Though the matter of personal prophecy is by far the element of the prophetic realm of greatest interest to the vast majority of Spirit-Baptized believers, it is not the most important. Nevertheless, personal prophecy is part and parcel of the present Prophetic Movement that has been nascent since the mid-1980s, and therefore requires some understanding and knowledge. In this article is presented a fairly simplistic overview of the matter of personal prophecy that is not intended to be an in-depth theological treatise on the subject. Herein, the term “personal prophecy” is simply a term used to refer to prophecy expressed to and pertaining to an individual person.
We Know In Part and Prophesy In Part
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Prophecy is comprised of partial information—fragmentary portions of divine information. God only reveals fragmentary portions of knowledge to the prophet or prophesier. Because of our finite knowledge, it is very difficult for carnal human beings to accurately interpret the infinite knowledge of God revealed or expressed in prophetic utterances. The greatest problems in the area of the prophetic lie in the matter of interpretation of what God has said. A combination of much wisdom, common sense, Bible knowledge, experience, and understanding of prophetic terminology is needed to accurately interpret prophecy. Often, some portions of prophecy cannot be properly interpreted until it begins to come to pass or God is ready and chooses to reveal it. Certainly, “interpretability” of a prophecy, either by the prophet or the recipient, especially at the time it is given, is not an accurate indicator of its validity, and no prophet is required to interpret any prophecy the Lord has expressed through Him.
Prophecy Need Not Be Explicit (Detailed) To Be Valid Or Accurate
This is true whether those things being addressed pertain to the past, present, or future. The language of prophecy is often cryptic and “coded.” Jesus often conveys His testimony (prophecy; Rev. 19:10) today in the same manner as He did in the days of His earthly ministry as recorded in the Gospels—in parables, dark sayings, riddles, cryptic conundrums. To the uninformed bystander, some personal prophecies may seem to be generalized and non‑specific, though it rarely seems that way to the person being addressed. As a protection to prevent embarrassment and unnecessary and improper exposure, in personal prophecy uttered in public meetings the Lord usually only says enough about certain matters to allow the recipient to personally identify that matter He is addressing; others hearing the prophecy usually have absolutely no idea what He is talking about (unless the person to whom the prophecy is directed tells them). God rarely gives us every explicit detail regarding a future occurrence, for that would eliminate the necessity of faith. Additionally, He often will tell us the “what”, without giving the slightest clue as to “how,” because it is often in the discovery of the “how” that faith is of necessity exercised and further developed. True prophecy will never stunt our growth but will always reveal something that is hindering our spiritual development or will present a challenge to us to grow.
Personal Prophecy Is Always Conditional—Fulfillment Is Determined By the Recipient, Not the Prophet, Or Even God
Our response to the prophecy, usually, is what will determine whether or not it is fulfilled. In this regard, it is vital that the distinction between personal prophecy and other types of prophecy be understood. Impersonal prophecy concerning divinely-appointed events will always come to pass regardless of circumstances or human actions and reactions. Personal prophecy, on the other hand, is always conditional, and fulfillment is dependent upon the response and obedience of the person(s) to whom the prophecy is directed.
Judge the Prophecy, Not the Prophet, To Determine the Validity of the Prophecy
Many people confuse the matter of the prophet with the matter of the content of the prophecy, because they have been taught so much fear regarding the prophetic area and “watching out for false prophets.” The content of prophecy should be judged primarily on the basis of the Word of God and whether it exalts Jesus. So many people are so intent on judging the prophet, i.e., the messenger, that they never hear a word of the prophecy or message. Errors that are made in prophecy, especially by inexperienced “prophesiers” most frequently occur in the articulation of the word which they have received from God through the Holy Spirit in their human spirit. Mistakes in the articulation do sometimes occur in personal prophecy. I’ve witnessed that occurring particularly in the case of novice or inexperienced “prophesiers” many times. The essence of the message was right, accurate, and irrefutably God-inspired, but errors were made in the choice of the words used, or the expression of the message was not particularly artful. When something like this occurs, this does not constitute “false prophecy” or that the speaker is a “false prophet,” though unbelieving or faithless critics would attempt to declare it so. There’s only one Prophet who never missed it in prophesying—JESUS—and His perfection made His detractors seeth and demand that He be crucified.
