GOD SPEAKS: WORDS OF KNOWLEDGE
'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
Welcome to Part 2 of our conversation about the spiritual gift, Words of Knowledge. In Part 1, I pointed out that receiving a Word of Knowledge is not a mind-reading trick but a God-revealed truth about someone or something that you did not know before. It is a powerful ministry tool that connects people to the heart and will of God.
Using the spiritual gift of Words of Knowledge is like knowing the secret password to open a magical door. In the epic story, Lord of The Rings, Frodo and his companions arrive at Mount Moria where they are confronted with the 'Doors of Durin' which will only be opened by solving the riddle "speak friend and enter". Frodo’s wizardly mentor, Gandalf, tries to be clever and speaks every word he knows that should work. After much frustration, they realise they just needed to literally ‘say the word’ - the elven term for “friend” - and the doors were opened to them. Similarly, we don’t have to over-analyse a word of knowledge, or fully understand the translation or what it means. We just need to be a friend who just says the word God gives us to open the door to an encounter with God.
"A Word of Knowledge is not a mind-reading trick, but a God-revealed truth."
Often we pursue a specific gift of the Holy Spirit because we are wired with a particular passion or have grown more confident in one over the other. However, all the spiritual gifts are available to us and often they operate together, including Words of Knowledge. For example, I find when the Lord gives me a Word of Knowledge it is often accompanied by a prophetic message for the person. And obviously, we need discernment and wisdom for how to apply the word, so we can expect the Holy Spirit to give us this too.
In this sense, a Word of Knowledge can kick off a ministry moment with the Holy Spirit. They can:
initiate a conversation
identify a specific need to pray for
open a person’s heart to God’s grace and salvation
be accompanied by a message of wisdom
be followed by a prophetic word
In this article we take a look at how receiving Words of Knowledge for someone else can be conversation starters and catalysts for God encounters.
A Conversation Starter
Receiving a Word of Knowledge doesn't have to be complicated. It simply requires you to start a conversation with the Holy Spirit, and in turn, initiate a conversation with the person He wants you to minister to.
Here are four simple steps I follow when activating this spiritual gift.
I ask the Lord for a word of encouragement (start a conversation)
I listen for the words of knowledge (because we expect to receive right?)
I clarify what it means to discern the word of encouragement ('cos that's the point)
I ask the person if I can share it with them (start a conversation)
1. Ask for a word of encouragement
Whether you are praying for someone who has come to you for ministry, or you are on the look-out for someone who God wants you to encourage, you can ask the Lord for a Word of Knowledge to kick things off. I often ask Him to be very specific and give me something I can’t possibly know or guess, because I know I have a good imagination! I also ask the Lord for more than one unique detail. This makes it easier to identify who the word is for (if they’re not standing in front of you for prayer), and provides greater evidence this is from the Lord and not the result of guess-work. The extra details are often not only helpful for recognising who and what God wants to highlight but to offer convincing proof to the individual that God does indeed know them intimately and wants to encourage them.
2. Listen for the words of knowledge
After you ask, listen for God's immediate response, as often it is the first thought that comes to mind that proves to be his answer. This is before you have time to question or rationalize what you hear and receive. He might give you a single word, an image, a thought or a phrase. The images or words may mean nothing to you initially, but they can be more significant than you realise. You’ll be surprised what seemingly mundane or obvious word to you, proves to have a specific meaning to the person it is for. It can also be a powerful confirmation for them when you discover God has previously spoken to them with similar words.
3. Clarify what it means
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1), so we want more than a party trick. When I have received a Word of Knowledge, I pause to ask the Lord to clarify what He is wanting to say to encourage that person. This is part of your conversation with the Lord, as you check with him what details are important or superfluous. In order to discern the significance of the name or image you receive you can ask these kinds of questions:
What does the imagery or words convey to you?
Why is it significant or important?
What part of God’s character does it emphasise?
Does it indicate a direction or action to take?
