In thirty some years of ministry I have rubbed elbows with a number of "prophets". I have seen the genuine and the phony, the astoundingly accurate and the sweeping generalities, and the teaching prophet and the stirring prophet. Even though I have been disappointed by some people who have called themselves prophets, I have been enriched by many others. So how does one tell the pretenders from the genuine?
Pretenders follow their own insight, their own heart,and their own spirit. I came to church once and a "prophet" had painted in 6 foot letters on the side of the church exterior that I would be gone in one year. 23 years later I am still the pastor of this church. In fact, that brother was angry with something. His own spirit provoked him to deface the building. False prophets are guided by their own hearts Ez. 13.3
Often the false prophet claims all manner of unbiblical things. They preach fear, they stir up trouble, they spread deceptive accusations in the name of the Lord. We are reminded in scripture that "No one who uses the name of the Lord in vain will be held guiltless (Ex 20.7) I can usually tell a false prophet by the general tenor of his speech. He assumes authority not given, and speaks without the unction of the Lord.
Frequently, the false prophet has a personal history of deceit. They have a track record of rebellion, deceit and lies. Sometimes this is covered in bluster, other times it is overlooked altogether and the pleasantries that are declared are simply false assurances. (Ez. 13.10,15) The spiritual gifts of God are cradled in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the character of the prophet matters. When he speaks his life must bear testimony to his unction and calling.
I have also noticed that there is a difficulty for a pretender to be under a spiritual covering. Frequently they are lone Rangers, moving in and out of different bodies. This difficulty with authority within the local body is a part of their psychological make up, I think. They frequently speak against a person, or a leader. The NT concept of prophecy is described as edification, encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14.3) yet their harshness betrays the human spirit (or demonic divisive) spirit that drives them.
While all prophets are frequently direct, there is a sense in which the pretenders don't really care for the sheep. They want to discharge a message that judges others by a standard which they themselves cannot live up to. They are inordinately harsh.
The appropriate response is to evaluate the prophecy spiritually (1 Thess 5.21) Test everything. Everything. We do so by comparing it with the written objective Word of God. Jesus and the Apostles as well warned against false prophets. It is helpful to know that there are only three sources for any "word" given. God, the Devil, or human flesh. Pastors need to stay close to God so that when the false word si spoken they recognize it immediately. They should not be put off by a blustery "thus says the Lord" but rather they should evaluate everything.
In spite of the pretenders, I have seen prophetic brothers and sisters, confirm the will of God in the lives of his children, I have watched people called into ministry succeed when there was no inkling of successful ministry skills, I have watch the spirit of God call out hidden sins, and prison sentences to the year, and healings yet to come. When the Spiritually Genuine Gift of God is moving in the midst of Gods church it is a wonderful thing. No wonder we are told to covet the gift of prophecy. BUT we must never speak a word that God has not assigned us.
The drive for the prophet is simple to dispatch in obedience the Word that has been given him or her for the building up and edification of the body of Christ. Financial gain, personal glorification, and personality conflicts are never the driving force behind the Word of the Lord.
Keep Step with the Spirit.
For further study Ezekiel 13, 1 John 4.1-3; Deut 18.22, 2 Peter 2.1-3; Amos 8.11; 1 Thess 5.21