[This article was taken from our book “Prophecy: Understanding and Utilizing the Manifestation of Prophecy.”]
1. Before receiving a prophecy, it is good to learn something about it and be prepared to receive it. Prophecy is a way that you can hear from the Lord himself about his love and concern for you and about his will for your life. Your personal prophecy will mean a lot more to you if you know what prophecy is and how it works, and if you prepare your heart to receive it, evaluate it, and act on it. If you have questions about prophecy, you should ask them. Also, it can be good to have godly, trusted friends listen to your prophecy and give you their opinion—there is safety in a multitude of counselors.
2. Christians are filled with holy spirit, and have the Bible, so why would they need prophecy? Will the Lord not tell them directly what they need to know? It is always the Lord’s heart to communicate with his Body, the Church. It is important to realize that personally hearing from the Lord should be the “default pattern” for every Christian. Furthermore, obeying the written Word of God and using wisdom is also vital to successful Christian living. If you are not making enough money to make ends meet, you do not need a prophet to tell you to cut back your spending or get a better paying job. That is simply the wise thing to do. Hearing from the Lord for yourself, obeying Scripture, and using wisdom are always the first things you should do in your Christian walk and life.
Nevertheless, prophecy is still important to individuals, which is why the Bible says that we are to be eager to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:39). The Lord can speak through prophecy in times when a Christian is not hearing his voice due to being new in the faith, having doubts about his life and walk, or being too emotionally involved with a situation to hear clearly. Or, there may be times when the person receiving a prophecy has thought something about a situation, but has not believed it firmly enough to act on it. In fact, people often receive in prophecy the confirmation of something they have believed, and are then able to fully put their faith in it. It is also common in prophecy that as the Lord reveals things about someone’s life, that person feels a special connection to him that he did not have before.
3. Make sure you are comfortable receiving a prophecy, and with the person or persons giving it to you. Receiving a prophecy can be a great blessing, but not if you are not ready for it, feel like it is being forced upon you, or are not comfortable with the person or persons giving the prophecy. Just as prophets do not have to give a word to everyone who asks, you do not have to receive a word from someone just because he says he heard from the Lord about you. When you are ready to receive, and comfortable with the one who would speak it to you, then you are in a position to have faith that the Lord will powerfully energize the prophecy, and you will be ready to believe and act on what is spoken. Faith is a great key in any spiritual endeavor, and your faith will contribute to energizing those prophesying to you.
People who have given many words of personal prophecy testify that when the person receiving it has desire and faith, then the prophecy flows very easily—the prophetic word is almost pulled out of them. In contrast, if someone comes for prophecy whose heart is not ready to receive it, then many times giving the prophecy becomes much more difficult. If you are not comfortable about receiving a prophecy, you should want to identify why not, and you should not receive a prophecy until you are ready to receive it with faith.
4. The manifestation of prophecy is primarily to build up a person in his Christian walk and help establish his relationship with God and the Lord Jesus. The manifestation of prophecy is for “…edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3b-KJV). Furthermore, when a person receives a prophecy, “…the secrets of his heart will be laid bare…” (1 Cor. 14:25a). It is very important to understand that the manifestation of prophecy is not primarily designed to reveal detailed information about the future, or give specific guidance about what a person should do in a specific situation. Although this kind of specific information can occasionally be given in the manifestation of prophecy, it is usually given by those people in the Church who have the ministry of a prophet. 
God is very concerned about the quality of each Christian’s walk with Him. Sadly, many Christians have never really had a “personal experience” with God. We talk about it, preach about it, and write about it, but the fact is that many Christians are in the same place Job was some 4,000 years ago: the best they can say is, “My ears had heard of you…” (Job 42:5a). The manifestation of prophecy, by revealing the secrets of the heart, is designed by God to bring the person to the place that he will “…fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:25b). Often a prophecy will have details about a person’s life that, when revealed, help him believe that the Lord knows and understands him personally, and cares for him.
When Job experienced God for himself (Job 38:1- 42:6), there was a profound change in his life. Like many others, he had heard about God for years, but never had a “personal encounter.” When he did, his life changed. Many Christians testify that their lives were changed in important ways after they received a prophecy revealing to them that God really did know them and what they were going through in life, and had been with them in tough times and good times. Experience teaches us that usually when a person receives a prophecy, he feels very connected to the Lord. However, not all prophecy comes with a warm, fuzzy feeling. It sometimes happens when the Lord exhorts a person to do better in something that he may have feelings of guilt or sadness. Appropriate feelings of guilt or sadness can bring a person to make changes in his life that are positive and godly (2 Cor. 7:8-11).
