I grew up as a Christian in the Pentecostal tradition. I still consider myself to be a Pentecostal or Charismatic believer or whatever we call Christians who believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still in operation today. One of those gifts is prophesy, but as I’ve (hopefully) grown up with Jesus, I’ve discovered that my understanding of that gift has been limited. I take complete responsibility for that limitation, since it’s pretty clear in Scripture what the nature of prophesy is. From what I read in the Bible, the gift of prophecy contains four major elements:

  1. Prophesying about events that have not yet come to pass, whether good or bad. An example of this is Agabus prophesying that there would be a famine in the land (Acts 11:28).
  2. Teaching or speaking the Word of God in ways that challenge people. Most often, these challenges are directed toward God’s people, but not every time, like when Jonah prophesied to Nineveh. These words could include rebuke, warning or judgment and may concern events that have yet to come to pass. There are many examples of this. One is when Jesus told His disciples what would happen to the temple in Jerusalem because they wouldn’t allow themselves to be gathered to Him (Luke 13:31-35).
  3. Offering words of affirmation and encouragement, which also may contain reference to events that have yet to happen. One example is the Lord telling Abraham that his offspring would be a blessing to the world (Genesis 22:15-18 See also First Corinthians 14:3-4).
  4. In all of the above aspects, there may also be instructions about what to do. One example of this is when the Lord told Gideon that he would have victory over the Midianites and Amalekites and how to do it (Judges 6-7).

Before we go on, I want to make it clear that I make no claim to having expertise in this area, so if you have additional insights, please feel free to share them.

Now let’s turn to Paul’s strange admonitions concerning this gift of prophecy. Twice in First Corinthians 14, he tells the church (es) in that city to “earnestly desire to prophecy” (vss. 1 and 39). He tells the believers that prophesy is for their upbuilding, encouragement and consolation. It’s my opinion that the Pentecostal church has interpreted this to mean that the gift of prophecy is to include the first, third and fourth characteristics listed above but largely ignore the second—that of rebuking and warning God’s people about its behavior—which is the most prominent aspect of prophecy in Scripture. We just need to read the books of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the minor prophets to see this. I have come to realize that the building up of the Church includes speaking difficult, not just saying nice things or words of affirmation.

My understanding of this comes not only through Scripture but through my personal experience as well. The first difficult prophesy I ever gave was to a lady who was an elder sister to me. The Lord told me to tell her this: “Just as I raised Lazarus from the dead, I will raise you from the dead.” The assumption of this word, of course, was that this sister was dead, which is certainly not what we would consider a word of affirmation or encouragement. It was an uncomfortable thing to say, and I didn’t want to give this prophesy; but I the Lord compelled me to do so. In my experience with Him, I have found Him to be very…persuasive. Within days of the speaking of this word, this sister repented of her sin and was on her way back to the possibility of having spiritual health in Jesus Christ.

In the last few years, I have become deeply troubled by the consequences that have resulted from the direction that the evangelical church in the West (and wherever else in the world where it has been influential), has taken. If you’ve ever read the blog posts on this site, that will have been apparent. I believe that the Lord is the One who has motivated this troubling. There have been too many insights into Scripture that have made this plain to me and to others. I’m just not that smart to see, over and over again, places in Scripture where it’s clear what we’re doing with through and in the Church is in opposition to the Word of God.

So, here’s what I find amazing about Paul’s admonition to earnestly desire to prophesy in the Church, in regard to our gathering together: The Lord is telling us, through Paul, that we Christians regularly need to be shaken up in our walk with Jesus—shaken up by Him, that is. Life with Him and the Church should be edgy, in other words. It should keep us regularly questioning what we’re doing—and what He’s doing—and therefore seeking Him. This is very challenging. Well, it is to me, anyway, and I’ll admit to a propensity to getting stuck in ruts and be comfortable with the status quo. However, I think we would all agree that most of us are quite fond of stability and averse to its opposite. If you’ve been around for any length of time, you have discovered that change is difficult for people, and that includes people in the Church—perhaps more so. We’ve all heard stories about how people have left churches for relatively insignificant reasons such as a change in how rooms were carpeted. I have no uncertainty that the Lord is aware of this aversion to change.

Therefore, this is where the apostle Paul and we in the Church come into conflict with each other. He wants to keep us challenged in our walk with Him and help us resist the status quo. We prefer predictable sameness. However, He recognizes blind spots that we just can’t see. That’s why they’re called blind spots. He loves us too much to not call us on things that may lead to laxity or lifelessness. In addition, let me be clear that this is not about reading our Bibles, praying or going to church. This is about our hearts toward Him and our love for Him—our sacrificial love for Him. We must always keep in mind that doing what is right (reading the Bible and so forth) and not doing what is wrong are symptoms, not causes. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” in John 14:15. I’ve found that it’s not that I stop loving Him per se—it’s that I simply don’t understand what loving Him really entails. Again, it’s that blind spot thing. If we allow prophets to speak, He will challenge us down to the depths of our souls concerning our love for Him. And that’s a good thing.