Below are some things I’ve learned as I’ve desired to practice the command to ‘prophesy’ in the new covenant, as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14. When I first started attending with the small fellowship that would eventually become NCCF, we met in a home and we would take turns sharing what the Lord had been speaking to us personally. In this, we had a burden from the beginning to practice all that was written in 1 Corinthians 14, to build each other up in the Lord (Eph 4:16), and it set a good foundation for us in fellowship as we sought to practice it every week.
1 Cor 14:39 "Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy..."
1. Definition – 1 Cor 14:3 - Prophesy speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation (encourage/strengthen/comfort (NLT)). This is the definition of new covenant prophesy. Heb 3:13 calls to encourage one another and lift them up in love. Focus on encouragement primarily first. The goal is to lift people up, pick up discouraged people – that is the best way to keep people from being hardened by sin as Hebrews 3:13 says. If we can learn to do that well, then the Lord can also speak words that will challenge/exhort/convict of sin at the right time too. Prophesy is better than the gift of speaking in tongues because it edifies others in the Church whereas speaking in tongues edifies only the one doing it (1 Cor 14:4).
2. Prophesy is for everybody – we can all aim to have and grow in the gift of prophesying. 1 Cor 14:31 - every person in the church can prophesy one by one. It’s not just for men, sisters can as well (1 Corinthians 11 says that when they do this, they must have their heads covered, which is to emphasize that God’s glory is what we want to stand out in the church, not man’s glory (1 Cor 11:7)).
3. Keep it personal – when preparing a word, keep it from personal experience and NOT THEORY. Jesus always spoke about only what He first practiced (Acts 1:1 talks of all that Jesus DID ['did' comes first] and then taught [taught comes second]). Beware of theory! Even if there is nothing new to share, it is better to repeat what you may have already shared than share something you haven’t experienced in your life. The authority in Christ comes from a life that is lived in Him. When studying the word of God, we need to study it for our own life and not merely in order to share something to others. Sometimes it helps me to keep a personal situation in mind and seek the Lord to speak on what He taught me through that, even if I don’t necessarily share the specific experience itself.
4. Have a heart of humility – do not share with self-confidence and preach AT people. I do not want to give others the impression I have everything figured out, but only prophesy according to the level of my faith (Rom 12:6). Let me always speak with a heart of humility, lifting Jesus up. John 12:32 – when Jesus is lifted up, that’s when others are drawn to Him (not when we ourselves are lifted up). I’ve said many wrong things in the past that I can remember, but the ones I regret the most that disgust me even to think about, are the ones I’ve shared with pride. Having failed in that area, it makes me often to pray beforehand that the Lord will help me have a heart of humility when speaking His Word.
5. Put no confidence in the flesh – Phil 3:3 we are the true circumcision who put not confidence in the flesh. If we lack the ability or confidence to speak publicly, let us not shrink back but seek the Lord to strengthen us. If we do have the natural ability to speak publicly let us not rely on it but always depend on the Lord to strengthen us, not on our own natural abilities. They key is faith and dependence on the Lord in both cases.
6. Prepare and Pray – Pray ahead of time, asking God to make it a rich time, asking for wisdom on what to share (James 1:5), and for the Holy Spirit to fill us as we speak, to speak with the right spirit and motives (Luke 11:13).
It’s also good to make it a practice to pray afterward as well, that any seed sown would fall on good ground and that folks would be blessed, and that the Lord would keep us from pride if others appreciate what we share, and that He would keep us from discouragement if nobody seemed to be blessed by what we share. What matters is if we spoke what the Lord wanted us to speak, and spoke it with humility. If we did that then He will have been blessed, and that’s what matters most.
7. Spend time preparing – In general, especially for those who have struggles speaking (staying organized, staying on time, staying on point, etc), it is good to write down what you would share to stay on point and to stay on time. Put in hard work beforehand, the Bible says we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Proverbs 13:4 the soul of the diligent will be made fat. God rewards the hard work we put in. 1 Cor 14:40 – “all things are done properly and in order” – God desires order, so we must desire to speak clearly and orderly.
