No one likes to be wrong. A fear of being proved wrong can affect
the presentation of prophecies. Two common ways are:
The problem with these types of words is that no one will know if
they have been fulfilled, so God is no honoured. On the other hand,
they can never be proved wrong. Giving dates is not necessary, but
listeners need to know, if the word is for the next few months
(urgent), the next few years (get prepared), or later in the century
(hope for long-term victory).
Jesus message in Matthew 24 is a wonderful example of a clear
precise prophecy. He explained,
What would happen;
When, with signs
Jesus was very clear about what would happen. The walls of the
temple would be smashed and destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled.
Jesus explained clearly why these events would happen. They would
be the consequence of the stuff described in the previous chapter.
When asked when these things would happen, he gave a very precise
answer. They would not happen immediately, but they would come in
the lifetime of most of the people listening.
Jesus gave good advice about what people should do when the
troubles started. They should flee to the mountains. Those who
heeded this warning were kept safe (Acts 4:36-37).
Jesus also gave a couple of signs that would show them when the
time to action was close (Jerusalem surrounded by an army). This
prophecy was fulfilled, too.
Jesus also warned them not to be deceived by wars, famines,
earthquakes and false religions. These types of event are ubiquitous
in every age, so they are not a sign of anything, except that a
people have lost the blessing of God.
When asked about the second coming, Jesus said two things. First
he did not know when it would happen. Second, there would be no
signs of the second coming. It would occur when life was going on as
normal on earth, so most people including Christians will not be
Jesus also explained that this lack of signs does not matter. He
told several parables, which explain what they should do. “Get on
with doing the job you are called to do, so you will be ready when
This is all very clear and precise, and gave Jesus listeners
everything that they needed to know. Nothing is missing. No
unanswered questions. But many Christians cannot accept Jesus’
clear precise message and turn it into something confusing, with
multiple fulfilments, so that they can get what they want.
They ignore Jesus’ statement that there will be signs for
the second coming and try to find signs.
They ignore Jesus’ statement that he does not know the day
and the hour, and claim that they can know the month and the year
and the season.
They ignore Jesus’ explanation that famines, earthquakes
and wars are common in every unrighteous generation, and turn them
into the true signs of the second coming.
No wonder many Christians are confused.
Every prophet should be aiming for clear precise prophecy. This
is not easy, but it is a goal to aspire to. The church has been
crippled by too much prophetic mush.
Spontaneous v Deliberate
Precision is an important value for prophetic people, because
truth is important and there has been too much prophetic mush
masquerading as prophetic truth.
The modern church tends to assume that spontaneous prophecy is
more accurate. This is also a crossover from the gift of prophecy,
where spontaneity is the norm. However, there is nothing in the
scriptures that says that that a spontaneous prophecy is superior to
one that is pondered for a time and edited to sharpen the delivery
of the message.
The Holy Spirit can do both spontaneous and deliberate, and he is
free to choose how he will operate in any situation. To shake us out
of our comfort zones, he will sometimes be spontaneous, when we want
to be deliberate, and he will often be more deliberate, when we want
to be spontaneous.
The benefit of a spontaneous word is that the Holy Spirit can
drop it into our hearts unexpectedly, before our minds get going and
before the flesh starts getting in the way. This is fine for
beginners, but it not the basis for developing into a prophetic
ministry. The person who wants to be used by God in prophecy must
learn to quiet their minds and put their flesh to death. They must
learn to distinguish between their own thoughts and the voice of the
Spirit. This is difficult and takes time, but essential for
developing a prophetic gifting. Relying on the Holy Spirit to beat
our minds with spontaneous words is not a long-term solution.
The Holy Spirit loves to surprise us, so he will continue to give
us words when we are not expecting it, but we must never fall into
the trap of thinking that spontaneous words are superior to those
that are received in a more deliberate, careful process. Clinging to
the spontaneous will keep us locked in immaturity. Those who want to
be used in prophecy will need to work hard at learning to shut out
their own mind and flesh and deliberately and carefully seek the
words of the Lord.
Sometimes precision is worth waiting for.
Pearls take time to polish:
Mush tends to gush in a flush.