The manifestation of prophecy is for “…edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3b-KJV). The NIV reads, “…strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” The word “exhortation” in the KJV is better than “encouragement” in the NIV because it covers a wider range of what can be spoken in prophecy.  God does not give prophecy to condemn us, nor use it as a platform to complain about our lives. There are times, however, when prophecy will convict someone in his heart, and motivate him to change. People can ask for a prophecy knowing God loves them, wants the best for them, and will communicate in a way that will help them in their walk. The prophetic message will build them up, exhort them in their walk, and comfort their hearts.
5. Evaluate and weigh carefully what is spoken by the one prophesying. There is always a chance that inaccuracies will enter into a prophecy. The Word of God tells us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). There are some basic ways that you can test to see if a prophecy is from the Lord. A good way to remember them is to call them “the four Ws.”
A. The Word of God. Prophecy will not contradict the written Word. God is not the author of confusion, and He will never confuse believers by saying one thing in His Word and another in prophecy. If you get a prophecy that blatantly contradicts the letter or spirit of the written Word of God, do not move forward in obeying it.
B. Wisdom. The Bible tells us to love God with all our minds, and He is the author of wisdom, which is to be a primary guide for our lives. The words “wise” and “wisdom” occur well over 100 times in Proverbs alone. God expects us to use wisdom to know right from wrong. If you receive a prophecy directing you to do something you consider unwise or that is somehow suspicious to you, get the counsel of others before proceeding.
C. Witness. Every Christian has the gift of holy spirit, and can hear from the Lord directly. If you receive a prophecy that is genuinely from the Lord, you should also have an inner witness that it is correct. If you have no such witness, it does not mean that the prophecy is necessarily wrong, but it does mean that you should get the wise counsel of others before acting on it.
D. Work Out. The Lord will work hard to confirm a prophecy. If you receive a prophecy, and you do your part to see it come to pass, then you can legitimately expect it to come to pass, i.e., “work out.” If it does not, then you have very good reason to think you received an erroneous word.
Because the flesh can enter into prophecy, you need to seek godly and wise counsel if you receive one you are not confident about, especially if it directs you to do something that will have an important impact on your life. If you receive a prophecy that you are not sure is true or accurate, you should not act on it immediately. Put it on the “back burner” and pray about it. Ask the Lord to speak to you in other ways to confirm or deny what you heard. For example, you might pray for a wide open door that is obvious, or you may pray to hear the same thing from another source. When we get the true word of the Lord and act upon it, there is great blessing for us.
6. Prophecy is not “the Word of God.” The written Word of God is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Every syllable in the original is perfect. That is not the case with the manifestation of prophecy. Do not fall into the trap of analyzing every syllable and preposition in your prophecy. Instead, ask, “What is the point of the message; what is the Lord saying?” As one prophet has said, “It is important to get the ‘take home’ message.” A great example of this is in the book of Acts, where Agabus, a seasoned prophet of God, gave Paul a word not to go to Jerusalem.
(10) After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
(11) Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
(12) When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.
Paul was so determined to go to Jerusalem that he ignored what the Lord spoke through prophecy. What happened when he got there, however, was not exactly what Agabus had said. If you read the record in Acts 21:30-33, you will see that, instead of capturing Paul and binding him and handing him over to the Romans, the Jews were in the middle of beating him to death when the Romans broke in and saved him. However, thinking Paul to be some kind of criminal, the Romans arrested him. He spent the next two years in jail in Israel, and then was taken as a prisoner to Rome. Agabus’ prophecy was not fulfilled “letter perfect.” But there is no doubt that the gist, the “take home message,” of the prophecy was correct: Paul should not have gone to Jerusalem. When he did, he was rejected by the Jews and ended up in Roman chains.
When you receive a prophecy, do not get hung up on the details and miss the big picture. Remember to ask, “What is the point the Lord is making?”
7. Be careful not to quickly reject a prophecy that does not seem right to you. Although you should hold in abeyance a prophecy you are not sure is accurate, always be cautious about totally rejecting prophecy from a prophet who has been tested and proved, even if it does not seem correct. As humans, we have strong feelings and emotions, and the way we were taught or the way we have done something in the past can have a powerful influence on us. A prophecy that seems to go against what we are used to may seem “wrong” to us even when it is actually biblically and ethically correct.
