Take Joseph for example who learned this the hard way.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Genesis 37:5-8
Of course the nature of the dream, and the events leading up to it of their father’s favoritism towards Joseph had already set the stage for jealousy in the brothers' hearts. The telling of this dream and the one after it became the ‘last straw’ that led into the brothers plotting to kill Joseph.
It is wise to discern that some things are to be “kept close” and shared only with “safe places”. When the angel foretold the birth of Jesus to Mary, she hurried off to share the news with Elizabeth who the angel had said was experiencing a miracle all her own. Imagine being Elizabeth for a moment. You are also pregnant, and your relative and friend, Mary, comes to share that she is not only pregnant as well, but due with God’s very own son. What a set-up for comparison. One’s first thought might be, “Why her and not me?” However, Elizabeth, likely caught up in the excitement of her own barren womb being opened (a supernatural miracle in itself), does not react in jealousy, but rather confirms the prophecy, and encourages and rejoices with Mary. You will learn, sometimes by failing, who your Elizabeth’s are and who they are not.
Hearing from the Lord by way of supernatural communication is not a sign of immaturity. It is a sign of intimacy. And this is where the root of jealousy lies. It is the responsibility of the one hearing the account of another’s prophetic communication to check if their unwillingness to receive what is being shared is due to jealousy of the intimate encounter.
On the other hand, it can also be understood why so many get turned off by the way prophetic communication is shared, such as when it is given out in a pious, self-righteous tone. The downfall of hearing from the Lord in supernatural ways is pride. The Lord Himself will protect you from pride in this, if you allow Him. We can observe how He did this with Paul:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh… 2 Corinthians 12:7
So often when we read these verses we focus on the thorn and what Paul learned from it, but we miss why he needed the thorn in the first place. He states that it was given to him so that he didn’t grow prideful from the awesome revelations that he had been receiving from the Lord. The King James version puts it this way: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations…”
As with anything, self-exaltation is something to be guarded against, and the Lord has His ways of keeping us humble.
At the same time, there is something to be learned on the part of the one sharing their revelations and/or prophetic communications from the Lord of how to do so with humility. This often comes by trial and error. The Joseph approach of bluntness might be tried a time or two before realizing that doesn’t work out so well. One thing that helps is to understand the reason behind why the Lord is gifting you with the prophetic communication in the first place.
But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 1 Corinthians 14:3
(By the way, the Greek definition of the word prophecy used here is “to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, exercise the prophetic office, prophesy”)
John Piper defines prophecy this way: “A Spirit-guided expression of something we otherwise would not know or say, which is powerful for the particular moment in which it is spoken to bring conviction, exhortation, consolation, awakening, or up-building of faith.”
A great example of this from scripture is when Paul addresses the crew of the ship he is aboard after a fierce storm has left them battered and helpless at sea…
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” Acts 27: 20-26
In this circumstance, it was appropriate and helpful for Paul to share about the supernatural encounter and message he had received from the Lord in order to encourage and speak life and hope back into those he was with.
There will also be times when the message to be shared is going to be hard to hear or more like a warning to the recipient. In this case it should be noted that there is a difference between offering the message in such a way that it brings conviction, not condemnation. There is a difference between awakening someone’s Spirit, and landing a jack-hammer on someone’s skull. The difference is love.
In the short video I have embedded at the bottom of this post, Piper proposes a great perspective to anyone who is feeling led to share something prophetic with another:
“Offer it to them as a gift. Don’t thrust it at them as a demand.”
Essentially, when you offer what you’ve heard from the Lord you are saying, “See if this helps….” or, “See if this matches up to anything the Lord has shown you…”
Prophecy is not authoritative. Only scripture is. Prophetic communication will be confirmed and oftentimes interpreted by scripture. It is the responsibility of both the giver and the hearer to “test” prophetic communication they receive as 1 John 4:1 instructs ~
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Peter tests the voice he hears to see if it is the Lord's in Matthew 14:25-29 ~
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
The reason we need to test the spirits is because there are at least four different voices that come to us inside of our heads:
1) The Lord/Holy Spirit
2) The enemy/Satan
3) Your own voice
4) Voice of the world/others
If the testing process is bypassed, you could potentially offer or receive a message that is from a voice not of the Lord. This then could turn out to be misleading, hurtful, or it could negatively affect a person’s relationship with the Lord - and no one wants that. The enemy is a deceiver who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). It’s his job to trick us. His voice isn’t as obvious as we sometimes like to think. In the Piper video embedded at the end of this post, he gives an example from his own life of a false prophecy given to him that could have been very damaging had he not tested it. I personally believe that the woman who gave him the prophecy had been informed by the enemy (who is always speaking death over us), but she didn’t realize it.
All this to say, there is a fine-tuning that must happen in order to discern the Lord’s voice above all the others. Having a prophetic voice, starts with having a prophetic ear. Isaiah conveys this process…
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. Isaiah 50:4-5
I used to wonder why Isaiah mentioned the part about not drawing back. But once you realize the weight of responsibility that is entrusted to you as you receive supernatural communication from the Lord, there is a feeling of wondering if you really want it. This gifting can get heavy and weighty. But it is also so valuable, and can be used for such good for the body of Christ, if you take the responsibility seriously.
Prophetic communication is meant to be a gift from the Lord, which means, as with all things He gives, it can be abused. It can be used as a source of manipulation, self-exaltation, or even promoting one’s own agenda with a cover that it is from the Lord. Prophetic messages can also be interpreted wrongly (by both the giver and hearer) if careful attention is not given to that process. At some point, we all either have or will experience any of these aspects, but they aren't grounds to completely reject this gift from the Lord altogether, assign it a bad reputation, or stick our heads in the sand and act like it isn’t there. The misuse of this gift is actually the very reason why it would be helpful for our churches to take an active approach and offer equipping and training in knowing how to handle prophetic communication. 1 Corinthians 14:1 says ~
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
The Lord sees the value in this gift to His church. So should we.
And rest assured, there are believers operating in this gift in responsible ways, it’s just that they are doing it quietly, respectfully and reverently. We just don’t often hear those stories.
[Video: John Piper on "What is the gift of prophecy in the new covenant?"]
Additionally, I’ve found this book very helpful on this topic: ‘Surprised by the Voice of God’ by Jack Deere. Link to buy: http://www.christianbook.com/surprised-the-voice-of-god-softcover/jack-deere/9780310225584/pd/22558