Also, we want to be presenting God’s Word in a way that people can receive it well and is engaging, just as a chef would work to prepare a meal so people can digest it easier (rather than putting all foods in a blender and giving them that). So we want to prepare for that too. But this does not mean that things always have to be a great new insight that we’ve seen. We should be willing to repeat something if the Lord wants us to. And even if what the Lord has laid on our hearts does not seem super exciting, if we are confident that we are sharing (to the best of our knowledge) what God wants us to share, we can be satisfied that we were in His will, and the Lord will be pleased.
8. Keep it simple – Jesus was so simple when He spoke – He was so practical and easy to understand. Sometimes the truth can be lost in someone’s intellect and oratory skills. We should speak in a manner that even a child can understand and get something out of it.
9. Know when to stop – Jesus did not drag on and on – The Sermon on mount was about 15 or 20 minutes if you read through it. God can deliver a good word in a short time! Speaking too long makes it harder for people to digest and loses their attention – it’s about quality and not quantity. Eccl 6:11 “The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?” (NLT) Only a few people have the ability to hold people's attention for an extended period of time. We have to be honest with ourselves, and it's better to speak shorter until the Lord gives us freedom to speak longer, than to speak too long and have people looking at their watches and losing interest, and then we have to be corrected by someone later (Luke 14:8-11).
10. Do not fear or be timid but be bold – 2 Tim 1:7 God has not given us a spirit of timidity/fear but of boldness. We can be bold not because of who we are but because of who He is, and what we've seen Him do in our own lives. God can take even our imperfections and use them. If we do the little we can, God will do what we can’t and bless the time. If we are simply faithful to fill the barrels with water, then the Lord will turn them to wine (John 2). This is where our confidence comes, we don’t have to have a false humility of “I’m not sure God can bless anyone through what I share.”
11. Aim for Prophesy from the heart and not teaching from the head – the Bible says anyone can prophesy (1 Cor 14:31) but not all can be teachers (1 Cor 12:29). Am I lifting up my brothers and sisters to walk closer to the Lord, or am I aiming to teach? Teaching is important, but few people are teachers, and unless God has clearly given someone that calling, we should be careful, because 1 Cor 8:1 says, Knowledge makes us arrogant. Knowledge if not handled in the right way can make us look down on others like the Pharisees. It’s not just what we are saying that is important, but how we are saying it (with what motive). A wrong motive in prophecy where it doesn’t have the good of others in mind may tend to focus on knowledge, doctrine, or other things that can stimulate the mind and are fun to think about. But the right motive is to desire to get under people and lift them up and challenge them, for their spiritual good.
12. Eagerly seek the gift of prophesy out of love of others – 1 Corinthians 13 – Do everything from love - The best act without love is worthless. 1 Cor 14:1 Love should be the highest goal – seek for the gift of prophesy out of love for the church, a desire to build others up to help them. This should be our motive always. “Two things a servant of God must have in their heart: 1. God’s Word, 2. God’s people” – Zac Poonen
13. Prophesy often, even in personal conversations – Prophecy does not only mean when one is speaking to the whole church at one time. For most people, it may primarily be in conversations with one or two others. Maybe it’s encouraging someone over a phone call or text message, or at someone’s home outside of Sunday – to a person’s spouse or children, etc. Encouragement is prophecy, and we can encourage people every day (Hebrews 3:13), which will help keep the people we love from being hardened by sin. If we want to bless others this is how we can do it, keeping our eyes open for opportunities. If we feel the Lord spoke to us something that will bless someone else, we can share it with them. But sometimes it may not be the right time to share (Prov 27:14), for example if my wife is asleep early in the morning it's better to let her finish her sleep first! But we can write it down so we don't forget and share it with the other person later - not only the right word but also giving it at the right time will bring the most blessing to someone else (Prov 15:23).