Whenever God speaks he speaks truth, whether it is in Scripture or through a personal prophetic word. He cannot lie. If a revelation is from God, it is true and we can therefore put our full faith in it. God is infallible, but we are not. Therefore we must learn to test what we think we have heard.

When God speaks we can mess up what we hear if we are not careful. Every prophetic word has three parts: (1) the revelation—what is said, (2) the interpretation—what it means, and (3) the application—what we are to do about it. We can mess up revelation by not hearing correctly or adding to it. We can also mess up the interpretation by not asking God what he meant, choosing instead to go with what we know from past experience or personal knowledge. And we can mess up the interpretation by a misinterpretation of the action God expects or desires.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I love to teach. I enjoy the research and the process of putting together information to share with others through speech or in a book. Over the past few years, God has given me opportunities to teach in Romania, Germany, and Mexico. Often what I teach is new to my audience or the way in which I present it is different from what they are used to. In a sense, I am revealing something they might not have known, and in that sense, it is revelation. My purpose is for them to hear what I am teaching, understand it, and know how to apply it in their lives.

For this to happen, I have to have an interpreter to put it into the language of the people I’m speaking to. I only speak English, and I do that with a deep, slow Southern drawl. Most of my interpreters speak English as a second language. They don’t always understand the nuances, colloquialisms, and southern idioms I use. In other words, some of the things I say just does not translate well—or at all. So it is very easy to say something that is extremely vital to the message and then have it misinterpreted because my interpreter is translating word for word—not interpreting or making the proper application.

Several years ago, I was teaching a group of German students about having an intimate relationship with God. I made a statement that communicates well here in the U.S., but when they heard it, they fell apart, laughing hysterically in the aisles. It was not a humorous statement. I was confused—I didn’t know what to do. So, I look at my interpreter with that “please help me—I’m dying here” look.

The statement I had made was: “Too often we don’t share God with others, instead we keep him locked in the closet.” The pastor who was interpreting did it word for word translation, but a closet in German is not a place to hang your clothes, it is the potty—the commode—the water closet. The kids were howling—wanting to know why “my God” was in the bathroom. Needless to say, what I was attempting to communicate was missed. They missed the revelation because my interpreter did not hear what I meant, and thus the interpretation was missed and the application lost.

This happens all the time with personal prophetic words. To fully benefit we must hear the word correctly, interpret the word accurately, and apply the word appropriately. If we hit two out of three—we fail and God’s revelation is missed.

Humility and prayer are the essential tools for hearing revelation, discerning the interpretation, and implementing the application. We have to do the work. We cannot accept a word from someone without humbly asking God, “What does this mean and what am I supposed to do with it.” We must pray over the word to make sure it has been heard correctly, interpreted precisely, and the application is exact—or we miss what God is saying.

The apostle Paul, in the very first epistle he wrote, put it this way, “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise ( don’t look down on, hold it in contempt, or see it as below your status) prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NASB).