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Personal Prophecy: How Much Can We Trust It?

Contrary to the Biblical model, many are teaching that believers can prophesy at their own volition, or will. One well known prophet insisted that, just as it took Pentecostals several decades to discover that they could speak or pray in tongues at will, many in the body of Christ are now discovering that they can prophesy at will. Proponents of this teaching point to the fact that, in 1 Cor. 14:15, Paul says, I will pray with the spirit, an obvious reference to praying in tongues. They then conclude that if one can will to pray or speak in tongues, then one can also will to prophesy.

This is, of course, poor hermeneutics that ignores the context of Paul’s discussion. When Paul says, in 1 Cor. 14:15, I will pray with the spirit, the context makes it clear that it is private, devotional tongues in which he wills, or chooses, to pray. He distinguishes between private, devotional tongues in which he prays at will and the public manifestation of tongues that requires interpretation and comes forth as the Spirit wills—a very important distinction.

Although prophecy may offer hope and encouragement to individuals, the ultimate purpose is to draw them to Christ.

The idea that one can prophesy at will has resulted in many “prophets” operating out of their soul realm (mind, will, emotions) rather than from the Spirit. I have observed prophets who had become very adept at “reading” people and then giving a generic word that the recipient could easily apply to his/her own situation. When this approach is coupled with immaturity or an unsavory character, it becomes extremely dangerous with the prophet often prophesying to impress and manipulate others and to enhance his own standing. At this point, the prophet has crossed the dividing line from Christian prophecy, with its source in the Holy Spirit, to fortune telling and psychic phenomena with its source in the human psyche and possibly the demonic.

Prophecy is Given For Confirming and Encouraging

1 Cor. 14:3 gives the primary purpose of prophecy in very clear and succinct terms. It says, But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. The three key words in this passage, “edification,” exhortation,” and “comfort” carry the meanings “to build up,” “to stir up,” and “to cheer up.” On the other hand, Paul says, in 2 Tim. 3:16, that Scripture is good for doctrine (teaching), for reproof (rebuke), for correction, for instruction in righteousness. When individuals begin to utilize personal prophecy for purposes reserved primarily for Scripture, it is time to beware.

This distinction was made very real to me as the result of an erroneous prophecy that came forth in a congregation I once pastored in eastern Canada. Near the close of a Sunday evening service a woman, who was quite new to our assembly, brought forth a very severe rebuke to the congregation in the form of a prophecy. She spoke this word during a time of spontaneous worship as people were basking in the warmth of God’s love and presence. As she concluded her prophecy, I could see confusion appearing on people’s faces and I knew that I must address what had just happened. I proceeded to inform the congregation that the word just spoken was not from God and encouraged them to ignore what had been said and to continue worshipping.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2007

About the Author: Eddie L. Hyatt, D.Min. (Regent University), M.Div. and M.A. (Oral Roberts University), serves the body of Christ around the world by teaching with academic excellence and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He has authored several books, including 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity. His passion is to see authentic spiritual awakening transform the Church and impact the world in the Twenty-first century.

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