Imagine a Christian who has always worn a crucifix for good luck and personal protection receiving a prophecy that the Lord wanted him to rely on the Lord and not on such objects. He might tend to reject the words of the prophet as absurd. Or imagine a group of people who believe water baptism is necessary for salvation hearing a man prophesy to a Christian who had never been water baptized, stating that the Lord fully accepts him. The people listening might be tempted to call the prophet a false prophet, when actually he is absolutely correct.
What you believe is not necessarily true, even if you believe it very strongly. If you hear something that contradicts what you have always believed or practiced, you may have a strong emotional reaction, which, as real and powerful as it is, is not the voice of the Lord. As with so many other things in life, there is no formula that will tell you if the prophet is correct and your thoughts are wrong, or vice versa. As always, we need to rely on the written Word, wisdom, the counsel of others, and the direction of the Lord via his gift of holy spirit.
8. Prophecy can be about gifts and callings that have not yet manifested themselves. Occasionally, a prophecy will address something that the Lord sees in the future, which the person receiving the prophecy is not yet aware of. The prophecy of Samuel to David about being the king of Israel is a clear example (1 Sam. 16:13). There is no evidence that David had ever even thought about being king, especially in a culture where kingship followed family lines. Furthermore, it was approximately 15 years after Samuel anointed David king that he actually saw the prophecy fulfilled. So if you receive a prophecy that does not come to pass in a short time, do not be too hasty to call it a false prophecy. When you receive a prophecy, and especially if it involves something that will be fulfilled in the future, have patience and faith that it will be fulfilled. Do not be quick to give up on the Lord. Walk in patience and faithful expectation that what he has said will indeed come to pass in your life.
9. Just because God does not mention a sin does not mean it is okay with Him. Due to the fallen nature of man, people will sometimes knowingly or unknowingly try to justify their sin, and may use prophecy to do so. Someone who is engaged in a sinful activity may ask to receive a prophecy but be thinking, “If the Lord does not mention my doing (whatever), then it must be okay with him. After all, if it were that bad he would say something.” This is false logic. The Lord expects you to live a godly life. You do not expect him to tell you by revelation to stop at a red light or to return a wallet you found on the street. What you can easily know from the Word, experience, and your senses, the Lord expects you to know and act on.
It is the same with sin in your life. If you are sinning, stop. Do not expect the Lord to speak about something that is clear in the Bible and/or obvious to you. The written Word is the standard for godly behavior.
10. When you receive an accurate prophecy, obey it. Prophecy is not a toy, nor is it a test to prove that God knows us or loves us. Neither is it to prove the person giving the prophecy is “right on” and can discover some hidden thing. When done properly, prophecy is God or His Son, Jesus, speaking to you through the mouth of the one giving the prophecy. When accurate, prophecy is as valid as if Jesus were standing there talking to you. Because of that, when you ask for a prophecy, make sure that you have the proper attitude about it and are ready to obey it. As you prepare yourself to receive a prophecy, think about what your attitude would be if, instead of going to someone manifesting the spirit, you were going to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and hear what he had to say to you. We want to honor the Lord by giving his word the attention it deserves. We should test them to be sure they are the words of the Lord, but if they are, then we need to give heed to them.
1 Thessalonians 5:20 and 21 (NASB)
(20) do not despise prophetic utterances.
(21) But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
The word “despise” in verse 20 is exoutheneo, which means to despise or treat with scorn, and therefore “to reject with scorn.”  If you ask for a prophecy and receive one you believe to be accurate, but do not obey it, you are rejecting it and are sinning. In the Old Testament, if someone came to the priests for information but after getting it decided not to obey what they said, he was put to death (Deut. 17:8-13). Obviously, we do not put people to death today if they ignore words of prophecy, but you can be sure that the Lord gets upset if you go to him for a prophecy and then ignore it. James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
The Lord wants to be treated the same way we do. If someone comes to you and asks for information and then ignores what you said, you would be upset. The same is true of the Lord. If you ask for a prophecy, act on it. Remember the scripture that says, “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b). When you are given a prophecy, you are being given “much,” and the Lord requires your obedience in return.
11. We must play our part in order to have prophecy come to pass. It is vital to realize that even accurate prophecies about the future do not usually come to pass automatically. We have to do something in order for them to be fulfilled. We must pray, obey, and walk in godly wisdom. This is true for revelation we receive directly from the Lord and for prophecy spoken to us. When prophecies are not fulfilled quickly, discouragement, disillusionment, and disbelief can enter our heads and hearts, and we must work hard to fight them off, continuing to have faith in the prophecy. Abraham is a great example to us because when God gave him the revelation he would have a child, “…he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Rom. 4:20). Abraham continued to have faith during the 30 years between the time God gave him the promise and when it was finally fulfilled by the birth of Isaac.
