Part 2: The Purpose of Prophecy
There’s a unity between Christians today that gets me excited. Labels like Baptist and Pentecostal and Lutheran are falling away, thank God. We’re beginning to see that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
But let’s be honest, there are still a few things that divide us. None more so perhaps than this question: is God still speaking today? So let’s go there and see if we can find some common ground.
Many say that if the Bible is complete—if God has said all he wants to—we don’t need prophetic gifts anymore. If we try speak for him today it will just lead to distraction, even danger.
“Why does God still have so much to say?”
I used to think like that, but I’ve recently changed my view. In a previous post, I explained that prophetic gifts have limits, and if we understand these, we don’t need to see prophecy as a threat to Scripture.
But what is God’s intent behind prophecy? If he’s given us the Bible already, why does he still have so much to say? Consider four purposes of prophecy. God has given it to:
Refresh us in the truths of Scripture
That’s right. One of the main reasons God speaks to us today is to remind us of what’s he’s already said. We can be forgetful people.
Don’t be that person who closes their eyes, raises their hands, and says “Lord speak to me!” while their Bible sits there collecting dust.
I’m nervous about anyone who gets more excited about prophecy than they are about God’s Word. Prophecy will pass away, but the Word of God will stand forever.
“God speaks to remind us of what he’s already said.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if God gave our brains an index of all 31,102 verses in the Bible so we’d have the nugget of truth we need, precisely when we need it?
Actually, he’s done something better, and far less exhausting. God has given the church prophetic gifts so that we can recall just the right Scripture at just the right time—for ourselves and for each other.
Reprove us for moral failure
The lowest point in King David’s life was when he got a married woman pregnant and then covered his tracks by having her husband killed. In the fallout, God sent the prophet Nathan to tell the disgraced king a story.
A rich and a poor man each had a lamb. One day, the rich man hosted a meal, but instead of killing his own lamb, he stole and cooked the poor man’s lamb instead. The poor man was heartbroken; he’d loved that lamb like his own child.
When David heard what the rich man did, he was outraged. So Nathan turned to him with fire in his eyes and said, “You are that man!” It’s a story that sends shivers down my spine.
“Prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge.”
Prophecy is lots of things, but it’s also a call to godly living. Prophets are watchmen for moral compromise. We can hide our sins from others, but never from God.
Keep in mind though that prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge. There is no condemnation in Christ. Prophetic gifts are given to strengthen, encourage and comfort us (1 Corinthians 14:4) even as God sets us back on the narrow path.
Recruit us to an alternate future
Prophecy isn’t a crystal ball telling us exactly how the future will unfold. Yes, prophecy can predict the future. But when it does, its purpose is to altar the present.
Think of Jonah. God gave him a very simple word for the city of Nineveh: Forty days from now and Nineveh will be destroyed. The people humbled themselves, held a fast, and repented in sackcloth and ashes.
“Prophecy altars the present.”
Have you ever stopped to think that Jonah’s prophecy never came to pass? It was from God, yes—and it was exactly what the people of Nineveh needed to hear. But it was never fulfilled. Its purpose was to reorient their lives.
I have been given remarkable prophecies that have clearly come to pass in my life. There are others I’m still baffled by.
“There are things about God we’ll never understand.”
God’s thoughts are higher than ours. And he is outside of time, while we’re stuck in it. So there are things about him we’ll never understand.
But here’s something we can all understand: when God speaks to us, he is calling us to stop and reconsider our lives. And he’s in the process of recruiting us to a future that’s different—and far greater—than the one we’d dreamed for ourselves.
Remind us we’re known and loved
Recently a friend of mine was overseas, and he found himself in a prayer meeting full of strangers.
A picture entered his mind as he prayed. It was unusual but vivid. Trusting it was from God, he described the scene to everyone present: a barn house with hay and high rafters, and a particular type of car parked outside.
“Nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.”
Suddenly a girl burst into tears. That barn was the place she was abused as a young girl. My friend got to tell her that God felt her pain, and that he’d never abandoned her, even in those dark moments.
God has given us prophecy for lots of reasons, but one of the most important is to remind us that he knows us and that he loves us.
Sermons, books, prayer, wisdom from others—all of this helps us build strong foundations for our faith. But nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.
“God knows us and he loves us.”
More and more, I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of words, and they have transformed my relationship with God.
God is no longer someone I just read about in a book. I know him now as the one who cares, and who walks with me on the mountains and in the dark valleys.
Because God has used the prophetic gifts of others to bless me so much, I am motivated to bless other people in the same way. It’s something I’m still growing in, but it’s worth the journey.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll share what I’m learning with you.
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