Monday, June 23, 2014

The Plight of the Prophet

This post is referred to in what I just published under the label Grim Fairy Tales. Below is (most of) a paper I did back in 2002 when I was studying what it means to be "prophetic." I offer most of that paper here, for such a time as this:

One Definition of a Prophet

A prophet must learn to love being in the middle of the mess, trusting the hand of God in all things (The Elijah Task, Page 239).

The publisher of Charisma Magazine once compared prophets to white blood cells, saying, “In the same way the physical body has white corpuscles in the blood to ward off disease, the body of Christ needs men and women of conviction to point out where we stray from the pure gospel and to draw us back to the straight and narrow -- back to Christ.”    Inherent in this comparison is the implication that it’s tough to be a prophet, which is demonstrated in Scripture.  Again and again, God sent his messengers, but, again and again, no one would listen:

In 2 Chronicles 24:19, “God sent prophets to bring people back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen.”  Later, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, “The Lord sent word to them through His messengers again and again because he had pity on His people and on His dwelling place.  But they mocked God’s messengers, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against His people and there was no remedy.”

It’s Tough to be a Prophet
Being dismissed (or worse) was common for prophets, whether major or minor (for a list of all prophets I could find mentioned in the Bible, including those not actually named, see Appendix A entitled Prophets: Major, Minor and Teensy).   Jeremiah expresses it well in Chapter 20:9 when, after suffering extreme derision, he writes, “I vowed never again to mention the Lord, nor speak of His name.  But God’s word was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones.  I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.”

He captures the heartbreak of Biblical prophets, who, by their obedience to God over man, spoke whether the message it was welcome or not.  Often, they brought words of course-correction to people who really believed they were right with God, people who had been led sometimes only the slightest bit astray, but “slightly off” means missing God’s bulls-eye entirely.  It is then God sends in a prophet. Which is why it’s tough to be a prophet.

Why I Think I’m That Kind
I have never really understood why so many words of so many prophets pierce right through my heart, except that I’ve spent practically my whole life sounding a lot like them.  It seems I’ve always been one who sees things differently, one saying things like, “The emperor is not wearing nada -- not even a stitch!”   Often, this “only one syndrome” makes me feel like I’m crazy.  Then along comes someone like Ezekiel, who tells me to speak the truth in love -- or else:

 If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his inequity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.  So you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for me (Ezekiel 33:6-7).

So then, if I actually go forth and speak the thing, the usual result is me being called divisive,
rebellious, or a troublemaker.  The antidote has been developing thicker skin by learning that
it is better to obey God than to please mere man.   The author, John Bevere, helps to
underscore this point in Thus Saith the Lord, where he writes, “A horse is not fit for battle until
his will is broken.  If the horse is successfully broken and trained, he can be trusted in war. 
In the heat of battle, as arrows or bullets fly, he will not flinch.  While axes, swords, and guns
are raised in battle, he will not deviate from his master’s desires.  He will stay firm in
submission to his master, void of any attempt to protect or benefit himself.”

The Telltale Heart
For me, the telltale sign of the true prophet is the heart’s desire.   Does the messenger seek
to draw people to God, or to himself?  If the telltale heart is indeed the telltale sign, then I’m
starting to think I’m a true kind of prophet.  My heart’s desire is for the lost to be found and the
found to walk more and more victoriously.  To my knowledge, I don’t have my own agenda,
and am zealous about what I know to be God’s heart.

Nightmares and Other Trepidations
One nightmare I have is me discovering in heaven that I was not truly prophetic at all -- just a critical person focused on everybody but myself -- that I was an impostor, a counterfeit.  It is a most dreaded possibility: learning (too late) that I was one of those insufferable people I used to call “the self-appointed anointed,” that none of the burdens I carried on earth were truly for the Lord at all, that the messages I’d felt so compelled to deliver were actually my opinion and not from God at all.

A Voice on the Wall
One time,  I was involved in church that was so liturgical, the Holy Spirit could hardly get a word in edgewise.  I ended up sitting on a committee convened to discuss worship and spiritual life, but quickly discovered that every committee member (except for me) thought everything was fine.  Neither the liturgy nor the hearts were open to change.   I knew the Lord was pleading for us to tear down the walls, but when I would suggest the possibility, I was perceived as strange, troublesome, unhelpful. Frustration rose up in me as I saw us worshipping the liturgy -- putting it above obedience to God.  My final attempt was compelled by Ezekiel (2:3-9 and 3:17-19), who told me to go to the priest because I would be personally accountable if I did not.   I went, was not well received, and left shortly thereafter for greener pastures being called a “troublemaker” and “a tare.”

The next pasture was much greener until there came a burden so grievous I could hardly stand up.  For months and months, I was laboring in prayer, but things just kept spiraling downward.  I suspected the Lord wanted me to go to the pastor in person,  but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to, because the message was hard.  I knew it was time when my day’s reading just happened to be Jonah agreeing to go to Ninevah.  Reluctantly, I made an appointment, went to the meeting, and came home feeling that things had gone badly.

      Now I know that the path of truth is never easy (Mark 4:17), and that the blatantly obvious deceptions are hardly ever the ones that lead born-again believers astray.  Instead, it’s the subtle deception -- the trick -- the slippery slope from a righteous premise to a wrong conclusion.   What makes my life not easy is that God has put me on the path of truth.  He has, I think, given me a sliver of the prophetic pie by which I seem to detect subtle twists and the crossing of thin, fine lines: compromise being called tolerance, weakness being called meekness, murder being called choice. Nevertheless, I have the nightmare.