Is it consistent with biblical teaching and the gospel of Jesus?
The Lord will sometimes respond with a comment that gives more context, e.g. “She needs to forgive”, or “Tell him I won’t leave him”. It's important to be sensitive in how you respond to this as you don't know their personal circumstances. Other times you might just feel God’s heart for that person fill yours, such as an overwhelming sense of God’s love, or approval, or kindness. You can then convey it to the person in a way that affirms how Jesus revealed the Father's heart. e.g. 'God loves you deeply.' or 'you don't need to earn his love'
4. Ask the person if you can share with them
This isn't too complicated if you have already been asked to pray with them, but if God gives you a spontaneous Word of Knowledge for someone, or you don't know the person it is for, then things can get a little awkward! Having said that, if you take a step of faith, it can also be the most rewarding conversations you'll have.
Instead of telling people "I have a Word of Knowledge for you", I now simply initiate the conversation with, "I feel God has an encouraging message for you," or "Can I share something encouraging I sense God wants to say to you?". If God has given me a name but I don't know the person, I start with, "God has given me a word of encouragement for someone named [insert name here] who [insert additional details here]."
This approach is helpful because, like at the Doors of Durin, we 'speak friend and enter'. When we come as a friend with words of hope, people will be more receptive to what the Holy Spirit is saying to them, even if they are not a believer. We must first convey God's desire to encourage them before we can expect them to want to encounter Him.
A conversation with Hannah*
An example of how these conversations can unfold with the Holy Spirit is when Hannah came forward for prayer during one of our church services. It was a simple act of her surrendering her life into God’s hands again and trusting Him with a painful relationship she was in.
As I prayed for her, the Lord showed me a picture of a motor-cross rider racing around the dirt track. There were many big jumps and the rider was performing lots of daring stunts. Only as I continued to pray did I began to understand what it represented. I saw how God was going to enable her to overcome obstacles and challenges and she would be free and adventurous again.
When I shared this with Hannah, she said her brother was involved in motor-cross sports and that she could easily relate to the imagery. However, because of the danger, it was also her greatest fear. God had given me knowledge of an activity that was not only specific to her family, but that she associated with fear. When she recognised this connection, Hannah realised how much fear had been holding her back from stepping into the future God had shown her. Because God had shown herself (not her brother) fearlessly riding the motorbike and loving life, it gave her reassurance and hope.
By asking the Lord to expand more on the original Word of Knowledge we are allowing the Holy Spirit to add wisdom and offer prophetic inspiration for the person to pursue God wholeheartedly. We can expect the Holy Spirit will be actively part of the conversation with everyone involved. (Phew!!)
A Catalyst for Faith
Receiving and sharing Words of Knowledge is a catalyst for faith because you only know part of the story. You first need to trust that God is speaking to you. Then it requires faith to act on what you receive and be expectant that God will reveal His truth in the hearts of the hearer. So, I like to think of Words of Knowledge as identifiers - key clues to help you recognise who it is that God wants to speak to, or in most cases, to identify what specific issue He wants to address during a time of ministry.
In the book ‘The Ultimate Treasure Hunt’ by Kevin Dedmon, he describes how before heading out on evangelism outreach, teams would start by praying for specific Words of Knowledge to identify who it is that God wanted them to speak to. Using the ‘clues’ they had on their list, they would find the person who matched those criteria and offer to pray with them. In some cases, the words themselves were specific enough to be confirmation of something the individual had been going through or asking God for help. What often followed was unplanned prophetic words of encouragement that came through the time of prayer.
Sometimes when I am ministering in public meetings the Lord has given me clues to identify who He wants to encourage, even though I may not know them personally. I often only receive one or two words at a time, for example, a name and an activity they might do. However, this can be enough to act as a catalyst for a demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit when I am not too chicken to ‘just say the word’.
