Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where are the Prophets?

For a long time, I believed that a prophet was someone who could predict the future. They had lived way back when in Bible times, and whenever they spoke or prophesied they could be guaranteed to be chased, beaten, imprisoned, sawn in half and other nice things. (Resolution: never predict the future.)

For several years, I took extension classes taught by the pastors at our church in Houston, and it was in one of those classes I learned that my understanding of prophets was in serious error. A prophet might have the ability to see the future, if God allowed him that insight, but the real meaning of prophet was a speaker of strong words, and often words that most people know but hesitate to speak themselves for all kinds of reasons.

I didn’t like this definition. It made me more than nervous. It created anxiety – a lot of anxiety. I didn’t ask for the job. I didn’t go seeking out that gift. Prophets are usually not well liked, because they have a habit of pointing the obvious that’s often missed by others. My wife has something of this gift; she can read people and events with razor-like insight. As for me, I tend to be more clumsy about it.

I’m sitting on an elder board. At a combined meeting, the elders and deacons are about to approve a building expansion desperately desired by the pastor. One person after another speaks in glowing terms of the proposal. And yet for some reason I’m uneasy. I’m less concerned about the financial stretch involved (although it was substantial for the small congregation). I’m more concerned about something more vaporous. There is something wrong; I know there is something wrong. I know that if we embark on this venture, the church may not survive. But I have no evidence, no “proof points,” nothing to back up what I’m sensing.

I speak quietly. I raise questions. It’s clear that I am vexing the pastor, who is my good friend. At the end of the discussion, we vote. The proposal is approved 14 to 2. I didn’t expect a different outcome, although I’m surprised by the man who joined with me. What he said was something like this: “There is something his voice that I think we should heed.”

I was so distraught by my own words at the meeting that I resigned from the board a week later. That caused another uproar, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.

The proposal depended upon the worship services temporarily being in the gym, the children’s and adult Sunday School classes moved to the old sanctuary building and then construction starting on the new sanctuary. The old building would eventually become the Christian education building. The church was so excited that it wanted to start the new construction immediately,

Because of the change in purpose, and the fact that there would be lots of children in the building, the local municipality sent an inspector to check and approve the old sanctuary. This was usually a formality, but the inspector found structural and foundation problems that no one could have seen behind walls and under carpeting and flooring. The problems were so severe that the inspector ordered the building condemned and closed until major repairs could be made or the building torn down and replaced.

The church couldn’t afford both the repairs and the new construction. And it couldn’t afford two new buildings. Had it unknowingly gone ahead with the construction of the new sanctuary, it would have been facing financial disaster.

I knew nothing about construction or buildings or repairs or financing. But I knew that this is what my reservations had been about. Others knew, too. A few thanked me (which I didn’t really want) but a few stayed angry. Relationships were damaged. I wasn’t sawn in half, but it felt like that sometimes.

“The highest love of God,” writes A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God, “is not intellectual, but spiritual. Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they?”

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading and discussing Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Removing the Veil,” please visit Jason’s site, Connecting to Impact. Next week we will begin a discussion of chapter 4.


Louise Gallagher said...

You are a man of deep insight and powerful voice.

And I am so grateful you share those gifts with such Love.

You continue to amaze me Glynn.

Megan Willome said...

I like that you fleshed out this nebulous idea of "prophecy" with the very specific example from your own church. You're making me trust my prophetic moments a tiny bit more.

jasonS said...

It does amaze me how much insight He gives us if we just pay attention. It goes beyond instinct or experience, there is something divine in it. I think this is why most people miss the voice of God--it's not audible and booming, it's insight in a meeting or taking a different route than normal. The real question is, are we paying attention?

Thanks Glynn.

Fatha Frank said...

It's funny how "speaking the truth in love" can sometimes predict the future without us knowing. So really, both definitions of prophesy are right. But it is interesting to note the distinction. Once that was pointed out to me, I went back and looked at the prophets in the Bible. Most of the time they weren't predicting the future, but rather indicting the present. Based on that definition, I too, have considered this to be my gift. But then I read the gap between the scribe and the prophet that Tozer describes and I wonder. Have I seen or have I just read?

S. Etole said...

This is just excellent.