The prophetic person asks, seeks, knocks and pays the price until revelation is obtained. There are many forms in which the revelation comes, and the prophetic person does not limit themselves to one or two ways, but hears and sees through many different means. Following is a partial list of forms in which revelation is communicated to the prophet, beginning with the most basic, and working up to the most advanced.
1. Written Scripture. Scripture is the objective criterion against which all subjective revelation is measured, weighed, tested, and interpreted. That is to say, the Holy Spirit will not reveal something to a prophet that contradicts what has already been revealed in Scripture. “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). The prophetic word is rooted in the written Word, and that Word is settled forever. We must submit ourselves to His Word, and not try to make the Word submit to us or to our revelation. Take for an example the prophet Daniel. Daniel began to fast and pray after he “learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years” (Dan. 9:2). To reward Daniel’s willingness to search for answers and to pray, God gave Daniel a vision that supported the written revelation of Jeremiah. Now both Jeremiah and Daniel’s prophecies are part of Scripture. Study that example and you will save yourself from a lot of unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding. The prophet must avoid the realm of speculation and learn not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). This is good advice, not just for prophets, but for all of God’s people. We must master the written revelation, as this will be the basis upon which we will approve or reject any subsequent revelation.
2. Inward Witness. How does God give us specific guidance about matters not spoken of in Scripture? He uses the inward witness (or “gentle nudging”) of the Holy Spirit. How does one know to go here, or look there, or study this, or dig deeper into that, or pray about this particular matter? Where do these sparks of inspiration and insight come from? They come from the Holy Spirit, as He seeks to lead us into all truth. Sometimes these leadings are barely noticeable, almost as if you were thinking to yourself. At other times, these leadings are genuine “light bulb” moments when you slap yourself on the forehead and exclaim, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that before?” This may appear to be in the realm of the mind, and the mind is certainly involved, but it actually originates in the realm of the spirit, where the Holy Spirit moves and “the eyes of your understanding are enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). The key is to take none of this for granted. Treasure all these little insights and store them away in your heart.
3. Word of Wisdom / Word of Knowledge. Any of God’s people may operate in spiritual gifts as the Spirit wills, but the prophet seems to flow in these spiritual gifts more often than most. We must not limit our understanding of the spiritual gifts to what we have seen allegedly demonstrated on television, or in church services and revival meetings. Words of wisdom and knowledge do not have to be uttered to be valid, and they do not always have to be directed towards other people. They are simply Spirit-inspired fragments of insight into things past, present, or future: thus, it is a “word” of wisdom, or a “word” of knowledge, but it is not total wisdom or full knowledge. These fragments are typically used as calls to prayer, or perhaps specific answers to prayer, or specific insights. The key word is specific. When Jesus told the Samaritan woman that, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the man with whom you are living now is not your husband” (Jn. 4:17,18), she immediately perceived Him as a prophet. The word was specific and correct. It both exposed her and opened up the opportunity to minister to her.
4. Visions and Dreams. In the Old Testament, visions and dreams were more common because prophets did not enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as we do. To communicate, God often had to take direct measures to get His point across, whereas today (I believe) God prefers to use Scripture and the Inward Witness as the primary means of revelation. That is not to say that visions and dreams are not valid for us today. Paul dreamed that a man from Macedonia was calling to him for help, and he correctly concluded that God was sending him there to preach (Acts 16:9,10). God does use the occasional dream or vision to communicate revelation; however, not all dreams and visions are of divine origin. We must be sensible enough to test all things.
5. Other People. We can learn to recognize and hear God’s voice speaking to us through other people. Of course this includes older brothers and sisters and those who are pastors, teachers, and the like. But God can speak through anyone – young or old, believer or unbeliever. For example, God often speaks to me through other people, even when they do not realize He is using them to speak to me. And even though I may be “older” in the Lord and a teacher, I have things to learn from those who are younger. Even our critics and “enemies” (according to the flesh) can be used by God to teach and reveal truth to us. So we must not limit ourselves to thinking that God must always speak directly to us and would never speak through someone else. This attitude would almost certainly guarantee that God will use someone else to help you get over this self-centered view. On the other hand, if we are always looking to other people for guidance then it represents a flaw in our walk that must be corrected.
6. Prophecy. We would not want to overlook the fact that personal words of prophecy, encouragement, and counsel are possible means of revelation and guidance. We must test these words, ensure they do not violate Scripture, and receive them to the extent that they confirm what the Lord has already been showing us. If these words from others create confusion or intimidation then we can safely ignore them. God has other ways and means of getting our attention if He really needs to.
7. “The Hard Way”. This is the most challenging way to receive revelation – and by far, the most effective. Paul had a deep revelation of Christ. He also endured deep suffering. In fact, the abundance of his revelation required a corresponding “messenger of satan” to keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7). Whatever this means, we can rest assured of one thing: Deep revelation is accompanied by deep suffering. Those who aspire to apostolic and prophetic revelation must be willing to endure apostolic and prophetic persecution. Does the revelation trigger the suffering, or does the suffering trigger the revelation? The answer is: both. If our suffering is light then our revelation will be shallow, but deep experiences lead to deep revelation, and deep revelation leads to deep experiences. The messenger is as much a part of the message as the message itself. It is a 100% certainty that the prophetic man or woman will experience deep testing and trials as part of their training.