“Rapid fire” prophecy is not superior to a quieter, more
Many prophecies would be clearer, if they were reviewed and
edited by the prophet and other prophetic people. Many prophecies
are spot on for the first few sentences, but then the speaker loses
the plot towards the end. Someone should probably have put the
editor’s pencil through the last few sentences.
Seeing in Part
1 Cor 13:9-12 is often used as an excuse for mediocre prophecy.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when
completeness comes, what is in part disappears…..For now we see
only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
Paul is explaining our human situation, not providing an excuse
for weak prophecy. We see in part, because God does not reveal
everything to his people. He only gives each person the small part
that he wants them to have.
The common saying that we always see through a “dark glass”.
That is not what Paul is saying. He is actually explaining the
difference between our situation now and that in the next life.
Because we live in the physical world, we miss most of the important
spiritual stuff that is going in. Human minds just cannot comprehend
the reality of the new heaven and new earth.
The Lord speaks clearly. He only gives us each person a small
part of the big picture, be he gives it to us very clearly. Because,
we are human, we may not always receive it as clearly as he has
given it, but often if our heart is right, we do. We can often get
our small part of his total revelation very clearly.
The prophet’s role is to share their part clearly, not explain
to explain all parts dimly. If all the prophets give their part
clearly, God’s people will get what we need. If every prophet give
the entire picture dimly, we will just get confusion.
Explain what to Do
Many prophets are warning of future disastrous events, but very
few are explaining what God is doing and how he will work through
these events to bring change. A related problem is that many
Christians enjoy warnings of judgement on the world, but they are
less enthusiastic about strategies that would require them to take
action to bring in the victory of God.
God does not cause troubles and calamities; they are rooted in
human evil or folly with a bit of demonic mischief thrown in. During
a judgement, God takes this human mess and works it for good to
achieve his purposes. One role of the prophet is to warn of troubles
before they come, so God’s people can prepare. Their more
important task is to explain what God is doing through the event, so
his people can participate in his purposes. Prophets can only
accomplish the latter task, if they are standing outside the dark
cloud of human events and seeing with the eyes of Jesus.
When a prophet receives a warning of a calamitous event, their
task has just begun. The next step is to find out what God plans to
achieve through the event, and his strategy for the people who want
to participate in his purposes during that event.
According to Romans12:6, Christians with the gift of prophesying
should prophesy in proportion to their faith. When a nation is in
decline and has lost the blessing of God, prophesying judgment does
not take much faith. Prophesying the strategy by which God will use
the judgement to change the nation and bring a great victory for his
cause takes much more faith. That is a challenge for modern
Mixing Prophecy and Application
A prophecy and its application must not be confused. The
application of a prophecy can be unclear, especially if it is
intended for a different person or a different time, or the
listeners have hard hearts. The prophecy itself should be clear and
This principle is evident from the scriptures. The application of
many prophecies is unclear. Often the application is not clear until
they have been fulfilled. This is also true of Revelation. Much of
the application of this book is still not clear.
The prophetic word itself is always very clear and precise. The
prophets did not just dictate what they heard the Holy Spirit
saying, like automatons. They received a revelation from God and
wrote down or spoke what they had received. It is clear that what
they wrote is very carefully honed. Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is
presented as poetry. John recorded the revelations he received on
Patmos with an amazing economy of words, yet what he saw is vividly
and precisely described.
Jesus never rambled. The beatitudes themselves are amazingly
precise and clear. The application of them is much more difficult.
Jesus could tell an complicated parable in just a few words, because
his communication was precise and clear. His listeners understood
the story clearly, their problem was with the application.
Isaiah 53 is a good example. The application of this prophecy was
totally unclear, until Jesus had died on the cross. However, the
prophecy itself was very clear and precise. Reading now, it is clear
that every word was important and is exactly where the Holy Spirit
wanted it to be.
Many modern prophets are quite different. They often ramble and
their messages are often confused and vague. Quantity of words often
seems to be more important than quality. When I look at the
prophecies on the various prophetic websites, I find that many of
them to be ambiguous and imprecise. Vague words benefit the prophet,
because it means that no one can prove that they have spoken a word
that is not true. With some prophecies that are said to be
fulfilled, it is hard to be sure, because the wording is so loose
that you could drive a truck through it.
I am sure that many of these people have received a revelation.