For example, the Lord recently gave me a prophetic word for a man named John. That’s a pretty common name, so I asked for more clues. The Lord gave me a few extra details, including what instrument he played, what other skills he had, and a specific question he had been asking himself recently. In response to that, the Lord gave me a verse from a Psalm and pointed out that worship was to be a big part of his life.
I shared some of this during a sermon and invited ‘John’ to make himself known. After the service, a man came to me and said this word described his son, who was named John. I showed him the list of details I had noted down and he said all those ‘words’ described this young man. He had been praying for his son and was excited to see God had answered his prayers.
In an amusing twist, a few weeks later the father spoke to me and shared that he a light-bulb moment when he realised the word was actually intended for him too. When I asked him what he meant, he said a mutual friend of ours (who happens to be very prophetic) calls him John all the time. When he re-read the list he recognised himself and finally accepted the encouragement God was offering him.
"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. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." - 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, NIV
It is not until we have stepped out in faith and shared the Word of Knowledge that the Holy Spirit fills us with more and we begin to speak the words He gives us. That is when we simply allow the Holy Spirit to prophesy through us. These will be words of comfort or encouragement. The Holy Spirit confirms what is true in the hearts of the hearer, and they are responsible for testing that with the Lord (1 John 4:1).
Remember, Words of Knowledge are a spiritual gift that God has given us by His grace. This verse above reminds us that we can 'eagerly' wait for Jesus to be revealed using the gifts He has given us. Faith isn't without anticipation of good things from God!
Just Say the Words
Often Words of Knowledge can have more than one meaning so you need to use discernment to process what is a hint and what is a holler. This helps you derive the interpretation of what you are receiving and gives more depth to what you share. The more you allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through you, the more accurate and powerful your Words of Knowledge will be.
The rest of these examples are from times when God has given me Words of Knowledge for people I didn’t know. These are moments where God was teaching me something new about the gift and stretching my faith. So, here are a few lesson’s I’ve learned along the way:
Faith builds on failure
What seems like failure can be an opportunity to act in faith anyway. You don’t fake it 'til you make it -- you faith it 'til you find it. I shared in this article about the time I had only the name Vicky but no one immediately responded when I shared it. Sometimes people are too shy or shocked to respond right away (it sometimes has to do with how well I present it) so I've learned to wait and see. It was only later that a line formed with people who claimed some association (or variation) with the name.
I prayed for each of them anyway but I knew the word had not been confirmed and it appeared I had failed to hear correctly. That was until the fifth woman approached and told me of two ‘mothers’ named Vicky. I instantly knew this is who the Holy Spirit wanted me to pray for after all. She had been so overwhelmed when I first mentioned the name, she had been unable to speak through the tears. She was deeply ministered to through the prayer and we both left encouraged. It actually taught me not to give up when I thought I had failed and sharpened my discernment for next time.
A word given in faith is not wasted
Sometimes God may give you a Word of Knowledge but you can’t verify who it is for. However, the word of encouragement can be received by someone else anyway. I recently had a word for someone named ‘Karen’. I also had other specific ‘clues’, including her passport number and plans to travel by plane. The word of encouragement the Lord gave me for her was that she was like a bird hesitating to take flight, but that she was actually ‘good to go’. For good measure, I had a scripture reference to go with it.
Well, no Karen was there to claim that word, (and the irony that few people may want to be known as a ‘Karen’ these days was not lost on me, but hey, God is into redeeming people right?) but one lady came to me convinced it was a word for her friend. Although the travel details did not apply to her friend at all, she felt sure it was for her and diligently wrote down the word of encouragement. A week later this lady approached me very excited. “You’ll never believe it,” she said, “but I left you and went to the supermarket and who do you think I bumped into! I shared the word with her and she was absolutely blown away. She had just been asking God to speak to her and that verse was exactly what she needed to hear.”
I still think the passport was an important indicator as to who my Karen was, but it was a catalyst for her Karen to experience our faithful God - so I’m good with that.
