She had just explained to us that nothing she ever did was good enough: being a wife, a mother, a friend, a teacher, etc. She was my friend and it brought tears to my eyes to hear her speak that way about herself. She was great at all of those things, but in every arena, she felt she was failing. As we gathered around and prayed for her, I felt the Lord prompting me to read Proverbs 31 aloud. As I read, the Holy Spirit prompted me to remind her that she actually embodied all of those things and more.
It was a moment I still haven’t forgotten, and it was years ago: to watch the words of the Lord literally lift someone up in a moment of broken-ness. That right there is the purpose of prophecy: lifting someone up in their brokenness. But prophecy these days gets a really bad name. We imagine modern-day prophets who start religious cults and end up in jail, or predict the end of the world over and over, never getting it right. But this is not what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 14.
According to Paul, prophecy is to strengthen, encourage and comfort, not to tear down or destroy. When we listen to the Lord, and truly hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, whatever we speak will build up, not break down. That’s not to say it won’t sometimes be hard for the person to hear, but it will always strengthen them, encourage them, and/or comfort them. And if we’re truly speaking to others in the Spirit, love will always be the highest goal!
If prophecy has ever been used to accomplish a single person—or group’s—goals, that’s not true prophecy. If prophecy is used to control, or manipulate, or abuse, that’s not of the Lord. When prophecy is used to do anything but strengthen, encourage and comfort, it’s not prophecy. It’s using the Lord’s name in vain, it’s twisting scripture for our own ends, and God hates that. God created scripture and prophecy for training in righteousness, and for equipping His people to do good works.
Scripture is God-breathed, and the Holy Spirit is God, so scripture and prophecy from the Holy Spirit can’t contradict itself. What we see in problematic modern-day prophets is a twisting of scripture, or an adding to scripture. God doesn’t asked us to do that. He asks us to remind His people of the things He has already said in His word. And God is love, so he doesn’t destroy and tear down, manipulate and hurt those he loves.
What we aim to do with our prophecy is uphold scripture, and tell people what we know God would say to them. If we are intimidated by prophecy, we can know that God will use it for His good. And if we are speaking to our friends the things that we believe God would say to them, then we’re doing the prophecy thing right. We’re speaking what God would say to them anyway, from our lips.
Like I said before, sometimes we don’t know how to listen directly to the Holy Spirit, so we need a human to say it. We need a friend to come alongside and prophesy. And if love is our highest goal, prophecy will strengthen the entire church! And if we’re in the business of strengthening the church, our words will not refute or change God’s word.