“Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
A genuine “prophet” can be identified as someone who possesses the ability to provide God’s direction as prompted by the Holy Spirit. We might also define a legitimate prophet as someone who conveys divinely-initiated information concerning a particular situation or future event. This is a valid spiritual office as evidenced by the numerous prophets who appear within the Old Testament Scriptures as well as a few who are mentioned in the pages of the New Testament as well.
Of course, the spiritual gift of prophecy remains the subject of great controversy within the church today. In considering the potential validity of this gift in the post-New Testament era, we can begin with the observation that no modern-day “prophecy” can ever carry the same authority as the God-inspired Biblical Scriptures. Instead, a statement that claims to be prophetic must be fully aligned with clear Biblical teaching. If not, we can confidently say that such a message does not originate with the Holy Spirit.
We can find another potential concern in the tendency of some to preface various statements with the words, “The Lord told me,” “The Lord spoke to me,” “God put it on my heart,” or other similar phrases. While God can certainly provide us with direction, the issue is that we may not consider the ramifications of such statements.
You see, a phrase such as ”The Lord led me…” represents a prophetic statement because it implies that God Himself is the direct source of whatever follows. If we subsequently go on to misrepresent the Lord in any way when prefacing our statements in this manner (no matter how sincere or well-intentioned we may be), we risk violating the Scriptural tenet found in Proverbs 30:6: ”Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (NIV).
Instead, it might be preferable to say, ”I believe the Lord has told me such-and-such…” or, ‘‘I feel that God has spoken to me…” or, “I think God is leading me to do this or that.” Such statements recognize that we are imperfect human beings who sometimes make mistakes (even honest ones) in humbly seeking to hear from God.
Modern church history is inundated with spiritual predictions and “prophecies” that have failed to come to pass. In light of these things, it is perhaps best to associate the function of a prophetic gift in a modern-day church with a person who is prompted by the Holy Spirit to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to a circumstance or situation.
An earlier version of this study originally appeared here