The next term (or concept) that we need to examine is “prophecy”. I have no doubt that many readers of a book like this will be familiar with the term. A prophecy is the message offered by the prophet. But there are some important things to consider about the very category of that message before we get to the matter of content.
It is vital at this point that you realize this fact: A prophecy is not a message from a prophet. The prophecy is a message from God through the prophet and to the witnesses. Basically, it is God’s word – not mine, not yours, and not anyone else’s.
Some people, like the example I told about in the introduction to this book, allow this fact to get confused. If the word of God is coming out of you, it would seem that you might be a proud and powerful person to whom people should listen.
You (as the prophet though) are merely the messenger – the errand boy (or girl). You do not personally wield the authority or power of the one who sends you. And not only that, but normally (with rare exception) the God who sends you does so in suffering and humility. (See lesson #4.) Point being, you do not allow yourself to become proud by being a prophet. You must be accountable before God and all the people for the message(s) you bring, and that should always put you on your knees!
No, the word is not yours or mine. Being faithful with it is the key. Can God trust you to point to him? He is the sender of the word that you have no right to toy with or alter.
As I stated in the introduction, even I am accountable. The things I say here must not be allowed to supersede Scripture! This message absolutely must find harmony with Scripture, otherwise both you and I can rest assured that the message is not from God and therefore should not be counted as his.
This means we must discern the message. There may be times that discernment is difficult, but we must rise to the challenge when that happens. But not all prophecies are difficult to discern, and in fact perhaps not most. We will eventually discuss the discernment of difficult prophecies, but usually the task will not be that complicated.
Still, a brief word is in order for those that are difficult. As a conservative Christian, I say – yet again – weigh the message with Scripture. God’s word will not contradict itself. When discrepancy appears, go with Scripture.
But this implies a good knowledge of Scripture which likewise implies much study. READ YOUR BIBLES! There is no substitute for soaking in the stories, the songs, the commands, and the lessons of Scripture. But your own understanding will never be enough. You must read them and discern them in community. There will always be some in your assembly who know the Scriptures better than you. They will help you discern the message and weigh it with Scripture. They are your shepherds, and that is partly why they are with you.
But the Scriptures must also be approached prayerfully. Ask God for help discerning the message you think you have from him. If it really is his word, he will empower it to his own ends (Isa. 55:11). When you add this practice to that of studying Scripture in community, you are in a very good position to discern a prophecy.
However, this process does not end before a prophecy is delivered. Frequently the prophet will offer a message to the assembly of believers rather than to outsiders. When this happens, those receiving the message must prayerfully discern it together.
Up to this point, as we have examined the term (or concept) “prophecy”, we have mostly just labored the point that the message is from God and therefore is not ours to do with whatever we want. But there are other dimensions to prophecy that we need to explore in rich detail. What role does your imagination play in the process? After all, if the message is the word of God, shouldn’t we expect it to both target and encompass all of creation: things seen and things unseen …really every aspect of life? That seems like a lot for a prophet to absorb. How would we get our heads around all that?