Updated: Nov 17
'The manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit.' - 1 Corinthians 12:8
My family, especially my kids, love to watch magic shows. The magic acts that they love the most are not the clever card tricks pulled off by a fast sleight-of-hand. It is the mind-reading acts that really amazes them (OK, me too).
These are the tricks where the magician asks a participant to think of a memory or object, then writes down what they believe the answer is on a piece of paper, tucks it into a locked box, then, after some smoke and mirror shenanigans, produces the correct information about the participant. Somehow, the magician has “read their mind”.
This ability to “read minds” and know the correct tidbit of personal information is impressive and we are left scratching our heads thinking —
‘How did they know that?’
Jesus had this effect on people wherever He went. He performed many astounding miracles and those who observed him couldn’t decide if he was a magician, a con-artist or a messiah.
Some of the most intriguing moments are when, like the magician, Jesus had personal knowledge of specific people or situations, without ever having encountered them before. However, one thing that distinguishes Jesus from an illusionist is quite simply that He speaks the truth without manipulating or psychoanalyzing anyone (John 5:18-20).
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
This unique ability was a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘message of knowledge’ or a ‘word of knowledge’ because it is when the Holy Spirit gives someone specific information that they did not, or could not, know beforehand.
One of the most extraordinary and detailed examples of this is found in John 4. It tells us how Jesus encountered a woman from a tribe considered to be enemies of the Jews. Ignoring this point of difference, Jesus strikes up a conversation with her and they discuss what true worship looks like.
At one point, she told him the man she lived with was not her husband. Jesus commended her honesty but blindsided her by saying He also knew about the other five fellows she had married. Instead of freaking her out, this statement convinced her of God’s intimate knowledge of who she was, and that everything Jesus has said about God was true. She rushed home to tell everyone about her life-changing encounter with Jesus, astonishing them by saying — “He told me everything I ever did!”
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
This spiritual gift is unique because there is only one source that can provide a true glimpse into someone else’s heart and mind - God himself. A word of knowledge is a demonstration of God’s intimate awareness of someone’s circumstances and inner thoughts. By doing this He makes it known that He deeply cares about their personal life and that He wants to encourage and bless them.
As a result, it prompts people to say —
“Only God could know that!”
What kind of ‘knowledge’ does God reveal?
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29
In the movie the Matrix, the main character Neo is plugged into a massive computer system and a data-dump is downloaded into his brain. After a few minutes, he looks up and realises, “I know Kung Fu!” Suddenly he ‘knows’ a lifetime of experience, training, and information, without breaking a sweat.
Without the need for invasive technology, the Holy Spirit can give you knowledge of anything He deems important at any given time. God has the answers to problems. He has remedies and solutions and infinite knowledge to share with us.
While you may not suddenly be able to perform Kung Fu or conduct a symphony, the Holy Spirit will give you just enough detail to step out in faith and see a miracle unfold. The kind of ‘knowledge’ God reveals is varied and often surprising.
It might be personal details of a person’s life, work, interests, dreams or conversations.
These are the most common words of knowledge I receive about others, but I have also experienced when God has revealed my personal details to someone else. When we were looking for a house to buy a few years ago, I had been talking to God a lot about the decision making process. One day a friend, who I do not see often, approached me. She had been praying for me and the Lord had revealed to her what I had been talking to him about. She handed me a letter that began with, “You have been saying to God…” followed by my comments verbatim. It was as if she had been inside my head! The letter went on to share God’s response and it proved to be both accurate in detail and a huge boost to my faith at the time, not to mention confirmation of the house we did eventually purchase.
It might be information that is important for a project, like a design component that hasn’t been invented yet, a calculation that wasn’t considered, or a missing piece of the puzzle that makes everything work when implemented.
I believe many epiphanies like this have happened to people without them even realising it is God giving them the idea they need. Shawn Bolz (TV host, an author, producer and a Christian minister) has had many conversations with entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, writers and entertainers who have shared stories of God doing just this. You can listen to these interviews and examples of these kinds of words of knowledge on his podcast ‘Exploring the Prophetic’. Asking God for help with these kinds of problems can result in some surprising solutions.
It could also be knowledge of events that have happened and need a response, or even foreknowledge of something that is going to occur in the future that needs preparation for.