Abraham’s experience, though extreme, is not unique. David was a teenager when Samuel anointed him king, but it was not until he was 30 years old when all the tribes of Israel got together, officially recognized his kingship, anointed him, and installed him as king (2 Sam. 5:3 and 4). During those years between the promise and the fulfillment of his kingship, David was faithful to the promise of God, and led the people God gave him.
Like faith, prayer is very important in seeing prophecies come to pass. Daniel is known for his deep prayer life. When he read the prophecy of Jeremiah that the desolation of Israel would be 70 years (Dan. 9:2), his response was not, “Oh well, I’ll sit back, count the years, and the prophecy will automatically come to pass.” Daniel knew that a lot had to happen for the prophecy to be fulfilled, and that time was short. The Bible records one of the things he did: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). We need to pray that what has been revealed in prophecy will come to pass.
There are times when we must work very hard in order for a specific prophecy to come to pass. When God told the Israelites He would give them the Promised Land, they knew they had to fight battle after battle to have that prophecy come true. When a prophet anointed Jehu king of Israel, Jehu knew he had a lot of work to do to make that prophecy come to pass, especially since there already was a king of Israel that he would have to depose. He got to work immediately, and planned his strategy for success (2 Kings 9:1-14).
12. Focus on your walk, your calling, and your prophecy. An individual’s personal prophecy is the Lord speaking to him via a Christian operating the manifestation of prophecy. This is a great honor and privilege, and should be a great source of blessing, inspiration, and sometimes challenging exhortation. Occasionally, when someone gets a personal prophecy, instead of using it to improve himself and move ahead with the Lord, he sits and pouts and wishes that the Lord had said other things to him than what was actually said. Such behavior can be especially defeating if the person then listens to a prophecy that someone else received and wishes that he had the other person’s prophecy instead of the one he received, eventually becoming mentally defeated and stuck in the belief that he is no good or the Lord simply has no use for him.
There is a time for wishing and wanting something: it is when you are not walking up to your potential and you know it. That is the time to thank the Lord for the chance to live another day, make resolutions to do better, and make plans to live a more godly lifestyle. You may even want to enlist the aide of friends to help you become a more powerful and effective child of God. It is not helpful to sit and mope about what you do not have. The Lord wants us all to live at our full potential, and he stretches us in our faith and our walk. If you receive a prophecy that blesses you and excites you, wonderful! Walk out on what the Lord has revealed. If you receive a prophecy that reveals you have room to grow in your life, thank the Lord for his honesty and get about the task of growing and maturing in your Christian life. If you have fallen down or feel weak in your walk, get up and get going. The Lord will be with you to love you, support you, and bless you, but you are the one who must get up and get going. Proverbs 24:16a says, “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…”
13. It is helpful to record personal prophecies. It is a very good idea to have your personal prophecy recorded (and perhaps even written out at a later time). The primary reason for this is that we are not used to remembering what is said to us, and forget many details, especially over time. Another reason is that you may hear something that catches your attention and causes you to miss other things that are said. A third reason is that often we mishear what was actually said. Having a recording gives us the ability to go back and listen to what was said. Remember, a word or phrase may have several applications. Prophetic language is often figurative and uses analogies, similes, metaphors, etc. Sometimes going back over what was said reveals things that were missed or misunderstood. Also, it may be helpful to write the prophecies out so that they can be easily reviewed and prayed over. Many people keep a binder with prayer goals and prophecies to help them have a vision for their future and enable them to see more clearly when God works in their life.
14. Over time, a “prophetic picture” will develop from your prophecies. If you are receiving prophecies that are accurate, after a while you will begin to notice that together they paint a cohesive picture. That makes perfect sense because your gifts and callings do not change day to day. Circumstances may change, the seasons of your life may change, but your calling and ministry do not. For example, if you have evangelistic tendencies, then the Lord will be exhorting you to talk to people and work on outreach at whatever stage of life you are in. If you tend to be pastoral, the Lord will be encouraging you to help the downcast and broken people around you no matter what you are involved with in your life. Building a prophetic picture over time can help you recognize the overall will of the Lord for your life.
 For more on the ministry of a prophet, see Appendix A.
 See “Exhortation” in the Glossary.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary (AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1992), p. 606.