Prophecy vs. Words of Knowledge

Views down Lathrop Canyon to Airport Tower, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Views down Lathrop Canyon to Airport Tower, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

In the circles that I tend to hang with, there’s an emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit – including prophecy.  It is amazing to watch (and experience) how heaven touches earth when the Spirit of God speaks through a person to touch another believer.  It’s a word in season (Proverbs 15:23), encouragement that God knows them and everything about them (Psalm 139), strength imparted to go on (1 Corinthians 14:3), and comfort to their minds and souls (1 Corinthians 14:3).

Little waterfalls in Havana Glen, New York
Little waterfalls in Havana Glen, New York

There’s a fine line between what we call “prophecy” today and what might be better defined as “Words of Knowledge.”  Some would say that a word of knowledge is when you tell a person something they already know – like the situation they find themselves in (but the person prophesying doesn’t know – if they know already, then it’s not a gift of the Spirit, it’s physically-gained knowledge).  A prophecy would be something that the person doesn’t know or is unsure of – like how God is going to deliver them from this situation.

Views from 12 O'clock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
Views from 12 O’clock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Let me give you an example from one of the very first times I saw this in action as a child.  The preacher approached a couple (who I did not know, nor did he) and told them that their son was estranged from them.  This, they acknowledged, was true – it could be classified as a word of knowledge.  The preacher went on to tell them that their son would return to Christ and to them by Christmas of that year.  That’s a prophecy – the couple didn’t know when or if their son would come home, let alone find God again.

Eagle's Rest Peak over Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Eagle’s Rest Peak over Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

As it happened, my parents did know the couple, and we happened to meet up with them about 18 months later.  They ecstatically told us that their son had come home by Christmas, just as God has spoken to them through this preacher, and that he and his girlfriend (or wife?  I forget) were both totally on fire for Jesus.

Hiking across the desert en route to Keane Spring, Death Valley National Park, California
Hiking across the desert en route to Keane Spring, Death Valley National Park, California

Because of the emphasis on prophecy in some of the circles that I’ve been in, I’ve seen people try to use the gift of words of knowledge (as defined above) to inspire prophecy.  The trouble is that it only works when you have God’s perspective on the word of knowledge.  Let me explain.

Working our way up the Lava Falls Route, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

If you’re decerning what’s going on in someone’s life in order to prophesy to them, you’re very likely decerning what they’re going through, thinking, believing, etc.  If someone believes that they’re worthless, you’ll probably pick up on that.  If someone’s dream is to become a dancer, you’ll probably feel that, too.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  But if you then try to prophesy without hearing God’s heart on their own beliefs and situations, you’re just going to tell them what’s in their heart instead of God’s view on it.

Flowers at the Willowwood Arboretum, Chester, New Jersey
Flowers at the Willowwood Arboretum, Chester, New Jersey

The prophet Samuel told Saul, “I will tell you all that is in your heart” (1 Samuel 9:19).  At that time, Saul believed that he was very insignificant – later, he hid among the luggage so no one could find him to make him king.  If Samuel had only told Saul what he believed and his current situation, Samuel would have said something like, “You’re small and insignificant.  But God can still use you.”  Instead, he said to Saul, “To whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” (1 Samuel 9:20).

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Words of knowledge and decerning where people are at is great.  But we can’t afford to tell people what is in their hearts without also telling them what is in God’s heart for them.  Paul wrote, “One who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them” (1 Corinthians 14:3).  Don’t give in to the pressure to prophesy just what you sense – get God’s perspective on what you’re sensing, and you’ll be able to prophesy what God is saying to them beyond just the person’s current perspective on their situation.