Years ago I had a job as a laboratory technician. My boss was waiting for the results of a major research grant that would establish our work for several more years. It was a competitive funding pool with few other alternative options available and at the time it was a stressful wait. Meanwhile, the Lord had assured me I still had a job with this team and that my boss would win the grant - which he did. It was one of the first instances I felt confident that God had spoken to me about a specific situation. It was also the first time I had felt brave enough to say so. It was a great team to work with and I'm grateful we did receive the grant as it also secured me a permanent paid position!
It could be as simple as knowing who it is who messaged you before you check your phone.
My mum doesn’t count. She always rings at the same time of day!
You might receive a word of knowledge regarding your own situation during times of prayer and asking God for understanding. When you are praying for others, the Holy Spirit can also give you words of knowledge to help you minister with greater spiritual insight. We'll get into the practical aspects of this later but for now, it's important to understand the purpose of this gift (because it's not so you can ace your exams without studying).
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up
“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way — with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6)
A word of knowledge can be accompanied with a message of wisdom (i.e how to apply the truth in practical ways) or a prophetic word of encouragement (i.e. God’s intention and plans for that person). In this way, receiving a gift of knowledge is often a springboard for a deeper encounter with God, not just an announcement of facts and figures.
In my experience, using this gift wisely has two powerful outcomes.
1. The word of knowledge enriches the person’s life in some way. Primarily, their life is enriched because it draws them closer to God, but also the information given can confirm, comfort, encourage, and provide answers or practical solutions to a situation they face.
2. The word of knowledge confirms the testimony of Christ. When someone recognises that only God could have known about such private information, it provides evidence to them that God is real and He cares deeply about their personal life. It confirms that Jesus is who He says He is and that the gospel of grace is something to be embraced wholeheartedly.
Recently I was preaching at one of our services and the theme was on being fearless (I love a good brave story!). As part of my message, I shared that at times we need to learn to face intimidation and fear by prophesying who Jesus is.
I wanted to demonstrate this so I had asked the Lord for a word of knowledge for anyone who might be there. It can be daunting to do this because the risk is that person doesn’t exist (and it’s super awkward standing there when no one responds).
The Lord told me there was a guy called Peter and then showed me a picture of him standing on a mountain top. I figured this guy either loved mountains or dreamed of climbing one. I started by asking if Peter was in the room, which was quickly confirmed when all his mates looked at him. When I asked him if he loved mountain climbing, their jaws dropped and I could hear some good-natured laughs. Obviously, they all knew something I didn’t. It turns out, Pete climbs mountains for fun. You know, big ones.
I shared some of the other details in the picture I had for him. As I did, I felt God’s love toward him fill my heart and found myself prophesying how God was going to move in his life and strengthen him. God didn’t reveal to me everything about Pete’s situation, and I had no idea the relevance of the images I saw, in fact, I was concerned the mountain was too generic, but later Pete contacted me to share what had occurred for him at that moment. He wrote:
”Everything that you shared was so relevant to my life and my situation at the moment… For you to call me by name, having never met or heard of me and share a word which lined up with my life so seamlessly, is genuinely life changing. God is gooooooood.”
This word of knowledge enriched his life and confirmed for him that God was with Him. It did the same for me.
It’s not magic.
It’s a God moment.
A word of encouragement
The Holy Spirit loves to impart knowledge and wisdom to us. It is for the common good, meaning it is for the encouragement and strengthening of others, as well as ourselves. It is not for personal ambition and agenda, but to draw people closer to God and enable us to navigate life through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In recent years, I have learned to appreciate and value this gift more and more. I have experienced ministry moments that have impacted me significantly as I’ve witnessed people be impacted by a simple word of knowledge. For some, it confirmed for them God’s love and guidance, and for others, it has changed the trajectory in their life when they were ready to give up.
Consequently, it has deepened my own love for the Father. I have grown in my confidence to trust Him and step out in faith to receive and share a word of knowledge for someone else.
I want this for you too, so in Part 2, I share more everyday moments where I have had the opportunity to use this gift (including some of my more amusing face-palm experiences). I will also share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way so that you can begin to step out in faith and learn to use this amazing gift to minister to others in extraordinary ways.
p.s. For a great resource about words of knowledge I recommend the book God Secrets: A Life Filled With Words of Knowledge, by Shawn Bolz (2017)
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