How the Nightmare Got Gone
In the course of pursuing this study, some surprises emerged, acting like bulldozers to plow the old nightmare under ground.   One came through an no-name prophet in 2 Chronicles 25:14-28 with whom I completely identified (see footnote 1); another came through Isaiah 5:20 when he says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”  All along the way, the Lord was urging me to stop a minute a just write down what he wanted me to hear, so I did, and this is what came out:

Your cry is this, My daughter: “Oh stop, you people, for I see smoke.  There is a fire burning and soon we will see the cause of it, what’s fueling it, but for now hear this: there is smoke!”  In the smoke, child, there is fuel.  The fire is danger, and the fuel is dangerous.  Your gift is that you can see the smoke.  You are a SMOKE DETECTOR.  After a time, you can report to the Body what vapors are toxic and what are the best tools for the situation.   Living water, yes always.  Sometimes also AXES.  Sometimes special masks and goggles and gear.  Sometimes an expert from afar.  But always Me, for I AM the living water.  I will quench the danger; I will arise from the ashes.  Your job is to see the smoke and name the fire once I’ve cleared the smoke away.  The fires you see will be DECEPTIONS, TRICKS, AND SNARES -- they are the subtle fires, the ones that are started in My name as ZEAL FOR THE LORD but end up as HELL FIRE.  Your job is to shout when you see smoke: zeal turning into ambition, truth turning into error, vision turning into idolatry.  Your job is to detect the smoke and prevent hell fire. 
                                                            Love, God
                                                            August 6, 2002

Footnote: The unnamed prophet in 2 Chron 25:14 takes issue with the person in charge -- a king who questions the prophet’s credentials and authority, saying his advice carries no official appointment or weight.

This has been a welcome assignment, this opportunity to study the Biblical prophets, because it opened a doorway to a long corridor I had never really thought to wander down.  No sooner than the door was opened and I saw someone beckoning, I went ahead to take a peek, and instantly knew.  This was a hallway I’d had a lifelong yearning to explore.

Through this study, I have been encouraged down the corridor, recognizing all along the way that it was leading to the center of my heart.  I believe I’ve been prophetic all my life -- not the kind that opens with “THUS SAITH THE LORD” -- not even the kind who claims it is a word from God -- but the kind who feels as if I’m stationed on a wall, on a high corner, able to see only a certain set of things and to see them in a peculiar kind of way.  A lot of times, I have felt like Jeremiah with God’s opinion burning in my heart until I could no longer hold it back.  The big disappointment of my life has been my inability to release these burdens effectively.

It has been encouraging to note through this study that the prophets of the Bible were probably disappointed too -- they were not often heeded either.  Many times, they just came and went sounding urgent urgent urgent, generally unable to affect the changes God desired.  I guess they just had to let go of outcomes.

After all this, I decided to look in my brand-new Vine’s Dictionary for a definition of the word “prophet” which, in there, basically translates to the word “seer.”  It says that, in the New Testament, seers preach the divine counsels of grace already accomplished and foretell the purposes of God in the future.  I do believe now that I’m a seer -- someone who first sees smoke, and then, the situation once the smoke begins to clear.  

In short, I have learned that the kind of person I am is not an easy kind of person to be.  This study has made me appreciate that it’s a hard row to hoe, that I need to forgive all the people who literally could not see what I was seeing -- I need to give them for God to handle.  After I’ve prayed or even delivered a message, there is nothing further I can do.  I am to report what I see, throwing the stone at Goliath the best I can, and then trusting that, whether or not the stone kills the giant?  That’s up to God.

 Appendix A: Major, Minor and Teensy Prophets

John the Baptist

Haggai (Ezra 5:1)
Zechariah (Ezra 6:14)

Deborah (Judges 4)
Gad 9 (1 Samuel 22:5)
Nathan (2 Samuel 7:2)
Shimei, Rei (1 Kings 1:8)
Benaiah (1 Kings 1:10)
Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29)
Shemaiah (2 Chron 12:5)
Oded (2 Ch 15:8, 28:9
Jehu (1 Kings 16:7)
Iddo (2 Chron 13:22)
Huldah (2 Ch 34:22-28)
Hananiah (Jer 28:1)
Noadiah (Neh 6:14)
Baruch (Jer 43:6)
Micaiah (2 Chron 22)
Mordecai (Esther 4:13)
Jeremy (Mt 2:17)
Esaius (Mt 12:17)
Jonas (Mt 12:39)
Eliseus (Luke 4:27)
Agabus (Acts 21:10-14)
Anna (Luke 2:36)


Gen 20:7
Judges 6:8
1 Kings 13:11
2 Kings 9:4
2 Kings 23:18
2 Chron 25:15

Appendix B: Sound Bites
Some of the prophets really zing the strings of my heart. I have taken this opportunity to collect those that most resound with me, and in doing so, I began to discern four vague categories into which they seem to fall:

1.    Railing against religiosity.
2.    Contending for God’s truth.
3.    Exposing compromise.
4.    Pleading for repentance.

I believe these categories reveal something of the prophet’s plight, implying how difficult it is to “receive” something that is not yet provable or popular, something that may or may not be a message from God -- and having to do something about it, though who knows what. If anyone is interested in seeing the specific scriptures that were garnered, let me know and I will augment this post. I am stopping here for now because this post seems too long already.

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