Paul’s letters to Timothy suggest that personal prophecy doesn’t just automatically come to pass; we must embrace it. In three places, Paul names several correct responses to personal prophecy: to wage warfare with it, to be careful not to neglect it, and to stir up gifts that are imparted through prophecy.
Paul’s words imply that personal prophecy in Timothy’s life could go unfulfilled if he did not respond properly. Take a closer look at what Paul told Timothy to do.
Wage warfare with prophecy, having faith and a good conscience. (I Timothy 1:18-19) How do we wage warfare? The recipe is in Ephesians 6:10-18, where Paul writes about spiritual warfare.
Verse 18 mentions a key to warfare: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” And verse 17 notes that our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the rhema or spoken word of God. In other words, we wage war by praying for what God has spoken.
But there is another dimension to our warfare: faith and a good conscience. We can forfeit the blessing God promises us if we allow ourselves to live with a defiled conscience. This is why the rest of Paul’s teaching about warfare in Ephesians 6 says we must wear the armor of righteousness, salvation, truth…
Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house taught him the same thing: God’s promises of blessing depend on our staying clean and righteous before Him.
Don’t neglect the gifts imparted through prophecy, but meditate on them and give yourself to them. (I Timothy 4:14-15) Sometimes a prophecy of blessing can die of neglect. If God imparts gifts, we need to embrace them wholeheartedly.
How? First Paul tells us to meditate on them, to ponder them repeatedly, to consider what the scripture says about them and examples of people who have moved in the same gifts. Then Paul tells us to give ourselves to them. This means that at some point, we have to step out, expecting the gifts to work. Faith without works is dead.
A prophecy can impart spiritual gifts – if we will do our part to receive them. Otherwise, God-given promises may not come to pass.
Stir up the spiritual gift imparted through prophecy and the laying on of hands. (II Timothy 1:6-7) Sometimes we can experience an initial splash of a new gift, but soon we lapse into old routines and the gift is lost. But if God gives you a brief taste of a new gift, He is looking for you to stir yourself to get into a steady flow.
How do we stir up the gifts? Sometimes we have to command ourselves to get with it, just as David commanded himself to bless the Lord in Psalm 103. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in a position to use the gifts. In one way or another, we have to stir ourselves to move with God.
But again, Paul’s point here is that prophecy often does not come to pass automatically. We have to make an effort to embrace what God is promising.
So prophecy gives us (1) a basis for waging warfare, and (2) a good reason to maintain a good conscience. It gives us (3) something to meditate about and a (4) something to act upon. Then once we have tasted a measure of fulfillment, it gives us (5) something to stir up until it becomes part of our daily life.
But if we don’t embrace what God promises, the word may not come to pass – not because the prophet made a mistake, but because we didn’t bother to receive what God tried to give us.