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What’s a Prophetic Word and How Do We Really Hear God Speak?

prophetic word

A prophetic word, also known as a “word of knowledge,” is a prophecy given by a worshiper for the congregation. Biblical prophecy is a message that reflects communication from God to humans. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to “pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” These words come in the form of exhortation, correction and other revelations that equip and edify the body of Christ.

How can we be assured when someone speaks into our lives? We who are pastors, teachers and Bible study leaders must be confident in knowing God’s voice. God most often speaks through Scripture. That is why it is imperative that we are familiar with it. But he also speaks through creation, visions and dreams; open or closed doors of opportunities; other people; and, once, even Balaam’s donkey and a burning bush.

Not everyone believes in modern-day prophecy, but in my years of ministry, I’ve had experiences that lead me to believe differently. Let me share my perspective.

Joel, the prophet, describes a future where prophecy is a regular part of life and “old men will dream dreams.” I’m not an old man, but in my own life I once had a horrible dream about a friend whose life was in danger. In my dream, my friend was in his basement, very distraught, with a gun in his lap. He picked up the gun and put it in his mouth to shoot himself. All day long I had an overriding feeling that I needed to take action. I asked God to give me the same dream again that night if he wanted me to contact that person. The dream came back, and the details still haunt me. Immediately, I sat up in bed, raced to the phone, and called my friend. He was stunned. Since learning of his wife’s extramarital affair two days before, he had been pleading for God to reveal himself while sitting in his basement with a gun in his lap. The power of God-given dreams saved a life that day. It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, time that God used dreams to talk to me.

In the bleakest days of my adult life, through divorce and singleness, he used another dream to guide me. No supernatural knowledge validates divorce and the destruction it brings to a marriage and a family. It does, though, reveal an all-knowing God who gives hope even in the darkest settings. In my dream, I received details about a brunette that loved God and ministry. The most remarkable part is that God prophesied to her a year before I would meet her. She was dealing with the most painful trial of her life—her husband was dying of cancer. When God spoke to her heart, he said, “If I had a broken pastor who had lost his wife and his church, could you come alongside and encourage him?” When she shared this experience with her husband, he laughed and reminded her how much she enjoyed sitting in the front row at church. I’ve been married to that brunette for over 12 years now.

Using prophecy comes with a caution. Some dangerous people pretend to speak on behalf of God. They use a prophetic word only to seek personal gain. Too many times charlatans have used a prophetic word as an act of God to control others. If what’s shared is not based on Scripture, it could be a form of manipulation. A person who has an agenda with a prophetic voice is unsafe. When God gives a prophetic message, he trusts us as his holy messengers to intervene in people’s lives. We should only see ourselves as servants, not superiors.

I once encountered a “prophetic word” from someone at our church during a confrontational moment. We were about to ordain a man who, in his early years, had a moral failure. He had repented and was being used mightily by God. The morning we were going to ordain him, a board member’s smiling spouse announced that God had told her “now is not the time” and was sure we would know what to do with the information. Her smile faded when I told her I knew exactly what God was trying to tell us. I told her God was affirming what we were doing that morning and that ”now is not the time” to question this man’s anointing. This happened over 10 years ago, and this man has been traveling all over the world with a passion from God and for God. The woman left the church. Her heart could not justify a man with a failure being used by God.

God will work with any person as a vessel, even when it is difficult to believe because of past failures. Learn to seek his wisdom, his heart and knowledge of his Word. Does God give insight into people’s lives as a prophetic word? I think the answer is yes!

This article was adapted from All Knowing: The Omniscient God by Kevin Francis O’Connor

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