It seems to many of us that if prophecy is real, it is all about the future. This misunderstanding comes to us in a few different ways: (1) When we typically hear about prophecy, we hear about it being fulfilled; (2) the only unfulfilled prophecies many Christians consider legitimate are the ones the Bible says about the end times which are still ahead of us; and (3) the most we know about prophecy comes from movies we’ve seen and stories we’ve heard where soothsayers prophesy the future for their clients.
But as Paul and all of the prophets show us, this is not what prophecy is. Sure, foretelling can be a part of the scenario, but often it’s forth-telling—that is to say that rather than predict the future, you are putting forth what is currently happening in someone’s life. Though sometimes, it’s both foretelling and forth-telling. As Abraham J. Heschel says,
The prominent theme is exhortation, not mere prediction. While it is true that foretelling is an important ingredient and may serve as a sign of the prophet’s authority (Deut. 18:22; Isa. 41:22; 43:9), his essential task is to declare the word of God to the here and now; to disclose the future in order to illumine what is involved in the present. (Heschel, Abraham J. The Prophets. pp. 14-15.)
We cannot think of prophecy as all down the road from here. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it’s both. And now that we can see that it’s not always predictive, maybe we can begin to see the times we’ve operated in the prophetic without even knowing it. Have you ever had a stirring in your heart that you needed to talk to someone about something specific? Have you ever felt like there was someone you needed to check in on though you didn’t know why?
I suggest to you that this is a very basic form of prophecy. You have heard God’s voice or felt the Holy Spirit nudge you and in responding to that nudge you saw that there was validity to it. This is sometimes the prophetic gifting at work. You felt God tell you something and you responded in faithfulness. You checked in on someone and found that they had something going on right then and you were able to get involved or speak a word of God into the situation. You built them up, encouraged them and consoled them. Perhaps you disclosed the secrets of their heart or perhaps you just gave space for them to do the disclosing themselves, but either way you have engaged in the prophetic not by speaking a word about the future, but by speaking into the present.