An Excerpt from "Life After Church", an Underground Media book
Human history has not been kind to prophets, to those who propose widespread change. Even the term has become synonymous with a negative message. But it should not be so. Change implies error and imperfection and although we all know that we are imperfect and need to change we just do not like to be reminded. Even if the prophet brings a message about the surpassing love of God for us and our misunderstanding of that love, we still rail against being told to wake up, to remember or to change.
As the first Christian martyr Stephen understood we always resist the prophets in our midst because they question our comfortable lives and they challenge the status quo. History is littered with great people who have been persecuted and killed for advocating change and criticizing the way things are. However, everyone who criticizes is not a prophet. Prophetic and critical are far from being the same thing. Before we talk about change and how to affect it, it seems prudent to explore that distinction.
Being a Prophet
The prophet’s message comes from God, is tested by God’s word and is communicated in love. A survey of old and New Testament prophets reveals that they are mostly calling for the same things. Repentance, turning away from idols, doing justice, taking care of the poor, etc. There really are not that many themes to prophecy. One way you can know if what you are feeling or saying is prophetic is to measure it by the history of prophesy. Are you called to be a prophet.? Probably not.
While some are called to this role they must also pay the price. The life of a true prophet can be a life of isolation, loneliness and pain. The life of a false prophet is not that different but it carries with it futility and self-delusion. Figuring out which kind you are is not something I am prepared to address for the simple reason that I doubt you are called even to operate in this office. Very few of us are called to tear down systems. Some are. But being that kind of person will need to be something that you discover from a deeply real conversation with God. It is not something you can get from a book. So for everyone else, there is a less arduous route to smaller but significant change.
We are all, on the other hand, called to live a prophetic life. In the same way that each of us is called to share the gospel, or speak up for the weak, to live the life of an activist or an evangelist we are called to be a prophetic. There is a mystique surrounding the word that has only served to alienate everyday believers from what should be an accessible, albeit supernatural, expression of our very real connection to God. I am not interested in treating prophesy as something that only a few people can do or reducing it to prognostications about the future. Prophesy in its most understandable form is just speaking for God. Every time we share Scripture with a friend we are prophesying. We are repeating the words of God. On that level, even non-believers are capable of prophesy.
On another level, we might read another very specific scripture to a friend at just the right time and in just the right way. This too is prophecy but at an even more acute level. And occasionally we will even share a thought or impression that is Biblical, in that it is consistent with the Bible, but original in its construction and context. This too, can be prophesy and can be a way that God speaks to and through his people. I am convinced that prophetic words should be a part of everyday Christianity. In humility, acknowledging always that we could be wrong, we should be prophesying to each other with regularity. Having said that, it also has to be clear that the error of false prophesy is also possible. But it is not a reason not avoid attempting to discern the voice of God for the circumstances we find ourselves in.
For as long as I have done ministry I have prayed one very simple prayer. God, please do not let my sins be held against the people I serve. I think I have always had an unresolved fear that my pride or selfish ambition related to the success of whatever ministry I was doing would be so egregious that God would have no choice but to hold back success from the endeavor. Maybe no one would know why, but in the end it would be God saying, “I can not bless this thing Brian because you are already too proud and only failure will save you.” While I do not rule that out on a personal level, I think that God has shown me over the years that he will bless what is submitted to him because he loves all involved. And perhaps more importantly because there is a world to be reached, a world who needs to hear and he will even use broken vessels because his motivation is so strong. God is not going to silence his voice because we have misspoken. He is eager to be heard and like other kinds of failure false prophesy is forgivable. But like all sin it is to be militantly feared and reviled in ourselves but treated with grace and understanding in others. Just as I cannot let the fear of pride keep me from attempting great deeds for God so our fear of false prophesy cannot keep us from trying to hear and represent the voice of God in the world. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophesy and presenting the gospel itself is the quintessential prophetic utterance.