Any human being can make a mistake. Let him who has never erred or uttered an incorrect word cast the first stone. No prophet (other than Jesus) was ever born with perfect proficiency in his giftings, including the Old Testament prophets, for if they were perfect there would have been no need for the schools of the prophets spoken of in Scripture. Neither are those who stand in and operate out of the other four ministry offices perfect in their gifting; no evangelist, for example, gets everyone saved, healed, or delivered. Even Jesus Himself during His fleshly life and ministry “could do no miracles” in places where unbelief prevailed. Every believer must mature spiritually and develop in his/hr calling and in the operation of the giftings the Lord operates through him/her. Those called to the prophetic office, like anyone else, must be given the grace to develop in their ministry, despite their mistakes, and mistakes are inevitable because God has only imperfect “earthen vessels” trhough whom to operate His mighty works of power. As in every other case with developing saints, there are immature and underdeveloped prophets, who will gain more experience, proficiency, accuracy, and wisdom as they grow and develop in the Lord. However, we are, of course, aiming for excellence in the prophetic ministry, just as in any other aspect the Christian life and ministry.
Beware of Calling Someone A “False Prophet!”
Being so quick, critical, and judgmental to call someone a “false prophet” because they spoke something that may not line up perfectly with Scripture or be in exacting accord with some other convention or standard is a dangerous and very unwise thing to do. If a prophet misses it, that does not automatically and instantaneously make him a “false prophet.” According to what Jesus Himself said concerning false prophets, What makes a false prophet false is not the level of proficiency or even accuracy in his prophesying, but rather the motives and intents of his heart and ministry-related endeavors (Mat. 7:15). Jesus said false prophets are false because INWARDLY they are ravenous (selfishly ambitious, self-motivated, self-aggrandizing) wolves, who are motivated primarily by their own selfish appetites. The ministry of true prophets always exalts Jesus, not self. False prophets are false because it is their HEART that is not right, not their giftings or ministry.
The overall result of any minister’s (or saint’s) endeavors to allow Jesus to minister to people through them whose heart is right before God will be “good fruit.” Those whose heart is not right and whose motives are not pure cannot produce genuinely good spiritual fruit. Beware of judging any of God’s servants:
“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own Master (Jesus) he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:4)
“Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Mat. 7:1,2)
Unless you want to be judged by God to be false every time you miss it or make a mistake or error in judgment, thinking, or speech, you better not use that measure to judge the validity of another person’s life and ministry.
There are false prophets, but we must be sure that we use Scriptural methods and standards to determine those who are indeed false.
There Are Major Differences Between the Office of the Prophet and the Gift of Prophecy.
Prophecy through “one who prophesies” must be limited to edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Personal prophecy through a prophet, however, is not so limited, but may, according to Scripture, contain direction, guidance, foretelling of future events, divine counsel, reproof, warning, admonition, and in certain cases even rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2). The six‑faceted ministry of the prophet as a watchman in the Church who is accountable to God is to: 1) pluck up, 2) break down, 3) destroy, 4) overthrow, 5) build, 6) plant (Jer. 1:10). Prophets are “seers”(1 Sam. 9:9), and as such deal in divine insight and revelation. God has testified that He reveals His “secret counsel” to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). Thus, prophecy communicated through a prophet may be confirmation, but is not required to be limited to confirmation; it may also contain or provide new, or previously not known, revelation, illumination, understanding, and insight.
No One Should Ever Do Anything Or Make Any Major Changes In His/Her Life Based Solely On A Personal Prophecy
“Let every word be confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses” (Deu. 17:6; 19:15; Mat. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28)—prophets are often used by the Lord as a confirming witness of divine counsel. Major decisions or changes should not be made without confirmation from the Lord. Prophets can often provide that confirmation in personal prophecy, albeit, sometimes, before the recipent even has a need for the information. However, no one should ever make any major changes in his/her life based solely on a personal prophecy, though a personal prophecy can provide additional confirmation of direction or counsel from the Lord that the recipient has also come to understand in their own spirit.
