David & Greta Peters
If ever there was an hour when prophetic insight was needed it is now. Many with prophetic gifts and ministries have predicted numerous things in these past few months of crisis, much of it helpful, some not. However, we misunderstand prophecy if we think it always has to be predictive. Foretelling is certainly a strong component of prophecy but not the only one.
And foretelling is not easy in prophecy. Occasionally, predictions do not come to pass. For example, multiple sclerosis confined my first wife Jane to a wheelchair for twenty-one years. Many, myself included, received prophecies and visions that foresaw my wife and I ministering together across a number of nations. The conclusion was that God would heal Jane and we believed for that. Instead, the Lord promoted her to heaven. This appeared to make the prophetic predictions incorrect. In hindsight, people were seeing the future accurately but we had no frame of reference that my wife could be anyone else but Jane. Now my second wife Greta and I minister together in a number of nations and she enjoys wonderful health. We truly foresaw something in the spiritual realm but interpreted it incorrectly.
Sometimes, timing may be misunderstood. Take the many Old Testament prophecies about God sending a Messiah to redeem the world back to himself. Some predicted he would come as a suffering servant, while others said he would be a conquering King. People of Jesus’ day could not comprehend that his first coming as a servant-savior would be separated by thousands of years from his second coming as a triumphant ruler. Yet now in hindsight, these prophecies make perfect sense, and we wait expectantly for Christ’s return to conquer all evil and rule the nations.
The Bible declares in 1 Corinthians 13:9 that our prophecy is imperfect – not in the sense of making mistakes, though that is possible as no one is infallible in their ability to hear God’s voice – but rather in the sense of being incomplete. That is why we need other people’s prophetic revelations, tested against scripture, in order to get a fuller picture. Prediction is definitely a powerful part of prophecy and if we think the Holy Spirit is speaking to us about the future, it is best to run it past other experienced prophetic voices or pastors before we release it. As well, it is always wise to pray for interpretation after a revelation has come.
However, besides prediction, there is another equally strong component of prophecy – encouragement. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NIV) says, “But one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” In other words, we don’t have to predict the future to prophesy.
A major part of prophecy is to bring encouragement and comfort, especially when the church and the world are suffering, as we see in this current season. The great apostle Paul sent his co-worker Timothy to the church he had founded in Thessalonica with this mission: “We set him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 NLT)
This is a very powerful benefit of prophetic ministry. It is called forth-telling – explaining the present from God’s perspective and bringing strength to God’s people to overcome the situation and move into his purposes. As an example, take the early church’s decision to free Gentile believers from having to keep the Jewish law. This was a momentous and controversial decision. Via Paul and Barnabas, the apostles in Jerusalem sent a letter to Antioch – then the center of Gentile Christianity – explaining the decision and that faith in Jesus alone was the means to salvation. They also sent two prophets, Judas and Silas.
“So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.” ( Acts 15:30-32 NIV)
They didn’t predict the future, but explained the present, encouraging and strengthening the church. While accurate foretelling is a great blessing to the church, perhaps forth-telling is needed even more right now: to bring encouragement, strength, and comfort to a hurting world, which after all is the great heart of prophecy.