the shape of leadership

Your Sons and Daughters Will Prophesy

Cultivating the gift of prophecy in the next generation

Carolyn Tennant on November 17, 2021

I was praying after a service with students at our Assemblies of God Bible school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the Lord gave me a prophetic word for a young man.

At the same time, a student ministering in music at the opposite end of the room began vocalizing a new song in the Spirit, prophesying the same words I was in the process of delivering. I later told the young worship leader, and he rejoiced, knowing the Spirit had truly used him. The young man said he was never quite sure before whether he was hearing from God, but now he would have more faith to step out.

Learning to recognize the voice of God is vital. After all, the essence of prophecy is hearing from God and sharing that message properly. According to Revelation 19:10, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Joel said that in the last days our sons and daughters would prophesy (Joel 2:28). I believe we must prepare the next generation to receive all that God has for them. Are we teaching them by example what authentic prophecy should look like?

A Case for Prophecy

Young and old alike should welcome prophecy as life-giving. Prophecy makes room for God to speak, direct, prepare, build up, guide, confirm, admonish, and encourage the body of Christ. This powerfully fortifies the Church.

What congregation would want to go without these important aspects of health in the Spirit? Prophesy played a significant role in the apostolic Church. The apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

Prophecy remains crucial to the development and well-being of today’s churches. This important gift never ceased throughout the ages, and it will continue until we see our Lord face to face. God is still speaking, both through the Bible and through His people. He continues to use prophecy to lead His Church in these changing times.

Christ followers today need to know how to flow in the Spirit to deliver and discern prophecy. They must learn to hear from God. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

As Satan is ramping up in these last days, a spiritual battle rages. God intends for prophecy to be one of the means by which He builds up the Church so we can fight the war.

First Corinthians 14:3 says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” The NASB puts it this way: “The one who prophesies speaks to people for edification, exhortation, and consolation.”

Prophecies often affirm what we are already sensing or provide guidance that aligns with what God is saying elsewhere. A prophecy can encourage and spur us on. When we need comfort, God may give us a compassionate word that consoles and supports us.

Sometimes people put emphasis on the edification part of this verse, insisting there should never be a negative or corrective prophecy. However, edification is not always positive. A message is edifying when it improves the mind or character. Certainly, reproval can lead to improvement.

When God points out problem areas, His assessment helps individuals and the congregation as a whole make adjustments. However, such prophecies should come from mature people who are loving, humble, and broken over sin and error.

The Spirit may also reveal what is to come so we can prepare, receive confirmation of God’s will, and experience encouragement. When a prophetic word from another believer lines up with Scripture and what we have been sensing from God, it can bring assurance that God is leading.

I once was traveling in another state and felt led to stop at an unfamiliar AG church. During the service, the Lord gave me a prophetic message for that place. I went up to the pastor after the altar call concluded and told him and the other leaders present what I felt God was saying. Tearing up, the pastor said I was the third visitor that week who had prophesied the same thing. I love it when God surprises us with such confirmation.

The Lord can speak to us in many ways, times and places. For example, the Spirit may provide a gift of prophecy during a church service, through the music segment of worship, in writing, through drama and art, in preaching and teaching, or through counseling. It could happen at an altar, in the parking lot, in the boardroom, in a hospital waiting room, or even at the grocery store. God’s timing is not always what we might expect, but it is always perfect.

For this reason, we need to stay tuned in to God’s voice throughout the week, inside and outside of church. God can speak to us anywhere, but we must listen. God is looking for attentive hearts.

Old Testament Prophecy

The writer of Hebrews said, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Prophets certainly played a significant role in Old Testament times.

In the Old Testament, the prophet’s assignment was twofold: to receive the divine message, and to deliver it faithfully. The three Hebrew terms for “prophet” reflect these responsibilities.

The Hebrew words chose or ro’eh indicated the prophets’ role of grasping God’s message as it was revealed to them. These words are often translated as “seer” (i.e., a person who sees what God wants to do or say).

Nabi is the most frequently used Hebrew word for prophet in the Old Testament. It describes prophets conveying their message through speech, in writing, or in other forms.

