Words of knowledge are a fantastic gift from God for the purpose of encouraging people’s faith, exhorting people to live righteously, and confirming the truth of the Gospel in evangelism. Every Christian can receive words of knowledge. Today I want to share some encouraging stories that illustrate how words of knowledge work and share with you how you can better discern and share them.
Is That You, God?
The first word of knowledge I remember sharing came as I was praying for a friend. I was 17, and my youth group went to a conference in Toronto.
A guy I met while at the conference wanted prayer, and I agreed to pray for him. As I began to pray, thoughts came to my mind to pray for his anxiety and for his relationship with his father. I didn’t know anything about this young man, but because the thoughts came to my mind, I just blurted out a prayer.
“You were spot on!” my friend said. “I am on medication for anxiety, and I have never truly felt close to my father, and it has affected my relationship with God.”
I was so geeked! I actually heard God! It didn’t feel like I imagined it would. I expected to see visions, or angels, or hear a booming voice in my head. It didn’t feel like anything, really. It was simply a thought that came to my mind while I was praying. As I continued to practice hearing God’s voice, I became better at hearing God more clearly.
You Have Heard God’s Voice
The reality is, if you are a Christian, you have heard God’s voice. Jesus said “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them… Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.” (See John 6:44-45.) The process of regeneration by the Holy Spirit requires that your spirit hears the voice of the Father and responds by submitting to the lordship of Jesus.
What did it sound like when you got saved? Maybe you were too young to remember, but chances are, it didn’t sound like anything. It didn’t feel like much, but there was an impression in your heart and mind, that the claims of the Gospel were true; that Jesus rose from the dead, that God loved you, that your sins were forgiven. This revelation from the Holy Spirit comes to our hearts, and we respond by putting our faith in this voice. Words of knowledge come in very much the same way.
Growing in the Gift
The key to hearing God’s voice is faith. Scripture tells us that we are to prophesy according to our faith. (See Romans 12:6.) As John Wimber used to say, “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.” There is no real shortcut to growing in the gift of words of knowledge. It requires consistently taking risks and learning (1) what it feels like when He is speaking and (2) what it feels like when He isn’t. In short, you learn through trial and error. This requires enough humility to admit when you’re wrong.
As I began to grow in hearing God’s voice, I began to take bigger risks. I began to lower the threshold of how strong an impression had to be before I would step out and take a risk. I began to realize that as I leaned into the gift this way, I began to hear more accurate and detailed information. At times a name would come to my mind, and it turned out to be the name of someone I was walking past. How did I know that? Because I took a risk and asked. Sometimes I would see dark spots over different parts of people’s bodies in my imagination. I would ask if they dealt with pain or a health problem in that area, and sure enough, they did.
One time while praying for a woman, I saw the word “autism” spelled out in my imagination. I had a sense that her son had autism. I didn’t know this woman, and so I asked first if she had a son. She said yes, so I asked if he had health issues. She nodded, and then I asked if it was autism. Her mouth gaped open in shock that I knew that. I would have no idea if I was actually hearing God on any of that if I hadn’t taken the risk to ask. I was only maybe 40% sure I was hearing God, but it turns out, I actually was!
Step by Step
Time and again, I’ve found that God speaks like a GPS — that is, one step at a time. Often I will get one word of knowledge, and if I am obedient and take a risk in sharing it, I will get another.
Once while on the college campus where I minister, I felt impressed to pray for a girl who was playing foosball in the student union. I approached her, mentioned that I was a pastor, and asked if she would be alright with me praying for her.
She said “yes.”
I asked if she dealt with headaches due to an issue in her neck. I asked this because, in my imagination, I saw her neck damaged and it causing pain in her head. She said that indeed, she did. My faith was encouraged, so I took another risk.
“Do you deal with anxiety?” I asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you also, have an issue in your lower back and right hip?” I asked, a bit more confident.
“Umm… Yes. How do you know that?” She said.
I asked all of these things because either a thought came to my head or I saw it in my imagination.
Then, in my imagination, I saw a red Dodge truck. I had an inner feeling that she was in an accident 7 years ago with this truck, and that is what caused a lot of the issues in her neck and back. I was only maybe 30% sure this might have been God, but I decided to risk it.
“Were you in an accident 7 years ago with a red Dodge truck?” I asked.
Her jaw dropped, and her eyes went wide. “Yes, I was!”
I prayed for her, and she was completely healed on the spot.
I was so incredibly stoked! I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual that day, but one obedient risk produced faith for another. The more I stepped out, the more confident I became. God didn’t reveal the whole thing to me before I stepped out. All I knew from the beginning was that I was supposed to pray for her. The hardest part for me was the first risk.
I’ve found that words of knowledge come more frequently when I am looking for them. Sometimes I will go to the store or the gas station looking for the people that God is “highlighting” to me. I’ll know God is highlighting someone to me when, for some reason, I can’t stop staring at this person — or maybe I feel in my “gut” that I just need to pray for them. Sometimes in my imagination I will see a dark cloud around them, or I will feel unusual compassion for them. I take that as the Holy Spirit’s direction.
These thoughts and feelings will sometimes come out of the blue — when I am not expecting them. But I have found that God is always wanting to speak to people through me; and if I am actively paying attention, I will more readily hear God’s voice. A friend of mine described it as “leaving your spiritual cell phone on.” If you keep your “spiritual cell phone” on through active expectation that God will speak to you, you will hear His voice. He is always talking, and He wants to talk to people through you!
3 Ways You Can Start Hearing Words of Knowledge:
We become acquainted with the voice of the Holy Spirit through relationship with Him. The more time we spend in prayer, worship, and meditation on the Scriptures, the more sensitive we will be when He speaks. It is important, though, that we don’t seek Him simply for the purpose of gifting. Being with Jesus is its own reward.
2: Turning Your “Cell Phone” On
Actively expect God to speak to you. Look for the people God is highlighting to you when you go grocery shopping, to the bank, to church, or anywhere in public. You have a much better shot at hearing God speak to you if you are actually listening.
3: Taking Risks
There is no teacher like experience. You can read all the books and blogs you want, but eventually you have to just take a leap of faith.
It can be helpful to start small. Pray for someone in church or for a friend. Pay attention to any random thoughts that come to your mind while you are praying. Look with your imagination into the spiritual realm, and see if God shows you anything. If you see something, share it with your friend. Ask if it means something.
I lead the students in my campus ministry in an exercise where they sit around a table and pray for a few moments for the person to their left. I then tell them to share whatever came to their mind as they prayed. Every time, students are amazed that they actually heard God speak. Practice sharing words of knowledge where it is safe to fail. It’s ok if you miss it. Keep trying until you hear God. He is speaking, and He wants to speak through you.
May you be empowered by the precious Holy Spirit to do the impossible, and may the name of Jesus be glorified through His Church.
Study this topic in-depth, and discover the joy of ministering words of knowledge as the Spirit leads.