Names have significance
Words of knowledge can be an identifier of who or what God wants to point out, but working out which one involves taking time to consider the significance of what you are receiving. I once received a name but I was unclear if it was Tipene or Tiffany. I was too impatient at the time to give it some thought, so I decided to go with the first. It was accompanied by an image of a dog with a collar and the sense that God wanted to unleash this person.
At the service I was preaching at, I asked if there was anyone named Tipene, and when that failed to raise a hand, I added the picture of the dog. As it turns out, there was a man with a dog sitting at the back. He had arrived that morning and met the pastor who invited him to join in. So, I shared the word of encouragement with him anyway, and later spoke with him and heard his story. He was a Māori man who was deeply passionate about witnessing to his people about Jesus and described powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit.
Afterwards, a woman came to me and asked if I had heard wrong and it was meant to be ‘Tiffany’! I realised maybe both the names were significant after all. Tipene is the Māori name for Stephen. In the Bible, Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8) and saw the glory of God as he was being martyred (Acts 7:55). The name Tiffany is of Greek origin, meaning the ‘manifestation of God" or the "appearance of God" (cf).
I wonder if I had paused to consider why the two names were significant, I would have had a richer prophetic word to declare over this man’s life. In faith, I trust the Holy Spirit will do it anyway, but it was a good lesson for me to not be too dismissive and listen more carefully.
Words can be metaphors
Sometimes a prophetic word may also turn out be a Word of Knowledge that you didn’t recognise at first. I was the guest speaker at a women’s event when, during a time of worship, my attention was drawn to the violinist. As she played I had a picture of open-heart surgery and the precision of her playing matched the precision of the procedure. The Holy Spirit showed me that through her music God would perform ‘heart surgery’ on people to bring healing. I prayed for her there on the stage and we all felt the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit. I thought I was simply sharing a prophetic word, but when I asked her what she did she replied she was a medical student! If I had asked the Lord for more earlier, I could have started with announcing I knew she was in medicine, which would have been certainly got people’s attention, but as it was, it was a beautiful twist after the Holy Spirit had already made himself known without any grandstanding from me.
Go with what you know (and don't fill in the blanks)
One time God gave me very specific knowledge, a name and a date. These were my clues to identify who the word was for, but I over-analysed the picture of an almond tree that came with it. Initially, I knew it represented health, but I went into great detail expressing what it represented to me. When I discovered the significance of the name and the date I realised it was more simple than I thought (facepalm).
This person's spouse had a serious medical event occur on that date and it had been a very challenging situation. They were not a believer, but when they heard a stranger knew their name and the date of the medical event she said: "Well, that's fascinating!". It was a catalyst for them to understand God cared for their well-being. Sometimes simple can be sweet enough.
I have come to the conclusion that the Lord wants to encourage people even more than I do. So when I ask, for their sake, He will respond. I have learned not to dismiss what comes to mind too quickly and have learned to engage with the Holy Spirit to find out more about what He is wanting to express through me. As you practice using this gift and learn from your experiences, your discernment will sharpen and your confidence will grow.
Ultimately, Words of Knowledge should be a conversation starter between us and God, and a catalyst for an encounter with Him, just as it was for Nathaniel.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
If you live your life responsive to the Holy Spirit, you are more likely to receive spontaneous Words of Knowledge. You have already asked, so live expectantly that the Holy Spirit will speak to you, and be ready when He does. The more you grow closer to Him, the more sensitive you become to his nudge and act in faith.
So be brave and just say the word!
SUGGESTIONS OF WHERE TO LEARN MORE
READ: God Secrets: A Life Filled With Words of Knowledge, by Shawn Bolz (2017)
LISTEN: Exploring the Prophetic Podcasts with Shawn Bolz (Seasons 1-3); These are interviews with believers in all spheres of life (not just the church) sharing their everyday experiences of using this gift. Link here
WATCH: An Insta-live with Vicki Simpson and Gary Morgan; This conversation is packed with practical wisdom about ministering with this gift. Link here
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* some names have been changed for privacy reasons