They have just not taken the trouble to hone the word and ensure
that they are communicating what they have received precisely and
accurately. If prophecy is going to be taken seriously, prophetic
people will need to communicate much more clearly.
The biblical prophets were very precise and clear in the way they
wrote and spoke their words. They knew they would quite likely be
misunderstood by a people with hardened hearts, so they made sure
that they did not give them and excuse, by speaking vaguely. The
application of a prophecy will often be unclear. People with
hardened hearts will just not get it, but that is not an excuse for
prophets to be lazy with their presentation. I am not surprised that
much modern prophecy is ignored, because the wording is often just
The Holy Spirit often shows the prophet an image or a vision.
This is just another way of communicating. God uses images just to
strengthen the power of communication, because audio-visual
communication is often more effective that written words.
God does not speak in images just to suit the learning style of
the seer. He communicates this way for the benefit of all his
people, so the images are not the property of the seer.
If a Christian has been given words or shown images by the Holy
Spirit, the vision should be recorded as accurately as possible.
This is what the biblical prophets did. Daniel and John described
what they saw (sometimes not very well, because human language was
not up to it).
The Christian should pray about whether and when to share the
vision. Often the Lord does not give permission to share until some
time after the vision is received. Receiving a vision does not
constitute permission to share.
Once permission to share has been given, the vision should be
described as accurately possible. The best practice is to describe
what was seen “I saw…..” Any contextual information or
interpretation should presented separately. “I believe this means…”
This approach has several benefits.
Other Christians can test the seer’s seeing (Maybe he ate
too much ketchup with his fries last night).
Readers are encouraged to think about the nature of what the
seer has seen,
(a) an exact description of what will happen (1 Kings 22:17),
(b) symbolic of real entity like Daniel’s beast, or
(c) a symbolic presentation of a spiritual truth like Amos’s
lion hiding in the thicket (Amos 3:5).
Seers often confuse these three different types of seeing when
interpreting what they have seen.
People can then apply what the seer has seen to their
situation. It may be different from the seer’s.
Readers are free to decide about the timing of the fulfilment,
because that is not usually contained in the vision.
Readers can test the interpretation of the vision. Sometimes
another people will provide a better interpretation of a dream and
vision than the seer. Daniel understood the meaning of
Nebuchadnezzar's dream better than he did. Some seers are not gifted
at interpretations of visions.
In these experiences distinguishing what the Sprit is showing
from what the person already know is difficult, but it is also
really important. Just as it can be difficult to distinguish the
voice of the Spirit from the words that pop out of our mind.
However, learning to distinguish the two is critical for sharpening
the prophetic gifting. Unfortunately many prophetic people do not
If the seer has struggled to distinguish the two, there is
nothing wrong with saying that to the readers. It does not diminish
a gifting to be humble. The Holy Spirit is capable of highlighting
what he wants people to see or hear (that should not be taken as an
excuse for prophetic laziness).
This article (Commando
Vision) is a really good example of
describing a vision badly. I received this vision in 1978. The text
at the link is what I wrote down at the time. You will see that is
not clear description of what I actually saw. A little bit of
description is all mixed up with my interpretation of what it meant.
I still believe my interpretation was correct, but because it is all
mixed up the vision, and because I did not fully describe what I
saw, much of the impact was lost and the message totally
misunderstood. The vision was all about commando units and getting
prepared for something that happen. Readers assumed that it was all
about an economic crisis and started looking for it, while doing
nothing to prepare.
If I had described accurately what I had seen, the importance of
the commando army would have come through much clearly, because that
was the way that the Holy Spirit structured the vision. If I had
kept the interpretation separate, it would have supported
understanding of the vision, rather than distorting it.
The safest way to keep the description of vision accurate is to
write it down as soon as it is received. If too much time passes by,
the memory dims and extraneous stuff can creep into the description
of the vision.
Vision and Context
God speaks into the context of our experience. He uses the
images, words and places with which we are familiar when he does
speak to us. When prophets communicate their words, they used words
and images with which their listeners are familiar. All the prophets
Sometimes God gives a seer a vision that goes beyond familiar
words and images. The seen has to translate what he saw using the
words and images with which he was familiar. John’s Revelation is
a good example of this. Here is a description of something he saw.
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in
heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the
appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald
encircled the throne (Rev 4:2-3).
