"Yes, even on My servants and handmaids I will pour out a portion of My Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy." Acts 2:18; Joel 3:1
The Lord commands us to set our "hearts on spiritual gifts above all, the gift of prophecy" (1 Cor 14:1). We may or may not have the gift of prophecy but we are obligated to seek it eagerly. Prophecy is part of the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20). He or she "who prophesies builds up the Church" (1 Cor 14:4). A prophet speaks to the Church for its upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (1 Cor 14:3). Prophecy is one of the ministries that equips the saints to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12). "Without prophecy the people become demoralized" (Prv 29:18). "Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants, the prophets" (Am 3:7). Without a prophet, we don't know what to do (1 Mc 4:46). Without prophecy, we remain dead, dry bones (Ez 37:4). If we despise prophecy, we stifle the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19-20). "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" (Nm 11:29) Would that all the people at least seek above all the gift of prophecy!
JESUS THE PROPHET
"Some in the crowd who heard these words began to say, 'This must be the Prophet.' " John 7:40
Moses prophesied: "The Lord God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own kinsmen: you shall listen to Him in everything He says to you. Anyone who does not listen to that Prophet shall be ruthlessly cut off from the people" (Acts 3:22-23; Dt 18:15-18). Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses' prophecy. He is the Prophet. "When the people saw the sign He had performed they began to say, 'This is undoubtedly the Prophet Who is to come into the world' " (Jn 6:14). As Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, "the crowd kept answering, 'This is the Prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee' " (Mt 21:11). Through Baptism we are in Christ Jesus and share in His priesthood, kingship, and ministry of prophecy (Catechism, 897). Some Christians also have a special gift of the Holy Spirit, the charism of prophecy.
WHAT IS PROPHECY?
The Lord said: "To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak." Jeremiah 1:7
Because Jesus is the Prophet and we are obliged to set our hearts on the charism of prophecy above all other gifts, we must know what prophecy is. Prophecy is to deliver a message from someone, to speak on behalf of another person. For example, Aaron was Moses' prophet (Ex 7:1). But usually prophecy is speaking on behalf of God. Prophecy can refer to the past, present, or future whatever God is saying. It can be a simple "Hello" or a profound revelation.
Prophets receive prophecy through God's word (Dn 9:2ff) and in communal worship (Acts 13:2; 2 Chr 20:13-14), personal prayer (Jer 23:22), the experiences of everyday life (Jer 1:11-13), or dreams and visions (Nm 12:6).
Prophecy can be given in the form of blunt statements, preaching, symbolic actions, dramas, and even songs (Ez 33:32). Most Biblical prophecy is in the form of poetry.
A prophet needs the help of those with the gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor 12:10). We must test the spirits of the prophets to see if they are of God (1 Jn 4:1). No prophetic interpretation is an individual matter (2 Pt 1:20). The prophetic spirit must give witness to Jesus (Rv 19:10), be confirmed by the universal Church (see 1 Tm 3:15) and be in accord with the Bible (Dt 13:2ff).
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY
"While I was prophesying, Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah, died. I fell prone and cried out in a loud voice: 'Alas, Lord God! will You utterly wipe out what remains of Israel?' " Ezekiel 11:13
Prophecy in the Old Testament was more associated with death than life. Prophets were first thought of as seers (1 Sm 9:9), but became primarily watchmen (Ez 3:17; 33:7). When Yahweh inspired them to speak, they usually spoke a warning. The Lord "smote them through the prophets" (Hos 6:5). Jeremiah complained: "Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message" (Jer 20:8). There were different rules for testing prophecies of peace since they were out of the ordinary. Jeremiah explained: "From of old, the prophets who were before you and me prophesied war, woe, and pestilence against many lands and mighty kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as truly sent by the Lord only when his prophetic prediction is fulfilled" (Jer 28:8-9). Most Old Testament prophesies are against rather than for (See Jer 25:30; 26:12; Ez 4:7; 6:2; 11:4; 13:2; 21:2; 28:21; 29:2; 32:2; 34:2; 35:2; 36:1ff, to name only a few). The very name of a prophet would be enough to upset you. For example, the English expression "egad!" refers to the Old Testament prophet, Gad (1 Sm 22:5). When Gad arrived, you knew you had the choice of bad, worse, or worst (see 2 Sm 24:11).
Old Testament prophecy was not limited to warnings of gloom and doom. Prophets guided (2 Kgs 22:14), reformed (1 Kgs 18:21ff; 2 Chr 15:8), rebuilt (see Haggai and Zechariah), and even healed (2 Kgs 5:3; 20:11). They anointed and empowered leaders (1 Kgs 11:29ff; 2 Kgs 9:6ff) and brought about victory in warfare (2 Chr 20:14; 2 Kgs 6:18; 1 Kgs 20:13). The Lord raised up more prophets before times of catastrophe. Prophets were signs of God's mercy and of hope. However, because of the people's sins, the prophets of the Old Testament were associated more with destruction than construction, with death rather than with life.
NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY
"Happy is the man who reads this prophetic message, and happy are those who hear it and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near!" Revelation 1:3
The Old Testament prophets spoke of a time when prophecy would be used to bring about restoration, God's glory, and peace. For example, Jeremiah prophesied: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope" (Jer 29:11). This prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. After Him, prophecy is primarily for our upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (1 Cor 14:3). There are still the strident calls for repentance and the laying bare of the secrets of the hearts (1 Cor 14:24-25). For example, John the Baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance (Lk 3:3), and Agabus prophesied a worldwide famine and Paul's imprisonment (Acts 11:28; 21:11). However, for the most part, New Testament prophecy elicited praise (Lk 2:36-38) and happiness (Rv 1:3). It encouraged and empowered the believer to take bold initiatives for the Lord (Acts 13:1ff; 1 Tm 1:18; 4:14). New Testament prophecy was not in a defensive posture but an offensive one, building the kingdom of God and attacking the gates of hell (Mt 16:18).
"And whether they heed or resist for they are a rebellious house they shall know that a prophet has been among them." Ezekiel 2:5
The new wine of prophecy needs a new wineskin (Lk 5:37), a new life-style that will not stifle the Spirit and will shout out the prophetic message. In the Bible the Lord gives the following five characteristics of a prophetic life-style. Moreover, sometimes our life-style is not only the context for prophecy, but it is the prophecy (see Jer 15:17; 16:2, 5, 8; Hos 1; Ez 24:16).
- FAITH The gift of prophecy should be exercised in proportion to the prophet's faith (Rm 12:6). Otherwise, the prophet will not have hope to endure and initiative to build God's kingdom. "Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for" (Heb 11:1).
- OBEDIENCE Prophets obey or die (1 Kgs 13:9ff; Jer 28:17; Mic 3:5-6). The Lord will declare to the prophets who have not obeyed His will: "I never knew you. Out of My sight, you evildoers!" (Mt 7:23)
- LOVE Prophets proclaim a hard word not from bitterness but from "tough love." They love enough to tell us the truth (Eph 4:15). "If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries, if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor 13:2).
- BOLDNESS Prophets are called to public witness, often in the midst of great hostility. They are often called to do "strange" things at the worst places (e.g. Is 20:2; Jer 19:14; Ez 4 ∓ 5). They can fulfill their ministry only with a supernatural boldness.
- COMMUNITY Because prophets are in the middle of a spiritual war, there is no such thing as a "Lone Ranger" prophet. Prophets live in bands of disciples (1 Sm 10:5; Jn 1:35). Some prophetic messages can be fully under- stood and expressed only by a group.
DO I HAVE THE GIFT OF PROPHECY?
"The Spirit we have received is not the world's spirit but God's Spirit, helping us to recognize the gifts He has given us." 1 Corinthians 2:12
God promises that "prophecy is given to one" while to another other gifts are given (1 Cor 12:10). Not all receive the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:29), but enough people receive the gift to make it necessary to take turns in giving prophecies (1 Cor 14:31). To determine if you have the gift of prophecy:
- Pray. The Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are given to those who ask the Father (Lk 11:13).
- Obey. God's word warns: "But if a prophet presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die" (Dt 18:20). This may scare us into never prophesying unless we're absolutely certain of the calling. On the other hand, the Lord does not want us to disobey Him by refusing to prophesy because of fear. Therefore, if you sense the Lord may be calling you to prophesy, obey.
- Ask the leaders of your Christian community whether they believe you have the gift of prophecy. If you're not in a viable Christian community, try to make the best of what you have. Ask these leaders to pray over you for the gift of prophecy (1 Kgs 19:16).
- Look at the fruits of your prophecies after several months (Mt 7:20). If your prophecies prove to be true and build up the Church, then you are a prophet (Dt 18:22).
- Most of all, live your baptismal sharing in Jesus' ministry of prophecy (See the Catechism for details, 904-907).
DO I WANT THE GIFT OF PROPHECY?
"I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones." Jeremiah 20:9
The main question is not: "Do I have the gift of prophecy?" This usually becomes obvious in time. The practical question is: "Do I want the gift of prophecy?"
"No prophet gains acceptance in his native place" (Lk 4:24), but is usually sent to his native place. If you are a prophet, your neighbors will not accept you. Very likely, your family will oppose you. "If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, 'You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.' When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through" (Zec 13:3). The government will try to kill you (1 Kgs 18:4). Look what Herod did to John the Baptizer (Mk 6:19ff). Even the church would just as soon have you disappear (Am 7:12). People who should benefit from your prophecy won't appreciate you either. They will command you not to prophesy (Mic 2:6; Am 2:12) and call you a fool (Hos 9:7). They will not want the truth but seek prophets and teachers who tickle their ears (2 Tm 4:3). "They say to the seers, 'Have no visions'; to the prophets, 'Do not descry for us what is right; speak flatteries to us, conjure up illusions. Out of the way! Out of our path! Let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel' " (Is 30:10-11).
With this kind of negative reaction, hatred, and threat of death, we would naturally be unwilling to set our hearts on prophecy. That's why the Lord commands us to do so (1 Cor 14:1). Only love for God can be stronger than fear and selfishness (1 Jn 4:18; Gal 1:10). You can see why a prophet might say: "I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil" (Zec 13:5). Or why Jeremiah complains: "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; You were too strong for me, and You triumphed" (Jer 20:7). Ultimately, we want the gift of prophecy because the Lord wants us to want it, and we love Him more than self or life.
Nihil obstat:Reverend Robert L. Hagedorn, June 9, 1999.
Imprimatur: Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, June 14, 1999.