Ultimately, every believer should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit Himself within, and not rely solely on human proxies or intermediaries. “For all who are being led by the SPIRIT OF GOD, these are SONS of God” (Rom. 8:14) In this passage the Holy Spirit invokes the Greek word, “huios,” which is rendered in most translations, as it should be, as “sons” of God. “Huios” connotes “spiritually mature sons” as distinguished from “tekna” of God, another Greek word sometimes rendered “sons” and sometimes rendered “children,” which refers more to the spiritual “offspring” of God. Both words connote powerful and profound facts about Born Again believers being the very sons and children of God! But, the Romans verse powerfully and profoundly centers on the fact that spiritually mature “sons” of God are ultimately led by the Holy Spirit Himself, who resides within the human spirit of the believer, rather than being led by anyone or anything else, including personal prophecy and prophets. Bona fide personal prophecy and prophets are both from and of GOD, and thus are never, and should not be considered as, substitutes or replacements of God and the Holy Spirit, who Jesus said is the One He sent following His ascension to guide us into all truth: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will GUIDE you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13). Being “The Father of Spirits” (Heb. 12:9), our Heavenly Father, who describes Himself as “a jealous God” (Exo. 20:5; et al.) desires that every believer develop a relationship with Him personally wherein we hear His every word and wooing to us ourselves within our human spirit, where the fullness of the Godhead resides, represented by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Timing Is Critical!
The Prophet may not know what part of your life he is speaking about—past, present, or future. He may speak in present tense of a situation you went through in the past. Or, he may speak of something in the present tense that will take place in the future. The tense is not as important as the substance of the prophecy. It is important to remember that when prophetic decrees come forth, they are at that moment decreed in the spiritual realm, but they often require indeterminate further passage of time to be manifested in the natural.
Prophetic terminology regarding time is different than every day usage. For example: in First Samuel 13:1‑14, regarding Saul losing his kingdom, “now” meant 38 years later; in First Samuel 15:28, regarding the transfer of kingship to David, “this day” meant 24 years later; the last recorded words of Jesus in the Bible were: “I come QUICKLY,” thus the term “quickly” apparently can mean 2,000 years or more.
Personal Prophecy Is Fulfilled By Appropriate Responses
Fulfillment of personal prophecy is dependent upon the recipient’s response to the prophecy. Some appropriate responses to personal prophecy are:
- Record and meditate on your prophecy in order to use it to fight the good fight of faith—1 Tim. 1:18.
- Obey both the Rhema and the Logos Word of God.
- Don’t panic! Rest in the Lord! Don’t try to immediately fulfill any prophecy through self‑effort, but allow God to grow you into its fulfillment. Do nothing different unless divinely directed and until you have a confirmed “knowing” within your own heart.
- Be patient, persevere, and endure hardship in the interim between the promise and the performance—Jas. 1:2-17; 5:7-11; 2 Tim. 4:5.
- Believe tested and proven prophecies given by genuine, affirmed Prophets and you will succeed—2 Chron. 20:20.
- War a good warfare through profession of portions of the prophetic word made more sure—the Logos (Scripture) that confirm and comport with the prophecies you’ve been given—1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Pet. 1:16-21.
- Store away those things you don’t understand until a later time when God makes it clear to you. Some prophetic words given by God can remain a mystery until “the fullness of time,” that is to say, until it is time for them to come to pass. There are many prophecies in Scripture which did not come to pass until many years after they were first spoken. For example, in the case of Joseph, it took 28 years for the things God promised him prophetically to come to pass. Oftentimes, prophecy is a foretelling of future events.
- Eat the hay and spit out the sticks! Under the New Testament dispensation, God uses imperfect vessels to speak forth prophecy on His behalf, just as He uses imperfect vessels to operate other manifestations of the Spirit. The New Covenant is one of mercy, grace, and love rather than law and retribution, as was the Old Covenant. Those who have the fortitude to be used by God prophetically, must be given the grace to grow and mature in their spiritual giftings. At times, those who are immature in the prophetic giftings, spiritually, or in their communication skills, can and do speak things that are not 100% accurate, Scriptural, discreet, or artfully articulated. Yet, we must not allow such occurrences or prospects to stifle or stop the operation of the prophetic gifts, for they edify (build up as a battery is built up; charged up; empowered) the church (1 Cor. 14:3-4), and thus are greatly needed.
“Do not quench (suppress or subdue) the (Holy) Spirit. Do not spurn the gifts and utterances of the prophets—do not depreciate prophetic revelations nor despise inspired instruction or exhortation or warning. But test and prove all things [until you recognize] what is good; [to that] hold fast” (1 Thes. 5:19‑21, A.B.).
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This article is adapted from Dr. Lambert’s book, The Prophetic Gifts & Office (click on the image to learn more):
We also highly recommend a related article by Dr. Lambert to understand the critical differences between the OFFICE of the PROPHET and the GIFT of PROPHECY, Gifts Vs. Offices (Part 1).