Each of these Hebraic terms underscores the prophetic role as the human side of God’s ongoing divine communication. The prophets heard and saw from God, and then they sensed when it was time to speak.

The Old Testament is replete with the words of well-known prophets, such as Ezekiel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. It also mentions many lesser-known prophets who nonetheless helped keep God’s people on the right track. There were several Old Testament female prophets (nabia) as well, including Miriam, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife, and Deborah, who served as a prophet, judge, and military leader of Israel.

Old Testament prophets were instrumental in guiding both Judah and Israel. They spoke for God, warning of impending judgment for engaging in idolatry and violating His covenant. Leaders often sought the insight of prophets to determine direction at pivotal moments, such as times of war.

Prophets sometimes reprimanded people individually, like when Elijah faced off with King Ahab (1 Kings 18:18–19). They also dealt with justice issues (Amos 2:6–7; Micah 6:8). In everything the prophets followed what Peter described: “Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

New Testament Prophecy

The Spirit came upon prophets in the Old Testament. After the Day of Pentecost, prophecy was active in the Church as the Spirit came to reside in each believer, moving upon some to prophesy.

Prophecy is the only gift of the Spirit named in every New Testament list of gifts. These include Romans 12:6–8, which explains that we have “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us,” and then starts the list with prophesying; 1 Corinthians 12:7–10, which says all the gifts are for the common good; 1 Corinthians 12:27–31, which reminds us to desire the “greater gifts”; Ephesians 4:11, which lists prophets as one of the five gifts to the church; and 1 Peter 4:10–11, which refers to “one who speaks the very words of God.”

Since prophecy is always included among the various gifts, it must be one we do not want to neglect.

Prophetic people are mentioned throughout the New Testament. In just the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna all speak prophetically about Jesus.

In the Early Church, prophetic activity was normative. Acts 11:27–28 tells of a man named Agabus who, after traveling from Jerusalem to Antioch with some other prophets, “stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.” Luke notes that this indeed “happened during the reign of Claudius.” Agabus later prophesied that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10–11).

Prophecy makes room for God to speak, direct, prepare, build up, guide, confirm, admonish, and encourage the body of Christ.

Antioch also developed its own group of resident “prophets and teachers,” including Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Paul (Acts 13:1).

After the Jerusalem Council, those attending chose two prophets, Judas and Silas, to deliver their decision to the Gentiles (Acts 15:22,32). Following Paul’s third missionary journey, he stayed at the home of Philip the evangelist and father of “four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).

The biblical prophet’s calling was known to many. Prophets were recognized and acknowledged by their local church — or in the Old Testament, by their tribe — as chosen by God for the prophetic function.

Prophecy was woven into the life of the New Testament Church. Those who filled legitimate prophetic roles were not self-appointed. They were not out to fill conference halls or make a name for themselves. Prophecy usually occurred within the context of a local church or group of believers rather than independently. Christians didn’t prophesy to make money, nor did they promise a prophecy a day. Instead, they meekly recognized God’s Spirit as the source of all prophetic activity.

There were some false prophets, of course, in both the Old Testament and in the Early Church. We can find examples of true and false prophecy today as well. The question is, what can we do to promote healthy, authentic expressions of prophetic gifts in our churches?

Authentic Prophecy Today

True prophecies emanate from certain kinds of people. Those who are used in prophecy should be connected to a local church where they are known and accountable. They should be humble and demonstrate integrity, holiness and servanthood. Robust discipleship is therefore essential to the proper working of prophecy.

Prophetic work is like an iceberg. Its roots are 90% hidden in prayer and 10% visible. In the secret place, the Lord shapes those He calls, helping them grow in their fear of the Lord, recognition of His voice, and willingness to do and say whatever He desires.

Take note of who shows up for prayer meetings. I once organized a group of intercessors who met weekly. We regularly spent time quietly listening to the Lord. Then, as we shared our experiences, we often discovered God was prompting us as a group to pray and believe for the same things. Such opportunities to wait before God and listen for His voice should be a vital part of every church.

Authentic prophecy must come from those who have a relationship with God and hear His voice (Jeremiah 23:16–18). Their message cannot originate from anywhere other than God’s presence. It should never come from human wisdom, cultural pressure, political motives, or even from personal desires and emotions. Otherwise, false prophesies are likely to occur.