I doubt that John saw jaspars, rubies and emeralds. These are
physical things and John had been given a glimpse into the spiritual
world. He saw things that were beyond is earthly experience, so he
was trying to describe the indescribable. He used images of the most
beautiful things he knew to describe the wonder of the spiritual
world, but this is just a hint of its glory.
The biblical prophets used everyday language and context to
describe what they saw, but they were also very clear about what was
a revelation from God and what was a description of their response
or their experience.
There are two situations with regard to timing in the scriptures.
Some prophecies are conditional, so there is no time attached
In other situations, God is very precise about time.
Therefore we cannot just give up on timing. We actually need to
do it better.
When a revelation comes, the prophetic should ask four questions.
When is the revelation to be communicated?
How is to be communicated?
Is it conditional or does it have a specific timing?
What is the timing?
The need for question 4 depends on the answer to question 3.
The reality is that we do not have a full revelation until we
have the answers to all these questions. People get so excited about
getting a revelation that they forget to press in and get the rest.
They stop before they have the lot.
For the prophecies recorded in the scriptures, the Holy Spirit
has to cover the whole of history. So of course many of the
prophecies were for times way in the future that the prophet did not
have a clue about. The Holy Spirit will give the timing when the
timing is right. We are not in the situation of those prophets, so
their experience does not give us an excuse to put timing tin the
too hard basket.
If Christian prophets want to be taken seriously, they will have
to do much better on timing. Being vague about timing is really just
a “cop out”. Statements like "About this time tomorrow
things are going to change" by people who like “feel good
fuzzies” are all over the internet. They arrive in spam every day.
God can do better than that. God will not always give precise
timings, but we need to be sure that it is not because we have not
pressed in to get the full revelation.
Publishing Dreams and Visions
When publishing a dream and a vision, it is important to separate
the dream or vision from the interpretation. If the Lord gave some
interpretation during the dream, then that should be spelt out
The person who had the dream or vision knows what they saw, so
there cannot be any debate about the content. They should know what
they saw. However, there can be debate about whether the dream came
from God, or the forces of evil, or was just the working of the
dreamers mind. Dreams and vision should be tested by the body of
Christ to establish that they have come from God.
Unless the Holy Spirit gives a specific interpretation and
application during the dream or vision, the interpretation of a
dream or vision can be open to debate. Sometimes the person who
receives the dream or vision may not be the best person to provide
interpretation. Joseph and Daniel were prophetic people who were
skilled in interpreting the dreams of other people.
With many dreams and visions on prophetic websites, the person
has received a valid revelation, but seems to have the
interpretation wrong. In these situations, someone else in the body
of the Christ may have the interpretation. If the interpretation is
mixed up with published account of the dream, it becomes difficult
to suggest an alternative interpretation, without questioning the
inspiration of what has been published.
The best practice is to record accurately the dream and vision as
received, and then give the interpretation separately. This was
Daniels approach in Daniel 7 and 8. In the first part of the chapter
he describes what he saw. He then gives the interpretation that was
given to him by the angel. Not only did he keep the description and
the interpretation separate, he did not give his own interpretation
or application at all.
The book of Revelation is similar. John recorded all that he saw
very carefully and precisely. He rarely gives any interpretation
(except for stars are angels, lamp stands are churches, waters are
people, heads are kings, hills are kings). I presume that the Holy
Spirit did not give John the interpretation, so he did not give it.
Most Christians who have a dream or vision to share seem to feel
bound to give the interpretation and application at the same time.
Moreover, the content and the interpretation are often mixed up
together, which makes it hard to assess the source of the dream. It
also makes it hard to assess the interpretation. Likewise if the
dream or vision is not described clearly without interpretation, it
is very difficult for a person who is gifted in interpreting dreams
and visions to give an alternative vision, because they do not have
all the material that they need.
A prophecy must be delivered in the right attitude. We must speak the
truth in love. An incorrect attitude nullifies the truth of the word.
Many true prophecies have been made false, because they have been spoken
in a harsh or critical attitude.
A prophecy must be delivered in the right attitude. We must speak the
truth in love. An incorrect attitude nullifies the truth of the word.
Many true prophecies have been made false, because they have been spoken in
a harsh or critical attitude.