It happened almost exactly ten years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Midway through his sermon the preacher paused, looked straight at me, and then it got personal. As the congregation listened and my cheeks turned rosy red, the preacher, well known for his prophetic ministry, delivered a 221-word long message about and for me. I know its exact length because I was given the tape of the service afterwards so I transcribed his words and keep them in my wallet to this day. Ever had a dream where it feels like you’ve forgotten to get dressed before leaving the house in the morning? That’s how naked I felt!

In the months running up to October 1997 I’d had a growing belief that God was going to speak to me about the future. I was unsettled, unsure if I should resign from journalism and take a different career path following a takeover at the magazines. But even though I had been expecting to hear from God, I was stunned and embarrassed to be ‘picked on’ in quite such a public way!

“…As God is my witness I have no idea what your job is,” the preacher intoned, “…I feel God would say to you, don’t give it away John, I gave it to you, don’t give it to anyone else. People give things away too soon. Sometimes the fight is too tough and the course is too narrow and we feel its time to move on.?But you mustn’t give it away...” ??Just as well the whole service was recorded as after the first few sentences of this ‘word’, I struggled to take the rest in. Later I reflected on what had happened, prayed and weighed it up. Without knowing, the preacher had correctly identified I was a writer and told me to maintain the network of relationships and influence I had at that time. Given that I was thinking of resigning, the timing was amazing. Buoyed up by this encouraging and directive ‘word’ I focused again on journalism. It’s very unlikely I would be editing Christianity today if it had not been for this prophetic message.

Being open to hear a prophetic word, but also discerning if it is from God, is as important today as ever. Not every ‘prophetic word’ given to me has been right. Sometimes even those who clearly have a gift from God get it wrong. Some are so eager to get a prophecy they seek out ‘words’ like a shopper in the January sales with a purse full of £50 notes – rushing around picking them up by the armful and forgetting them just as quickly. Others are so closed to hearing from God in this way – perhaps because of past disappointments, or through a theological stance that treats prophecy as a gift that died with the first apostles – that they wouldn’t recognise a prophecy if it hit them on the jaw like a right hook from Mike Tyson!

I commend the first of a two-part article on prophecy in this issue by Roger Harper (page 34). I hope and pray that this feature helps us to grow in our understanding and appreciation of this gift from God to his people. St Paul writing to the believers in Corinth revealed that he didn’t want them to be ignorant about spiritual gifts and went on to encourage them to eagerly desire the gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:1, 14:1). Let’s all be open for all God has for us – but weigh ‘words’ with maturity, care and prayer.