as long as you are doing all the other things God expects
of us as we mature such as reading our Bible, praying, being in a solid
church, and so on. (Remember chapter two on all the dangers of
Scripture sometimes reveals to us how the word
affects the prophet himself. We are told of the reactions of some of
the prophets as they receive the word of the Lord.
“I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit . . . .” (Dan 7:13 NIV).
“I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no
choice food; no meat nor wine touched my lips; and I used no lotion at
all until the three weeks were over.” (Dan 10:2-3 NIV).
Ezekiel said, “I went in bitterness and the
anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord upon me . . . . I
sat among them for seven days--overwhelmed.” (Ez 3:14-15 NIV).
. . .I am
ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak,
I cry out
So the word of the Lord has
insult and reproach all day long. (Jer 20:7-8
Recall that in chapter three we made the distinction
between the prophetic word of the moment and the word of the season.
The prophet speaks forth both, usually with the same intensity. It
grips him. He can't turn loose of it until it has been spoke.
Now that we see how a prophet receives prophecy, let
us contrast how prophecy is received by one who operates the gift of
prophecy but who is not a called prophet. The one operating the gift of
prophecy very often receives the word with much less intensity. Such
prophetic words are usually spontaneous. There has usually been no
long, intense dialogue with God regarding the word to be delivered.
Most often the person is in a church service. The
Spirit of God begins to quicken the person's spirit, usually with a
thought, or the first few words of an incomplete sentence. Or the Holy
Spirit can give the gist of the entire prophecy before it is spoken.
Remember, this person can hold the word and simply not speak it out. If
he does, the Holy Spirit will move on and use someone else to deliver
Of course the different ways of receiving prophecy
are not rigid. God is sovereign. He may set aside any or all of above
“rules” I have set forth. Certainly He deals with each individual
differently. The above are therefore to be taken as general
observations and guidelines, not rigid rules.
Once a person/prophet is aware that God is giving
him a prophetic word, there is an excitement generated in the person's
spirit. As the person/prophet begins to speak the few words there
immediately begins the flow of the remaining words until the prophecy
is complete. How well he or she prophesies obviously varies based on
the experience and faith of the individual. Paul said, “If a man's gift
is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” (Rom 12:6
The matter of when to deliver a prophetic word
during the church service is also critical. If the Holy Spirit is in
control of the service, He will make an opportunity for the person to
speak. But if “man” is running the service, there may not be a proper
or good time to speak. In no case is the prophetic speaker to “force”
or “push” an opening in the service. Nor should he or she interrupt one
who is speaking or otherwise ministering.
Moreover, if the Holy Spirit is directing the
service, the word delivered will harmonize with the content of the
service. Again, however, if “man” in running the service, the word
delivered may often “cut” across, or not harmonize with the rest of the
Paul also gave a general rule limiting the number of
prophecies in a church service. He said, “two or three prophets should
speak . . . .” (I Cor 14:29 NIV). I don't believe this passage contains
a rule which is to be rigidly obeyed. Rather I think it sets forth a
guideline for orderliness of service. Paul went on to say, “But
everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (v 40 NIV).
Paul wisely tells us, “For God is not a god of disorder but of peace.”
(v 33 NIV).
Prophets are often gifted speakers. Most have an
ability to preach. Therefore prophetic words are often delivered from
the pulpit in the form of a preached message. Seasoned, mature prophets
usually speak with a powerful anointing that is easily discerned by all.
When a prophet is in a counseling setting, very
often he or she gives a “prophetic word” to the counselee. No, it isn't
usually delivered as a prophecy but it nonetheless is the word from the
Lord and should be regarded as such. It takes discerning ears to
recognize such counsel as the prophetic word.
The majority of prophecy in today's church is
verbal. By that I mean prophecies which are spoken forth as a “word
from God” during a church service.
However, Scripture contains some instances in which
God directed His prophets to act out His words in the midst of His
people. It seems that God used this acting out as a means of placing
emphasis on the prophetic word. Let's look at two examples from Ezekiel
I believe these non-verbal prophetic gestures are
rare. They were rare in Scripture and they are very rare today. By and
large, the Lord seems to use people, communicating orally to others, to
deliver His words to us.
9. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, David B. Guralnik, Editor in Chief; William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc. 2080 West 117th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44111.