When I think of the word prophet a couple of images come into my mind, the first image is of crazy eyed, bearded biblical prophets shouting condemnation down on Israel from mountain tops, the second image is of travelling pentecostal preachers who posses an almost clairvoyant ability to look across a congregation and instantly perceive the hidden sins in peoples lives.
Both of these images are of course caricatures. But lately I have been asking the question “What does a prophet look like today?” The thing that got me thinking about all of this was a review of my book by that bible of reviews, publishers weekly. The review was not that bad, but one line stuck in my mind “Sayers’s negativity about the culture is almost endless”. It was so innocuous, yet it annoyed me, what were they saying,? that I was one of those Ned Flanders type Christians who wags their fingers at the world? What made things even worse in my mind, was when amazon put the review up on my books page (check out the damage here.) Of all the positive reviews why did they have to choose that one?.
But then I thought back to a moment when I completed Alan Hirsch’s Apest survey which illuminates which category of Ephesians 4 leadership styles that you fit into (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepard, Teacher). I came out as Prophet by miles. But I thought what do prophets look like today? There are not many around. There are so few in the church, most get driven out. Yet there are so many filmmakers, authors, musicians, journalists, politicians, humanitarians, even business leaders who you can tell posses a prophetic heart just waiting to be brought into the the kingdom.
So maybe you are more of a prophet than you think. But how can your recognise the traits of a prophet? Here are four key functions that prophets fufill.
- Prophets are Endlessly Negative about the Culture. Why? Because the standard by which they measure things is not a pragmatic one. They measure our current reality against God’s coming reality. They do not say “Hey things could be worse” They measure where we are now against God’s perfect will for humanity and our world. They will never be happy until Christ returns and the heavens and earth are remade in perfection.
- Prophets listen to the pathos of God.In his wonderful study of the Hebrew prophets, the Jewish writer Abraham Heschel notes that prophets don’t just listen to God, they are attuned to the pathos or pain of God. Thus the prophets life can often be punctuated by great sadness, even sometimes depression. Like all humans they reflect the image of God, but specifically they reflect his sorrow at the fall of creation. Being a prophet is a bittersweet place to live in, it can be tiring and painful, yet the prophet holds a unique place in which he or she feels the heart beat of God.
- Prophets are a counter voice. Israel was unique to other cultures in that she had both kings and prophets. The prophets always spoke from the margins of culture, they spoke not just for God, but for God’s heart for those who were on the fringe of culture. You will notice that in the bible that prophet’s ministries were often matched to the reign of kings. They acted as the cultures conscience.
- Prophets speak truth. The prophets spoke truth into times dominated by lies and false realities, they shone lights into the darkness of deception. They helped people understand and interpret their lives during times of great confusion, chaos and change.
More than ever we need prophets today, we need counter voices to the dominant rhetoric of the day. We need young leaders who will act as the counter point to the kings and queens of our age, who will speak for God during the reign of MTV or Lindsey Lohan? Who will interpret and breathe truth into an age of hyper-consumer mirages? Who is willing to have their lives turned up side down, to sit in God’s pain for the world? To risk being unpopular in an age which has deified popularity?
I told my friend from high school about what publishers weekly said about me. He told me that was the best compliment that I could be given, he was the proud father of a young baby girl, that in the past he did not care so much, but now as a father he could barely watch the nightly news, he wanted the best world that his daughter could grow up in. He said that things have to change. So am I endlessly negative about our culture? Until Christ comes and remakes our world as he intended it to be… You betcha!