These are subjects I have written on before (in “The Incarnation of a Prophet”), but I have some new perspective. David Orton (of Lifemessenger) and I were talking about this back in March and he made this throw away statement, “90% of prophecy in the Bible is forthtelling, not foretelling”. That is, 90% of the words recorded as being said by prophets in the Bible are not predictive, not futuristic and not in answer to a question someone had… that’s quite a claim. My own research backs his statement up!
What is forth-telling?
Prophetic ministry in the Bible was essentially (90% of the time) about:
1. Telling people what is right (which they usually knew because the standard God expected had been laid out clearly in other ways such as the commandments of Moses), which involved calling them back to that standard;
2. Telling people what God thought (which they usually knew because his heart had been expressed in many and various ways to them before), which often involved calling them to repentance;
3. Telling people what is already in the Bible (by quoting previous leaders, prophets and examples), which involved reminding them of what was written;
4. Reminding people of their history/ heritage (by going over their history and reminding them about the God they served);
5. Bringing information they might not know which was not future (e.g. what the headlines mean);
6. Encouraging people along the way (which involved stirring them on to good works, blessing them, edifying them etc.).
This is a mind blowing paradigm if you think about it, because prophets in the Bible were mostly not giving direction to the leaders they served, and rarely giving future warning to them. They are hardly ever standing beside a leader affirming, nodding and being yes men and you never see them turn up to a gathering and give personal words to everybody present!
A simple survey of the New Testament will reveal that prophets are in the Body of Christ for three essential reasons:
1. Foundation laying (Eph. 2:20);
2. Equipping the saints (Eph. 4:15);
3. Leadership and releasing (1 Cor. 12:28).
They make sure Christ is central, they teach others to hear God’s voice for themselves, they release people into ministry, they equip people and they lead. To reiterate, they do not offer personal prophetic words or do much prediction.
Now word of knowledge, word of wisdom and word of prophecy are absolutely part of the ministry of prophetic people. Prediction is certainly a Biblical part of prophetic ministry… but it is the 10% not the 90%!
What leaders need
If you are called into prophetic ministry, remind yourself of a few essential things:
1. The local congregation you belong to is made up of believers who have access to God by the blood of the Lamb, and are filled with His Holy Spirit. They belong to the Christ, and can hear His voice. They do not need to rely on someone else – and expert to hear Him for them.
2. The local leaders you serve have a relationship with Jesus, love God and can study His word for themselves. They belong to the Lamb and can hear his voice. They do not rely on you for direction, correction or confirmation.
This does however leave wide a field of ministry beyond the weekend service and the 90 minute mellee we call “church”! It means you have a role to play in encouraging, cheering on, affirming, exhorting, blessing, stirring up, reminding and comforting others.
It also means there are millions of people out there who have no relationship with Jesus and are not yet sheep of His pasture – who need to hear from heaven, and desire to know if there is a God in heaven who cares about them. Remember – the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy! (Rev. 19:10).