Few manifestations of the Spirit are more misunderstood and misused than prophecy. Paul said in I Corinthians 14:3 prophecy is a divinely inspired word for 'edification, exhortation, or comfort'. That's it. Nothing predictive in simple prophecy.
You may have often prophesied without realizing it. You may have said something to a friend like, "I just feel in my spirit it will be okay" because you felt a peace in your spirit for a friend and had that reassurance. That was prophecy. A divinely inspired word of edification (to build up), exhortation (encouragement), and/or comfort. The labels are for our understanding, He is humble and doesn't announce the labels - He just meets the need.
Interpretation, not translation
Tongues that are interpreted equal prophecy, as both are inspired words that build up, encourage, or comfort. In the same way the interpretation of tongues is an interpretation and not a translation, very often prophecy is like that as well.
A translation is an exact duplication of a message into another language. An interpretation leaves room for the person giving the word to apply their own personality, education, culture, and words into the message. That is why sometimes when a person prophesies they may say, "Thus saith the Lord". The Lord doesn't speak King James English when He gives a message, but the person giving it interprets the message through their education and culture.
A person may sense something in their spirit and put words to what they are sensing. A person may have a witness, something they perceive, or discern in their spirit and put that into words for a person.
A prophet will hear the Holy Spirit Himself and repeat those words verbatim. A prophet receives words about nations, leaders, and events in nature on a regular basis. A simple prophecy is interpretation of something perceived in one's spirit intended by the Lord to encourage, build up or comfort a person.
On a personal level, when the Lord gives me a word for someone, I most often actually hear the Holy Spirit speak, just as the prophet Agabus did in Acts 21:11 when he told Paul, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: The man who wears this belt will be arrested by the Jews and turned over to the Romans." Most people will hear words and/or sense feelings and put them into their own words. Sometimes a person who is not a prophet will hear the Holy Spirit Himself speak, but that is not as common. They will 'hear' something vague, maybe see an image in their spirit, then put that into words for a person - very common.
The danger of personal prophecy
In Jeremiah 23 the Lord tells Jeremiah about false prophets and in doing so leaves lessons for our generation in His description of their 'words'. The first element has to do with their personal lives. In v9-14 the Lord says their personal lives are not for Him, but they are in the midst of sin. For us in modern times, look at the person who is prophesying over you. Is their marriage and home life in order? If they are single, are they free from lust and sexual sin? Are they morally upright?
I was once called to help a house church (not in our network) as an outsider, hoping to reach two men who would listen to no one. These single men would draw away single women about their age into a side room and "prophesy" over them, and their "prophecy" always had romantic tones. "My daughter, I love you says the Lord, like lovers going away to spend time together to share their hearts, come away with me says the Lord" and such, as the one speaking would run his fingers along her hair, and many such things as that.
You can imagine how uncomfortable these men made women in that house church feel! But they would not listen and were asked to leave. Their lives were filled with lust and they were speaking out of their own immoral lives and of their own lust.
Jeremiah 23: 16 - the Lord says false prophets (prophecy) "make you vain"
They appeal to pride and self-esteem. He also says they speak out of their own heart, not out of the mouth of God. People can have a direct word from the Lord for a person whether that be something predictive like a word of wisdom, or a prophecy, and then cross the line and start speaking out of their own heart, out of things they sense about a person.
In Jeremiah 23: 32-37 the Lord says a false prophet has false prophetic dreams and they are proud to be known for their dreams - they may boast either within themselves thinking they are something when they are nothing, or outwardly to make a name for themselves. Their burden the Lord says, is not for Him, but for their own words and agenda.
Honest mistake by the inexperienced
I was a speaker at a prophetic conference and was waiting my turn in what they called 'the green room'. Also waiting was a man noted in personal prophecy circles and his assistants, and they all wanted to pray for me and see what the Lord said. So I sat in a chair in the middle of the room while they gathered around.
At the time I was still a Bible school Director, overseeing over 600 students who would pass through in a year, a large staff and a multi-million dollar budget in a mega-church. I taught daily and was part of the larger decision making process as an 'elder' in that church.
When they started prophesying they were exactly accurate. It was encouraging, it included words of knowledge and wisdom. Among the things they said from the Lord were that I was eager to move out on my own, and that time was coming. It would be like a rocket taking off, slowly at first and gaining momentum, and to stay faithful until that time...all was right on.
I thanked them, started to get up, but they insisted I remain seated for more. This is where they started prophesying out of their own heart. You see, because a person has the Holy Spirit in them, and He is the Spirit of truth, a person may perceive another person's gifts, personality traits, and have the essence of that person's life bear witness in their spirit. That does't mean it is a prophecy, but just something they sense about that person.
Where people get off balance is they then try to take that and turn it into a prophecy. As I sat there they said things like right now I'm doing nothing, but one day the Lord will use me to teach, He will one day use me administratively, and He will one day use me to oversee many people.
They were sensing in their spirit what I was currently doing in my job respofsilbiies, but were turning that into a prophecy about my future - wrong! They were speaking of their own hearts. They were good people, just not mature in these things.
A student came to my office in tears after a noted missionary shared during chapel. She wanted to know why she was so moved by him and not other speakers we'd had. I asked what she felt called to and she said 'missions'. I told her that her spirit bore witness with his spirit and call, and that witness, that commonality, welled up in her and mover her to tears.
On the negative side, a person who grew up around alcoholics may be able to pick an addict out of a crowd because their spirit bears witness with the spirits around that alcoholic, because they grew up around spirits like that - very common. But it is not a prophecy nor does it make one a prophet to sense these things.
I had a woman hand me a 20 page "prophecy" she had transcribed from a recording that a supposed prophet gave her that said basically nothing of value. It went on and on about how wonderful she was, how God had great plans for her, and it said that simple message over and over in various flowery ways for over 20 pages. Single spaced. Front and back. She asked what I thought about it, and I told her it wasn't the Lord past the first line or two, if at all. She was very angry with me, revealing she wasn't looking for the truth, but for further stroking of her ego.
If you notice prophecy in the Bible, even if it is a prophet's words predicting something, not just the simple gift of prophecy, it is always concise, to the point, direct, and relatively short. I've run out of room for today...to be continued, blessings,
cwowi.org and email me at email@example.com