All the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 can function informally and naturally. A pastor does not step up and announce, “Thus sayeth the Lord, I am now going to pastor you.” A teacher simply proceeds to teach, and an evangelist easily shares the good news. Similarly, the gift of prophecy doesn’t always have to be formal. A Christian can deliver a prophetic message unpretentiously by simply sharing insight from God with another person.

Prophecy may play a role not only in church services, but also in staff, board and committee meetings. It can guide the decision making, strategic planning, and administration of the church. Prophetic ministry may also shift direction for a church and bring a breakthrough of understanding.

We should seek to normalize prophecy in the church. More people must be willing to find time to hear from God and make themselves available so He can use them in the gift of prophecy. We need to mentor and encourage people to participate as the Spirit moves.

Teaching on Prophecy

Many young adults I have met are hungry for teaching on how to use this gift of the Holy Spirit. They need to learn how to release a prophetic word as well as when, where, and who should be present. Without guidance, however, they often withdraw from the process. After all, they don’t want to make an error.

Church leaders must offer training, mentoring, and opportunities for people to step out in faith. They need to help believers grow not only in confidence, but also in wisdom.

For example, encouraging students in youth services to pray for one another and share what they believe the Lord is speaking to them creates space for young people to use their spiritual gifts.

Of course, we also need to teach people to be sensitive to God’s timing and direction. Paul said Christians should “be eager to prophesy,” but quickly added that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:39–40). After all, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

When someone receives a word, it is not necessarily supposed to be belted out right then and there. Sometimes it is meant for a different time and place, or at least another moment in the service. God may even give insight that is not for sharing at all but only for intercession.

Testing Prophecy

Wherever authentic, Spirit-led prophecy exists, Satan will also be active in trying to counterfeit and botch up the true gift. We need to become more astute in dealing with this.

Since ancient times, God’s people have had to contend with false prophets. But halting all prophecy has never been the solution. Stifling the Holy Spirit grieves the Lord.

Paul told the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22).

Likewise, 1 John 4:1 says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

In Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

False prophets are like wolves that slip in through deception to devour the sheep. We must detect and remove the threat before it’s too late. This is the explicit responsibility of church leaders. Pastors should seek to grow in discernment and be prepared to stop anything that is inappropriate or unbiblical.

The best way to deal with problems depends on the situation. Some well-meaning people prophesy in error because of a simple lack of spiritual maturity. Others seek attention for themselves. Still others intentionally sow confusion and division.

This calls for wisdom and insight from the Holy Spirit. I have interrupted what I discerned to be a false prophecy and told the person to stop speaking. In other cases, I have talked with people discretely to offer guidance. I have asked a few people to leave. I even had someone ushered from a service for an unhinged, disruptive outburst that was drawing more attention to the individual than to God.

Matthew 7:16–18 provides an excellent litmus test for falsehood: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

If the Spirit is working in someone’s life, that person will yield spiritual fruit that points to Jesus. Someone who claims spiritual authority but operates apart from the Holy Spirit produces bad fruit — a rotten, self-serving harvest that is disconnected from the heart, character and revelation of God.

When someone delivers a prophecy, others are to “weigh carefully what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). To help our people distinguish between true and false prophecies, we need to promote Bible engagement. True prophecy always agrees with Scripture.

God will never contradict His Word, but He will exceed our expectations and surpass our understanding (Isaiah 55:8–9; Ephesians 3:20). Thus, even if a prophecy sounds impossible in the natural sense, that does not necessarily make it false. God is sovereign.

The gift of discernment is needed within the church body. Describing what will happen in the last days, Jesus said “Many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:10–11).

We should not be shocked when fraudulent messengers show up on the scene. Jesus has already warned us about them. To prepare, the Church must know the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the voice of God.

Leaders should deal with anything that is out of order, while also encouraging and embracing genuine prophesy. We need all the gifts of the Spirit operating in our churches. Prophesy cannot be waning at the very moment people desperately need to hear from God.

As Pentecostals, we certainly hope it will never be as in Samuel’s day when “the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). What we need is Spirit-led prophecy, drawn from a deep well of listening to God.

This article appears in the Fall 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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