I was sitting comfortably on our living room couch, taking a rare break from the grad school grind, when my roommate burst out of his room.
Before I could say ‘Mephibosheth’, he was close. Uncomfortably close, and I could feel my blood pressure rise as he began to speak.
‘I don’t know what you guys were up to in there, but you shouldn’t have closed the door.’
‘You guys’ referred to my fiancee (now wife) and I, and we had been in my room together with the door shut. We had become closer physically than we should have, and my roommate’s simple rebuke was the cold shower I needed to snap me back to reality.
I didn’t like it in the moment, and I suspect most of you don’t like being challenged, either. But the truth is that we all need a prophet in our lives.
Biblical Prophets: Strange, But True
In the Old Testament, prophets were a pretty strange group. Isaiah walked around naked and barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20:2-3). God told Hosea to marry a prostitute as a living picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2-3). And Ezekiel laid on his side, wrapped in cords, for 430 days while he prophesied against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:4-8). (Actually, due to its strange visions and sexually-explicit language, some rabbis wouldn’t let their Torah students under the age of 30 even read the Book of Ezekiel!)
Despite their penchant for odd behavior, Israel desperately needed the prophets. To confront blatant sin in their lives. To alert them to spiritual apathy they had become accustomed to. To remind them of God’s concern for the disadvantaged. And to push them to become all that God intended.
Voices Of Truth In Our Lives Today
Although the specific details of how the prophetic role is carried out today are up for discussion, I think we’d all agree that we need someone to speak powerfully into our lives.
So, let’s take a quick look at these four roles, and ask ourselves some tough questions.
- Confronting blatant sin. Sometimes, God’s people fell into all-out rebellion, like the time they made the golden calf (Exodus 32). Examples today include pornography, refusing to forgive someone, and dating someone who doesn’t share your faith. Are there any areas in your life right now where you know you’re disobeying the Lord?
- Highlighting spiritual apathy. More commonly, we drift into sin and become blind to its effects. The ‘lukewarm’ church of Laodicea is a clear example of this. Although it claimed to be rich, prosperous and self-sufficient, in reality it was poor, blind and desperately needy (Revelation 3:15-17). Examples in our time could be going to church or having devotions when our heart isn’t in it, or, not being generous with our time or money. If you’re honest, where have you slowly fell into practices or attitudes that don’t honor God?
- Exposing lack of concern for the disadvantaged. In a recent conference for our ministry, Dr Rick Donlon, who serves among the poor, challenged us on this big-time. He pointed out that we (rightly) discipline a man for having an affair, but when a wealthy man is greedy with his resources and ignores those in need, we call him a wise steward and make him an elder. But prophetic passages like Matthew 25, and countless others, make it abundantly clear that we need to show practical concern for those who are less fortunate. Where (specifically) are you helping those in need at cost to yourself?
- Calling us up to be all that God intends. The heart behind the prophet’s rebuke is repentance and wholeness. Repentance that avoids God’s discipline and leads to human flourishing. For example, Jeremiah tells the exiles to settle in and ‘seek the welfare of the city… and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (29:7). Although it wasn’t what they wanted to hear, it was for their benefit. How would embracing God’s uncomfortable truth in your life (see numbers 1-3 above) produce new growth and wholeness in your life?
How To Find A Prophet In Your Life
I’ve tried to be something of a prophetic voice for you today, and am thankful for everyone who’s done that for me. But obviously, we need more truth and discomfort than a one-off blog post can produce.
So, how do we find prophetic input in our lives?
- Acknowledge that you need it. If you haven’t noticed already, American culture is generally non-confrontational. That works alongside our natural defensiveness, and means we need people who can challenge us more than ever.
- Look around (or behind) you. Chances are you already know someone who’s filling – or could fill – this role for you. They may be annoying or awkward, but that’s okay. You might also seek out a former mentor and develop a relationship with them again. If your spouse is direct, s/he can be helpful, too, but shouldn’t be the only prophetic voice in your life.
- Seek outside resources. Sermons, podcasts, blogs and books by authors who call it straight can be very helpful, especially if we’ll start to follow through on what they say. Francis Chan is one good example of a prophetic leader. In the business and entrepreneurial space, I like Ray Edwards’s podcast.
- Read the whole bible. It’s almost too obvious, but because the bible really is God’s word, everything it says is prophetic. When we read it, the Holy Spirit empowers it to do the hard work of repentance and growth that only he can accomplish. Even when we don’t see it in an obvious way. We should pay special attention to passages we don’t like, or, challenge us in weak spots.
Final Word: How To Respond To The Prophets In Our Lives
When someone speaks into our lives with truth, how we respond makes all the difference. This is probably a post in and of itself, but I’ll close with the main point.
When we’re confronted by a prophetic voice, our job is simply to listen and (if necessary) repent. Our posture should be that of Samuel, himself a prophet, when he was called by God.
‘Speak, for your servant hears’. (1 Samuel 3:10)
If we’ll develop a pattern of listening and responding well, God’s truth will bear incredible fruit in our lives.