In my recent book I defined a worldview as “The lens through which we view and interpret reality.” Here I am going to apply that to a verse of scripture. I have provided the verse in two different translations.
3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NKJV)
3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NIV)
Personal prophecies or personal prophetic words are very prevalent in some segments of the church. Personally, I highly value them and have a running record of many I have received over the years so I can reflect on them and pray regarding them. I find them encouraging and some very challenging.
When we are speaking prophetic words to others we are seeking to hear from and be led by the Holy Spirit. Our words and actions should be a reflection and extension of His words and actions as He speaks to us to build, encourage and comfort. To that end I will address their application.
The lens through which we view personal prophetic words determines how we respond to 1 Corinthians 14:3. One lens I have actually heard applied on more than one occasion is the teaching that prophecy is always given to encourage and comfort (make us feel good) so we can assess the veracity of prophetic words by how they make us feel. I see that as a well intended but at times misguided application of the verse so I will demonstrate the application of 1 Corinthians 14:3 through an example.
The church is often compared to a building so I will use a construction analogy to demonstrate how to understand and apply this verse. Imagine we are building a house and you are my foreman. At one point my job is to install and wire the plugins in a bedroom. You come along and notice two things. First, I have placed the plugins at the correct height, second, I have attached them to the studs beautifully. There is only one issue, I have installed them where the closet is going to go, making them inaccessible and of no use.
Consider your response. Our larger purpose is building the house. I clearly have useful skills that will make the final product a thing of beauty. You can encourage me by pointing out the skills I have demonstrated, tell me I have done it all wrong and that I need to move the plugins, or embrace a third option. You can point out the skills you see that I have demonstrated but also point out my error in placement so that I can better apply my skills in the future.
I see the third option as how prophecy is to be applied. We can encourage others by highlighting what they do well, be it demonstrating passion, perseverance or some other attribute but then directing or redirecting the application of that attribute so that it builds His body.
Sticking with this example, suppose you come along and find that I have not only installed the plug ins with excellence but they are exactly where they are supposed to be. You could observe and leave or you may be led by the Spirit to not only point out the quality of my work but also prophetically speak into a higher calling you see in my life to be a better builder. This is another example of 1 Corinthians 14:3 in action.
Lastly, for further reflection, imagine the same scene but when you come to observe my work you notice that not only have I installed the plug ins in the wrong location, I have also installed them incorrectly and clearly need to improve my work overall. How would He lead you to respond?